BS or Truth III – WIF Confidential

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Facts That

Sound Like

BS

no_bs_zone

 

It seems like only yesterday that we dredged the back vaults of our list-writing brains to give you ten facts that sounded like they couldn’t possibly be true, but were. And what a list that was, huh? Full of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime facts of the sort you’re unlikely to witness ever again, the sort of tales that could only come once in a blue…

 No. Hold on, now. You mean we’ve got a whole other list of impossible facts lined up? And this one features a levitating city, 20 million tons of unclaimed gold lying right under our noses, and a mouse that literally screws itself to death? Jeez, we’ve really got our work cut out for us on this one, haven’t we?

10. Chicago Was Once Raised 6 Feet (and no-one noticed)

chicago

There are some facts that you instinctively know are BS, even if you’re not sure why. The idea that someone once managed to make the city of Chicago levitate 6 feet in the air without anyone noticing is definitely one such fact. For one thing, it’s impossible. For another, well, just listen to what you’re saying. You might as well claim the Moon is made of cheese.

Well, sorry, but we’re about to completely mess with your perception of how reality works. On New Year’s Eve 1855, the Chicago Board of Sewage Commissioners tasked engineer E.S. Chesbrough with finding a solution to the city’s regular cholera outbreaks. Chesbrough decided the easiest option would be to hike the entire city out its swamp, 6 feet into the air.

It was known as the Raising of Chicago, and it was completely literal. To get the city out the cholera-infested swamp it sat on, hundreds of men jacked up the streets using massive screws, filled in the space beneath them, and called the result ‘ground level’. The work carried on for 20 years, and was often completely mad. There are stories of whole hotels being hoisted up into the air, and not a single person inside them realizing it was happening.

Nor was it a temporary fix. The Chicago you see today is the ‘raised’ version. That’s right: Chicago is still levitating today, and no-one living there has ever noticed.

9. Irish Traffic Police Accidentally Invented their own Supervillain

prawo-jazdy

Not so long ago, the name Prawo Jazdy struck fear into the hearts of Ireland’s traffic cops. A Polish immigrant, Mr. Jazdy was also the most prolific petty-criminal the Garda had ever encountered. Over the course of two short years, he racked up over 50 speeding tickets in every part of the island. Stranger still, he’d never been caught.

It gets weirder. Mr. Jazdy was a master of disguise. Sometimes he’d be dressed as a middle-aged man when he was stopped. Other times he’d be dressed as a young woman. Irish traffic cops found he’d given them a different driver’s license every time they’d stopped him. He’d given 50 different home addresses, and 50 different dates of birth. Eventually, a special task force was assigned to catch this international man of mystery.

At which point a native Polish speaker joined the Garda’s traffic division. He took one look at Mr. Jazdy’s file and probably fell down laughing. Y’see, Prawo Jazdy wasn’t a supervillain. He wasn’t even a person at all. Prawo Jazdy is Polish for ‘driver’s license’.

According to the BBC, Ireland’s confused traffic cops had spent 2 years writing up tickets for different Polish drivers under the assumption that they were all the same person. The mistake was finally discovered in 2009, to the embarrassment of all.

8. The State of Maine Has More Black Bears than Black People1

black-bear

The northeasternmost state of the US, Maine is one of the most-rural places in America. With a population of 1.33 million, it’s not the emptiest state, but it’s definitely kinda lonesome. It’s also one of the whitest places in the whole of the States. How do we know this? Because according to data from both the state of Maine and the US Census, Maine has more black bears than it has black people.

Seriously, it ain’t even close. The last US Census recorded roughly 19,000 African-Americans living in Maine. A couple of years before, the state of Maine estimated its black bear population at roughly 36,000. In other words, there are roughly two black bears for every single black person in Maine.

That’s a crazy figure, especially if you grew up in a big city, or in the South, or on the West Coast, or, well, anywhere but Maine. Nationally, black people make up 13.2% of the US population. In Maine, they make up just 1.4%. By contrast, if black bears were people, they’d make up 2.7%.

7. Congress Name-Checks Hitler Seven Times a Month

hitler

Godwin’s Law states that the longer an argument goes on, the greater the chance of someone bringing up Hitler. It further states that, the minute Hitler comparisons are invoked, the conversation becomes worthless. Which, when you think about it, is the perfect way of describing Congress. Both parties have been engaged in a never-ending argument for decades now, and both have essentially become worthless. We know this because they just can’t stop bringing up Hitler.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation tracks all words in the official Congressional record for their Capitol Words project. The database stretches back to 1996, and contains millions of words. In 2015, they crunched the numbers for Hitler, and found Congress name-checked the Nazi dictator an average of seven times a month.

