6 Wild Furby Myths That People Actually Believed in the ‘90s

Amanda, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Amanda, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

It's November 1998. A hot new Hasbro toy called the Furby has just been made widely available, and people are going wild. The talkative creatures are flying off store shelves. They're causing department store stampedes. They’re so widely discussed that they even make it into President Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing the following month. (“The economy is strong, the stock market is great, although some of us still can't get Furbys—so it's not strong enough,” Representative Mary Bono said at the time.)

But under all the Furby fervor lurked some Furby fear. A November 1998 article called the toys “cute, yet vaguely menacing”; another article labeled them "slightly sinister-looking." After the initial excitement wore off, some customers decided that the concept of a lifelike toy with no off switch was a little too creepy to bear. Although the toys proved to be harmless, it didn’t stop a number of Furby-fueled hoaxes and conspiracy theories from circulating in the late '90s, at a time when Y2K anxieties were already high. Looking back now, these six myths seem almost as far-fetched as the Furby craze itself.

1. Parents thought Furbys were teaching their children swear words.

Furbys start out speaking a fictional language called Furbish, but with time and interaction, they begin incorporating more English words into their vocabulary. It might seem as if the doll is “learning,” but all of the messages are pre-programmed, with some of the phrases timed to an internal clock. Parents in the ‘90s didn’t know that, though. One Boston-based radio producer told The Wall Street Journal that he kept getting calls from parents who claimed “that Furby was picking up some of their foul language and repeating it in front of the children.” In 2000, one Walmart in Pennsylvania removed some of its Furbys from store shelves after customers complained that the toys had been cursing like sailors. Apparently, the phrase "hug me" sounded like something far filthier.

2. People thought Furbys could launch a space shuttle.

The general public grossly overestimated how advanced these toys were. Furbys had sensors that allowed them to respond to light, movement, and touch; they could also communicate with other Furbys, thanks to an infrared communication system—all of which was considered pretty cutting-edge at the time. Although the technology wasn't exactly Earth-shattering, it still ended up fueling a number of false rumors and conspiracy theories. "I've been told that we're developing a Furby that can drive a car in the year 2000," Roger Shiffman, the president of Tiger Electronics, a subsidiary of Hasbro, told CBS in 1999. "We've also been told that the current Furby has the technology to launch the space shuttle. We have one woman who is absolutely insistent that her Furby sings Italian operas.”

3. The NSA and the Pentagon thought Furbys were a national security threat.

Another widespread myth was the belief that Furbys could record or repeat conversations. Some of the country’s highest-ranking security officials even fell for it. Concerned that confidential information might be compromised, the NSA, Pentagon, and Norfolk Naval Shipyard banned the toy from each of their premises in 1999. “Personally owned photographic, video, and audio recording equipment are prohibited items,” the NSA wrote in a memo at the time. “This includes toys, such as ‘Furbys,’ with built-in recorders that repeat the audio with synthesized sound to mimic the original.” (Why anyone would want to bring a Furby to work remains an unanswered question. But then again, it was the ‘90s.) The rumors got so bad that Shiffman had to issue a statement to dispel them. “Although Furby is a clever toy, it does not record or mimic voices,” he said. “The NSA did not do their homework. Furby is not a spy!”

4. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) thought Furbys would interfere with flight equipment.

Around the same time that national security officials were discussing the possibility that Furby might be a foreign spy, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was also doing its part to protect the American people from a Furby-led hijacking. Travelers were prohibited from using CD players and laptops during take-offs and landings, and the FAA soon added Furbys to the list of restricted items. At the time, it was believed that Furbys might interfere with the plane’s equipment. Speaking to CBS in January 1999, one aviation safety consultant said he thought the new protocol might be a tad extreme. "I can just see the announcement being made: 'Turn off your laptops, put away your Gameboys, and don't play with your Furby,’” he said.

5. People thought Furbys would make medical equipment go haywire.

Furbys were banned from some wards of a hospital in Scotland out of fear that the toys' low-level electromagnetic waves would interfere with medical devices. (One dean at the University of Calgary also expressed concern that Furbys might confuse voice-activated medical equipment: "Let’s say the Furby hears the doctor saying ‘begin procedure 305’ or something like that," the dean said. "[The Furby] plays it again and all of a sudden you find radiation is being shot into some poor person.")

In response, the Emergency Care Research Institute conducted an investigation and found no such danger. The Canadian government’s health ministry carried out a similar study and reached the same conclusion. The latter study “revealed that the electric and magnetic fields given off by the ear wiggling, eye blinking, fuzzy creature are about 70 times weaker than those emitted by a digital telephone and are ‘very unlikely’ to affect the performance of medical devices."

