2603: Childhood Toys

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Childhood Toys
The rope keeps breaking, I'm covered in bruises and scrapes, and I've barely reached the end of my driveway, but I don't care--I'm determined to become the first person to commute to work by tetherball.
Title text: The rope keeps breaking, I'm covered in bruises and scrapes, and I've barely reached the end of my driveway, but I don't care--I'm determined to become the first person to commute to work by tetherball.


This comic shows various objects, ranked by how practical they would be for long-distance transportation. The objects are described as childhood toys.

The "Practical" panel shows objects designed for convenient transportation, namely bicycles and electric scooters. Most people know how to ride a bicycle, and can easily go several miles on it. Scooters (shown in the comic panel) are also relatively easy to use, and may have a motor allowing them to be used for significant distances — the one shown has the appearance of one with a battery unit rather than being 'leg-propelled', and is named as such in the list for which it has been depicted. These are not considered "toys" at adult size as they are widely used for transport, but children's bikes and scooters (particularly unpowered scooters) not used for transport would generally be considered toys. The practicality of bicycles and e-scooters tends to depend more on local infrastructure and amenities (i.e., the presence of a safe cycle route and the destination being within a sensible distance) than on the equipment itself. Bicycles can carry substantial loads. In some countries e-scooters are legally restricted or prohibited on public roads which may make commuting on them unviable.

The "Less Practical" panel has objects designed for transportation, but which may be harder to use than the first panel. Skateboards and roller skates, while designed for transportation, don't work great over long distances or when carrying objects, and Big Wheels and unicycles (shown in the panel) are simply less practical bikes.

In the "Impractical" panel are objects that are designed for transportation, but are very much not designed for convenience, especially over long distances. Stilts are long poles that one stands on to extend their legs; while they increase the user's stride length, it takes quite a bit of practice to use them, especially if they're very long. A jump rope is a rope that the user swings around their body while they jump over it whenever the rope passes below their feet; it doesn't actually provide any transportation by itself, the user is simply hopping to their destination, which is a very tiring way to travel (but very good exercise if you can do it). A wagon has no propulsion of its own, it has to be pulled by the user; parents sometimes use it to transport their children short distances (such as to a playground). Larger wagons are used commercially. A Pogo stick is a pole with a spring at the bottom and a platform for standing on, which can be used to bounce; while fun for bouncing a few yards (as shown in the panel), like the jump rope it would be tiring for long distances.

The "Very Impractical" panel has objects that may be used for transportation, but to an incredibly limited degree. Slip 'N Slides (shown in the panel) only work (effectively) downhill, and only where they are placed down. Trampolines and Tire swings could let you go somewhere, but you'd need to set up multiple in a row leading to your destination beforehand. Hot Wheels cars could be put onto the bottom of shoes to create extremely ill-advised[citation needed] improvised rollerskates, but the car on its own has effectively no merit for transportation.

The title text refers to tetherball, a game found in many playgrounds where a ball is attached to a pole by a long rope. This is also very impractical, as the rope just winds around a stationary pole. It's possible that he is swinging from the rope and letting go (which would explain the bruises and scrapes, as well as the torn rope), but there is no remotely practical way to use this to commute.[citation needed] Nevertheless, if you were able to swing quickly enough and cut the rope at exactly the right moment, you might be able to achieve a short commute to a nearby target. This method may have been inspired by NASA purchasing a launch via the SpinLaunch rocket system the same week as the comic appeared.


