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70
Tonka truck
Mini JCBs
Tonka was THE name in building site toys. The hardwearing, hard-hitting (particularly if one was dropped off a wall onto your head) playthings were the delight of young boys (and tomboy girls) everywhere. Best known for their trucks, Tonka made rock solid, die-cast metal vehicles, with real rubber tyres and tough-as-old-boots paint jobs. To paraphrase Henry Ford, they came in any colour you liked, as long as that colour was yellow. Unlike the toys of today, they were genuinely built to last. If you were to play "chicken" with a Tonka Truck and any other vehicle of the time, there was absolutely no question who was going to come off worst. You could smash them into anything and though they'd get chipped and dented, they would still outlast your parents' car. You could even leave them out in the rain. Although they would eventually rust, by such time you'd have grown up, moved home and forgotten about them. Every boy wanted one, to be in charge of such a destructive construction vehicle - but such engineering quality came at a price. If you were lucky enough to get the Fire Engine or Dumper Truck for Christmas, you probably didn't get much else that year. But it was worth it, because they'd still be there the following Christmas, battering hell out of any new trucks on the block. Eventually, we'd all grow out of them, but somewhere out there is a scrap yard, filled with the six-inch high hulks of slowly degrading Tonka trucks. Presumably there's also a driver, sitting bored in the cab of the huge Caterpillar bulldozer thats shifting them, who can't see the irony.
69
Twister
Osteoporosis-inducing floor-sized board game
Invented by Chuck Foley and Neil Rabens in 1966, Twister revolves around a small and somewhat slippery plastic mat decorated with equidistant coloured circles, onto which players are supposed to contort their limbs in correspondence with the demands of a handy spinner ("left foot on blue" etc). Apparently initially derided as immoral smut on the basis that it involved minor contact between fully clothed human bodies, Twister hit the big time after being featured on the Johnny Carson show, when the host was seen to play it with guest Eva Gabor, and from then on it became a favourite at frat parties, on Playboy TV specials and in Michael Stipe lyrics the world over. However, the game was always conspicuously avoided and consigned to an inaccessible shelf once child owners had become awkward adolescents who found the whole idea faintly embarrassing (and not without good reason). Various rip-offs and rehashes included Funny Bones, an impossibly complicated and almost unplayable effort deriving inspiration from the traditional spiritual, Dry Bones ("connect knee bone to ankle bone", etc.), and more intriguingly a long-forgotten British reworking featuring none other than Derek Griffiths (sans Hod Of Vimto) on its packaging. To the notoriously rubber-jointed Griffiths, of course, such games of dexterity presented no problem whatsoever and the box depicted him contorting his body around the board in much the same way as he did around a bike in that Public Information Film about getting a registered serial code for your bike to prevent theft. It is a fair bet, however, that the average player was somewhat less able to "wibble wibble wobble" to the same dramatic extent, and thus quite possibly found it no different to Twister itself.
68
Perfection
Plastic shapes spitting madness
Tickticktick. Match shapes and yourself against the clock. Variously marketed by Denys Fisher in collaboration, as they so often were, with MB Games, and Action GT (which sports the best ever ball-busting logo; that "GT" seemingly hurtling off all of their products at high-speed) this was a nasty piece of work, guaranteed to up stress levels in the back seats on that long and boring journey to Swaffham that's if you had the Travel Edition, of course. The concept was simplicity itself: slot different shapes into their corresponding holes in the playing board. Easy, eh? But where Perfection really scored was with the inclusion of a distractingly loud clockwork timer. If you hadn't got all the shapes safely home before this thing wound down, the board would ping up, spewing plastic stars, circles, squares and pieces of cheese all over the shop. And that's when the screaming would start. More than one of us would take to playing the game without the timer on (which rather defeated the point) because it could wind us up into such a state of nervous terror. Variation on a theme came from Mr Pop; a similar set up, but this time the game required assembly of a face (to match an illustration on the chosen card) from an assortment of random features, again against the clock. Run out of time and Mr Pop's face would spring disconcertingly forward and shower you in more noses/ears/lips/etc. than the bloke who fills the mincing machine at the Bird's Eye burger factory. Thanks to such self-destructive programming, we reckon it's probably rather difficult to obtain a full set of either game from their 1970s/80s heyday. But wouldn't it be great to present someone with an edition of Perfection sans that one final piece? Oh, the hilarity that would ensue maybe.