Hitler has been compared in Congress to Saddam Hussein, to global warming, to modern China, to Gaddafi’s Libya, to Sudan, to Iran, to ISIS, to the cloning of human beings, to the American military, and (bizarrely) to the Founding Fathers. No other dictator even comes close. The high point came in 2003, when Hitler was mentioned 93 times in a single month.

Republicans mention Hitler slightly-more often, with 57% of mentions to the Dem’s 43%. But, as the Daily Dot pointed out, no party has yet been known to mention Godwin’s Law.

6. We Still Have No Idea How Many People Chernobyl Killed

Chernobyldisaster1

On April 26, 1986, the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded. The resulting meltdown killed 31 people more-or-less instantly, and poisoned millions of square miles of land. At the time, the World Health Organization estimated the disaster would ultimately cause 4,000 deaths from radiation-induced cancer. Over 30 years later, we’re still guessing. Depending on your source, Chernobyl caused anywhere from a mere 53 deaths, to over half a million.

 The trouble is Chernobyl blew radiation over such a vast area, no one really knows how many excess fatal cancers in Europe, Asia and Africa are due to the accident. The UN estimates around 16,000. The Russian Academy of Sciences estimates up to 200,000. The Ukraine National Commission for Radiation Protection calculates 500,000.

And those numbers keep climbing. One recent high-end estimate pegged the total number dead at nearly one million. If true, that would make Chernobyl the deadliest disaster in human history bar the catastrophic China Floods of 1931 (which may have killed up to 4 million). For comparison, the combined atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima killed a maximum of 236,000. That’s right, the screw up of a bunch of Soviet engineers may yet turn out to be deadlier than the bloody endgame of the most-brutal war in human history.

5. Nintendo Existed at the Same Time as the Ottoman Empire

nintendo cards

One is a modern Japanese entertainment company, best known for a certain, red-suited, Italian plumber. The other was a vast Islamic empire founded in the 14thcentury, that was ruled by sultans and once laid siege to Vienna in Austria. Both of these things existed at the same time for thirty three whole years.

The issue here is that Nintendo is way older than you probably imagine, while the Ottoman Empire didn’t fall apart till much later than you probably think. The Ottoman Empire only collapsed in 1922 as a result of losing WWI, after the Allies had carved up its territory for themselves. Nintendo, meanwhile, was founded way, way back in 1889.

At the time, Nintendo was a simple playing card company, with nary an Italian plumber in sight. That’s probably not surprising, as Italy had only been a unified state for less than 2 decades by that point, less than the time separating us now from the release ofTitanic. Europe was still (mostly) ruled by the Prussians, Austro-Hungarians, Russians and Ottomans, and Britain had an empire that stretched all the way around the world. Meanwhile, Japan had only just left two and a half centuries of self-imposed isolation 35 years beforehand.

4. The Ocean Contains 20 Million Tons of (unclaimed) Gold

sunken-treasure

 Imagine if you discovered a near-limitless supply of gold sitting right under your nose. All your worries would be over, right? Well, we’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. The good is that such a stash of gold really does exist, likely within easy driving distance. The bad is that its scattered over the entire ocean.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our planet’s oceans contain a staggering 20 million tons of unclaimed gold. That’s enough to give every single person alive today 9 pounds of the stuff… or to just hoard it for yourself and become the richest person on the entire planet.

The trouble, sadly, is getting at it. Much of the oceans’ gold is distributed on a very, very fine level. As in, a single liter of seawater contains 13 billionths of a gram of gold. There’s just no way of extracting that, and the stuff that’s concentrated is equally hard to get at. The biggest gold deposits are buried a mile or two under the sea’s surface, and would require a massive mining operation to extract.

Still, if you go looking, you might get lucky. In 2015, the nation of Colombia discovered$1 billion worth of sunken Spanish gold sitting right off the coast of Cartagena.

3. The Biggest Quake in History Hit 23 on the Richter Scale

earthquake

 If you live in earthquake country, you’ll know anything above about a 4 on the Richter Scale is terrifying. The 2010 earthquake that leveled Haiti was a magnitude 7.0. The 1964 earthquake that nearly upended the whole of Alaska was 9.2. The largest in modern history was a 9.6 off the coast of Chile, and that caused 35 foot waves 6,200 miles from the epicenter.

But there’s actually an even-bigger earthquake on record. It went beyond standard measurements and hit a devastating 23 on the Richter Scale.

That estimate comes courtesy of NASA, who observed the quake in action. That’s right, thankfully for all life on Earth, the quake happened millions of lightyears away, at a star known as SGR J1550-5418. The ‘starquake’ was big enough to destroy everything in a 10 light year radius.

