Tiger? Tank – In the Collection

For probably about a dollar from a second-hand store I picked up a bag of random toys that had a very strange tank inside. Now I’m quite the tank person, I have at least a dozen books and quite a few models of tanks, but even if you aren’t a tank person, the distinctive turret of a Tiger is instantly recognizable.

But this turret was strange, not just because it was molded in the (unrealistic) standard army-man green, but also because of the “chassis” is was mounted on. The turret is a crude but serviceable representation of a Panzer VI (Tiger), but everything attached below is a perfect representation of a “generic” tank. That is to say, it resembles no tank specifically (least of all a Tiger), but all tanks superficially. That isn’t necessarily to the detriment of the toy. Most kids don’t know or care that their plastic army-men are decked out in Vietnam War-era gear and smacking each other around with Patton or Centurion tanks. Some even have WWII-era gear with matching Shermans and Tigers (or even Panzer IVs), and more up-to-date ones have Abrams* tanks; I’m sure the kids don’t care.

What I find strange is that someone (probably in a Chinese factory) took the time to make a decent facsimile of the turret of a Tiger tank and didn’t follow through with the body. Why? Did they run out of time? Did they not care? Did their boss tell them to make a Tiger and they got away with just sculpting the turret because no one actually cared? Finding the set, which features a very unsettling modern German flag (I get they couldn’t wouldn’t use a swastika, but couldn’t they at least use the Imperial German flag?), probably answers the question (nobody in the whole process cared), but I still wonder what was going on in the exact moment this thing was created. I bet the idea that someone would ever look closely enough to determine that is wasn’t a Tiger was never even considered.

*Could be Challengers or Leopards, or any other modern tank that looks almost the same.

More Shapes in Playing Cards

Despite me having thousands (probably) of decks of playing cards there is one property they have with very little variance, and that is their rectangularness. Almost every deck of cards ever printed is rectangular, even though you’d think that with modern printing we’d just be making them in every conceivable shape. I’ve still got my hands on a few oddly shaped decks, though, and as I go through them, I think you’ll see that despite them being fascinating, there is a reason we keep the old rectangular design most of the time. (Of course it’s because they’re easier to print, hold, shuffle, and store. You already knew that, but more shapes are fun.)

Of course circular is the most popular, and the one I have the most examples of at 6. It’s the shape that is the most different from the standard rectangle, while still potentially being playable. Most sets use a simple pattern, where the illustration is in the center surrounded by 6 pips around the edge. It’s about as good a design as one could come up with for the shape, but it isn’t particularly easy to hold, both in general and in a way that allows one to see the pips. But on the table they look super cool, and they allow for strange back designs that make them “loved” by novelty toy companies that make things in China. My favorite’s the one with the world on the back, but the oldest one (by Waddingtons) with pink elephants is pretty neat too.

The third most common shape I’ve seen is surprising, but likely the most functional behind the standard. They are made by Umbra, a furniture and home décor company that apparently had some leftover cardboard (I joke, but a surprising number of décor and furniture companies have branded cards) and they’re five inch long, inch and a half wide oblong “capsules” (they have straight sides). This large shape and the ungainly rounded plastic containers they come in make them hard to store and cumbersome to take with you, but the minimalistic design with two pips and a line down the middle allow them to be easily understandable and the tall format with rounded bottoms makes them easy to fan out even while holding large hands. They might not be my first choice but maybe they’re an okay pack for vacations.

And now it’s time for the weird; if you want to be reminded of the wonderful days of summer when you’re dealing a hand there’re flip-flop shaped cards (mine are from Two’s Company, and not the ones currently available online) that are far too big but easy to fan out in your hand since the pips are printed on a part that curves away from the rest of the card. They also strangely have 3 different back designs randomly distributed throughout the cards because they couldn’t be bothered to make decisions with a straight head. And speaking of that there’s the “crooked pack” which introduces two angles into the middle of the cards in what I assume is an attempt to make them easier to fan, but has the side effect of making them impossible to shuffle, and that isn’t helped by the poor quality of their construction. Still, they are probably the most playable deck I’ve mentioned and for that reason they are actually still available (though mine say made in Hong Kong so they might not be exactly the same).

