The Wet and Wild History of the Super Soaker

For generations, kids spent their summers chasing each other around the backyard with simple water pistols that barely shot more than a few feet. But squirt guns got a major upgrade in the 1990s when the Super Soaker was introduced by Larami Toys. For over 20 years, these high-powered water guns have dominated the world of water-based warfare, but success hasn't always come easy. Come along as we get drenched in the wet and wild story of the Super Soaker.

In 1982, NASA engineer and spare-time inventor Lonnie Johnson was working on his latest creation — a cooling pump that used water instead of Freon. He had a custom nozzle hooked up to his bathroom sink, and when he turned the water on, it fired a stream across the room. He immediately thought, “This would make a great water gun!”

So Johnson made a prototype gun out of Plexiglas with room for an air pressure chamber and water reservoir inside. To fire the gun, you pumped air into the pressure chamber with an external piston, then pushed a release valve, allowing some of the compressed air to escape, which expelled the water down the barrel. His six-year old daughter and her friends loved it, so Johnson started to look for a company to produce it.

Johnson first approached Daisy, famous for their BB guns, in 1985, and they were interested. However, the project never really got off the ground, so he decided to try his luck with LJN Toys, whose Entertech brand of battery-operated water guns were popular at the time. They, too, started to develop Johnson’s idea, but before the gun could be produced, the company, and the toy gun industry at large, ran into trouble.

At the time, toy guns looked almost exactly like their real-world counterparts, except they were made out of plastic. In 1988, there were a few high-profile cases of kids getting shot by police officers who mistook the kids’ toy guns for the real thing. Additionally, criminals were using toy guns in crimes because they were simple to get and could easily fool a terrified victim. This created a deluge of political debate that eventually led to regulations requiring all toy guns either have a bright orange barrel or feature an unrealistic color scheme.

With all the bad press, Entertech's sales took a nosedive and LJN was soon acquired by Acclaim Entertainment who phased out toy manufacturing to focus on video games. By 1989, Entertech was gone, leaving Johnson on his own once again.

The time spent with Entertech was not wasted, though. Johnson tweaked his gun's design by moving the water reservoir from inside to a separate container on top, using a 2-liter soda bottle on his rebuilt PVC pipe prototype. This small change increased the amount of “ammo” available with every refill, but it also made it much cheaper to build the gun, which he hoped would reduce roadblocks to production.

In 1989 Larami Toys, another water gun maker, became interested in Johnson's design when he wowed the company president by accurately shooting paper cups off a table from across the room. Johnson began working closely with Larami product developer Bruce D’Andrade to iron out wrinkles in the gun’s design, and, finally, in 1990, the “Power Drencher” water gun was released by Larami.

However, with very little advertising, the Power Drencher saw very few sales. So the following year, they retooled the marketing, including a name change to “Super Soaker,” and launched a television advertising campaign. Sales skyrocketed to 2 million guns in 1991 alone. Shortly after, the original Power Drencher became the “Super Soaker 50,” and was just one of many models available with different levels of water capacity and power.

Water Gun Control

By the spring of 1992, Super Soakers were everywhere. One even made an appearance on The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson doused his sidekick, Ed McMahon. Unfortunately, just as summer was heating up, a few Soaker-related incidents threatened the water gun's future.

On May 29, 1992, 15-year old Boston native Christopher “Poochie” Miles was walking through his neighborhood when he came upon a Super Soaker water fight between two groups of kids. Then one of the participants started using a real gun instead. Miles was tragically caught in the very real crossfire and killed. Then, only a few days later, two young men were wounded in New York City after one of them accidentally shot a Super Soaker at a passerby who also retaliated with a real gun.

Around the same time, a Boston woman and her 4-year-old son received minor burns when someone in a passing car sprayed them using a Super Soaker filled with bleach. A similar drive-by bleach shooting occurred in Inglewood, California when a school bus driver was hit in the face while he was behind the wheel. Thankfully the bus was empty and he was able to pull over before anyone else was injured.