[Title:] Childhood Toys
[Subtitle:] By Practicality for Commuting
[Caption of the first box:] Practical
  • Bicycle
  • Electric Scooter
[Cueball, wearing a helmet, drives by on an electric scooter, passing another Cueball and Hairbun, who is holding a briefcase.]
Scooter Cueball: Hi, boss!
[Caption of the second box:] Less Practical
  • Skateboard
  • Roller Skates
  • Big Wheel
  • Unicycle
[Ponytail rides by White Hat on a unicycle.]
Ponytail: Good Morning!
[Caption of the third box:] Impractical
  • Stilts
  • Jump Rope
  • Wagon
  • Pogo Stick
[Cueball bounces past Megan on a pogo stick.]
Pogo Stick: Boing boing
Cueball: How's it going?
[Caption of the fourth box:] Very Impractical
  • Trampoline
  • Tire Swing
  • Hot Wheels
  • Slip 'N Slide
[Cueball slides past Hairy(?) on a Slip 'N Slide.]
Cueball: Wheeeee
Cueball: Hi Boss!

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Tarzan would thrive commuting by tire swing. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (contribstalk) 22:11, 6 April 2022 (UTC)

How are a bicycle, scooter or wagon toys, or childlike. They're actually designed for commute and children aren't even allowed on scooters. Tharkon (talk) 22:45, 6 April 2022 (UTC)

Wagon doesn't mean station wagon. Google "toy wagon" to see what he's referring to. And electric scooter is a motorized version of a common child's toy. Barmar (talk) 22:56, 6 April 2022 (UTC)
I didn't actually assume a station wagon, was thinking of the thing usually pulled by horses. And doesn't the fact that a 'toy wagon' exists suggest that a regular wagon is not a toy? And I thought a scooter was more like a motorized bicycle rather than a toy, like a motorcycle, but slower. And at least here, you'd need to be at least 16 years old and get a permit to drive one. Funny how the same word borrowed in a closely related language can suddenly carry such different meanings. Tharkon (talk) 23:17, 6 April 2022 (UTC)
Since the heading says "childhood toys", I think we're supposed to understand that he means a toy wagon. And the comic shows the kind of scooter he's talking about, not a motorized bike. Barmar (talk) 23:27, 6 April 2022 (UTC)
Here in the UK, there are:
  • Push-along-scooters (childs toys, steel-tubing, often red and blue painted/trimmed, maybe pink for girls) that you one-leg along. Around the turn of the millenium, the craze arrived for 'adult' versions (I got one!), mostly in bare and sturdier aluminium.
  • The motorised vehicle that might also be called a 'moped' (such terms might be considered defamatory, by the proud owner of a Lambretta, etc, depending upon era and exactly which type of motored two-wheeler you're describing)
  • Mobility scooters, i.e. four-wheel (sometimes three) electrical vehicles sometimes barely a seat/handlebars on a moving platform, others almost like a quad-bike (esp. off-road capable ones)
  • Now (well, since the last few years) the illustrated kind that is electrically-powered version of the sturdier push-alongs.
...though (as I appended in a link), except for some very limited and controlled trial-schemes, it is actually illegal to use electric 'executive' scooters (the last category). Both on roads and pavements (i.e. sidewalks). They are not considered roadworthy, for the former, and riding on the pavement is illegal for various vehicles (including bicycles, though few know/care this). There's no special provision for the use of cycle-lanes (on-road) or cycle-paths (shared/split pavements, or bridlepath-level trails). The only place an otherwise unregulated electric-scooter can be ridden is 'private land'. Which means you'd have very little chance of commuting upon your own scooter, legally, only the sanctioned for-hire ones.
I was in Austin, TX a few months ago, and companies like Lime Bike had pods of electric scooters (like the one in the comic) for rent on the streets. So the legality is very location-dependent. Barmar (talk) 14:03, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
This is a description of the situation in the UK (see link I put in main explanation), although the sanctioned rental schemes mentioned are the explicitly legal exception for the UK, in explicitly served areas... as long as you have a driver's licence and follow other rules. Looking at the US legality, it's probably as patchwork as you'd expect with federal/state/local laws doing their usual uncoordinated things... ;) 14:34, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
(There's no such restrection on e-bikes, except for a theoretical maximum speed/power before they should be considersd motorbikes rather than electrified-mopeds. They are as welcome on the roads as bicycles (which largely depends upon the motorists and their prejudices/impatience), and similarly as illegal to ride on pavements (though of course people do that!)...) 12:30, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
Is this possibly a cultural difference? At least in the USA, I have definitely seen kids (maybe not much younger than 10, but still) using electric scooters. Wagons and bikes are definitely associated more with kids in the USA as well, because, unfortunately, cars are seen as the only "real," most viable, and most independent form of transport. (As I have heard others say, bikes are just what you use until you get a car.) 01:31, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
Presumably. This puzzled me a lot too. Bicycles aren't remotely 'toys', nor are scooters really -- and I'm assuming here this don't mean scooters in the sense of a small motorbike. EDIT: as is obvious from the actual cartoon. Zoid42 (talk) 08:49, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
In some areas of the US, bicycles are used solely for pleasure and exercise, not for actually getting anywhere. Partially because there isn't anything worth going to within an easy biking distance, and partially because the entire road system and the people who use it are often openly hostile to bicyclists. 09:25, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
It's surprising to see bikes listed as toys and not automobiles. Makes it seem like some new conservative meme has snuck into Randal. Weird comic for sure. 21:24, 7 April 2022 (UTC)
Not all the things listed are really toys, it's more that there are versions made for children, and you might well have had them as a child. You do not get automobiles aimed at children (with a few expensive exceptions), so that's why they are not in the list. The closest would be pedal cars and go-karts - I think they are the more notable exception. I would totally commute to work on an electic go-kart if I could. Sandor (talk) 09:13, 8 April 2022 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm a bit surprised at the surprise being caused by bikes as toys. Obviously a bicycle is a type of transport, but little kids play on bikes. A little bike, for going out and playing on with with little-bike-owning little friends. Maybe not a 'toy' in a strict sense, but a thing used for for playing, which can - in an adult context - be used for transport. It's kind of the whole point of the cartoon - a gradient of successfully repurposing childish playthings for transport, starting - naturally - with childish versions of forms of transport at the successful end, moving through the increasingly ridiculous. "Toy" accuracy isn't really the point. Yorkshire Pudding (talk) 11:42, 15 April 2022 (UTC)
Toy automobiles are on the list, of course. The Hot Wheels... 13:00, 8 April 2022 (UTC)