And since Chinese manufacturers tend to not ask questions, there are a ton from there, most coming in cheap clear plastic cases that match the cards’ shape, and the card quality is low enough that they begin to fall apart after a few plays. I’ve got a guitar pick deck that has the pips printed in such a way that you can only play with the deck in one direction (which seems to be upside down) and not very comfortably at that. Then there’s a deck shaped like a football, which literally just has regular playing card faces printed small enough that they fit inside the shape and thus are almost unplayable because there’s no way to hold more that a few and see the values on the card. And I have a heart deck that looks just as bad despite trying to compensate for the new shape.

But the absolutely worst shaped deck I have ever encountered is a little one shaped like a racecar, complete with an east-to-tear triangle for the spoiler. The deck is a master-class in not thinking: the design is too complicated to hold, shuffle, or easily put back in the case. The cardstock used is flimsy and easily tear-able, while the coating makes them slippery when being held. The pips are placed where they are hard to see while fanning the cards, and they are black numbers surrounded by a black circle (yes, all four 9s have the same pips, same for the 8s, etc.), and to make things just that little bit more confusing, they even changed out the regular suits for: helmets, trophies, flags, and wheels. They’re just a disaster, but you can still buy them at party-favor websites if you don’t want anyone at your party to have fun playing cards.

(Now, before the last paragraph here, I’d like to briefly mention a deck that had me fooled. Even though I had previously seen what was inside I still thought that the “Archideck” was a set of different shaped cards because of its “building” -shaped box, but alas, they just have boring pictures of New York buildings on them, and shame on me for being fooled.)

So is there a lesson to be learned from all that? Yes, I think: if you want to play a game, maybe just stick to regular cards, but other shapes are fun to look at and to mess with. If there is a better shape than the rectangle I haven’t found it yet, and I’m starting to think there probably isn’t and we got it right the first time. But, of course I do enjoy all these experimental decks, and getting one out to use every once in a while is still a fun thing to do.

Review – Sharpie Clear View Stick Highlighter

I would imagine that somewhere within the companies that produce writing implements there is an R&D department or team, whose task it is to come up with new products that will sell and grab market attention. I would also imagine that this job is fairly difficult at this point. Not only are physical writing implements perceived as being on the way out, but those that are around have been honed for decades to be exactly what the markets are looking for. In other words, I’m not entirely sure the motivation behind “improving” highlighters with the Sharpie Clear View highlighter was actually an intention to make the product better. But maybe it does. Let’s take a look.

The main bodies of the pens are a matte plastic matching the color of the ink. They’re more ovular, rather then entirely cylindrical, and they taper down to the end more in one direction than the other, making their ends appear squished (or chewed on, like the ends of many pens I’ve seen). Underneath the cap is a shiny black plastic section that is slightly more slippery than the body but doesn’t really impede use. This tapers down slightly and from it protrudes a very angular, chisel-shaped felt highlighter tip. Inside this tip is a similarly shaped piece of clear plastic that both holds the tip in place and allows the user to see through it. The cap is made of a frosted plastic to allow one to see the special tip through it and the packaging, while being soft enough to not shatter easily (like many clear plastics would). It has an integrated clip and posts securely, but with a strangle wobbly feel from the “squished” rear.

The three colors that come in the package are your standard highlighter colors: pink, yellow, and green. Each is quite bright and visible, but doesn’t block whatever is being highlighted. Green is the darkest, and is a color almost unusable in some highlighters, but here it is serviceable, if my least favorite because of the “shading” pools that tend to form at the start and end of a highlighted line. Pink is slightly better at this, and of course yellow trumps both in the visibility of words beneath it, its own visibility (in good light), and lack of shading. Sharpie’s smear guard is still working as good as ever and most inks can be highlighted without trouble (but some water-based inks are more unhappy about it than others). And then there’s the main feature. After using it, I don’t get it. It is technically possible to see through the highlighter so you know what you’re highlighting and when to stop. But if you didn’t know that going in what were you thinking? And the angle you have to hold the pen at to see well isn’t a very comfortable one. I mean, I can’t fault it for “not working”, but I just don’t understand how it’s supposed to be used. It doesn’t make anything easier or better, it’s just there.

If you’re looking for a set of highlighters, these work, and if you find them at around the same price as normal highlighters (the price fluctuates) I’d say get them (it doesn’t hurt). But I wouldn’t go out of my way for them, or pay much more. I can’t see their gimmick as anything more than that, and it doesn’t work for me.

