TIME Toys

A Golden Girls LEGO Set Might Actually Happen

Sophia, Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and, of course, cheesecake.

The Golden Girls could follow in the footsteps of Doctor Who and spring from the television set to the LEGO set, thanks to a suggestion by a devoted fan. The Golden Girls set was designed by fan Sam Hatmaker (lostsleep) via the toy’s popular LEGO Ideas crowdsourcing community and includes everything you need to relive the magic of the beloved ’80s TV show.

As designed, the set includes the living room of Blanche’s Miami house and mini-figs of all four Golden Girls — Blanche, Rose, Dorothy and Sophia — as well as Stanley (just pretend Sophia calls him a “yutz” every time you play with him). More necessary than Stanley is the inclusion of a mini plastic cheesecake that’s perfect for eating in the full kitchen set while imagining new stories of St. Olaf.

The project currently has 3,204 supporters, but for LEGO to take this from incredible idea to production, over 7,000 more people will need to sign on to show their support. As an added incentive, the designer has promised to add the infamous Lanai to the set if the project reaches 5000 votes. Luckily, there are 343 days left to reach the goal.

LEGO did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.

TIME Companies

Toys ‘R’ Us Wants to Make Its Stores More Fun For, Well, the Kids

The Toys R Us Inc. logo is displayed inside a store ahead of Black Friday in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014
Peter Foley—Bloomberg/Getty Images The Toys R Us Inc. logo is displayed inside a store ahead of Black Friday in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

Makes sense

In effort to contend with online retailers and discount box stores, Toys ‘R’ Us is planning an overhaul aimed at making its stores more appealing for its core market: children.

Bloomberg reports the company will start with a prototype store in New York this year that will feature interactive technology and — why didn’t they think of this before? —a play area. If the kids are enjoying themselves, the thinking goes, parents will spend more time, and money, in the store.

“It has to be something where kids want to go and play,” CEO Antonio Urceley said on Tuesday, “We have to reinforce that we are a specialist.”

Toys ‘R’ Us is struggling to compete with retailers like Amazon.com and Target, which undercut the toy brand on price. The company hopes that souped up stores will make up for that.

Additionally, the company plans to hire more staff at Babies ‘R’ Us to boost customer service that it admits has been slacking.

The struggles of Toys ‘R’ Us are not new. In 2005, it became a jointly held private corporation owned by Bain Capital Inc., KKR & Co. and Vornado Realty Trust. Since then, it has failed to garner momentum for an initial public offering with the last attempt in 2013 failing due to “unfavorable market conditions.”

[Bloomberg]

TIME Toys

Here’s a LEGO Set of Female Supreme Court Justices

Maia Weinstock

But you can't buy it

Remember that feeling of looking in a toy store window to see an expensive toy you really want but will never get? Well, now there’s a LEGO set of female Supreme Court justices, but you can’t have it.

The set was the brainchild of Maia Weinstock, a deputy editor at MIT News (the news outlet of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) whose hobby is making LEGO sets of famous scientists and thinkers in her free time.

“It’s important for kids to see examples of living people who are doing extraordinary things outside of Hollywood and sports,” Weinstock tells TIME, noting that she’s especially interested in highlighting female scientists in her LEGO sets.

Her set of the female justices—which she calls the Legal Justice League—are among her most popular. They feature sitting Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, complete with personalized hairstyles and a courtroom setting.

“People don’t just want them for their kids, they want them for themselves,” she says. Weinstock tried to submit the set to the Lego Ideas contest, but could not enter them because the company has a policy against sets that have any kind of political theme. And she can’t make more since she doesn’t have the bandwidth to accommodate so many requests, and many of the pieces involved are extremely rare.

For now, the highest court in the land is also the hardest LEGO set to find.

H/T National Law Journal

TIME Pop Culture

The Barbie Doll’s Not-for-Kids Origins

Barbie Sings!
Hulton Archive / Getty Images A girl in pigtails sings along with a 7" record called 'Barbie Sings' which plays on a portable phonograph player, 1961.

Mar. 9, 1959: The Barbie doll is first introduced by the Mattel toy company

The precursor to the Barbie doll was not meant for children.

Born in Germany in 1952, the inspiration for America’s most famous doll was a saucy high-end call girl named Lilli. First created as a comic-strip character in the Hamburg newspaper Bild-Zeitung, the Bild Lilli doll became so popular that she was immortalized in plastic — and sold as an adult novelty, according to Robin Gerber, the author of Barbie and Ruth.

“Lilli dolls could be bought in tobacco shops, bars and adult-themed toy stores,” Gerber writes. “Men got Lilli dolls as gag gifts at bachelor parties, put them on their car dashboard, dangled them from the rearview mirror, or gave them to girlfriends as a suggestive keepsake.”