Starquakes are caused when the crust of a magnetar – a super, super dense neutron sta1r that packs the mass of more than million Earths into an area the size of Manhattan – cracks. The resulting release of energy is one of the deadliest events in the universe. Any nearby planets would be wiped out instantly. One single, 20 minute quake releases more energy than our sun does in 20 whole years. Thank God we haven’t got any in our galactic neighborhood.

2. Antechinus Mice are so Sex-obsessed They Literally Screw Themselves to Death

mouse

 You might like to think you’ve got going power in the sack. You ain’t got nothing on the Antechinus. A mouse-like marsupial found in Australia, the male is capable of mating for 14 hours straight. In mating season, guy Antechinus’s get so much action in that they literally screw themselves to death.

We don’t mean there’s some crazy biological mechanism that makes them die after reproducing. We mean they simply keep going for so long, and go so hard, that their bodies are destroyed by multiple stress injuries and they die of a failed immune system. Think about how you get more susceptible to disease if you’re tired and already injured, from playing football, say. Mr. Antechinus gets that times a million. Eventually, his stress levels rise so high that his immune system cuts out and he dies.

According to National Geographic, this malady infects every single male Antechinus. 11 months after birth, they become so desperate to mate that they wind up screwing for 3 weeks solid. They then die, and a new generation of boys are raised, who will also grow up to have a libido even Ron Jeremy would envy.

1. You Make History Every Time You Shuffle a Deck of Cards

cards

 Stop reading this for a second, and go find yourself a deck of cards. Got it? Right, now give that mother a shuffle and lay the cards in the order they come out. Congratulations, you’ve just done something completely unique in the whole of human history.

52 cards may not sound like much, but it creates an insane number of possible combinations. Highbrow British quiz show QI calculated the number at 52 factorial, which means 52 times 51, times 50, times 49… etc. Written out, it looks like this:

80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000.

That’s a big number, but we’re not even close to describing just how insanely big. The QI ‘Elves’ phrased it like this: “If every star in our galaxy had a trillion planets, each with a trillion people living on them, and each of these people has a trillion packs of cards and somehow they manage to make unique shuffles 1,000 times per second, and they’d been doing that since the Big Bang, they’d only just now be starting to repeat shuffles.”

 So there you have it. If you wanna make history, don’t cure cancer or invent a new device or conquer half the world. Just grab a pack of cards and get shuffling. We guarantee the results will be historically unique.

BS or Truth III

wif-confidential-001

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Benchmark Companies – WIF Business

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WIF History-001

10 Oldest Businesses

Still in Operation Today

Starting a business is hard enough, but making one thrive and survive, even for a short time, is sometimes nothing less than a miracle. Amazingly, the businesses on this list managed to overcome the odds; many of them have survived for centuries, and all of them are, quite astonishingly, still operating.

Note: These are not the 10 oldest businesses overall, but the oldest companies still in operation in 10 different types of businesses.

10. Video Game Company

nintendo cards

Nintendo – Japan
Est: 1889

You’re probably thinking that this entry is a mistake, because there is no waythat Nintendo was making video games over 125 years ago…which is completely true. The roots of video games started to form in the 1950s. But what’s interesting about the Nintendo Company is that it was founded on September 23, 1889, by Japanese entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi. The first products that the “Nintendo Koppai” made were hand drawn playing cards, called Hanafuda Cards, which were similar to the common 52-card decks, and could be used to play different games. In 1959, Fusajiro Yamauchi’s grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, was running the company and made a deal with Disney to print their characters on Nintendo cards. This increased business, and Nintendo went public in 1962.

With investor money, Nintendo took on a bunch of different projects, such as a taxi company, an instant rice company, remote controlled vacuum cleaners, toy making, and “a short stay” hotel chain, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Most of the ventures were failures, and Nintendo was facing other problems; the playing card business had been saturated, and they drowning in debt. Luckily for Nintendo, and millions of gamers, one of their ventures helped turned the company around: toy-making.

In 1970, Hiroshi was touring one of Nintendo’s factories and saw an engineer, Gunpei Yokoi, playing with an extending arm that he created. Hiroshi decided to launch the extending arm as an official product called the “Ultra Hand,” and it became a best seller. This changed Nintendo’s direction again, and they began making electronic toys, including a Love Tester.

It was during this time that video games and arcades were gaining some traction, and in 1975 Nintendo released its first video arcade game, EVR Race,which was followed by one of the biggest video games of all time, Donkey Kong. In 1983, they released their own platform, called the Famicom (short for Family Computer) in Japan. Shortly after they released Famicon, the video game market crashed. Nintendo managed to survive the crash, and in 1985 the company released the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. The rest, as they say, is history.

