Playground Toys these Days Lack Scare Factor


Figure-1: The Hamburglar climbing toy was like a prison with bee hives.

With the change in season and the warmer days we’ve seen recently, my wife and I have taken the boys outside a little more, which includes the occasional visit to the public parks. Now, it’s only been the last few years or so since I’ve begun to really pay attention to the kid climbing toys at these parks, but what I’ve discovered in that time is nothing short of alarming:

Kid climbing toys suck these days.

I hate to be the one to say it—I used to vomit inside my mouth a little bit whenever I heard someone from my parents’ generation say it—but…(big, long sigh)…here goes:

I wish things were a bit more like the good ol’ days.

As an example, let’s examine the play toys at certain fast food restaurants, most notably McDonalds and such. Sure, they have flash and they have intrigue, but none hold a candle to what my generation came to know and love: the pieced-together, rust-laded metal deathtraps that each had two-page lists of danger warnings headlined by May cause death…or the hope for death. Nowadays, it’s more typical to see climbing toys that are enclosed by netting or other “safety” measures…as if we’re a society of barbarians (am I right?). It’s also more common to see these climbing apparatuses indoors rather than out because, like everything else in our post-2000 world, the rain may or may not cause cancer.

In my day (the late 1980s, when synthesizers and what I call boom-box rap, had taken over plaid everything and whiny guitar leads), every climbing toy at a typical McDonald’s restaurant was essentially a cage for children. Mickey D’s upper executives couldn’t get away with the Hamburglar toy today, which consisted of a tunnel encased by metal bars and a passageway so tiny that it was inevitable for kids to get trapped in there—and somehow the toy always came equipped with a massive bee hive or two.

Additionally, there was almost always a giant, bouncy Grimace toy (which even looked like a cage). Heck, even the spiraling slide (see Figure-2) was a jail of sorts, with its metal canopy that ran down half the length of the slide. The lure for children to climb up the slide part was always too great, which usually made it just a matter of time before the thing resembled an overstuffed sardine can and some kid was stung by a bee.

And truly, while they couldn’t get away with these sorts of designs today, they were in fact brilliant designs. The cage aspect in particular essentially guaranteed that the parents could spend their meal in peace without worrying so much about a child escaping the premises. In those days, applying leeches to the skin was the remedy for a bee sting, so that part really wasn’t so bad either. To be fair, this may be an exaggeration, but I have no idea what the remedy for a bee sting was in the 1980s and that sounds sort of close to what I imagine it being…with fewer sacrificial chickens and a lot less hallucinogens (again, the good ol’ days).

It wasn’t just the 1980 fast-food chains that had it in for kids. Playgrounds were basically a showcase of death contraptions. It wouldn’t have surprised me if some of those old climbing toys have since been repurposed for the U.S. Militia’s torture interrogation academies.

The see-saw was another deathtrap in the 80s and 90s.

Figure-2: The see-saw was another deathtrap in the 80s and 90s.

First, there was the teeter-totter, or see-saw, which I believe is the French term for ball-buster. The function of a teeter-totter was threefold:

  • It served as a kind of catapult for children under the age of six, or older than six but just extra small for their age. I recall seeing this happen a few times—it was like watching a Chihuahua ride a mechanical bull on the highest setting. The child was never simply flung from his or her seat, either. Nope, there was typically a kind of paddleball effect going on first.
  • I believe the original intent of the see-saw was to neuter any young male who was short-sighted enough not to take care in how he straddled the device. In this way, the country made its first attempts at population control.
  • The see-saw also acted like a sort of blunt guillotine for any small child who happened to stick his or her head underneath while it was in use.

4066971942_8e9dc996b7_bAnd without a doubt, children these days will never experience the excitement…the joy…the sheer pee-your-pants terror of those merry-go-round/spinning ramps. These were one of the best toys ever! The ideal way to play with them was to find an older, bigger kid and then get a bunch of younger kids. The younger kids would find a spot on the merry-go-round and anchor themselves to it as best they could. Then the bigger kid would spin it fast enough for the 1980s metal apparatus to travel to the past so that the younger kids could find their respective parents and make sure they went through with their first kiss at some school dance while a gang of goons tried to stop them and mess up the entire future…

…or something like that.

I can remember times when I rode on this merry-go-round toy, clinging to the eroded metal bar with my skinny kid arms and half-expecting to hit my head and awaken to the sight of several oompa loompas leering over me (I swear I even saw the image of an old, cackling woman on a bicycle at one point).

If you did happen to fall from this merry-go-round while it was spinning at 70 Knot and were fortunate enough not to be flung from the toy like a Raggedy Andy doll being spewed out a jet propulsion system, you were likeliest to get caught underneath the platform and either have your limb snatched away or be dragged along with it. I have some recollection of kids frantically encouraging a couple of recently legless smaller children to stop crying so the parents wouldn’t come over and stop the game.

Nope, my kids will never know these joys. Instead, they’re stuck playing with plastic balls with things like pads and netting to help cushion their falls. What has happened to the world?



5 thoughts on “Playground Toys these Days Lack Scare Factor

  1. Phil:
    As your FATHER who witnessed some of these actual (and child induced haze) events I want you to know that Mom and I never witnessed a severed limb…..several cuts and bruises, lots of motion induced barfing, and occasional mouse induced terror from a two year old (remember the California Chuck e Cheese?). But you have learned – just like your lovely wife – that these small indignities to your children mean that you two get to share a really crummy meal together, It’s obvious to your Mother and I that you have not suffered enough.
    You have great talent – keep up the work. I enjoy the laughs!


    • Ah, then operation “bury-the-limbs-in-the-playground-gravel” was a success, I see.

      Always appreciate the encouragement, as well as everything else I’ll never be able to repay you for. The more I parent, however, the more I appreciate you and Mom…and that is in no way a shameless attempt to ensure you stay on as willing baby sitters.


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