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Science & Society Picture Library / Getty ImagesBild Lilli doll, German, 1955

The proto-Barbie was just shy of a foot tall, with bulging breasts and a platinum-blonde ponytail, made up for a night on the town with red puckered lips and blue eye shadow. Although Barbie’s curvy proportions are modeled after Lilli’s, the German doll’s heavy makeup and suggestively arched eyebrows didn’t carry over to the American version. The dolls also have tellingly different feet, according to M.G. Lord, the author of Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll.

“Unlike Barbie, Lilli doesn’t have an arched foot with itty-bitty toes. She doesn’t even have a foot,” Lord writes. “The end of her leg is cast in the shape of a stiletto-heeled pump and painted a glossy black.”

In the comics, Lilli was witty, irreverent and sexually uninhibited. One strip, summarized by Lord, shows Lilli covering her naked body with a newspaper and explaining to a friend, “We had a fight and he took back all the presents he gave me.” Another shows Lilli in a bikini; when a policeman tells her that two-piece swimsuits are illegal, she says, “Oh, and in your opinion, which part should I take off?”

Nonetheless, Lilli dolls were soon coveted by children as well as adults. They caught the eye of 15-year-old Barbara Handler on a 1956 vacation in Switzerland with her mother, Ruth — a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. Ruth Handler brought three of the dolls home with her to California, per TIME. Three years later — on this day, March 9, in 1959 — she introduced her own adaptation at the American International Toy Fair in New York. The new doll was named Barbie, after Handler’s daughter.

By the time Barbie turned 50, in 2009, Mattel had sold more than 1 billion copies of the doll, partly by “cultivating its wholesome image,” according to TIME. But Handler acknowledged that Barbie was undeniably sexier than most American dolls of her day. She didn’t see anything wrong with that, according to her 2002 obituary in the New York Times.

“Every little girl needed a doll through which to project herself into her dream of her future,” she said in a 1977 interview, as quoted in the obituary. “If she was going to do role playing of what she would be like when she was 16 or 17, it was a little stupid to play with a doll that had a flat chest. So I gave it beautiful breasts.”

Read a 1962 article about the toy company, here in the TIME Archives: All’s Swell at Mattel

TIME Toys

Look at This Crazy $825 Avengers Iron Man Toy

Iron Man Hulkbuster Avengers Toy
Marvel

There's a stunning Iron Man Hulkmaster figure coming next year

Hot Toys has been slowly unveiling its stunning, upcoming Iron Man Hulkbuster figure from Avengers: Age of Ultron—and fans just got their biggest surprise yet.

The 21-in. figure, a super-detailed 1:6 scale of Marvel’s superhero, has a removable helmet that reveals a tiny Iron Man Mark XLIII bust with LED light-up eyes and an arc reactor on his chest, according to Hot Toys’ Facebook page, which posted pictures revealing the bust Friday.

And that’s not it: There are a total of 16 LED light-up areas located in the eyes, chest, repulsor palms, back, and legs, according to the toymaker, renowned for the level of detail in their figures. There are also more than 30 points of articulations (i.e. joints), and the figure’s metallic red, gold and silver armor even has a weathering effect.

The figure is scheduled for an early 2016 release at a price of $825.

MONEY Hollywood

Fifty Shades of Grey Box Office Already Tops 7 Best Picture Nominees Combined

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Chuck Zlotnick—Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection Fifty Shades of Grey

In light of the glaring disconnect between the movies celebrated at the Academy Awards, and the movies that people actually pay money to see, the critique that the Oscars are out of touch seems more valid than ever.

The one overarching criticism of the 2015 Oscars isn’t exactly a new one. People have been complaining for years that the Academy Awards—who gets nominated, and who eventually wins—are generally too snobby, too elitist, and just plain too out of touch with mainstream American culture and the movie-going masses. This year, the near absence of minority nominees was especially glaring, noted by host Neil Patrick Harris’s joke that the night’s purpose was to honor “Hollywood’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest.”

“Members of the Academy have simply grown too old to appreciate, understand or even notice pop culture,” noted one USA Today column, citing data indicating that Oscar voters are not only past their prime (median age: 62) but also are overwhelmingly male and white.

As one film expert explained to the New York Times, the 2015 show gives much credence to the critique that the Academy Awards are snobby, and perhaps are growing increasingly irrelevant:

“It’s sad, but most people have to finally accept that the Oscars have become, well, elitist and not in step with anything that is actually popular,” said Philip Hallman, a film studies librarian at the University of Michigan. “No one really believes anymore that the films they chose are the ones that are going to last over time.”