6. People thought Furbys were made of real cat and dog fur.

As if a wide-eyed, incoherently babbling, Gremlin-like creature weren’t gruesome enough, rumors surfaced in the late ‘90s that Furbys were covered in actual pet fur. Someone went to the trouble to create a fake Humane Society press release which claimed that Furby samples had “tested positive for feline and canine DNA.” The statement, which lambasted the makers of Furby for animal cruelty, was sent to a number of media outlets. The animal welfare organization had to release a statement explaining that it wasn’t behind the previously released statement. Tiger Electronics also had some explaining to do. “It’s 100 percent acrylic,” a company spokesperson said of the toy's fur. “Yep, a lot of acrylics were killed in the name of Furbys.”

11 Amazing Facts About Alligators

Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images
Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators are pretty terrifying as they are, but scientists are making discoveries about the reptilian ambush predators that only add to that reputation.

1. Alligators have an extremely powerful bite.

You really, really don’t want to be bitten by an alligator. A 2004 study of wild and captive alligators found that large individuals bite down with 13,172 Newtons—or 2960 pounds—of force, one of the most powerful bites ever recorded for a living animal [PDF].

2. Alligators can consume almost a quarter of their body weight in one meal.

Alligators don’t have a problem with their eyes being bigger than their stomachs. Thanks to a special blood vessel—the second aorta—they’re able to shunt blood away from their lungs and towards their stomachs, stimulating the production of strong stomach acids to break down their meals faster. Juvenile alligators are capable of eating about 23 percent of their body weight in a sitting, which is equivalent to a 180-pound person eating more than 41 pounds of steak au poivre at a meal.

3. Alligators eat their young.

One of the biggest threats to an American alligator? Other alligators. When alligators are born they’re small enough to be light snacks for their older neighbors, and a 2011 study estimated that, in one Florida lake, bigger alligators ate 6 to 7 percent of the juvenile population every year.

4. An alligator's stomach can dissolve bones.

Alligator resting on a log in a swamp
cbeverly/iStock via Getty Images

An alligator stomach is a hostile environment. Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2—in the range of lemon juice and vinegar—and most soft-bodied prey is totally digested in two to three days. If you wound up in a gator stomach, however, you'd stick around a bit longer. Bone and other hard parts can take 13 to 100 days to disappear completely.

5. Alligators have antibiotic blood.

Alligators are tough—and not just because of the bony armor in their skins. Serum in American alligator blood is incredibly effective at combating bacteria and viruses, meaning that even alligators that lose limbs in mucky swamps often avoid infection.

6. Prehistoric ancestors of today's alligators lived 70 million years ago.

Alligator forerunners and relatives have been around for a very long time. The largest was Deinosuchus, a 40-foot alligatoroid that lurked in coastal habitats all over North America around 70 million years ago. Damaged bones suggest that unwary dinosaurs were a regular part of the “terrible crocodile's” diet. Fortunately, modern American alligators don’t come anywhere close to measuring up.

7. Alligator pairs often stick together.

A decade-long genetic study of Louisiana alligators found that some females paired with the same males multiple times, with one in particular choosing the same mate in 1997, 2002, and 2005. Even some females that mated with multiple partners still showed long-term fidelity to particular males.

8. Alligators love fruit.

Baby alligator riding on an adult's back
BlueBarronPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators aren’t strict carnivores. They also eat fruit when they get the chance, and might be important seed-dispersers. That might not sound so scary at first, but just watch this video of an alligator mashing a watermelon.

9. Despite their short legs, alligators can climb trees.

While on the lookout for alligators, you should remember to occasionally look up. American alligators, as well as several other species of crocodilian, are surprisingly accomplished climbers [PDF]. As long as there’s enough of an incline for them to haul themselves up, gators can climb trees to get to a better basking spot, or get the drop on you, as the case may be.

10. Alligators use tools to lure their prey.

Alligators might be reptilian innovators. Scientists have observed Indian and American species of alligator luring waterbirds by placing sticks and twigs across their snouts while they remain submerged. When the birds go to pick up the twigs for nesting material, the gators chomp. 

11. Alligators have no vocal cords, but they still make sounds.

Alligators are among the most vocal reptiles, despite not having vocal cords. By sucking in and then expelling air from their lungs, they can make different sounds to defend their territory, call to mates or their young, or fight off competitors—such as a guttural hiss or a frankly terrifying bellow.

13 Salty Facts About Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

On January 22, 2020, in a morbid bit of pre-Super Bowl marketing, Planters took to the internet to announce that Mr. Peanut—the dapper little legume who has been peddling Planters peanuts for more than a century—has died at the ripe old age of 104. In order to pay tribute to the literal face of America's peanut industry, we’ve assembled some facts and history about this shell of a man.

