Monday, April 27, 2009

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 86: A Strange Change Toy (Mattel; 1967)

When I was a little kid waaaay back in the 1970s, I loved to go visit my Granny and Grandpa's house in Verona, New Jersey. In part this was so because when I was visiting I always got to play games with my beloved uncle Larry, and, well, he had some of the coolest toys you've ever seen.

One vintage toy from that era, in particular, leaps immediately to mind: Mattel's A Strange Change Toy Featuring The Lost World.

This incredible "electrical toy" from 1967 is actually just a small oven -- or heating chamber of sorts -- though the box art colorfully describes the mechanism as a "mysterious strange change machine" that "changes time capsules" and offers you -- a mad scientist -- the opportunity to create "16 hidden wonders of the lost world" as they "appear and disappear into capsules over and over again."

What this comes down to, essentially, is that with a pair of blue plastic tongs (included), you would insert small red, yellow and green "capsules" into the heating chamber, and as they heated up, the cubes would unfold (in glorious slow-motion...) into the ships of plastic monsters, dinosaurs and bugs.

The box also reads: "Discovered to date: Membrane Men, Fragments of Space Creatures... Crawlers... fliers... Skeletons of Human Types.... Mummies... Robots." So as you can probably imagine, A Strange Change Toy was an awesome genre-style product, even if it was a little too easy to burn yourself on the strange change machine.

This great Mattel invention also came complete with a "compressor" on the red heating unit so you could crush the 16 hidden wonders back into their original cube forms and start all over again. The box implored kids to: CREATE 'EM! CRUSH 'EM! and CREATE 'EM! AGAIN AND AGAIN In the STRANGE CHANGE MACHINE! And boy did we ever! This thing kept us occupied for hours, visit after visit.

Mattel's "A Strange Change" Toy also came equipped with a 3-D Base for your plastic lost world creatures to inhabit, and a landscape map of the lost world that you could hang as background to the base. The instructions read: "The Green 3-D base is the lost world home for all the creatures. For more lost world strange change fun, play with your creatures on the colorful map of the lost world on the other side of this sheet!"

So, this is truly one of the weirdest and wildest toys of the late 1960s and I don't think A Strange Change Toy could even be successfully marketed to kids today without consumer groups getting up in arms. I mean, don't you just wonder how many electrical fires The Strange Change Toy must have started back in the disco decade?

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some fantastic time capsule creepy-crawlies to create (and CRUSH!). While I'm away, go ahead and check out this vintage commercial for Mattel's A Strange Change Toy (Featuring The Lost World...).


  1. Tim Smith2:50 PM

    My uncle had this as well, and at some point in the early '70's, I inherited it. I had completely forgotten about this toy but I spent hours heating and squashing these little plastic creatures. I can even remember the smell of the hot plastic as the squares unfurled inside the device. Also discovered pretty early on that the best way to smash the monsters back into their Starburst-shaped cubes was to throw them back on the burner for a minute or two to soften them. Loved this toy!

  2. Anonymous10:12 PM

    I got this toy for Christmas was way cool as you can imagine. Really kept me occupied. Also got a Lite-Brite. It was fun until you punched out the black paper; then you could not use that piece anymore...