For one indication of how out of touch the Oscars are with what fans want to see in theaters, look no further than how the current most popular film, Fifty Shades of Grey, compares at the box office with the Academy Awards’ darlings. Best Picture winner Birdman has taken in a total of $37 million in domestic ticket sales, while Boyhood—universally regarded as the runner-up in the category—did about $25 million at the box office in 2014. Together, that’s $62 million, or about two-thirds of the $94 million in revenues that Fifty Shades of Grey made in just four days around President’s Day weekend.

Overall, in less than two weeks, Fifty Shades of Grey has surpassed the $400 million mark in global ticket sales. Remove American Sniper—the one Best Picture nominee with truly blockbuster sales, to the tune of $320 million and counting—and the box office take of Fifty Shades already handily trumps that of the remaining seven Best Picture nominees combined. (Collectively, they’ve earned roughly $300 million in ticket sales, per BoxOfficeMojo.com.)

Based on this disconnect of the movies the Academy wants to celebrate and the films that the public actually wants to see, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that TV ratings for the show were exceptionally lackluster. The number of viewers dropped 16% compared with the year before, making for the fourth worst performance in four decades. Twitter usage related to the awards was down as well, by about 6%. Insult to injury: The show’s most tweeted moment didn’t feature a movie star or a new film, but was Lady Gaga singing a medley from The Sound of Music.

In the aftermath of the 2015 Oscars, which opened with a musical number in which Jack Black—star of Kung Fu Panda, Kung Fu Panda 2, and (soon) Kung Fu Panda 3, mind you—bashes Hollywood for focusing on box office results and pushing sequels and superhero films, James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy, took to Facebook to defend comic book movies and, by extension, popular movies in general.

“The truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite,” Gunn wrote on Monday:

“What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films… If you, as an independent filmmaker or a ‘serious’ filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.”

Perhaps The Lego Movie—like Guardians, in the top five at the box office in 2014, but mostly snubbed at the Oscars—had the best response to the Academy’s elitism. The film was featured in what had to be the show’s Most “Awesome” Performance, with an wild and energetic version of “Everything Is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island. And in the middle of the song, dancers handed out “Oscars” built with yellow Lego bricks to the audience.

The move could be viewed as just some clever product placement, much like the movie itself. But it also might have sent a little message, along the lines of: Members of some elitist “Academy” aren’t the only ones who get to give out awards. Heck, anyone can make their own awards and hand them out however they please.

Isn’t that essentially what we’re doing when we plunk down good money to buy tickets to a movie?

TIME Gadgets

Why the New View-Master Is a Disaster

View-Master
Mattel Mattel View-Master

You wouldn’t strap a smartphone to your face, so why let your kids do it?

While I was recording some shows using my iPhone’s TiVo app last week, my eight-month-old’s gaze kept darting from the toy ball he was playing with to the nearby television, which was turned off. But with every familiar TiVo blip and bloop that came from my phone, he would whip around towards the big, black screen on the wall. This was the first time — and will undoubtedly not be the last — that I realized my kid was way smarter than I gave him credit for.

Despite me being a tech journalist and a pop culture junkie, my son has yet to have much exposure to screens of any sort. In fact, outside of the Super Bowl and some pigskin action on Thanksgiving, I’d estimate he’s had less than 10 hours of total screen time in his entire life. That sounds like a lot to a new, over-protective parent, but the reality is that 47% of babies spend nearly two hours a day watching television or DVDs. That makes him — in a FaceTime, iPhone, and Netflix world — practically an Aborigine.

But despite my best efforts, he knows where TiVo sounds come from, and that’s on me. So last week, when I saw the news that Mattel and Google were teaming up to re-launch the classic View-Master, I knew right then I wouldn’t bite.

A 21st century update of the classic stereoscopic slide reel toy, the forthcoming product is essentially a virtual reality headset aimed at toddlers. But instead of showcasing static images on a wheel, the new headset will use an inserted smartphone to display video that lets kids “take engaging field trips where they can explore famous places, landmarks, nature, planets and more in 360 degree ‘photospheres,’” according to the product’s press release.

Mattel and Google bill the low-cost device as an “imaginative and interactive learning environment,” but anyone with a memory of the original View-Master will recognize this as the same educational bait and switch that the classic model pulled. After starting as a way for kids to see the world, it morphed into a pair of Disney-pushing binoculars, overflowing with reels about theme parks and animated adventures.

