Toy Talk
- Brief Looks at Recent Thrift Store Acquisitions -

Volume LIX

By Mark Patraw
Published on 5/26/15

How many LIX does it take to get to the center of a toy review?

Well, my computer is still functioning okay. In addition to a failing hard drive, the registry getting too large (from adding/removing a lot of programs, which is something I've definitely done over the years) can also cause the booting error that I experienced and fixed, so, only time will tell which it is, but, given the age of my PC, I'd put my money on the hard drive dying . . . I'm optimistic like that!

And, while I know that I've written that I'm trying to cut down on the length of these things, using less photos/text wasn't really a desirable option this time, as several of these items simply require more images and explanation to adequately convey what they're about and how they work (or at least that's the rationalization that I'm sticking to!)

As always, if anyone reading this knows more information about any of these items, that I haven't already discussed below, and would like to share, or just chat about toys, feel free to e-mail me and let me know!

Toy line: BFC Ink.
Manufacturer: MGA (2010-2011).
What I paid: Noelle was one dollar on 11/13/14 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store and Nicolette was twenty-five cents on 5/19/15 at the same establishment. And, no, I don't know why Noelle cost four times as much as Nicolette did. Pricing in thrift stores is often inconsistent like that.
Size: 12.0 cm (4.7") wide x 46.5 cm (18.3") tall.
Articulation: Neck, mid-torso, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles.
Notable features: None.

My BFC Ink Addison had been feeling lonely and awkward, due to her being so much larger than all of my other dolls, so I bought her a couple of equally gigantic playmates to keep her company: Noelle (dark brunette with brown eyes) and Nicollete (blonde with brown eyes). After all, you can't have a Best Friends Club without any pals, right? They've been discontinued for about four years now, but BFC Ink were MGA's relatively low-budget (they cost about $30 brand new) line of 18" dolls, which were a cheaper alternative to similar, but more expensive, products like American Girl.

Lacking her original outfit, I'm not sure which version of Noelle this is. She was produced in the second (My Favorite Things), third (100+ Poses), and fourth (Summer Splashin') waves of BFC Ink dolls, but the second wave still had the older, less-articulated bodies, so, she obviously can't be that one. Noelle also has an identical twin sister, Aliesha, but her dolls have short bangs that Noelle figures lack, which allows you to easily tell the two siblings apart at a glance.

Nicolette is from the fifth, and final, BFC Ink assortment that MGA produced, the 2011 Pen Pals line, which featured girls from around the world (Nicolette is from France). The other four dolls in that assortment were Britt (England), Carmen (Mexico), Elsa (Sweden), and Lily (South Africa).

They're lovely dolls in the general sense, but my primary interest in BFC Ink girls are their well-articulated bodies. A lot of 18" play dolls only move at the neck, shoulders, and hips, which is pretty disappointing for a figure of that size (in my mind, as a toy gets bigger, the number of joints should also increase proportionately). While it's true that the articulation on these BFC Ink dolls does tend to become too loose over time, which can be problematic when it comes to posing and getting them to stand, but I'll take a wobbly, highly-flexible doll over a steadier, minimally-articulated one any day of the week. For some reason, both of these girls have a little bit of plastic or something rattling around inside of their bodies too--some debris left over from the manufacturing process perhaps?

When I wrote about Addison, I kind of gave her a pass on the quality of her hair, as I didn't really try to comb or style it. However, I did take the time to straighten out Nicolette's tresses (which were tied up into a ponytail with hair bands when I bought her), and it was not a pleasant experience. Her locks were coarse, frizzy, and full of tangles. I had to dunk her noggin in boiling water many times to loosen up the snarls and spent around twenty-thirty minutes combing them out. Her straightened hair looks much nicer now, but I don't imagine it would take much for it to become a rat's nest again. It also looks like Nicolette's former owner(s) gave her a bit of a haircut, as some of the tresses on the back of her head are uneven and shorter than they should be, but it's not too terrible looking (TIP: if you see a secondhand doll in a thrift store, or elsewhere, with her hair up in a ponytail, you should immediately be suspicious that it's been cut, as that's the easiest and most common method of concealing it). Noelle's hair has a similar texture to Addison and Nicolette's, and its fair share of tangles, so, it's probably the same type of low-quality, synthetic fiber, but, as I like the waves in it (which would be lost in a boiled water rinse), I'm not messing with her locks for now, if ever. The BFC Ink dolls do have a reputation for poor hair quality, and I'm afraid I have to agree with that assessment.