9. Musical Instrument Manufacturer

zildjian

Avedis Zildjian Company – Turkey
Est. 1623

The most famous cymbal company in the world got its start in 1618 in Constantinople, which is modern day Istanbul, Turkey, when an Armenian alchemist named Avedis tried to make gold using tin, copper, and silver. What he ended up with was an alloy that didn’t break when it was struck; instead, it made a loud crashing noise. The alloy quickly became popular and was used by the Ottoman military band as a tactic to frighten the enemy.

In 1623, Sultan Osman II gave Avedis the family name “Zildjian,” which means “son of cymbal maker.” The family continued to make cymbals in Constantinople until 1929, when Avedis III moved the company to Massachusetts, where it is still in operation today. Currently, the company is run by the 14th generation of the family and they remain the dominant cymbal maker in the world, having 65 percent of the market.

One of the big reasons for Zildjian’s success is the secret alloy formula that was developed by Avedis. Only a handful of people throughout its 400 year history have known what mixture of elements makes Zildjian’s unique sound.

8. Pharmacy

pharmacy

Santa Maria Novella – Italy
Est. 1612

The Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy, is the oldest known pharmacy in the world. It started off life as a Dominican monastery in 1221. The friars grew medicinal herbs (quit snickering, you bunch of stoners) in their gardens, and it was used to treat patients in their infirmary. The friars, who had taken a vow of poverty, didn’t open it up to the public until 400 years later in 1612, after word had spread about their balms, ointments, and washes.

Today, the pharmacy still sells many of the concoctions and remedies that it has brewed and sold throughout its 400 year (plus) history, along with modern skin care products and ointments.

7. Amusement Park

Bakken – Denmark
Est. 1583

Bakken, the oldest amusement park that is still in operation, first opened to the public in 1583 in Klampenborg, which is just north of Copenhagen, Denmark. Of course, what people find amusing has changed over the years, and 430 years ago they didn’t exactly have the rides that we are familiar with today. Instead, the park consisted of pleasure gardens. In the gardens, there would be dancing, fireworks, and even some primitive rides.

At the time, plenty of cities throughout Europe had similar amusement parks, but many closed in the 1700s. Bakken carried on and evolved throughout the centuries. In 1923, they constructed a wooden roller coaster, and they continued to add modern rides in the following years. The park is still in operation today and admission is free.

6. Printing and Publishing House

Cambridge University Press – England
Est. 1584

London’s Cambridge University was first granted a Letters Patent, which is similar to a royal charter, by King Henry the VIII in 1534. This allowed the university to print “all manner of books.” However, due to politics and censors, the university wouldn’t publish its first book until fifty years later. Their first book was Two Treatises of the Lord His Holie Supper, and it was printed by Cambridge’s first printer, Thomas Thomas. Yes, that was his actual name. No, we can’t confirm whether or not his parents did, in fact, hate him.

Since that first book was printed just over 480 years ago, the Cambridge University Press has published a book every single year. This includes works by some of the greatest minds in human history, like John Milton, Isaac Newton, D.H. Lawrence, Noam Chomsky, and Stephen Hawking.

5. Bank

bank

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena – Italy
Est. 1472

The basics of banking, such as lending money, started around 2000 B.C. and it was advanced in Ancient Greece and during the time of the Roman Empire, when bankers would take deposits and exchanged money. In the Middle Ages, in what is modern day Italy, banking evolved even more. One of the banks that helped with that evolution was Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is located in Siena. Obviously. The bank was founded in 1472, when Siena was still an independent state.

After the Kingdom of Italy was established in 1861, the bank spread to become the third largest bank in Italy. They managed to survive wars between city states, two World Wars, fascism, and they even made it through the 2012 European financial crisis due to a bailout, but in early 2016 they were again inserious financial trouble.

4. Brewery

brewery

Weihenstephan – Germany
Est. 1040

A lot of beer companies brag about their long brewing traditions, but not many breweries are anywhere close to being as old as the Weihenstephanbrewery, which is just north of Munich, Germany. The brewery is located in the Weihenstephan Abbey, which was a Benedictine monastery that was established in 725 by Saint Corbinian. In 1040, Abbot Arnold got a license to brew beer and Weihenstephan officially became a brewery.

It wasn’t an easy near-millennium for the brewery. Between 1085 and 1463, the monastery faced a number of tragedies. It burned down four times, endured three plagues, multiple famines, and a massive earthquake. Yet, it survived under the friar’s control until 1803, when the monastery was dissolved because Germany secularized. However, the state kept the brewery going and the beer is still sold to this day in dozens of countries around the world.