Slip N Slide doesn't need to be downhill. It's common to use a running start and then leap onto it, then slide to the end. But this method only works for a few yards at most, so for commuting you'd need to keep getting up to run to the next one. We'd need a network of them on every street. Barmar (talk) 23:35, 6 April 2022 (UTC)

I feel a ski-lift-like system would be helpful for sliding uphill. Or perhaps some sort of high-flow fan.
I like bicycling everywhere, & I despise unnecessary commuting by any means, but I'd strongly consider just about any job that made it easy for everyone to commute there by Slip'N'Slide... Can we get home by zip-line?
ProphetZarquon (talk) 00:21, 7 April 2022 (UTC)

A road made of trampolines could actually be extremely useful for short-distance commutes since you go a lot faster. N-eh (talk) 00:19, 7 April 2022 (UTC)

This is not exactly new. With special praise to the Pogo Stick https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGQBu_cqzn8

Given a choice between a big wheel (tricycle), unicycle, or a toy wagon (https://www.classicredwagons.com/radio_flyer_classic_red_wagon_18_c_p10.htm) as the only allowed ways to commute, I think the vast majority would toss their stuff in, use it as a scooter uphill and level, then sit in it and gleefully zoom downhill. I’d even take stilts or a pogo stick over a unicycle. In fact, I don’t see how a unicycle qualifies as a childhood toy at all. I’ve seen children using everything else mentioned, but I’ve never seen a unicycle for sale anywhere, and I’ve never seen anyone successfully ride one who wasn’t a professional acrobat. 17:11, 7 April 2022 (UTC)