By the end of June, parents and politicians were calling for a ban on Super Soakers. Boston’s Mayor Raymond Flynn asked retailers to stop selling the guns and many stores complied. Naturally, thanks to the Mayor’s war on water guns, those stores that continued to sell Super Soakers couldn’t keep them in stock. The controversy made them the must-have toy in Beantown.

Throughout the summer, the controversy flared, but Larami spokespeople deflected the concerns by insisting the guns were safe when used as directed. They also fired back that maybe politicians concerned about water gun control should spend their time focusing on real gun control instead. Of course, by the following summer, the controversy had fizzled and Super Soakers were just as popular as ever.

Celebrity Soakers

It should come as no surprise that someone who called his home Neverland Ranch was a huge fan of Super Soakers. The clip below comes from the 2003 Fox TV special Michael Jackson's Private Home Movies, which shows Jackson celebrating a Super Soaker soaked Christmas with Elizabeth Taylor in 1993. There's also footage from 1990 of Michael, sister Janet, and Macaulay Culkin engaged in an epic Super Soaker fight across Jackson’s sprawling Neverland Ranch.

Recently, actress Rashida Jones, best known for Parks and Recreation — and for being the daughter of Michael Jackson's record producer, Quincy Jones — told Playboy about her memories of Jackson’s Super Soaker obsession:

"Once, my sister, Michael, Emmanuel Lewis and I got in a car with Super Soakers and went by a movie theater and supersoaked the hell out of people waiting in line. They had no idea they’d just been supersoaked by the King of Pop."

The King of Pop may have reigned over Super Soaker fandom in the 90s, but it appears the crown has since been passed to the Obama White House.

In June 2010, Ed Henry, then-CNN Chief White House Correspondent, tweeted pictures of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and current Vice President Joe Biden having a water fight with Biden's family at a private party on the White House lawn.

The Most Powerful Water Gun Ever

In 1996, Larami introduced the Constant Pressure System (CPS) line of Super Soakers. This new line had a separate compression chamber that contained a thick-walled rubber balloon. Whenever a user pumped up the gun, water filled the balloon, which stayed under pressure until it was released on some poor, unsuspecting kid. The crowning achievement of the line was the CPS 2000 Mark 1 — perhaps the most powerful water gun ever made by a toy company.

The 2000’s compression chamber could hold approximately 1 liter of highly pressurized water. Once the trigger was pulled, this liter shot out of the gun in about one second, dousing the target before they could react. The stream was so powerful that the shooter could actually feel the gun recoil.

With that much water being shot out under pressure, there were some reports of injuries by those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a CPS 2000 blast. Some complained of stinging skin, others got bruises, and there were reports of blurred vision and dizziness after getting shot in the head. There’s even an urban legend that someone’s eye popped out of the socket after they were hit in the face at close range.

While Larami never made a public statement about the safety of the CPS 2000 Mark 1, they unceremoniously replaced it with the Mark 2 design, which had a smaller compression chamber that couldn’t hold as much water. The new design was still pretty powerful, though, so even it was slowly phased out and replaced with weaker guns. Of course the legend of the CPS 2000 has made it one of the most sought-after models by Super Soaker enthusiasts, with vintage Mark 1 and Mark 2 guns regularly selling for $100 and up on eBay.

What Were They Thinking?

There have been a lot of popular Super Soakers over the years, but one model from 2006 was well known for all the wrong reasons. The alien creature-inspired gun The Oozinator was a Super Soaker designed to shoot water, as well as a white, slimy substance called “bio-ooze.” The television commercial for the Oozinator left many wondering if the product was real, or a parody made up by someone with a twisted sense of humor.

As you can imagine, the commercial became an instant YouTube sensation, the parody product reviews on Amazon.com oozed with hilarious innuendo, and it even made an appearance on The Daily Show. Hasbro stayed quiet about the whole thing, but it wasn’t long before the gun was discontinued.
* * * * *
By Super Soaker’s 10th anniversary, more than 200 million guns had been sold, to the tune of $400 million in sales revenue. Toy maker Hasbro absorbed Larami in 2002, but they continue to crank out new Super Soakers every year under the Nerf product line. Since their introduction over 20 years ago, there have been approximately 175 Super Soaker models released, giving kids and adults alike a variety of ways to wage watery warfare.