67
Denys Fisher Cyborgs
Sci-fi battle figurines with interchangeable limbs and weapons
This late Seventies range beats later incarnations developed around the same theme (including Timanic Cyborgs and Micronauts) by virtue of being constructed to a larger scale (meaning they could be pitched in inter-species war with Action Man) and by being not widely owned or affordable. Cleverly manufactured in a combination of clear plastic, chromed parts and die-cast metal, they were very cool looking toys (in three flavours, Android, Muton and Cyborg), though there was no clear baddie/goodie division. There was also the slightly scary implication, not exploited by the later brands, that we would all one day become part human, part machine, with plastic or metal replacing what once was flesh. Which, when you were a youngster conversant with the plot of the Six Million Dollar Man (the TV series was based on a book called Cyborg), seemed eminently plausible, as noted elsewhere on this list. Bloody Hazel OConnor and her chart-topping Eighth Day misanthropy didnt help matters much either (wrapping quasi-religious bunkum in with "machine becomes sentient" lyrics whilst dressed as Tron in the video). As with the later figure collections, there was an assortment of accessories; in this case, weapons sets (the limbs of the Cyborgs could be replaced), flying discs a la the Green Goblin, and the CyboInvader spaceship. Forget the rubber-suited Cybermen of children's programme Doctor Who or the monotone Borg of Star Trek, heres a frightening notion: when the Queen Mum had her hip replacement, she technically qualified as a cyborg. A PR opportunity missed there, we feel.
66
Downfall
Upright counter-based game with safecracker pretensions
This Eighties entry ticks nearly all the boxes required of a board game. First off, even before the box was opened, you had the double-meaning implicit in the name (successfully exploited by the burglar-centric telly ads) insofar as not only did the red and yellow counters of the opposing sides fall down through the vertical playing construct, but also whilst you were trying to win you could have been assisting your competitor in their attempt to plot your downfall. Secondly, it required only minutes to understand how to play, set up and go. For the record, the counters were loaded into a feeder groove, whilst all the combination-lock-inspired dials were set to a required start position. Then, in turn, each player made a single turn of any dial in an attempt to pass the counters down to the waiting tray at the bottom. Most satisfying was being able to navigate a full set of counters into the bottom dial for the final turn, before watching the crestfallen reaction of your opponent as they tumbled out en masse. The aforementioned ads played on the addictive qualities of the gameplay; apparently, even housebreakers would find it impossible to resist just one more go, giving the police plenty of time to turn up and arrest them. Youve won! I think we both lost! If only thered been one of these set up in Tony Martins house it couldve saved a lot of silly bother.
65
Spud Gun
Including cap bombs/rockets
If we're brutally honest here, it was less about the guns (although anything gun-shaped was better than your fingers or a stick) and more about the bang you got for your buck. The standard, cheapest spud gun, in die-cast black metal and card-mounted in the local newsagents, would undoubtedly be an early pocket-money purchase rather than on a Christmas list, but it wasn't to be the last gunpowder-powered firearm in a youngster's arsenal. The main drawback of the spud gun was its inability to fire more than a single round, a small red paper square torn from a roll of caps (or 1cc of water, or a bit of potato). Colt 45-style repeater guns would allow the entire roll to be loaded for rapid-fire action, especially useful for re-enactments of the final scene of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. But the resulting string of shattered, smoking brown paper (and the satisfying smell of burnt sulphur) was inauthentic. Salvation came in the shape of plastic caps, six or more impregnated tubes in a circular arrangement, looking not unlike something ripped off the top of a bottle of pop, but which could be slotted into the right kind of gun barrel just like - okay, almost like - the real thing. Plastic caps also came in flat-packed squares of sixty or so for use with cap rockets, each of which could be individually fitted with a single cap to the nose before embarking on an explosive and short-lived Hindenberg-esque flight. Finally, the first year school trip to Boulogne would invariably re-ignite a child's interest in detonation and unleash epidemic purchases of Acme-style bangers (and, erm, flick-combs). But well never forget the least-treasured but oft-requested purchase (and we never got them, so they go on the list): snappers - those paper snap-crackers that looked like sperm. There always seemed to be more in a box than there actually was, possibly due to the unnecessary extra packing of sawdust and grit in there. Sensibly, they only really worked outdoors and, crucially, you couldn't terrify pensioners with them for the six months either side of Bonfire Night. Plus ca change.