3. Bar

bar

Sean’s Bar – Ireland
Est. 900

Before we get into this entry, we feel we should clear the air a bit. We really don’t want to stereotype here, but is anyone truly surprised that the oldest bar in the world is located in Ireland? Well, it’s true. Sean’s Bar, which is located on the west bank of the River Shannon in Athlone, is believed to have been continuously in operation since 900 , and supposedly, there is a record of every owner since it opened. Amazingly, this includes singer Boy George, who briefly owned the bar in 1987. Further proof of the bar’s age was found during a renovation in the 1970s, when workers found a piece of original wall that is made of wattle and wicker. The wall was excavated, and it’s on display in a glass case at the bar.

Sean’s Bar was originally opened as an inn by Luain over 1,110 years ago, and that is where Athlone gets its name from. In Irish, Athlone means Atha Luain, which translates to the “Ford of Luain.” Luain designed the inn with tilted floors so that when it rains, the water runs through the bar and out to the river. This tilted floor is also great for messing with visitors to the bar who have had one or three or six too many. And those visitors have included U2, star athletes, and plenty of American tourists. The boom in American tourism started in the 1980s, after Dallas stars Larry Hagman and Linda Gray became frequent visitors to the bar and expressed their love for it.

2. Restaurant

restaurant

Stiftskeller St. Peter – Austria
Est. ~806

The restaurant business is notoriously hard. On average, almost 60 percent fail within the first year. It is even more difficult to get to the five year mark. That means having one run continuously for decades is impressive, let alone centuries, but Stiftskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria has been open for a mind-boggling 1,210 years.

The restaurant is part of the original building of St Peter’s Abbey, which is a Benedictine monastery. The earliest reference to the restaurant is found in the 806 writings of Alcuin, who was a follower of Charlemagne. Since then, Stiftskeller has supposedly been continuously open and many dignitaries and celebrities have visited, including Bill Clinton, Clint Eastwood, and Karl Lagerfeld.

Stiftskeller serves traditional Austrian food and once a week, they host a dinner where musicians perform Mozart in traditional period costumes.

1. Hotel

hotel

Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan – Japan
Est. 705

In the South Japanese Alps (yes, Japan has its own Alps, in case you didn’t know that and were confused) in the Hayakawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, you’ll find the oldest hotel in the world, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan. The hotel was founded by Fujiwara Mahito in the second year of the Keiun era (which is where the hotel gets its name), which is 705 in the Roman calendar.

Since its opening, the hotel (which is known for its hot springs) has been owned and operated by 52 generations of descendants from the original owner, although a few were adopted in. The hotel, which is close to Mount Fiji, will run you at least $475 to $570 USD per night.

If you’re wondering what the key to their 1,300 years of success is, Fortunespeculates that, based on the hotel’s strong reviews, it is their impeccable service.

Also, at 1,300 years old, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is not only the oldest hotel in the world, but it is also thought to be the oldest business in operationtoday. Just to give you some idea as to how old it is, it is 225 years older than the Kingdom of Britain.


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Top Ten Toys of All Time

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Toys Top 10-001

Top 10 Hot Christmas Toys

from contributor Tanya Bennett

This list encompasses the top 10 hot Christmas toys of all time. When I say ‘hot,’ I mean the ones flying off the shelves, that every kid just HAS to have, the kind of toy that brings out the best in everyone. Kids (and some adults) spend their time feverishly begging and pleading for the item, while normally calm and level-headed people become hot-headed shopping maniacs.

I could have easily made a list of the top 50 hottest Christmas toys in history. It was hard to leave out the famous Spirograph, Star Wars, Slime and the Slinky, among others. I also came across some hot Christmas toys that I hadn’t heard of before, like the one million plastic bubble topped cars that sold in 1946 (made by Wannatoy).

In an effort to narrow the list down, I tried to focus on crazes that seem well, crazy, today or that have crazy stories related to their popularity. Toys got extra hot points if they were influential on the future of the toy industry (both developments and marketing).

Time to ride the crazy train through the last 60 years of Christmas toy history! Here is my top 10 list of hot Christmas toys of all time, placed in order of their release –

10. Mr. Potato Head

1952
1 million sold
Hasbro

The Christmas Story
Originally George Lerner’s idea for this famous toy spud seemed like it might be a dud. At first, no one seemed interested in his idea, but eventually a small family-run toy company called Hasbro began production. Mr. Potato Head became so popular that a Mrs. Potato Head was introduced the next year.

