Mom, something smells like burning.

Hot metal. Melting plastic. Chemicals. Poisonous fumes. Everything a mother could want for her child. I realize it sounds as if I'm talking about some Chinese sweat factory full of ten-year-olds working 14 hours a day, but I'm not. I'm talking about me, when I was a kid.

Let me give you an example. Say you're living alone in a shitty room at a boarding house, and all you have to cook on is a hot plate. One day, you get a hankering for some squeeze cheese for your crackers, but all you have is a block of american. You figure you can melt some, but you don't have a pan or cups or anything else since you just moved in and mostly use the hot plate to heat a teapot full of water for your ramen noodles.

You rummage through some old crap a previous tenant left in the closet, and since she was a crazy old lady with six cats, you stumble on a couple of cat-shaped candy molds underneath a stack of newspapers from 1975.

"Hmmm," you think to yourself, "I'll just melt up the cheese in these things. You rinse the mouse turds out of the molds, stick a piece of wire hanger through the holes, lay them on the hot plate and drop a few blocks of cheese in. A few minutes later, right before you get to dippin' your Ritz, the phone rings and it's your parole officer wanting to know where you were last Tuesday night. You get all flustered trying to remember, and you don't want your cheese to burn so you pull the candy mold off the plate, burning your fingers in the process because you forgot to use the coat hanger.

"Fucker!" you yell, forgetting who you're talking to. By the time you convince your parole officer that you weren't talking to him, and that last Tuesday you didn't answer the phone because you went down to the adult video store and rented The DaVinci Load and Forrest Hump, the cheese has cooled in your mold and you've just re-invented a best-selling children's toy from the 60's and 70's called Creepy Crawlers:

Granted, you've got congealed cheese cats instead of rubbery bugs, so technically you've invented the toy my brother Snitch had -- Incredible Edibles:

Incredible Edibles was basically the same idea -- heat up goop in molds -- but since The Snitch's life revolved around food, it was only fitting that he wanted toys he could eat. I think if someone told him about edible underwear, he would have gone crazy with excitement for all the wrong reasons.

The main problem with the Incredible Edibles toy was the cost of the consumables. My brother would bake bugs like most people bake brownies. My mother could give him an entire set of new flavor packs and they'd be cooked up and eaten by the end of the day. He's the only kid I knew who could ruin his appetite manufacturing edible bugs. He would have been better off just eating the raw goop right from the foil pack. I don't even know what the ingredients were, but when you're eating something called "goop" that's the color of antifreeze, it's probably not great for you.

Another one of my toys that could give you third degree burns was the Strange Change machine. The basic premise was that you'd take these little colored rectangular-shaped pieces of plastic and heat them in the "Time Chamber," and they would expand into dinosaurs and bugs and all sorts of other things, depending upon the sets you purchased. You never knew what was going to appear since all the cubes looked alike. I can still distinctly remember the thrill of watching the pterodactyl claw pop free of the cube, my face inches from the dome as I inhaled the toxic fumes of melted plastic. To this day when I smell burning wire insulation or overheated electronics, I instantly think, "I wonder who left their Strange Change machine plugged in?"

After the creatures reached their full potential, you could take them out of the oven and let them harden, or you could put them in the integral vise and squash them back down to a cube again. Of course this never really worked well, so instead of a featureless colored cube, you ended up with what looked like a pterodactyl that had pissed off the Russian Mafia and ended up in a car crusher. Eventually the creatures became brittle and burnt and would hardly crush at all. You'd release them from the vise and they'd just sort of expand slowly and then harden into some weird shape. My grandmother would see my pterodactyl and be like, "What do you have there? Is that a bird doing yoga?" and then I'd realize the mystery was gone and I'd throw the burnt ones out.

After a while you couldn't get new refills for it, and since a Strange Change machine without refills is nothing but a space heater, we decided to see what would happen if we tried using other stuff. Most stuff either didn't melt, or melted too much. I think the wax lips finally killed it.

I guess it really was magic.


  1. I remember Creepy Crawlers! Amazingly there were not a hundred news stories and product withdrawals just because it got HOT! Or at least if they got burned their mothers just said "I told you so" instead of suing the company for millions. (And we didn't wear helmets on our bikes or knee pads on our roller skates and we managed to grow up just fine thank you.)