Discovery Planet 10” Human Torso – In the Collection

If you’re as excited by scientific models of the human body as I am (that sounds weird), there are quite a few options to go for, some even ranging into the thousands of dollars. I don’t have that kind of money to spend (I didn’t even get my model new) so I’m gonna talk about one that’s quite a bit cheaper today.

The 27cm (10”) version of the 8 part human torso by Discovery Planet is the smaller of the two I could find (the larger being simply double the size). There are technically 8 parts to the model, but this includes the base and the main torso frame, into which slot/peg a heart, liver, intestines, stomach, and 2 lungs. Included in the box that unsettlingly says simply “Human Torso” is a small “manual” in full color that describes the basic shape and positioning of all the removable bits as well as some of the other “exposed” organs. Unfortunately missing from mine is a “Bonus Instructional CD”, but I don’t believe that has any effect on operation. The material is a slightly flexible plastic (vinyl?) with a very strange feel. It’ll probably hold up to some abuse from children even though it’s hollow, but then again there’s not much you could really do to it. Probably as a result of this material being hard to paint, the paint application is very minimal, but precise. It certainly doesn’t look real but it’s not all one color. Though, if I were a child I don’t know what I would actually do with it, because it’s more of a classroom “toy” than an actual one.

These kids are far too happy

This is backed up a bit by the company “Discovery Planet”, which is just a brand used by the Hong Kong import company Bowen Hill. Neither the brand nor the importer have a functioning website, but a few branded items can be found around, and there is an abysmal “Bowen Hill” Amazon Store that does sell science class product(s). This model is surprisingly still available in several places (Toys R Us for one but it can be found cheaper elsewhere), I suspect mine is quite a bit older, but there’s no copyright date on anything to indicate that.

My little statue will be going either on the shelf of weird things or the one of random artistic aids. I can see this being a nice, decently accurate model of a torso for a science class or drawing reference, and it was/is fairly cheap to aquire. If nothing else it’ll freak some houseguests out.

Ann Coulter Doll – In the Collection

If you had asked me to give you a list of strange ideas that make very little sense, there would be a non-zero chance that if the list got long enough I would have written down something like “ an Ann Coulter Barbie”. And the fact that something very similar to that exists, (and is a thing that I now own) is one of those things that makes the real world so surreal.

With very little attempt made to actually look like Ann Coulter (as opposed to a generic, blonde, doll-lady) and a voicebox installed (that now makes sounds like some insane person mumbling because I haven’t replaced the batteries) the doll comes in a “try-me” box, through which you can press a button to hear her “catchphrases”. On the box is info about how to replace the batteries and other standard box stuff no one looks at. Flipping over to the back, there is a photo of Ann over a blurry US constitution and a synopsis of her career. Strangely lacking is a justification for this item’s existence.

These photos are so pixelated I can’t believe someone proofed it.

The line of “toys” (dolls? collectables?) that this doll/action-figure-thing is a part of is the “America’s Real Action Heros/Talking Presidents” series, which had such other notable figures as Dennis Miller, Dr. Laura, Laura Bush, Uncle Sam (who, as you may know, is not actually a real person), Bill Clinton, and 4 versions of George W. Bush. Bush is, of course, the best of the line, because one version comes in a fighter-pilot uniform so he at least somewhat blends in with your GI Joes, unlike the super-adventure-having-terrorist-defeating-squad of Bill Clinton, Uncle Sam, and Ann Coulter.

Despite having a great idea (talking president dolls), and super marketable characters (like, they couldn’t do Roosevelt, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or someone cool… maybe keep with the whole “presidents” theme, I guess it would’ve been harder to get their voices) it seems that the company has disappeared. Indeed their website, talkingpresidents.com, leads (me) to a healthcare website and nothing remotely close to a weird collectable doll website.

I don’t know how to feel about this one. I can’t really talk about it as a toy since I haven’t taken it out of the box and it obviously wasn’t really meant to be a “plaything” (I’ll bet the articulation is terrible). I’m still just sort of in shock that it exists. It’s like that time William “The Refrigerator” Perry became a member of the GI Joe team, except without the sledgehammer, or the interest. It just feels like it’s something from another dimension sitting on my shelf, and as a conversation starter that’s not bad.