The Craziness
Mr. Potato Head was the very first toy advertisement on TV. Thank you Hasbro for starting the never-ending chorus of ‘Can I have that?! I want that!” that started in living rooms in 1952 and hasn’t died down to this day. I think Tylenol probably owes Mr. Potato Head a kickback for a jump in profits, particularly around Christmas.

In more recent news, a six foot tall 150 pound Mr. Potato Head statue went missing from the entrance of a private estate on Rhode Island in 2003. It showed up in a field a few days later. Sgt. James Quinn stated that Mr. Potato Head was “mashed a little bit” during the incident (boston.com). No one knows how what happened, but there is some speculation that Mr. Potato Head had relocated to the field in an effort to get back to his roots.

9. Pet Rock

1975
over 5 million sold in 6 months
Rock Bottom Productions

pet rock hot christmas toys

The Christmas Story
In his own words, Ad executive Larry Dahl “ hit on the idea while boozing with pals” (people.com). Next, he sent a press release out to “virtually every major media outlet” leading to articles in several local newspapers, Newsweek, and an appearance on The Tonight Show.

The fad peaked during the 1975 Christmas season and it is estimated that Dahl earned over 15 million dollars during the six months that Pet Rocks were popular.

The Craziness
Um, hellooooooooo – every day during the 1975 Christmas season 100,000 people were paying money for a pet rock. What is even more crazy? As I write this, Pet Rock USB buddies are sold out atthinkgeek.com and actual Pet Rocks are still selling on eBay for up to $15.00.

In other news, I’m sorry to report that you missed this year’s Pet Rock Festival. The festival is held in Worcester, Massachusetts and promotes kindness to all animals. Instead, you can sit down and listen to Teenage Fanclub’s song “Pet Rock” (Bandwagonesque, Spin’s Album of the Year, 1991) while you enjoy a glass of Pet Rock Wine.

8. PONG

1975
150,000 sold
Atari

The Christmas Story
“Pong was an adaptation of the company’s popular arcade game of the same name, and it became the most popular game of the 1975 holiday season, with sales of $40,000,000 for the year” (ideafinder.com).

The Craziness
When it comes to home video games, Pong really started the ball rolling. When you see it in action now, it’s hard to believe that a few lines on a TV screen could cause such a ruckus, but Pong was 1975’s version of a Wii. “People were waiting two hours in line to sign up on a list just to get an Atari home version of Pong” (atarimuseum.com).

Frank Black may have asked “Whatever Happened to Pong?” on his album Teenager of the Year, but Pong’s legacy lives on in science and the arts. There are over 119 works of fan fiction about Pong at fanction.com. Also crazy (as in so cool, it’s crazy) ScienceDaily.com reported that students “have adapted an open source game called ‘Pong’… enabl[ing] the player to move the bat using their eye.” This innovation “could allow people with severe physical disabilities to become ‘gamers’ for the first time.”

7. Atari

1979
1 million sold
Warner Communications

The Christmas Story
Atari again? Yes, Atari gets two spots on this list of hottest toys because their products were crazy popular during two Christmas seasons.

The Atari Video Computer System (VCS) originally came out in 1977, it came with one game (Combat) and about half a dozen other games were available. That year “was not a good time for video game systems as the market experienced a crash after it had been previously oversaturated with Pong clones” (consoledatabase.com). While the Atari VCS is considered the first successful console with interchangeable cartridges, its sales were disappointing during its first two years.

However, by 1979 there were 32 titles in their library, including the very first video game with an Easter Egg (Adventure) and the first game licensed from a movie franchise (Superman)… and the first generation of gamers had been born. That year the Atari CVS, renamed the Atari 2600, “was the bestselling Christmas present… and a million were sold that year”, while game cartridge sales were estimated at $100 million (wordiq.com).

The Craziness
Atari was the beginning of a new pastime (in some cases, passion). In fact, many of today’s gamers actually played games on the Atari 2600 since the average video game player in the U.S. today is 35 years old (itfacts.biz).

The cartridge format for games was used in many future systems until this was replaced with the CD format. The last system to use cartridges was Nintendo 64 (discontinued in 2001).

While I couldn’t find any evidence of Atari-related riots, there is a band called Atari Teenage Riot whose performances have allegedly incited violence, and even a riot with police in 1997. There is also a song called “Atari Baby” by Sigue Sigue Sputnick. Although I’m pretty sure it’s about the arcade version it’s such a good song, I’m mentioning it anyways.

6. Cabbage Patch Dolls

1983
almost 3 million sold
Coleco

The Christmas Story
According to cabbagepatchkids.com, the dolls “go on record as the most successful new doll introduction in the history of the toy industry”. In 2000, they were featured in a U.S. stamp series highlighting the 1980’s (as far as I can see, the only other modern toy to ever be featured on a stamp is the Slinky).

