Monday, December 24, 2007

This Christmas, Feel Like a Kid Feeling Like a Spy Again

So, this Christmas thing. Is it getting a little… boring? Seriously, I bet some of you are just grousing about how big the credit card bill is after trying to keep the kiddies in all the coolest toys this season. And you might even still be trying to figure out how to fit Christmas vacation into your packed work schedule. Yes, for some Christmas is becoming nothing more than an over-commercialized festival of stress.

Look at all the children. Running, laughing, enjoying the days free of school. They get to be so happy this time of year! You’re probably wishing you could be so ridiculously giddy, too—the way you were way-back-when. So what’s the little tykes’ secret? Greed.
It’s as simple as that. The little Christmas-lovers get to enjoy their loot consequence-free. You, on the other hand, feel it at the hip pocket for every riding mower, leather jacket, or stereo system you get for yourself. Aside from stumbling into a million dollars, what can you do to regain that lost joy of Christmas? Well, kids full of holiday cheer do have one more secret. A secret much more secret than avarice. They are snoops.

While your tot is probably bringing home dismal grades from school, he is really a very smart kid underneath. All kids are when given the proper inspirational outlet. That outlet is the thrill of discovering what lurks beneath the colorful paper wrappings. Is it a radio-controlled car? The latest video game? *Gasp!* It’s really a…

See? You got exited just reading that. Brings back memories, eh? So why not relive that jubilation, and the torturous happiness of trying to conceal that underneath it all you know what that mysterious gift is?!

This mission, should you choose to accept it, requires you to be just as cunning as your offspring. And they are cunning. Deceptively creative and ingenious. As a kid, I would form dry-ice crystals within the wrapping paper itself, rendering it transparent just long enough to read the box underneath. Another little Machiavelli replaced every tape dispenser in the house with adequately-greased rolls of not-so-sticky tape before the family started wrapping.

That last trick I heard about when I attend my area’s Symposium on Gift Reconnaissance (SoGR) as a fourth-grader. That super-secret conference is one that most parents still never dream could exist. I should have felt honored to be a guest (a speaker, in fact) at such a prestigious meeting, but I didn’t. While creative, most of the techniques discussed seemed like cheating. These kids were just unwrapping their presents early to see what was in them. What’s the fun in that?? No, the truly dignified Christmas snoop should live by a code of honor. Early unwrapping? That’s just plain unfair, and way too easy. The real thrill is in using deduction.
If, when lightly tapped, it feels solid but sounds hollow, it must be a hardback book. CDs and software packages are readily recognized by their dimensions. You can narrow-down a DVD’s studio-of-origin by the ridges around the case’s clasp. And if the gift-wrap is the cheap kind, you can see through by stretching it tightly against the contents with both thumbs.

Remember, you are doing this for the giver. If your kids got you a really lame present and you find out about it early enough, you might think of a positive before you have to unwrap it Christmas morn. Then you can act genuinely happy, and the dumb giver will be happier, too.
The tips above can help get you started. Through careful observation you can discover just about anything without ever breaking a seal, and soon you’ll be a worthy expert.

May the true spirit of Christmas meddling come to you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Foam Storm Rising

Fifteen years ago, the height of the Nerf arsenal was called the Missilestorm. It held four foam arrows on flimsy launching rods and cost parents a whopping 20 USD. The arrows were too large to be aerodynamic, and the firing mechanism—a rear handle that was drawn out of the weapon to be rammed back in and thus force air out behind the arrow—destroyed accuracy. Smaller kids couldn’t even get good distance out of the thing.

By 2001 there existed a wider-ranging and more-developed Nerf arsenal relying on more practical foam darts. But the cheaper guns, such as the “BlastFire” five-shot, still had clumsy mechanics that led to poor firing and quick breakage, while the more expensive guns—including the prized, fully-automatic “PowerClip”—were, well, expensive.

Today the introduction of a cheap, cool-looking, and virtually-foolproof design spells the stronger-than-ever return of Nerf combat. It is the “Maverick Rev-6,” a large six-shot revolver. Though each shot is powered by an easy-to-compress internal spring, the weapon has very decent range and accuracy. And at 8 USD in Wal-Marts across the land, it is inspiring both young newcomers and poor college kids who wish such a good piece had been on the market when they were smaller.

ABOVE: "The Samaritan," the author's personal Nerf® Maverick, serial no. 71341