Get Into the Halloween Spirit With Harry Potter and Star Wars Costumes and Accessories From Hot Topic

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

Halloween is fast approaching, and that means it's time to start picking up those decorations, planning your costume, and settling down for a few monster movie marathons. Hot Topic is already way ahead of you, with a selection of costumes and accessories based on fan-favorite movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Stranger Things, and Hocus Pocus. We've picked out some of our favorites for you to check out below.

Harry Potter

1. Beauxbatons Hat and Cape Uniform; $60

Hot Topic

If Fleur Delacour is your favorite character from the Triwizard Tournament, then this look is for you. Beauxbatons baby blue hat and cape can now be yours to prance around in and pretend you're from the magical French academy for young witches.

Buy it: Beauxbatons Hat, Beauxbatons Cape

2. Hogwarts Zip-Up Hoodie Cloak; $55

Hot Topic

One of the most iconic parts of the Hogwarts uniform is the cloak. The sweeping black robes looked so official and mystical in the movies that it almost seems wrong not to wear one if you want to be a Hogwarts student for Halloween. These hoodie cloaks are available in all four house colors.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Hogwarts Cardigan Sweater; $49

Hot Topic

Much like the cloak, the sweater vests and cardigans the students at Hogwarts got to wear are essential to any costume. You can choose from the four house crests and colors, so you can show your allegiance while also making a fashion statement.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Hogwarts Plaid Skirtall; $45

Hot Topic

Though this isn't a look you'd recognize from the Harry Potter movies, these plaid skirtalls—skirt overalls, basically—feature the crest and colors of whichever house you represent.

Buy it: Hot Topic

Star Wars

1. The Mandalorian Helmet; $17

Hot Topic

With the second season of The Mandalorian coming out right in time for Halloween, going as one of the show's main characters is a no-brainer. And since you probably can't pull off the Baby Yoda look, this simple Mando helmet is your best option.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Yoda Pet Costume; $20

Hot Topic

Baby Yoda is easily the cutest thing to emerge from the new Disney+ series, and there's no shortage of merchandise with that little green face plastered across it. From Amazon Echo Dots to slippers to LEGO sets, the little rascal is everywhere. But if you're more a fan of classic Yoda, you can impose your love of the character on your dog with this costume, complete with floppy green ears and tiny Jedi robe.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Force Awakens Rey Costume; $48

Hot Topic

Rey represents a new generation of Star Wars hero, and her costume during her time on Jakku from The Force Awakens is still her most iconic look. It's also a costume that's simple enough to throw on for Halloween and still feel comfortable in.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. R2-D2 with Pumpkin Decoration; $50

Hot Topic

When trick-or-treaters stop to collect candy from your house, greet them with this inflatable R2-D2 decoration that's primed for Halloween. Standing around 3 feet tall, this will show off your love for a galaxy far, far away and your holiday spirit.

Buy it: Hot Topic

The Nightmare Before Christmas

1. Sally Scrunchies Set; $10

Hot Topic

If you're looking to embrace your The Nightmare Before Christmas love in a more subtle way, opt for these Sally-approved scrunchies that embody the colors of the movie without going too far overboard.

Buy it: Hot Topic

2. Jack Skellington Button-Up Shirt; $35

Hot Topic

If Jack Skellington is your ultimate fashion hero, then this button-up pinstriped shirt is the ticket for you. It mimics Jack's look right down to the unique bat-shaped collar.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. Jack and Sally 'Love is Eternal' Eyeshadow Palette; $17

Hot Topic

Makeup inspired by your favorite characters is the key to completing a Halloween look, and this palette will help you make a colorful, smokey eye featuring shades seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas. You can even use these colors long after Halloween is over once you've mastered your favorite style.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Zero Dog Costume; $29

Hot Topic

The real star of The Nightmare Before Christmas has to be the dog, Zero, and now you can drape your own pooch in the ghostly visage for under $30.