64
Vertibird
Perpetually spinning indoors helicopter
There had to be a happy medium between your grown-up proper remote-control aeroplane (the likes of which would eclipse many an attempted bonding session between father and son on Britain's windy hilltops as dad quickly became entranced with the buzzing machine whilst son whimpered to be allowed a go on the controls) and the worthy, solitary 'merriment' afforded by an assembled Airfix Fokker. And there was, thanks to Mattel. The Vertibird was a small battery-powered helicopter sat on a wobbly pole, forever circling the same area - like an inverted swing-ball, really. A small remote control unit provided that joystick-waggling fun, and allowed you to "Throttle fast or slow, buzz high, dive low rescue the astronaut 'n' whirl away!" (the latter referring to a small plastic Christmas cracker-type figure who would doubtlessly find himself all too often marooned somewhere along the circumference of the Vertibird's flight-path). Various aerial-runway variations soon followed, from a logging 'copter to a rescue ship, but for our money none was finer than the SPACE 1999 flying Eagle version. Who's for "whirling away" with a rescued Barbara Bain? Or shall we just leave her there?
63
Armatron
Programmable robotic arm
Whilst the foreign car factories were laying off staff in favour of this toys older brothers, kids across the land were celebrating their newfound ability to move objects around the kitchen table by means of only a complicated sequence of instructions input into the Armatrons console. Of course, anything slightly more delicate than the plastic blocks included in the box (an egg, say) would break under pressure between the rubberised jaws, so any notions of performing David Banner-style laboratory experiments were soon similarly shattered. The Armatron was manufactured during the '70s and '80s in Singapore by the decidedly amateur-sounding outfit Radio Shack, and came pre-assembled or in kit form, inspiring loads of cheapo no-brand imported versions in its wake. A late addition to the range was the mobile Armatron, which came on caterpillar tracks (though the remote control wire was only half a metre long in any case). Poorer kids had to make do with the manually ratchet-operated Robot Arm, Terminator-esque Robot Hand, or film-Dalek appendage-alike Robot Claw, each of which, though less impressive, could be secreted up the sleeve of a Parka to aid in the pretence of the owner having been transformed into some kind of futuristic human cyborg (if, indeed, that particular fear had been overcome; see elsewhere on this list).
62
Kerplunk
Don't lose your marbles!
This doughty favourite from the Ideal Corporation brought a plastic revolution to games, with strange new shapes and dayglo colours liberating us from the boxy, beige and racing green world of the old board game. As all children knew, plastic was ace. And Ker-Plunk was the trailblazer. Resembling the central console column of a 1950s Soviet TARDIS, the fully assembled rig - base tray, two clear plastic beakers one on top of the other, with a load of good old fashioned have-your-eye-out pointy "straws" stuck through the middle at various angles, with the marbles on top - towered above its more low-level board game rivals with a lurid, Vegas-style promise of raucous gravity-derived antics to put their bookish, dice-rolling shenanigans to shame. Initially, it was great - unashamed no-brainer straw-pulling anticipation. Would the marbles fall? Not yet. No, not yet, either. Nor, indeed, quite yet. Hmm. What's for tea, I wonder? Then, all of a sudden - Ker-Plunk! Or, more accurately, tap! It's almost impossible to convey to today's young generation with their Harry Potter iPods and polyphonic Beyblades the sense of joy that used to be gleaned from what was, essentially, observing some marbles fall a distance of roughly eight inches, so it's fortunate none of them will be reading this. We just know, don't we - Ker-Plunk was The Daddy for ages four to eight? Scholastic side note - the intermittent tap-tap-tap of marble on plastic must have worked like Chinese water torture on primary school teachers, at least round our way, because the last day of term "bring in a game" ruling was, soon after the likes of this (and the placcy-rattling Buckaroo, qv.) appeared, hastily amended to "bring in a QUIET game", thus introducing many a child to the despotic tendencies of the harassed authority figure.
61
Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots
Genius heavyweight metallic mash-up
The Americans sure knew how to name toys. We, to be honest, didn't. So, while this boxing automaton chestnut went under one of the best names for any game, or indeed any thing, ever, in the States, the rather rarer British version was renamed... Raving Bonkers Fighting Robots. Quite. This Un-American activity came courtesy, appropriately enough, of Marx Toys Ltd., who, aside from seemingly employing the cast of Whack-o! in their marketing division, did actually do a neat enough job of making the toy over here. Within a sturdy boxing ring, two square-jawed robots (named, in the English version, Biffer Bonker and Basher Bonker, but let's not dwell on it) rounded on each other by means of an initially hard-to-master combination of two under-ring levers, and laid into their opponents with button-fired punching action. A successful knockout was signalled by the losing robot's head flying up on a spring and, allegedly in some editions, a bit of crude, "sampled" surrender dialogue. Presumably the British version went "By Jingo, sir! You've bally well got me in the seven-and-nines and no mistake! Care for a bun?"