Settle down, girlfriend, he was just trying to fix your hair with that water, not drown you!

Unlike Addison, at least these two weren't naked when I bought them. My Noelle came attired in a fairly-old-fashioned, blue-green, plaid dress with gold trim. It's way too big (while it might seem okay in these photos, keep in mind that I've got a bunch of the excess fabric clothespinned behind the doll's back to improve its appearance), but I like the "prim and proper" look it gives the wearer. The dress opens-and -closes in the back with metal snaps. The plastic orange flower in Noelle's hair was my addition. Nicolette, on the other hand, was garbed in a short, red-and-white-striped sleeveless dress with a line of jewel-like red buttons running down the front. That stripe pattern and color combination remind me strongly of a baseball jersey. It opens/closes in the back with a couple of metal hooks/eyelets. Nicollete's garment is also a bit loose (and short!) on a BFC Ink body, but it's a much better fit than Noelle's dress. I really should do something about expanding my wardrobe selection for 18" dolls . . .

The three BFC Ink girls I currently own (left-to-right): Addison, Noelle, and Nicolette.
Nicolette is wearing the dress from my Disney/Tollytots' Princess Merida toddler doll in this photo.

I don't know how many more of these girls I'm going to buy. On the one hand, I like their design and poseability, but, on the other, they're all more-or-less the same thing, just with different skin tones and hair/eye colors (although, to be fair, that's true of most doll lines). Plus, due to their size, they take up a fair amount of space, which is always shrinking on me with every new purchase that I make. For what it's worth, Noelle is my favorite out of the three that I currently have.

A while back, I ran across an older, less-articulated BFC Ink Kaitlyn doll and I almost bought her, until I noticed that her right hand was chewed up pretty badly, either from a former owner or a pet, so I put her back in the doll bin. Maybe I should have bought Kaitlyn anyway though, just for her clothes. I also found a Calista one day (which the thrift store staff had incorrectly labeled as a "Battat" doll--Battat is the company that produces the 18" Our Generation dolls, they have nothing to do with MGA or BFC Ink), but they wanted five bucks for her, which, while not unreasonable, was more than I was willing to pay at the time, even though she had a complete outfit including footwear.

Toy line: Expandagon.
Manufacturer: Hoberman Designs, Incorporated (1999).
What I paid: One dollar on 5/21/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: Due to its modular nature, the dimensions of the models will vary depending on what kind of objects you choose to build. The box measures 39.3 cm (15.5") wide x 26.2 cm (10.3") tall x 11.8 cm (4.1") deep.
Articulation: Variable, depending on what you build.
Notable features: Expanding/contracting construction system.

I'd never seen, or heard of, these Expandagon sets before, but, the pictures/text on the box looked pretty interesting in the store, so, I figured I'd purchase it and give it a try. The creation of Chuck Hoberman (an artist/engineer/inventor known for his folding toys/structures), Expandagon is a construction system that allows you to create various geometric models that can be expanded and contracted at will, which is a pretty novel spin on the building block toy genre. Even if this particular item is also new to you, chances are good that you've seen a Hoberman Sphere at some point, which is his best-known toy product.

There were three Expandagon kits available: Basic, Advanced (which is the one I'm writing about), and Expert. Each contained progressively more pieces, allowing you to create larger, and more complex, models.

The three primary building components (Expanda-Square, Expanda-Triangle,
and X-Linkage) in their closed (left) and open (right) configurations.

All of the Expandagon pieces attach to one another via pivoting male/female hubs or peg/hole interfaces. The plastic and metal that they're made from is very durable and high quality too--I've yet to break anything, which is great, considering the amount of force that I've had to exert in order to get some of the pieces on/off (in particular, I've found the connector tubes to be really difficult to remove from the pegs).

The two primary things that you have to keep in mind when building are that you need to assemble all of the individual components in their "closed" positions and that pieces are attached edge-to-edge, not point-to-point. If you don't adhere to those rules, the larger structure that you're trying to assemble won't open/expand like it's supposed to (well . . . some of the models I've built do require you to occasionally break the "only build with pieces in their closed configurations" rule, so, that's not entirely true). It takes a little while to get the hang of it, but, once you've become acclimated to how the Expandagon system works, things go pretty smoothly.

Cuboctahedron model contracted (left) and expanded (right).

