Six Dreadful Product Designs Part 3

30 Mar

See Part 2<<

2. Kids’ Products Designed to Ruin all they Touch

Beware of alien slime

When we were kids, my mom made us this stuff that the recipe book called ‘Pud’. It was made mostly of corn flour and water (although it may require baking soda… Who cares! Get on with it!). The point of this concoction is that it usually has the properties of a goopy liquid, but when you squeeze it, it has the properties of a solid. It’s a non-Newtonian fluid, apparently; one of those that thickens (or thins – e.g. tomato sauce) when pressure is applied.

Well, in spite of the fact that the goo requires a maximum of 2 common household dry ingredients, someone decided to package the powder as an educational toy, and someone else bought it and gave it to one of my kids as a birthday present. Unfortunately, to justify selling it as mysterious ‘Alien Slime’, or whatever they called it, the manufacturers added a third ingredient: weapons-grade colourants.

Artist's impression

For the purposes of mixing the ingredients with water, I stirred with my finger for about 3 or 4 seconds. When I removed my finger, it was dyed bright red. After scrubbing with soap, I had done nothing more than exercise futility, and my finger remained that colour for more than a day.

Realising that this substance should not under any circumstances be allowed to touch anything important, let alone be put in the hands of children, it got binned.

Finger Paints

As far as I am aware, finger paints are not really intended for the use of the Great Masters of the art world. At least until artists get committed to convalescent institutions, finger paints tend to be off their repertoire.

Invented by Michaelangelo for all those fiddly parts of the Sistine ceiling

That is to say, it’s a medium intended for kids. It’s instant, there’s no need for set-up and brushes; they get to use their hands, make a mess. Oh except for the mess part. They shouldn’t make a mess. And they probably shouldn’t use their fingers, because kids tend to touch other things using their fingers.

If you or I were making a substance for the world’s messiest creatures to smear on things with their hands, it’d probably occur to us to ask, ‘Say, I wonder if this wipes off?’ This seems not to have worried whoever made this stuff. The photo above left includes my daughter’s dress after being laundered twice. Those blue drips haven’t budged. Here’s another part of the dress:

I have a shirt with a small blue dot on it where she merely touched me as I was dragging her to the sink to clean her off. It’s fading now after the fourth or fifth wash.

This is a product designed for making a mess. With psychotic staining power.

1. Game Token, Demonic

I was at the SPCA yesterday, and a woman who’d had her guard dog confiscated came in to get the dog back. She was on the warpath, and madly shouting and pointing at the lady behind the counter. The conversation went,

Mad Irish woman: ‘I want my dog back! I’m not leaving until I get my dog back!’

SPCA lady: ‘You’ll need to talk to the inspector who…’

Mad Irish woman: ‘I’m not talking to anybody! I just want my dog back!’

SPCA lady: ‘Um…’

Mad Irish woman: ‘Fine! I’m calling the POLICE!’

<Storms out>

Mad Irish woman to stranger in hallway: ‘If you take my dog, then I take your rabbit!’

<Attempts to take stranger’s rabbit>

<Confused stranger with caged rabbit enters room>

As this good article points out, shouting at the only person who can help you with your problem is a stupid decision. Nevertheless, there are not many circumstances that make people angry enough to attempt a public rabbit kidnapping (yes, that was an entirely true story). One thing that recently made me this angry was a game token for a snakes and ladders game, again given to one of my kids for a birthday present.

token

You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but if the gift includes one of these, you should punch that horse's teeth out.

The only necessary design features of a snakes-and-ladders game token are that it should fit on the board, and it should be distinguishable from other tokens (say by colour); that’s it. So the cone shape above with all of its flutes and lips has been designed for one purpose. That purpose is…

Finger trap!!

As a game token, this object is rather poorly designed. As a finger trap for three-year-olds, it is incredible. Firstly, making an opening that is exactly big enough to accept a finger but not release it is easier said than done. That alone must have required hours of research. To improve its effectiveness, the designers conceived of an innovative lip design, loosely like the barb of a fish hook.

It is smooth when pushing into it, but as you can hopefully see on the above image, a millimetre or two in, there’s a tapered, sharp-edged rim around the circumference. This means that when attempting to pull it off, not only does it grab and hold enough skin to thicken the knuckle, but it also hurts. So after promising once or twice not to hurt her, and failing to keep that promise, eventually she would not let anyone even look at the finger.

We therefore had to conduct our remaining removal experiments while she was asleep. These involved trying to immobilise the hand and gently saw through the plastic rim with a blunt hacksaw (night one); then clipping through the thin cone with hedge clippers and breaking through the remaining third (night two); and then trying again with the saw (night 3). By the end, we had discovered something else about the design of this thing:

They didn’t skimp on plastic quality. What one needs in a trap (but not in a game token) is strength, so that your prey cannot escape. This plastic is not flexible enough that it can be stretched, and it is not brittle so that it can be snapped or prised apart. It is also quadruple thick at the rim. The two pictures on the right show what the cone looked like on the final day: sawn, clipped down both sides, but firmly secured to the finger. My wife suggested seeing what could be done to break another token not stuck to a finger, and that’s what you see on the left. I sawed the lip as deep as could reasonably be done — and pulled apart harder than could reasonably be done — if it were on a finger, and nothing. Not even close to breaking.

Eventually, we went to a doctor, who I had hoped would have some sort of plaster-cast saw that could cut it off. Instead he helplessly poked at it with scissors. Having no more ideas, he had her tied in a blanket to restrain her and he me and the nurse hold her down while he grotesquely prodded around with a comically long needle in the soft flesh between her fingers. Then (as is typical for doctors) without giving the anaesthetic time to work, he declared that she could feel nothing and pulled it until it came off. The hysterical screaming and thrashing and bleeding suggested to me that she was actually feeling a few things, but, hey! You’re the doctor. So great, Doc, that was something I could have done for free while traumatising her significantly less. And you only charge, what? R350? Thanks, Doc. You saved us.

The petting-zoo-restaurant visit by which we hoped to mitigate the trauma afterwards cost about R100. I lost the rest of the day to depression. She recovered OK, but I don’t know what the therapy is going to cost me when she’s a teenager.

So, yes, if I ever come across the designer of that game token, I think I’ll do more than try to steal his rabbit.

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2 Responses to “Six Dreadful Product Designs Part 3”

  1. Daniel April 13, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    Oh me oh my. That’s terrible.
    But the last line (and the early story) was hilarious.
    Love your writing Jordan! 🙂

    • Jordan Pickering April 13, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Thanks, Daniel, very kind.

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