    Remember the plastic in a tube that you could blow up into a bubble? It was dark green and smelled like chemical warfare -- I'm certain we got high every time we played with it. I think Wham-O made it... Elastacine?

    1. that was Super Elastic Bubble Plastic

    2. Holy shit! Yes! That was it.

  2. The neighbors had the Thingmaker and the Vac-u-form. The closest we got was my sister's Easy Bake oven. Of course, we had a full sized acetylene torch, so that's something I guess.

  3. Man you had all the cool toys...kids now are wimps and don't get anything worthwhile :(

  4. I *love* that Vincent Price sounding voice-over in the commercial.

    Now I feel cheated because all I had that required heat were Shrinky-Dinks and an Easy Bake Oven. But it is pretty awesome to make cake with a light bulb and eat it for breakfast :)

  5. Actually, that commercial reminds me of "Lost In Space"

  6. we'd collect pop bottles and donate the cash to the kid in the neighborhood who had the creepy crawler machine. "gotta buy more goop, man! hook me up and i'll see what i can do."

    we also learned that once you melt a bunch of crayons in an easy bake oven, any future cakes taste like wax...

    thank you for this trip. it was a happy one...

  7. The Devinci Load and Forrest Hump weren't released until many years after 1964.

    Or so I've been told.


    Nothing makes a kid happier than giving them a new way to burn down the house.

  8. I had both the vac-u-form and the thingmaker. You could get some serious blister burns from either, but the vac-u-form could really stink up the basement with an acrid, scorched plastic smell.

  9. Anonymous10:19 AM

    The 1964 adult video store is an anachronism. A dirty book store, maybe, but not a video store.

  10. Damn I meant to take that first year out of the sentence!

  11. I bought my daughter and son-in-law a creepy crawler machine for Christmas. I am pretty sure they will love the burning goop smell just as much as I did as a kid.

  12. Oh gosh - I forgot all about the Creepy Crawlers and Incredible Edibles. My mom always said we couldn't have those because they'd stain the carpet, but I think she just didn't want to buy the goop. Obviously, your parents were way cooler.

  13. If those first five paragraphs are the intro to your next book, I hooked.



  14. What I meant was: I'm hooked.

  15. Robin, I know, it's amazing, isn't it? If I burned my fingers, my mother would just say "That's what the tongs are FOR, dummy" and run my fingers under cold water. Also, that stuff is totally on my list of toys to talk about! It smelled like you were huffing airplane glue. Remember the form-a-film?

    Chris, I had the vac-u-form too. Talk about stinking up the house. I did not, however, have an acetylene torch. I ate plenty of easy bake over the years. Markie's sister would bribe us with the tasty cakes.

    LG, you are so right. Everything is virtual instead of actual these days..

    Jen, it totally could have been him. I'll have to find out. He was kind of a voice-over whore.

    Daisy, we were always on the goop hunt too. My brother was always hoarding his back-ups for when he got hungry. I loved the smell of creepy crawler goop.

    Ed, I started out one way and ended it another. It was late and I was drunk. OK, I wasn't drunk, but it was still late. I've changed it to the way it was supposed to be.

    Hat, yeah that was a stench and a half.

    Anon, I have repaired my time machine error.

    KC, the goop was not kind.

    FA, I haven't even thought about it, but I'll keep it in mind!

  16. I always wanted the Vincent Price Shrunken Heads that were advertised during Mummy and Dracula movies. I got Shrinky Dinks instead.

  17. My cousin had another off-shoot of the same toy, "Creeple People". They were grotesque rubbery,plastic heads that folded over and secured on a pencil with a rubber ring. They had rubber arms and feet to go with it.
    I clearly remember sitting by the Christmas tree, pumping the handle on my Vac-U-form. Ever see a "KING- ZOR"?

  18. OMG! When I first started reading this post I was tranported back to our garage in California in the early 70's....where my brother had that Strange Change thing! Those little squares of platic still remind me of Starburst candies.

  19. I remember Creepy Crawlers, too. And Vac-U-Form (I can still smell the burning metal). And I had an EZ Bake Oven. And I can still taste the Incredible Edibles. Were they really edible? Really? Because they didn't taste like it and if they weren't, that would explain a lot.