The unfolded models usually collapse back into their compact forms, under their own weight, without your hand support. However, a quartet of red Open Clips are also included, which allow you to "lock" the expanded model into that position if you wish to display it that way (they were also mighty helpful when I was shooting these photographs).

My sample isn't 100% complete, but it's pretty close. All I'm missing are one tiny purple Nexus Connector and three of the blue Connector Tubes. While it'd be great if those parts had been included, the vast majority of the Expandagon models can be built without those pieces, so, it's no biggie. Thankfully, both full-color instructional booklets were present, as it would have been pretty difficult for me to understand how things worked without them, although I imagine I would have figured it out eventually from looking at the photos on the box.

Growbot model contracted (left) and expanded (right).

Expandagon doesn't have the versatility of something like LEGO, but, taken on its own merits, it's a fun system to mess around with. Making the colorful object that you've just assembled "magically" expand and contract is mighty cool. That said, I think Expandagon works best when you're constructing polyhedrons or mechanical objects, as the shapes of the parts and limitations of the system don't lend themselves very well to making more organic things, like animals, which end up being too abstract in appearance in my opinion.

Rocket model contracted (left) and expanded (right).

The manufacturer recommends Expandagon for ages 8-and-up. While it's not terribly difficult, the assembly process is a bit more complicated and less intuitive than something like LEGO or Mega Bloks, so, I'd agree that this toy is better suited to older children. It took some trial-and-error for an adult like myself to get the hang of it too.

Toy line: Unknown.
Manufacturer: Unknown (there's no copyright data printed on any of the components).
What I paid: $1.50 on 5/21/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: The three girls are about 8.9 cm (3.5") wide x 18.8 cm (7.4") high, while the Chihuahua measures 8.1 cm (3.2") wide x 14.7 cm (5.8") tall.
Articulation: None.
Notable features: Garments adhere to dolls via magnetic attraction.

I found this zippered plastic bag, crammed full of colorful magnetic paper dolls and clothing, last week. As I love paper dolls and haven't purchased any of them in quite some time, I snatched it right up. Said sack contained three girls, a Chihuahua, and dozens of clothes. I'd have preferred a cat to a dog, but the canine is still pretty cool.

The three young ladies that I got are a redhead (who looks an awful lot like Pippi Longstockings to me), a darker-skinned brunette (she reminds me of Strawberry Shortcake's Orange Blossom character, albeit a bit older), and a blonde. I like the colorful, almost childish way that they were illustrated in what looks like watercolor paint. They're all equally cute, so, it's hard to pick a favorite. The blonde has a bend/crease in the middle of her left arm, but, otherwise, the trio is in nice shape.

The bag included a pretty large assortment of vibrantly-hued clothing to clad the lasses with too (36 pieces). I particularly like how all of the footwear is joined together, by a crosspiece, as a single unit, rather than two separate pieces (I'll never have to worry about losing one and having an incomplete pair). Sadly, some of the items have some unsightly scuffs/tears/markings on them (most notably the yellow floral skirt), but the majority of them are in decent condition. As both the dolls and their garments are magnetic, adding/removing clothing is incredibly easy and all of the components stay on great due to that attractive force.

And here's the silly Chihuahua and its accessories. The dog is cute, but it's a photograph of an actual animal, rather than a drawn representation like the girls, which kind of clashes, stylistically, with its more cartoon-ish garments and accessories.

The clothing, hats, etc., are a mix of "boys" and "girls" items/colors, so that you can make the dog whatever gender you like, which I think was a great design choice. Interestingly, while the Chihuahua itself is of comparable bulk, its magnetic attachments are only about half the thickness of the material used to make the girls' garments, which makes for a lighter doll.

While they're usually more expensive, I prefer magnetic figures like these to the traditional paper dolls with the fold-over tabs on their clothing. The magnetic ones are much sturdier and their garments stay on a lot better too. I wish that there was a way to stand these dolls up, other than leaning them against something, but, other than that, I have no complaints.

I've passed on some of the other assortments of paper dolls that the thrift stores have had recently (including a rather nice Disney Princesses one, in book form, that had Colorforms-like garments), typically because I felt that either (1) the asking prices were too high, (2) there weren't enough clothing pieces for effective play (alternatively, there were too many mismatched parts, from multiple, unrelated dolls that couldn't share clothing), or (3) they just weren't in very good condition. Being picky/patient paid off though, as, other than some minor damage, this particular assortment is really good.