1. Mr. Peanut was created by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Peanut wasn’t hatched from a cynical ad firm brainstorming session. His adorable visage was the product of a 14-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia named Antonio Gentile. Gentile entered a contest held by the Planters Chocolate and Nut Company in 1916 to crown a new peanut mascot. The aspiring Don Draper sketched out a doodle of a “Mr. P. Nut” strutting with a cane. After getting freshened up by a graphic designer—including donning his trademark spats and monocle—Gentile’s design was picked up and he was awarded $5.

(Postscript: The Gentile family became friendly with the Obici family, owners of the Planters empire, and Gentile’s nephews once suggested that the Obicis helped put him through medical school; he became a surgeon.)

2. Mr. Peanut has a full name.

According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker. The full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

3. Mr. Peanut once weighed more than 300 pounds.

Although peanuts can be a highly sensible snack, full of healthy fats and protein, they can also be a source of too many calories. Case in point: the 300-pound cast iron Mr. Peanut, a display item made in the 1920s and 1930s. Planters would use the heavyset mascot on top of a fence post at their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania factory.

4. Mr. Peanut survived the Great Depression.

During the economic downturn of the 1930s, things like “snacks” and “nutrition” suddenly became optional rather than expected. Though many food products struggled to cope with slimmed-down wallets, Planters plastered Mr. Peanut on bags of peanuts that sold for just five cents each. Declaring it a “nickel lunch,” the company was able to use the affordability of peanuts as a selling point.

5. Mr. Peanut went to war.


Getty Images

Specifically, World War II. When the U.S. entered the conflict, Mr. Peanut volunteered for service as a character featured on stamps and propaganda posters.

6. Mr. Peanut is a monocle enthusiast.

Food mascots rarely take sides on hot-button issues, but Mr. Peanut made an exception in 2014 when a fashion movement threatened the return of the monocle. After getting wind of men wearing the single-lens reading accessory, Mr. P issued a press release stating that he took notice of the “hipsters” following in his “stylish footsteps” and implied few could pull it off. The monocle has yet to fully re-emerge.

7. Mr. Peanut's Nutmobile predates the Wienermobile.


Planters

Though the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile usually takes most of the engine-driven PR credit, Planters actually introduced the NUTMobile, a shell-shaped portable advertising car, in 1935—a year prior to the Wienermobile’s introduction. A Planters salesman designed and drove the car, adding a decorative Mr. Peanut passenger behind him. (Mr. Peanut did not operate the vehicle because Mr. Peanut is not real.)

8. Mr. Peanut is in the Smithsonian.

How influential has Mr. Peanut been to the food industry? In 2013, the Smithsonian admitted his cast-iron incarnation into its National Museum of American History. The statue was exhibited as part of a series on marketing for the institution’s American Enterprise series; Antonio Gentile’s family also donated his original sketches for posterity.

9. Fans didn't want Mr. Peanut to change.


Planters

For the company's 100th anniversary in 2006, Planters held an online vote to see whether peanut aficionados wanted to see Mr. Peanut experiment with a sartorial change: Fans could vote for adding cufflinks, a bow tie, or a pocket watch. In the end, the ballot determined they wanted to keep him just the way he is.

10. Mr. Peanut has a fan club.

Mr. Peanut has appeared in so many different licensed products in an effort to expand his popularity—clocks, peanut butter grinders, and coloring books among them—that a collector was having trouble keeping track of them all. In 1978, Judith Walthall founded Peanut Pals, a Mr. Peanut appreciation club that circulates a newsletter and holds conventions. You can join for $20—practically peanuts.

11. Mr. Peanut has remained mostly silent.


mazmedia via YouTube

Mr. Peanut was already a few decades old when television came into prominence, which afforded him an opportunity to jump off packaging and magazine pages. Despite the new medium, Planters decided they liked him best when he didn’t talk—at all. The mascot was silent all the way up until 2010, when Robert Downey Jr. was commissioned to deliver his first lines. Bill Hader took over voicing duties from Downey in 2013.

12. Mr. Peanut found a buddy.

When Planters unveiled an updated Mr. Peanut for contemporary audiences in 2010, he was sporting a grey flannel suit as well as a new sidekick—Benson, a shorter, single-peanut tagalong. A Planters spokesman clarified to The New York Times that the two are “just friends” and live in separate residences.

13. In the 1970s, Mr. Peanut ran for Mayor of Vancouver.

Amid a burgeoning alternative art scene in 1970s Vancouver, a performance artist named Vincent Trasov decided it would be interesting to run for mayor of the city while in the guise of Mr. Peanut. Hailing from the “Peanut Party” and meant to be a commentary of the Nixon-era absurdities of politics, he was endorsed by novelist William S. Burroughs and received 2685 ballots—3.4 percent of the vote.

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