5 Holiday Shopping Pitfalls to Avoid

iStock
iStock

Now that the holiday shopping season is in full swing, you'll probably have to navigate a retail gauntlet to pick up gifts for everyone on your list. You may think that as long as you don't headbutt another customer while going for the last Wii or get assaulted in a doorbuster frenzy on Black Friday, you'll be fine. You might want to reconsider, though, as any number of pitfalls could still give you trouble, including some that strike after you get your booty to its carefully chosen hiding place in your home. (And yes, your children know it's all hidden in the guest room closet.)

1. Fisticuffs

Everyone jokes about fistfights to get a particularly coveted item, but every year people forget the holiday spirit and decide to throw down. This year's Black Friday was no exception. Videos of a scrum for the last Xbox 360 trickled onto YouTube, but no story quite encapsulated the merry sentiments of shoppers quite like this one from Friday's New York Times:

At a Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, Nikki Nicely, 19, jumped onto a man's back and pounded his shoulders when he tried to take a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television to which she had laid claim. "That's my TV!" Ms. Nicely shouted. "That's my TV!"

A police officer and security guard intervened, but not before Ms. Nicely took an elbow in the face. In the end, she was the one with the $798 television, marked down from $1,000. "That's right," she cried as her adversary walked away. "This here is my TV!"

2. Store Bankruptcy

Nothing says "I care, but not enough to put any thought into your gift!" quite like a gift card from a big-box retailer. While sticking a gift card in an envelope may seem slightly more personal than giving cash, it carries some added dangers. In the current economic climate, it's not all that uncommon for a store to go bankrupt, which means your gift will also say, "I didn't care enough to investigate this merchant's underlying financials, either." Some estimates state that the bankruptcies of stores like Linens "˜n Things and The Sharper Image this year have killed off close to $100 million in gift card value.

You're not necessarily left out in the cold if you've got a gift card for a company that files for bankruptcy; Circuit City actually received permission to continue honoring their outstanding cards after filing for Chapter 11 a few weeks ago. Other stores will redeem their cards, but there might be a catch. When The Sharper Image filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year, it eventually allowed consumers to redeem their gift cards"¦but only if they were spending twice the card's value on a transaction. Companies don't have to do even that, though, and if the store for which you're holding a card goes totally belly-up and starts paying off its creditors, you're probably not going to see the $40 from your aunt. You can make a claim in bankruptcy court to get your cash back, but as an unsecured creditor, good luck seeing any money. You'll be one tiny step up the payment priority ladder from the kid the CEO borrowed milk money from in grade school and never repaid.

3. Filthy Money

You've probably heard statistics about just how grimy paper bills can get as they circulate. A 2007 Irish study found that 100 percent of tested bills contained trace amounts of cocaine. Your cash isn't just covered in narcotics, though; it's also crawling with germs. A 2001 study showed that 87 percent of bills contained bacteria that could conceivable make someone with a weak immune system sick, and 7 percent of the studied bills carried bacteria that could make even a healthy person sick. You're picking up bacteria everywhere, so you don't need to do anything rash like trade in your wallet for a coin purse. But if you're handling a lot of extra cash during your holiday shopping, you might want to stock up on some hand sanitizer.

4. Drug Trafficking

Just find that hot new toy you were looking for? You might want to give it the once-over to make sure it's not full of narcotics. Colorado authorities got a surprise as they investigated a methamphetamine ring in 2006; enterprising traffickers were packing toys with their wares. Most notably, an Elmo doll contained four pounds of meth. Watch out for this sort of trap if you decide to look for tough-to-find toys on the secondary market. It may seem like a long shot, but if your Elmo sweats and nervously scratches his face instead of giggling when tickled, you might want to keep moving.

5. Deadly Toys

Once you've scrapped and clawed for that perfect toy to put under the tree, you might want to make sure it's not conspiring to harm your child. For this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning against five specific types of toy threats: scooters (potentially deadly falls), small balls and small parts (choking hazards), balloons (again, choking), magnets (look delicious but cause injuries if swallowed), and toys with chargers or adapters (burn hazards).

Even if you manage to avoid all of those tempting-but-deadly toys, there's no guarantee that the toy you pick won't have a problem with high lead content. Last year manufacturers recalled close to 4 million toys due to lead concerns. Those Curious George plush dolls may have looked adorable, but The Man in the Yellow Hat never explained the less-cute symptoms of lead poisoning, including nausea, chest pain, and irritability.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. Enslaved people had already been emancipated—they just didn’t know it.

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. So technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. There are many theories as to why the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t enforced in Texas.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between Lincoln’s proclamation and the enslaved people’s freedom, leading to speculation that some Texans suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas to get one more cotton harvest out of the enslaved workers. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. The announcement actually urged freedmen and freedwomen to stay with their former owners.

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. What followed was known as “the scatter.”


Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr // No known copyright restrictions

Most freedpeople weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed became known as "the scatter,," when droves of former enslaved people left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. Not all enslaved people were freed instantly.

Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and the troops needed to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of enslaved people being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose enslaved people were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. Freedom created other problems.

Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When freedpeople tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former enslaved person named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. There were limited options for celebrating.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freedpeople tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former enslaved people pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. Juneteenth celebrations waned for several decades.

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday.

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, becoming the first state to do so.

10. Juneteeth is still not a federal holiday.

Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 93-year-old Opal Lee—in 2016, when she was 90, Lee began walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. The Juneteenth flag is full of symbolism.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
iStock

Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. Juneteenth traditions vary across the U.S.

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.