Toy line: Play-Doh.
Manufacturer: Hasbro (2011).
What I paid: Fifty cents on 5/21/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
Size: [Head/base assembly only] 17.0 cm (6.7") wide x 10.5 cm (4.1") tall x 16.3 (6.4") deep.
Articulation: Jaw, tooth molds, ears, braces/mirror roller, and dental drill.
Notable features: Dental care modeling clay playset with working, motorized drill.

Most people dread going to the dentist, but what if the shoe was on the other foot and you were the one inflicting the pain on someone else's mouth? Well, unless you're actually a dentist, or some kind of sadist, this Play-Doh: Doctor Drill 'N Fill playset might very well be your one and only chance to explore that fantasy!

Hasbro is pretty good at coming up with creative scenarios that incorporate its well-known modeling compound, and this toy is no exception. Utilizing the various included tools, and the Play-Doh itself, you can probe, brush, or yank out the clay teeth, drill holes into those pearly whites and place fillings into the resulting cavities, attach braces, and then inspect all of your handiwork with the mirror.

The design of this compact playset was well thought out with very little wasted space. All of the tools, with the exception of the heavy drill, can be stored, upright, on the teal base, which also has the two pivoting tooth molds built into it (one for the larger molars and the other for bicuspids/incisors). The head has a built-in clay extruder for the tongue (just pop some clay into the slot in the back, pivot the top half of the man's head backwards, forcing the compound through, and out the tongue comes!) The main structure can be easily and quickly disassembled for cleaning/storage too--the two halves of the head weren't separated when I bought mine though, which resulted in the box getting distended outward, as it isn't wide enough to accommodate the size of the fully-assembled noggin.

It takes a fair amount of time, even with two molds, to make and place sixteen clay teeth (it's a good thing that this goofy-looking fellow doesn't have a full mouth of thirty-two like real humans do, eh?), which might frustrate individuals that don't have a lot of patience. Of course, you could speed the process up considerably if two, or more, people work together to fill up his pink plastic gums.

When it came to making the braces, the pizza-cutter-like roller didn't work that well for me (the clay either curled up onto the roller, as I passed over it, or I couldn't get the resulting square shapes out of the clay sheet without distorting them with the pressure from my fingers). I found it more effective to just push little bits of clay into the molds on the tool, and then remove the resulting casts by hand, rather than rolling them out as intended. And, by the time I had gotten all of the components of the braces made, the clay teeth were starting to dry out, so the braces didn't adhere to them very well. All of the other tools functioned fine for me though, so maybe I just need to work on my roller technique?

My sample came with everything except for the three canisters of Play-Doh (a five-ounce can of white, and a pair of two-ounce cans of silver and red). Heck, the dental drill even had working AA batteries installed in it, which aren't included if you buy this thing new. (Don't you just hate it when battery-powered toys don't even come with the cells you need to operate them?) Since this is a toy from 2011, even if the box had contained them, chances are that the modeling compounds would have been rock hard or just plain nasty by now anyway. I was too lazy/cheap to visit one of the local stores and buy some clay, so, I just made my own, and you can too! Sure, it's not the same level of quality as the real deal, but it's close enough:

Salt Dough Modeling Clay Recipe
(The following is a modification of the recipe found in Great Stuff: 100 Fun Projects for Kids,
that I tailored specifically for use with this Doctor Drill 'N Fill Play-Doh toy.

  • 1 cup white flour

  • 1/3 cup salt

  • 1/3 cup water

  • A drizzle of cooking oil (I used Canola, but I doubt it matters what kind it is)

  • Droplets of food coloring (red, blue, and green) as needed

  • Directions:
    Pour the flour, salt, water, and oil into a bowl and knead it with your hands until you get a clay-like consistency and the mixture no longer sticks to the sides. Mine came out fine on the first try, but if yours is too wet/sticky, add a bit more flour, or, if it's too dry, and a little more water.

    Separate the clay into three portions* (3/5, 1/5, and 1/5). The three-fifths ball is for the teeth, and, as it's already an off-white color, there's nothing more to do, so set it aside for now. Take one of the one-fifth portions and add several drops of red food coloring to it (around 4-6, but you can use more, or less, to suit your own preferences). Knead the pigment into the clay until it's a uniform scarlet (take note that this process will also stain your hands, but it washes off easily enough). The red is for the mouth's tongue (and braces if you follow Hasbro's example, which I didn't, because nobody has red wires on their braces). With the white and red done, now it's time to mix the last color: gray. The original Play-Doh that came with the set was silver, but I was doubtful that I'd be able to replicate that hue with just red, blue, green, and yellow food coloring, so I opted for a bluish-gray instead. Take your last 1/5 portion of clay and add four drops of blue, two drops of red, and a drop of green food coloring to it (or some other combination if you feel that you can make a better shade than I came up with). Knead the clay until you get a uniform gray color. That hue is for the braces and tooth fillings. I didn't try it, but I imagine you could also mix some glitter into the gray clay to give it a metallic sheen. That's it, you're ready to play dentist!