“I question whether all of the content for this is going to be the allegedly educational stuff they’re marketing now, or is it going to be the content that Mattel already owns, like Barbie in Hawaii or something like that,” says Dr. Susan Linn, founding director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Her organization is responsible for getting Disney to stop marketing Baby Einstein videos as educational products. It’s also down on screen time in general because it’s the primary vehicle for advertising toys and junk food to little ones.

As a child of the 1980s who grew up watching a ton of television and playing with G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars action figures, that doesn’t concern me in the slightest. But Linn does have a valid argument, pointing out that in 1983, marketers spent $100 million per year selling things to kids versus $17 billion today.

Screentime and tykes

Instead of how screens are used to market products, I’m more worried about how constantly interacting with them affects people in general, and my little person in particular. News outlets have reported that the new View-Master was given a stamp of approval by pediatric ophthalmologists at Saint Louis University, but attempts to reach the doctors through the school proved fruitless. (University representatives could not identify the specific researchers, and Mattel did not respond to request for comments on this story.)

Regardless, even if strapping a smartphone to my kid’s face is safe enough on his eyes, an overwhelming amount of research has shown it will do terrible things to the rest of his body. For instance, screen time for toddlers has been proven to increase BMI, likely because it’s linked to fast food consumption, irregular sleep patterns, and sedentary behavior. It also can cause delayed language acquisition, take them away from creative play (which is key for developing problem solving skills) and even cause lower math and school achievement later in childhood. If that’s not bad enough, a 2010 article in the journal Pediatrics also showed kids who had at least two hours of daily screen time were likely to have increased psychological challenges, such as hyperactivity, difficulty controlling behavior and emotions, and problems with their peers. But, it’s cool — their eyes will be just fine.

“We don’t expect them to zone out for hours on end,” Mike Jazayeri, Google Cardboard’s product director reportedly told the media following the product’s reveal. Of course, no one expects that, but that is precisely what happens. Research has shown that screens’ flashing lights and colors trigger the fight or flight response in kids.

“The screen is incredibly compelling,” says Dr. Linn. “People think they’re engaged with them because they’re staring so intently, but what’s actually going in is that they’re caught in it and they can’t tear themselves away.”

How old is old enough?

Of course, had Mattel been available for comment, they’d likely point out that the new View-Master is intended for children seven and older. But realistically speaking, says Linn, that means the touchscreen toy is going to end up with pre-schoolers.

“Marketers do something called ‘aspirational marketing,’” she says. “Developmentally, kids want to be older; they look up to older kids; they want to have the things that older kids have.”

So along that line of thought, if Mattel and Google claim to be targeting seven year old children, they’re really after for four-, five-, and six-year-olds — because older kids won’t play with something if they think it’s meant for babies.

I admit that I’m excited to one day play video games and use my iPad with my kid, but I know I’ll have to wait until he’s ready. And as an adult in the modern world — from Facebook notifications to checking on eBay auctions to just doing my job — I also know that I struggle with screen time myself. But what it comes down to is that just because we have the technology to build something like a virtual reality View-Master, it doesn’t mean we should. Children don’t have the willpower to stop staring at the screen. Heck, most adults don’t either.

TIME Toys

New Talking Barbie Can Have 2-Way Conversations With Kids

Barbie
Mark Lennihan—AP Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom at the North American International Toy Fair in New York City on Feb. 14, 2015.

Big Sister is listening

Imaginary conversations with dolls are so 20th century. A new Internet-connected Barbie arriving on store shelves this fall will let kids have two-way conversations with the doll.

The new Hello Barbie, showed off at the New York Toy Fair on Saturday, will actually be able to listen to kids’ words and change its own language to adapt to their preferences, BBC reports. Tell Barbie you like dancing, and she’ll mention dancing in a later conversation, for example. A speech-recognition company called ToyTalk is programming Barbie’s speaking and listening capabilities.

The necklace on the doll will feature both the microphone and the speaker that help enable the conversations. Hello Barbie will retail for $74.99 when it launches, likely in time for the holiday season. The doll requires a Wi-Fi connection to talk, though kids can of course continue to use Barbie the old-fashioned way when the Internet’s down.

[BBC]

 

TIME Gadgets

Everybody’s Favorite Toy From Childhood Just Got an Unbelievable Update

View-Master
Mattel Mattel View-Master

Mattel and Google partner on a radically new and different View Master

Remember taking the bright red Mattel View-Master you had as a kid, popping in one of those reels of film and looking at 3D pictures of far-away places or exotic animals?

The View-Master is back, and with a big upgrade: Mattel has partnered with Google to bring the search giant’s Google Cardboard virtual reality software to the View-Master, letting kids explore environments like a space shuttle or a new city in 360 degrees.