Buy it: Hop Topic

Other Categories

- Stranger Things
- Coraline
- Disney
- Haunted Mansion
- Hocus Pocus
- The Craft

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A Brief History of Mashed Potatoes

mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus
mphillips007/iStock via Getty Images Plus

During the Seven Years War of the mid-1700s, a French army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was captured by Prussian soldiers. As a prisoner of war, he was forced to live on rations of potatoes. In mid-18th century France, this would practically qualify as cruel and unusual punishment: potatoes were thought of as feed for livestock, and they were believed to cause leprosy in humans. The fear was so widespread that the French passed a law against them in 1748.

But as Parmentier discovered in prison, potatoes weren’t deadly. In fact, they were pretty tasty. Following his release at the end of the war, the pharmacist began to proselytize to his countrymen about the wonders of the tuber. One way he did this was by demonstrating all the delicious ways it could be served, including mashed. By 1772, France had lifted its potato ban. Centuries later, you can order mashed potatoes in dozens of countries, in restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining.

The story of mashed potatoes takes 10,000 years and traverses the mountains of Peru and the Irish countryside; it features cameos from Thomas Jefferson and a food scientist who helped invent a ubiquitous snack food. Before we get to them, though, let’s go back to the beginning.

The Origins of the Potato

Potatoes aren’t native to Ireland—or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. They were most likely domesticated in the Andes mountains of Peru and northwest Bolivia, where they were being used for food at least as far back as 8000 BCE.

These early potatoes were very different from the potatoes we know today. They came in a variety of shapes and sizes and had a bitter taste that no amount of cooking could get rid of. They were also slightly poisonous. To combat this toxicity, wild relatives of the llama would lick clay before eating them. The toxins in the potatoes would stick to the clay particles, allowing the animals to consume them safely. People in the Andes noticed this and started dunking their potatoes in a mixture of clay and water—not the most appetizing gravy, perhaps, but an ingenious solution to their potato problem. Even today, when selective breeding has made most potato varieties safe to eat, some poisonous varieties can still be bought in Andean markets, where they're sold alongside digestion-aiding clay dust.

By the time Spanish explorers brought the first potatoes to Europe from South America in the 16th century, they had been bred into a fully edible plant. It took them a while to catch on overseas, though. By some accounts, European farmers were suspicious of plants that weren’t mentioned in the Bible; others say it was the fact that potatoes grow from tubers, rather than seeds.

Modern potato historians debate these points, though. Cabbage’s omission from the Bible didn’t seem to hurt its popularity, and tulip cultivation, using bulbs instead of seeds, was happening at the same time. It may have just been a horticultural problem. The South American climates potatoes thrived in were unlike those found in Europe, especially in terms of hours of daylight in a day. In Europe, potatoes grew leaves and flowers, which botanists readily studied, but the tubers they produced remained small even after months of growing. This particular problem began to be remedied when the Spanish started growing potatoes on the Canary Islands, which functioned as a sort of middle ground between equatorial South America and more northerly European climes.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that there is some evidence for the cultural concerns mentioned earlier. There are clear references to people in the Scottish Highlands disliking that potatoes weren’t mentioned in the Bible, and customs like planting potatoes on Good Friday and sometimes sprinkling them with holy water suggest some kind of fraught relationship to potato consumption. They were becoming increasingly common, but not without controversy. As time went on, concerns about potatoes causing leprosy severely damaged their reputation.

Early Mashed Potato Recipes

A handful of potato advocates, including Parmentier, were able to turn the potato's image around. In her 18th-century recipe book The Art of Cookery, English author Hannah Glasse instructed readers to boil potatoes, peel them, put them into a saucepan, and mash them well with milk, butter, and a little salt. In the United States, Mary Randolph published a recipe for mashed potatoes in her book, The Virginia Housewife, that called for half an ounce of butter and a tablespoon of milk for a pound of potatoes.

