Some toys were doomed from the start, as any one of the thousands of people impaled by lawn darts will attest. But others seem completely incapable of causing injury or duress…until they do.
1. Aqua Dots
Oh, Aqua Dots. They looked so harmless and fun! Build something, spray a little water on it, and voila! You’ve made a multidimensional… thing. But the manufacturer’s decision to do a covert ingredient swap (presumably to keep costs low) ended in one of the most bizarre toy recalls in history. The beads (called Bindeez in Australia), perfectly safe for typical use, did something a little crazy when ingested.
In 2007, the CPSC began investigating reports of kids getting dizzy, vomiting, and falling unconscious after eating Aqua Dots. It was determined that a component of the coating metabolized into GHB—also known as gamma-hydroxy butyrate, or the date-rape drug. The worldwide recall involved over 4 million units of Aqua Dots kits in Australia, the US, Canada and Europe. While regulatory bodies quickly tried to pull the product off the shelf, people looking for a cheap high and big profits were buying them up to sell on the street. A reformulated and rebranded version, called Pixos (or Beados down under), is coated with a bitter-tasting ingredient to keep kids (and dates) from eating them.
2. Plush Toy Uterus
Aside from being a little strange, this squishy pink uterus plush looks pretty innocuous. But when manufacturer I Heart Guts performed a pull test and found the toy didn’t pass, they released a voluntary recall announcement that stated, “the ovaries may detach when pulled, becoming a potential small part choking hazard for young children.” If you’d like your kiddo to experience the joy of owning an anthropomorphic womb toy, don’t despair: there’s a new version available now, and the Huge Uterus Plush promises to be “bigger, fluffier, pinker and now child-safe!”
3. Toy Penguin Figures
This unassuming little guy looks like a perfectly safe and delightful plaything; it’s too big to pose a choking hazard, there are no sharp edges, and, c’mon, it’s a penguin. A round one. It jingles!
But in the hands of at least one curious kid, who pulled the head off and exposed the nails holding the adorable little seabird together, Plan Toys’ penguin figure became a serious laceration hazard. The company recalled all 3000 units in 2008, instructing parents to “take the toy away from children immediately,” which almost sounds scarier than “laceration hazard.”
4. Dive Sticks
Dive sticks, manufactured by a number of companies under various names, are designed to stand up on the bottom of a pool (or in one case, hot tub) after being tossed in. The idea is to dive in and pick up as many as you can before resurfacing.
One might think the problem with a toy designed to sit on the bottom of a swimming pool solely for the purpose of retrieval by children would be the risk of drowning. Nope. Dive sticks were recalled in 1999 after 6 reports of impalement and at least one facial injury, most requiring surgery and hospitalization, all in kids aged 6 to 9. At least 12 million dive sticks were destroyed, replaced or repaired before the product was redesigned. (You can buy them anywhere now, presumably with a lesser risk of losing an eye.)
5. Holiday Toy Mouse
Not all toys that get recalled are safety hazards. The cute little toy mouse in the video above was pulled from shelves by Chinese toymaker Humatt after reports came flooding in that the mouse, sold primarily in the UK, sang “pedophile” instead of “jingle bells.” A spokesperson for the company said the problem was that the man who provided the toy’s voice couldn’t accurately pronounce certain words, and when the speed and pitch were increased it just sounded wrong. Humatt recalled the mice “just in case anybody might take offence.”
Hasbro and Disney once teamed up to create a tie-in toy for the 1963 release of Son of Flubber. All the kids wanted their own dark green bouncy ball of goop, a totally harmless, lab-tested concoction made of synthetic rubber, mineral oil, and green dye. The “parent-approved” formula hit shelves just before Christmas in 1962, and a few weeks later, complaints of kids with head-to-toe rashes, fever and sore throat were flooding the customer service departments.
After lawsuits and an extensive FDA inquiry, the companies determined that Flubber caused folliculitis—a painful infection of the hair follicles. After the recall, Hasbro attempted to incinerate the Flubber but found it just released noxious black smoke but didn’t really burn. So they enlisted the help of the Coast Guard to sink the excess product, but it floated back to the surface. In a last ditch effort, Hasbro buried tons of Flubber and paved over it to make a parking lot for their new Providence, RI warehouse.
7. Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids
There’s some disagreement over the cuteness of Cabbage Patch dolls, but after reports of the Snacktime Kids’ tendency to eat kids’ hair and fingers instead of the carrots and pretzels supplied by Mattel, there was little debate over whether or not to halt production. The biggest problem seemed to be that there was no power switch on the doll, and the motor could only be turned off by removing the doll’s backpack—information that was buried deep in the doll’s instructions and not readily available to parents of imperiled children. As soon as Mattel announced its voluntary recall in 1997, doll collectors scrambled to buy them. (You can still pick one up on eBay, if you’re not a fan of having fingers or hair.)
8. Burger King Pokéballs
Not many chain restaurant toys were more popular than the Burger King Pokéball in 1999. But two months after handing out a toy that seemed impossible to injure someone with, reports that the halves of the red and white ball were suffocating children halted the frenzy, and Burger King recalled millions of the toys. One infant died and a toddler was caught with half a Pokéball stuck over her mouth and nose, but BK stepped up and offered a free small fry for anyone who wished to return their toys. After the CSPC deemed the toys perfectly safe for children over 3, the toys were distributed only with BK Big Kids Meals.