Mattel’s new View-Master works by combining what Mattel calls an “experience reel” with a specialized app on an Android smartphone. It can also run any of the 200 or so Google Cardboard virtual reality apps currently in the Google Play store, serving as an affordable gateway into the world of virtual reality.

“Combining technology and innovation with this classic toy gives kids an enhanced experience allowing for play opportunities not yet imagined through new, digitally curated content,” said Mattel SVP and Global Brand General Manager, Toy Box Doug Wadleigh in a statement.

Announced Friday, the View-Master will be available early this year for $29.99 along with a sample reel. Customers can buy packs of new experience reels with fresh content for $14.99 each. Mattel told USA Today that it’s experimenting with bringing back some of its classic View-Master content for the new platform as well.

MONEY gifts

5 Valentine’s Day Gifts If You Want Her to Break Up With You

Vermont Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy Bear
John Goodman Vermont Fifty Shades of Grey Teddy Bear

These five gift ideas could be exactly what your very special someone wants for Valentine's Day. More likely, however, is that they'll come across as creepy, tacky, or otherwise ill-advised.

We’ve seen all of the ideas below promoted in earnestness as good gift options for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day this year. And sure, for the right recipient, these gifts could be seen as hilarious, romantic, charming, and perhaps even deeply thoughtful. But you better be 100% sure you know your significant other well enough to foresee her reaction, because these oddball ideas also come with the serous risk of misfiring, to put it mildly.

S&M Teddy Bear
Falling somewhere along the spectrum of amusing to downright creepy, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company is selling a bear with “smoldering gray eyes, a suit and satin tie, mask – even mini handcuffs,” based on the erotic novel and movie Fifty Shades of Grey. “She can’t help but submit to loving him,” gushed the company’s description of the limited-edition bear, which retails for $89.99.

A warning at the bottom of the bear’s web page states “Contains small parts. Not suitable for children.” And, well, to state the obvious, the fact that it contains small parts is hardly the only reason this bear, made with “the silkiest fur we can get our paws on,” isn’t a good idea for kids.

Clearance Sale Lingerie
According to a survey conducted on the behalf of Offers.com, the top two items that women DON’T want to receive from their sweethearts are stuffed animals (presumably, especially not stuffed animals that come with handcuffs) and lingerie. In a separate survey, from BeFrugal.com, nearly 90% of women (and 79% of men) said it was OK to look for ways to save on Valentine’s Day gifts.

Still, buying lingerie is a risky proposition for guys, seeing as the recipient could be insulted if the article in question is deemed too slutty, too prudish, or the wrong size. And if the main reason the buyer decided to go with a certain article of lingerie is that it was 80% off, then you’ll certainly give the impression you’re too cheap. So let’s hope the only folks following the advice to buy deeply discounted lingerie for Valentine’s Day are women making the decisions for themselves.

Candle-Lit White Castle
In what has become an annual tradition, the blue-collar mini-burger chain White Castle is welcoming customers to “enjoy a romantic evening with tableside service” at select locations around the country on February 14. Reservations are required. Dozens of Waffle House locations are doing the same, with special Valentine’s Day dinners including normally unheard-of amenities such as candlelight and tablecloths.

On the one hand, with the right dinner partner it could be an absolute hoot to mock-celebrate Valentine’s Day at a down-and-dirty fast food joint, or perhaps a so-called “breastaurant” like Tilted Kilt. On the other, bringing an unsuspecting date expecting a fancy romantic Valentine’s dinner to such an establishment could be a recipe for getting a drink thrown in your face.

Animal Sex Lecture & Dinner
On February 14, the Detroit Zoo is hosting the fourth annual “Love Gone Wild,” a three-and-a-half-hour long adult-only event that includes a champagne welcome drink, passed hors d’oeuvres, a sit-down dinner, a commemorative gift, and, most interestingly, “a candid and entertaining look at how zoo animals do the ‘wild thing,'” according to promotional materials.

Yes, the $85 event’s focus is animal sex at the zoo, which ranges from “prolonged public bouts of coitus to brief clandestine assignations,” a press release explained. And yes, the lecture is quite detailed and graphic. “We not only talk about [sex], we name names, show pictures and critique performance.”

Vacant Lot in Newark, N.J.
Let’s just say it’s probably unwise to buy a vacant lot in Newark and promise to live on the property for five years without consulting your significant other. That goes even if the property is being sold for a mere $1,000, which is the special “lovebirds” Valentine’s Day offer on the table on February 14. Couples who are interested in any of the 1,000 available vacant lots should go to Newark City Hall on Saturday morning with a $500 down payment, as well as proof you and your partner can cover construction costs needed to make the property inhabitable within 18 months of closing.

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