But no country embraced the potato like Ireland. The hardy, nutrient-dense food seemed tailor-made for the island’s harsh winters. And wars between England and Ireland likely accelerated its adaptation there; since the important part grows underground, it had a better chance of surviving military activity. Irish people also liked their potatoes mashed, often with cabbage or kale in a dish known as colcannon. Potatoes were more than just a staple food there; they became part of the Irish identity.

But the miracle crop came with a major flaw: It’s susceptible to disease, particularly potato late blight, or Phytophtora infestans. When the microorganism invaded Ireland in the 1840s, farmers lost their livelihoods and many families lost their primary food source. The Irish Potato Famine killed a million people, or an eighth of the country’s population. The British government, for its part, offered little support to its Irish subjects.

One unexpected legacy of the Potato Famine was an explosion in agricultural science. Charles Darwin became intrigued by the problem of potato blight on a humanitarian and scientific level; he even personally funded a potato breeding program in Ireland. His was just one of many endeavors. Using potatoes that had survived the blight and new South American stock, European agriculturists were eventually able to breed healthy, resilient potato strains and rebuild the crop’s numbers. This development spurred more research into plant genetics, and was part of a broader scientific movement that included Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking work with garden peas.

Tools of the Mashed Potato Trade

Around the beginning of the 20th century, a tool called a ricer started appearing in home kitchens. It’s a metal contraption that resembles an oversized garlic press, and it has nothing to do with making rice. When cooked potatoes get squeezed through the tiny holes in the bottom of the press, they’re transformed into fine, rice-sized pieces.

The process is a lot less cumbersome than using an old-fashioned masher, and it yields more appetizing results. Mashing your potatoes into oblivion releases gelatinized starches from the plant cells that glom together to form a paste-like consistency. If you’ve ever tasted “gluey” mashed potatoes, over-mashing was likely the culprit. With a ricer, you don’t need to abuse your potatoes to get a smooth, lump-free texture. Some purists argue that mashed potatoes made this way aren’t really mashed at all—they’re riced—but let's not let pedantry get in the way of delicious carbohydrates.

The Evolution of Instant Mashed Potatoes

If mashed potato pedants have opinions about ricers, they’ll definitely have something to say about this next development. In the 1950s, researchers at what is today called the Eastern Regional Research Center, a United States Department of Agriculture facility outside of Philadelphia, developed a new method for dehydrating potatoes that led to potato flakes that could be quickly rehydrated at home. Soon after, modern instant mashed potatoes were born.

It’s worth pointing out that this was far from the first time potatoes had been dehydrated. Dating back to at least the time of the Incas, chuño is essentially a freeze-dried potato created through a combination of manual labor and environmental conditions. The Incas gave it to soldiers and used it to guard against crop shortages.

Experiments with industrial drying were gearing up in the late 1700s, with one 1802 letter to Thomas Jefferson discussing a new invention where you grated the potato and pressed all the juices out, and the resulting cake could be kept for years. When rehydrated it was “like mashed potatoes” according to the letter. Sadly, the potatoes had a tendency to turn into purple, astringent-tasting cakes.

Interest in instant mashed potatoes resumed during the Second World War period, but those versions were a soggy mush or took forever. It wasn’t until the ERRC’s innovations in the 1950s that a palatable dried mashed potato could be produced. One of the key developments was finding a way to dry the cooked potatoes much faster, minimizing the amount of cell rupture and therefore the pastiness of the end-product. These potato flakes fit perfectly into the rise of so-called convenience foods at the time, and helped potato consumption rebound in the 1960s after a decline in prior years.

Instant mashed potatoes are a marvel of food science, but they’re not the only use scientists found for these new potato flakes. Miles Willard, one of the ERRC researchers, went on to work in the private sector, where his work helped contribute to new types of snacks using reconstituted potato flakes—including Pringles.