    This salt dough modeling clay should keep for several days if you keep it in an air-tight container (I used plastic wrap). Storing it inside a refrigerator also helps. If the clay starts to dry out while you're working with it (which it probably will, especially on a hot day), sprinkle the clay with a little water, knead that moisture in, and it should become pliable again.

    * When I made my clay, I used a ratio of 1/2 white, 1/4 red, and 1/4 gray, but that was just barely enough white to fill the mouth with teeth, while I had lots of red and gray left over, hence, I adjusted the ratios so that you'll have more appropriate amounts of each color to work with than I did.

    I think it's almost impossible for any Play-Doh set to not be fun, and this one is certainly entertaining. Who wouldn't get a thrill out of messing with this poor guy's teeth? (Just keep telling yourself that he's plastic and can't feel any pain.) Maybe this toy will even inspire your child to take up a career in dentistry when they grow up . . .

    Hasbro recommends this product for ages 3-and-up. Play-Doh modeling compound is non-toxic, but it shouldn't be eaten (and it contains wheat, so, take note of that if you, or your children, are allergic). Likewise, while the recipe that I gave for salt dough modeling clay contains nothing but edible ingredients, I'd advise against consuming any. If nothing else, it'll probably have bacteria, and possibly cold viruses, all over it after it's been handled repeatedly during play (yes, I'm a germaphobe).

    Toy line: LEGO.
    Manufacturer: Dorling Kindersley for the LEGO Group (2011).
    What I paid: One dollar on 5/14/15 at the Ishpeming, Michigan St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store.
    Size: 23.7 cm (9.3") wide x 28.3 cm (11.1") tall.
    Articulation: None (other than turning pages, of course!)
    Notable features: None.

    I often pick up toy-related books, but I seldom see any that actually focus on the usage of the playthings themselves. However, Dorling Kindersley's 2011 The LEGO Ideas Book (ISBN: 978-0-7566-8606-2), written by Daniel Lipkowitz (and featuring the building talents of Sebastiaan Arts, Tim Goddard, Deborah Higdon, Barney Main, Duncan Titmarsh, and Andrew Walker) does just that.

    After a short introduction and tips section, the book proper is divided into six broad categories, each featuring the work of a single LEGO fan builder: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (vehicles); Town & Country (houses, furniture, bridges, etc.); Out of this World (outer space and aliens); In Days of Old (castles and other medieval era builds); A World of Adventure (various exotic settings and transports); and Make & Keep (life-sized objects and art). Some of the builders have more technical skill and/or artistic vision than others (although that's subjective), but I enjoyed all of their work.

    To be clear, this isn't a step-by-step guide to assembling the pictured models, rather it's more of a gallery of ideas and techniques for you to think about and try. Key points of a particular build are sometimes described in more detail, but the book doesn't hold your hand from start-to-finish. It's understood that you have a basic knowledge of how LEGO bricks work and are capable of completing similar, or identical, models on your own.

    Each section ends with an interview with the builder whose work is featured in that particular chapter. And, appropriately, they're represented by a LEGO mini figure, done in their likeness, rather than an actual photo. I like the addition of this personalized information, as it gives you some insight into their design philosophy.

    I've read many Dorling Kindersley books over the years and they always produce high quality tomes with outstanding photography, and this LEGO Ideas Book is no exception. There aren't any earth-shattering secrets inside, but there were many clever examples of brick usage that would probably never have occurred to me. Even if you consider yourself a LEGO master (which I most certainly am not), it's still interesting to flip through the pages and marvel at what other builders have created.

    This 200-page, hardcover volume originally retailed for a suggested cost of $25, which is arguably pricey for what amounts to a toy supplement. I wouldn't pay that much (largely because I'm a thrift store miser that's become too accustomed to getting everything for next to nothing), but, given the overall craftsmanship of the book and its instructional content, I don't think it's an unreasonable sum to ask.

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