It all started when celebrities were spotted toting them around, even President Jimmy Carter’s daughter Amy had one. Then, “Coleco began aggressively pushing the Cabbage Patch dolls–it sent them directly to reporters, a relatively new technique” (time.com). Over 2 million dolls were “adopted” in the first six months. By December of 1983, Cabbage Patch Dolls were on the cover of Newsweek and they were in short supply and high demand.

The Craziness
The shopping frenzy surrounding the dolls is well documented (check out the video above). According to, awesome80s.com dolls were being delivered to stores by armored car and Coleco pulled the TV commercials in an attempt to tame the madness; one desperate and doting Kansas City dad even flew to London to get his daughter a doll. Check out awesome80s.com for more crazy stories from the Cabbage Patch, which also says the dolls are “the first instance of a fad toy causing the phenomena now known as Christmas Gift Buying Rage.”

I also had to include two of the Cabbage Patch urban myths listed at Snopes.com (there are several, so check out the site for more). First, did you know the dolls were designed to get the masses comfortable with the mutated appearance of survivors of a thermonuclear war? Also, there were reports that children wouldn’t get their dolls back from the factory if they sent them in for repairs- they would receive a death certificate instead.

The questionably cute dolls even spawned a dance called The Cabbage Patch, made famous when it became San Francisco 49er Jerry Rice’s end zone dance. There is also the Cabbage Patch biker bar of Daytona Beach, famous for it’s annual coleslaw wrestling event, but I’m pretty sure it is not named after the doll.

5. Game Boy

1991
over 1 million sold in the US during its first Christmas Season
Nintendo

The Christmas Story
A year after its release in Japan, the Game Boy came to the U.S.A. and conquered the Christmas shopping season. Contributing to its popularity: the Game Boy gave you 35 hours of play on one set of batteries, in contrast to its competitors at the time. Also, it came with Tetris- a game that appealed to all ages.

“Game Boy and Game Boy Color’s combined lifetime sales reached 118.7 million worldwide” (businessweek.com). Game Boy is “the longest running dynasty in the video game business” according to arstechnica.com.

The Craziness
The Game Boy console’s design is instantly recognizable and has become a pop culture icon. There are Game Boy condoms, wallets, handmade dresses, fully-functional Halloween costumes, and tattoos. Artists like NullSleep use the Game Boy to create music and Game Boys have been repurposed into external hard drives, while the game cartridges have been turned into USB drives.

4. Tickle Me Elmo

1996
10 million and counting
Tyco

The Christmas Story
It’s a case of Christmas in July, or at least that’s when this Christmas story begins. Rosie O’Donnell introduces Tickle Me Elmo to her viewers (mostly moms) and 200 Elmos are given out to her studio audience. By some accounts, Tyco had already sold 400,000 Tickle Me Elmos before he made his appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell show; by other accounts Tyco was not expecting the rather expensive doll to do well, and it was a slow seller. Similar to the Cabbage Patch craze, the low supply of dolls made it even more desirable, so that “in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Tickle Me Elmo dolls were in such scarce supply that ads cropped up in newspapers asking for as much as $2000 per doll” (media-awareness.ca).

The Craziness
One department store employee describes what happened to him on December 14, 1996:

“I was pulled under, trampled—the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans…” says Waller, who suffered a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and a concussion. “I was kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious.” (Jan 13 1997, Just Tickled, people.com)

Other Tickle Me Elmo trauma can be found at customerssuck.com. You can buy the original dolls online for less than $20.00 U.S.

3. Furby

1998
1.8 million sold
Tiger Electronics

The Christmas Story
Like most of the other toys appearing later on this list, the Furby was introduced at the Toy Industry Association’s annual Toy Fair. This introduction of the Furby took place in February, months before it’s planned release in October. Premature media coverage caught the attention of toy stores and Tiger had sold all of them before the factory had even started production. Parents were just as intrigued, because the toys sold out at the stores immediately.

Over 14 million Furbies sold in 1999, but the Christmas of 1998 was the height of the Furby fervor because of it’s lack of availability. Furbies were re-selling for hundreds of dollars (their original ticket price was $35 U.S.). For the first time in toy history, parents turned to the Internet to satisfy their Christmas toy cravings. To put this into context, eBay was only 4 years old in 1998 and only 26.2 percent of U.S. households had internet access. One eBay seller made at least $2600 selling Furbies to 33 Buyers. Unfortunately, most of them were buying Furbies of the imaginary variety because the eBay Seller was a scammer cashing in on the Furby frenzy (‘Burned eBay Furby Buyers Get Payback’, Jan 22 2009, news.cnet.com).

