Freed from Freeing

For most of the past 22 years, this season was quite the challenge. The weeks before Christmas were filled with shopping and running down items, wrapping and decorating. Christmas Eve required work long into the evening, not starting until after the last of the kids was in bed. And Christmas morning, at least for me, was the worst.

When I was a child, the two instructions most dreaded by my parents were “Some Assembly Required” and “Batteries Not Included.” But the problems associated with those toy-box standards seem quaint compared to the difficulty parents face today: extricating new toys from the packaging web that ensnares them.

You simply can’t purchase a new toy without running into a labyrinth of twist-ties, tape, stitching, wires and other affixation devices, all hermetically sealed to lock in that fresh, polyurethane goodness.

Product tampering? You’d have better odds of carrying your complete collection of Civil War swords onto a United Airlines flight while wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “Martyr in Training” than adjusting the hemline of a Nutcracker Barbie before it left the shelves of Toys ‘R Them.

Though the toy makers are just now perfecting the art of elusion, the move towards inaccessibility has been going on for years.

Imaginary research indicates one example of the toy companies’ cryptic packaging practices dates back more than a quarter-century. In 1977, 33-year-old Bob Tolbert of Parsippany, N.J., had just finished his 27th screening of “Star Wars” (retroactively renamed “Star Wars Episode π: Register of the Trademark”). Determining his downstairs bedroom in the basement of his parents’ split-level ranch home was not complete despite the replica Light Saber, Darth Vader Helmet and Princess Leia poster hanging directly above his bed, Tolbert purchased a genuine Luke Skywalker inaction figure. But Tolbert was stumped in his efforts to free Luke and instead left him on his nightstand in the original packaging, launching a mystifying adult trend that continues to this day.

But knowing the origins of this phenomenon is no help when you’ve got a child salivating at a shiny new toy. So you break out the knives, scissors and radial arm saw, which aren’t very good at liberating G.I. Joe from his plastic P.O.W. camp but do a good job of producing nicks, cuts, blisters, bruises and language unfit for this essay, let alone Christmas morning around the tree.

Of course, if after 90 minutes of toil you manage to separate the toy from the chaff, your hard work is rewarded five-fold as your child plays with the bounty with uncontrolled enthusiasm. This euphoria lasts an estimated 12 minutes, at which point your child puts down the toy, forever, and flips on the television to see what trouble Spongebob and Patrick have found themselves in.

And the most perplexing aspect of this entire dance: Absolutely none of these protective measures does anything to prevent someone from LiMeloballing off with the product from the toy store shelf.


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