Cutting a Penny in Half

It doesn't take too long when you're a kid to learn that what they're selling this time of year isn't going to be half as good out of the box as it looks on TV. The commercial might have said the truck had "real world sounds," but to my ear, all I could hear was the "shhhhhhh" like tuning a radio station every time I pressed the button on the truck. Yeah, that the whole "real world sounds" thing was a complete sham.

But there was a time when I was still dumb enough to believe anything, so when they had those "super scissors" infomercials back in the day with the funky-looking scissors cutting through leather, vinyl, aluminum, and even pennies like cold butter, my dad was sure to buy, even with the two easy payments of 9.99 and shipping! Apparently I wasn't the only one dumb enough.

"It so tough, it can cut a penny in half!" That was a claim worth to price of the pair in and of itself in my book. Even my dad was so impressed that he called them up, and in weeks we had our new pair of scissors in the mail. As was custom with probably everyone else who bought these "super scissors," we immediately got on that important task of actually cutting a penny in half, and damn was that one tough nut to crack!

Unlike in the commercial, which showed it cutting straight through with barely any force, it took the strength of all three of us men in the house (the 8yo-me, my 7yo-brother, and dad) to get the job done. I remember my dad, after laying them down on the table and using his full arm, made the first short incision on the side, and then my brother and I took over huffing and puffing until the thing finally gave through and the pieces shot in opposite directions across the room! So yeah, they didn't lie, per se, because it was possible, just damn hard. Wise purchase it was.

After the quest to deface currency was over, and 25 bucks was considered well spent for ten minutes, those "super scissors" promptly found their way into the kitchen drawer, and were regular scissors from there on out whenever we lost the regular 2 dollar pair. The "strongest scissors in the world" completely sucked at cutting holiday wrapping paper!

How I Beat Myst

Not to brag, but my brother and I beat Myst back sometime in 1995 without cheats, without hints, and without any help whatsoever. Well, that's a lie, because we did look up one cheat to get us out of that damn Selentic Age puzzle in the Flounder-shaped submarine, but other than that, we did everything else just by walking around and clicking on stuff. And that's really the only way to play Myst, because as anyone who's played it and then gone and looked at the cheats knows, the game is "winnable" in under a minute. To really get the whole experience, you just got to take the long sightseeing tour and get your senses blown apart. That's basically all it was anyways, one big slideshow that you clicked through while fighting with your brother, and every now and then little movies played.

Oh! The little ship is the big ship!
But to anyone who was a PC nerd in the 90s like I was, Myst continues to be the coolest PC game ever made, back in a time when you actually went to a computer store to buy games on "CD-ROM!" in the big boxes. Myst was a point and click adventure involving puzzles to solve and environments to explore, but how do I really describe it? The mystery starts the second you, the player, gets thrown down onto this very bizarre island, completely devoid of people, and yet curiously built up as if people were once there. The mystery continues as you meander (aimlessly at first), trying to get your bearings and tamping down that eerie feeling of being all alone in such a strange place. Could it be a dream? Who built all this stuff? Where did they all go? Where does that tunnel lead? Questions, and absolutely no answers, yet. It's like Lost, except the creators actually had a plan for it.

Finally made it up here! Now where to go?
After you've experienced everything on the island, you begin to experiment with things, perhaps in desperation to find some order in the chaos, and the more you uncover, the more things start falling into place. You learn that the island is like the "age hub" and that you can visit other "ages" by absorbing yourself into the moving pictures in the books scattered around the island. You find yourself collecting pink and blue pages from each age in the ruse for these mysterious weirdos calling to you from beyond the grave or in some prison. You visit the high treetop hut village of the Channelwood Age, with its twisting bridges and swamp walkway pumps, also devoid of people and yet all arranged as if they just disappeared. You visit the Stoneship Age, with its lighthouse (my favorite), and telescope peering into the clouded void. Then there's the Mechanical Age, with its turning house and rooms full of stately furniture and spooky torture devices, and finally, that damn Selentic Age that you travel to via rocket ship piano with the random clocks and the near-impossible without cheats submarine puzzle!

Awesome lighthouse!
Add to this a killer of a moody soundtrack, and glorious visuals, and you got more than just a game, but an experience, if you played it right. It's definitely the kind of game that once you started, you totally got sucked in and might play for 5 or 6 hours just trying to figure out how to work the pump system in the Channelwood Age, or how to spin the house in the Mechanical Age, or how to light that furnace on Myst Island to get that giant ass tree to lower itself! I remember we figured that one out completely by accident, just clicking on the match and "moving it" around on the screen until it "struck itself" on the wall! Presto! There were a thousand "happy accidents" in the game like that, and that's what made it fun.

There just weren't any "cheats to Myst" online, or any walkthroughs, because both Myst and the internet were brand new. If you wanted cheats, you had to call an expensive 1-800 number on the box! I often wonder now if anyone has called that in recent decades. Eventually I got so into Myst that I went out and read the prequel books, which really explain the whole backstory to this world, but the game is still an experience first and foremost.

But as for the sequel, Riven...  hell, we walkthrough'ed and cheated the hell out of that one!

Where in the World is [My Mind]

I used to watch this show called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego at a time when all I knew about the world was that it is round and that it exists. So for that reason, and the fact that I wasn't popping pills at the time, I never understood this show, and I know I'm not the only one. In any case, did I watch it? Of course. It was on TV.

It had something to do with hunting down some fugitive or something, a woman in red (how classy) who ran around the world, and how it was up to a bunch of game show contestant kids to follow the clues and tips pouring into the Acme headquarters to track her down. Why she was so important to have a whole branch of the FBI looking for her, and why the guy always lost his mind in the "lightning round," and why the kids were called "gumshoes," and why the "Chief" only spoke in bad puns, and why the random singing, I'll never know, along with many other puzzling things about the show.

There was a lot of Dick Tracey noir-lite stuff in it, and questions about geography, but I was little and my mind was more focused on the flashing lights and other key-jingling peripherals. My favorite segment was the map race, where a lucky contestant got to try to beat the clock sticking flashing light traffic pole things to the right countries on a giant floor map of a continent. And as much as I wanted them all flashing and "wooping," I always thought that "uh oh" fart sound for a wrong pick was funnier. I wanted a couple of those flashing lights just to use around the house so I could mark my territory.

It was just something you watch as a kid when "Rockapella" actually sounds cool and you don't know any better. She always got away.

Slap Bracelets

I remember these slap bracelet things were banned when some kid cut their wrist on them or something. Maybe the reason was because once you start snapping them around your wrist, it is impossible to stop. Bend them out, snap them shut. Bend them out, snap them shut. Over and over.

Nobody ever kept one on their wrist more than five seconds. Eventually the plastic inside would crack and they were useless, but were they ever colorful... just so long as you could bend them out, and snap them shut. Bend them out, and snap them shut...