The Craziness
“Sometimes the hot toy is not such a good toy,” said one toy expert during the Furby craze (time.com). Apparently, the Furby was not only annoying – it also creeped quite a few kids (and adults) out. Only a few weeks ago my nieces (now in their 20’s) were describing how scary their Furby was to have in their rooms because it would suddenly start talking. A visit to a forum at tamatalk.com is full of similar stories of Furby owners who make their Furbies face the wall at night so their scary face isn’t visible, of Furbies that call out in the middle of the night, and family dogs who won’t go near them.

The main character of Bret Easton Ellis’ 2005 book Lunar Park is tormented by his step-daughter’s Terby toy – not just similar in name, the doll has a beak, is furry, and ‘comes to life’ (although in Ellis’ case the Terby flits around and, from what I can recall, tries to kill him).

The Pet Rock was (hopefully) obviously just a rock, so was not likely to be disappointing; the Cabbage Patch Kid was actually a popular and enduring toy (personally, I don’t understand it, but perhaps that’s just the bitter, doll-less little girl in me speaking); but the Furby just… sucked?

Not every agrees, because adoptafurby.com seems to be completely sold out of Furbies. They believe in “giving every Furby a chance at a new life, regardless of their past” and 851 Furbies have already been adopted through their site.

Furbies also enjoy new lives at the hands of hackers and circuit benders. Well, perhaps enjoy isn’t the right word… Hacking involves “getting sliced open, their guts torn out, and their insides replaced with odds and ends you can find at the local hobby store” (hackfurby.com). Circuit bending, “an electronic art which implements creative audio short-circuiting,” sounds friendlier but involves a similar operation (anti-theory.com).

Possibly more disturbing than hacking a Furby apart, the Adult Lovers of Furbys group (ALOF) on Yahoo had 18 new messages and 18 new photos posted just this week…

2. Playstation 3

2006
Sales Unavailable
Sony

The Christmas Story
The PS3 had several features that set it apart. It’s ‘unified online gaming service’ encouraged online play, it had functionality for multimedia storage and play (photos, music and movies) and it primarily used Blu-Ray disks for storage.

The Play Station 3 was unveiled at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo (May) and shown again at the Tokyo Game Show (September) but there wasn’t an operating version of the game system to demonstrate at either of these shows. The international release date was originally set for November, but the PAL version (Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Western Europe) was delayed until Spring 2007). Over 81,000 PS3’s sold within the first 24 hours of the Japan release.

The Craziness
All of these factors contributed to a tense environment surrounding the U.S. release. PS3’s pre-sold for thousands of dollars online and, more than ever, people were camping outside stores. The long build up of anticipation resulted in numerous reports of gun violence in the news (armed robbery, shootings, drive-bys) and brawls (in one case, 60 shoppers were involved).

Don’t forget the story of the customer who “treated people ahead of him in line to coffee spiked with laxatives” when he found out there wasn’t enough PS 3’s to go around. Talk about playing dirty(Esquire).

1. Zhu Zhu Pets

2009
10 million
Cepia

The Christmas Story
Russell Hornsby, the man who came up with the idea for theserobotic hamsters, was inspired by the popularity of hamster footage on YouTube. The toy was tested out at  a few stores in Arizona and sold out in a few weeks. “Following in the footsteps of must-haves of seasons past — the Furby, Tickle-me Elmo, Cabbage Patch dolls, Beanie Babies — supply seems to grow short just when demand is high, and Zhu Zhu Pets are flying off store shelves” (abcnews). Another reason for its success: you could buy a hamster for under $10. Also, “Unlike actual hamsters, they don’t bite, they don’t smell, and they don’t poop” (pennlive.com).

Yes, they’re cute – but are they really robots? Terese Polletti at Market Watch argues that they are not and quotes Jimmy Kimmel, who described Zhu Zhu’s as “Matchbox cars with hair on them.”

Yet, they seem to have appeared at the right place at the right time: created by a small St. Louis toy company (but manufactured in China) and selling for a reasonable ticket price. Finally, a genuinely cute and fun toy, whose popularity hasn’t been spurred on by an innovative or expensive marketing campaign or celebrity endorsements.

The Craziness
Yet, by the end of November Zhu Zhu pets were selling for $250 on eBay and several Target employees were fired for purchasing Zhu Zhu pets earlier than the company policy allowed (consumerist.com). ‘Tis the Season! Now stop reading, it’s time to rush down to the store and wrestle some other desperate shopper for this year’s toy!


 

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