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Lead-tainted toys have been all over the news lately, completely overshadowing other toys which are nontoxic but just as worthy of our concern, like, for example, "Baby's First Crossbow" (TeeHee Productions, Kuala Lumpur).

Following TeeHee's other controversial successes, like "Lil' Tazer" ("the stun gun for tots!") and the bestselling "TNT Doodle," and especially after the litigation over their "must-have" toy of last year, "Tickle Me Cobra," you would have thought that the folks at TeeHee would pull it back a notch this season. But no, in direct violation of a federal injunction, the spunky little company is forging ahead with plans for its risqué pirate-themed board game "Yo Ho, You 'Ho.'"

In addition to those, here are some other toys for which you, as a parent, may want to keep a wary eye out this Christmas season:

"My Dream Piranha" Bath Toy. Pluses: Teaches kids about nature…and first aid. Minuses: Radio-controlled fish is notoriously unresponsive to controls. First aid kit (included) is woefully inadequate.

"Swish 'N' Tell" Talking Nunchucks. Pluses: Shouts helpful patter like "Take that! And that!" Minuses: Tends to rely too much on adjectives.

"Fixin2Learn" Oral Surgery Kit. Pluses: Points your toddler down a career path which will always be in demand. Minuses: Mini-hacksaw blade tends to break with overuse.

"My Little Toady" Action Figure. Pluses: Provides kids with hours of play imagining a career as a presidential advisor. Minuses: Backstabbing injuries are common. Companion figure, "My Little Backdoor Lobbyist Jr.," not included.

"Croak With Me" Activity Frog. Pluses: Teaches children about death in a gentle manner, emphasizing the positives, like how similar it is to nap time. Minuses: The play coffin (included) may frighten imaginative children.

"Silly Syringe." Pluses: Educates kids in the under-appreciated skill of inoculating citrus fruit and Teddy bears. Minuses: After supply of inanimate objects is exhausted, children tend to move on to pets.

"Little Fokker" World War I Airplane Model. Pluses: Instructs children in the history of air warfare. Minuses: Name may cause embarrassment for parents when inquiring at toy stores ("Where do you keep the 'Little Fokkers?'" etc.).

Parents have more things to worry about these days than they did when I was a child. Back then there was only one--world nuclear annihilation over missiles in Cuba. Now parents have to deal with lead-painted toys, toys manufactured from date rape chemicals, and those heavily made-up, scantily-dressed dolls (which, for legal purposes, I will here call "Girlz") which are apparently marketed as an alternative to sending your daughter directly to Tramp Camp.

The most devious toy in existence when I was a kid was called "See 'N' Say - The Farmer Says," a clock-shaped device with a pull-cord which spun an arrow. When the arrow landed on a farm animal, a recording from within said things like "The cow says: 'Moooaahhh,'" which sounded, due to the cheap speaker, exactly like a cow being drowned.

The arrow would spin and land on various farm animals, and each would bleat and drown, but here's the thing--the farmer never said a freakin' word. The toy was called "The Farmer Says," yet the dude remained inexplicably mute.

It sparked in me a lifelong suspicion of adults, adults who would design a toy like that for us with no concern for its impact on impressionable, curious minds. Yes, lead and toxic chemicals are much worse problems, but I still wonder to this day--what was the farmer's dark secret? And did he take it to his grave?

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© 2007 George Waters

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