I've seen plenty of non-acrobats riding unicycles. I used to ride in a 2 day 150 mile bicycle ride for charity every year, and each year there were several people on unicycles. WhiteDragon (talk) 13:26, 8 April 2022 (UTC)
”Several” on unicycles out of how many, and how many of them did you ask their occupation? If you mean, say, five unicycles out of two thousand bicycles, it wouldn’t surprise me if all five were professional acrobats using the unicycles as a stunt to market their skills. I tried to find the charity ride you mentioned, by searching for SONAGURHAI (some other newspaper’s annual great unicycle ride halfway across Iowa) but every search engine I tried fell flat on its face. Almost as if.... they were trying to ride unicycles. :) I stand by my assertion but if you have a link with pictures and/or interviews with non-acrobats about it, I’ll concede the possibility. 23:40, 9 April 2022 (UTC)

This strip reminds me of the Ripping Yarns episode: "Across the Andes By Frog". Although the characters in the episode didn't actually ride frogs, their progress across the mountain range was limited to the speed at which the poor amphibians could hop. Needless to say, the high altitude and low temperatures were another limiting factor. I can't remember whether they were eventually successful. Beechmere (talk) 02:07, 8 April 2022 (UTC)Beechmere

On the issue of "these things are not really considered toys" (I just did a bit of editing to that), the complication is that the (orignal) scooter was more or less a kids' thing (with occasional forays into adult transportation), even when given BMX-wheels, but then got transformed into more of a geek-thing around the year 2000 with a folding light-weight white-metal design that could be ridden by an adult. And of course people, being people, put power to them with small-ICE units. Only fairly recently did battery-electric become a viable thing to integrate, making them a 'serious'[citation needed] transport option to produce. And then they re-toyed the 'adult models' to a smaller scale, to push them back to children to bleed parents' wallets dry give the kid the same opportunities in play as those hoopy-froods who whiz around the Google Campus/etc... ((Taking some liberties with the known history, but I know I'll never get it completely right, so never mind.)) So it all really depends upon how old you are/where you first encountered scooters (electric or otherwise) as to whether you consider them actually pretty much entirely toys or strange to be so, or somewhere fuzzily in-between. Just sayin'. ;) 21:58, 8 April 2022 (UTC)

I remember playing with each of these growing up, except the unicycle. Always had fun traveling by them all over town for the practical and less-practical, and across the yard or to the neighbors' with the rest (except hotwheels). As for the title text, our tetherball poles were sometimes fixed in the ground, sometimes centered in an old tire full of concrete. I imagine it's referring to the non-fixed type. Those things were so heavy at the bottom that, even with a long heavy metal pole for leverage, they were very hard to pull over, and almost balanced at 90 degrees. I imagine if someone sat on the tire of a fallen-down one, they would be able to balance it and roll. Even if not, you could probably use the tether to re-angle yourself every few feet, without touching the ground. If I can find one of those old poles in this town I moved to recently, I'll submit video evidence of me traveling across a field on one so that you can remove the [citation needed] and the word "remotely." I'm pretty sure this will still include the scrapes and bruises mentioned. Quarteresque (talk) 06:32, 9 April 2022 (UTC)

The World Records for the distances traveled by the less-practical and impractical 'toys' are likely quite astonishing. For example, the record distance on a skateboard is 261 miles (420 km) in 24 hours --These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 00:47, 10 April 2022 (UTC)

I remember when I was in elementary school (with tetherballs) I was able to ride on the tetherballs. It was fun, but I was light then... so it IS something which children use to "commute." Around a pole, that is. Eelitee (talk) 04:33, 10 April 2022 (UTC)

Couldn't the tetherball rotate quickly enough to make it function like a gyroscope? That might make it possible to use such a device to travel. Cwallenpoole (talk) 23:47, 11 April 2022 (UTC)

Occasionally during snowy conditions my husband would cross-country ski to his law office. Skis also come in children's sizes. 01:30, 25 April 2022 (UTC)

Less Practical Items[edit]

Hi, just saying, could someone talk about the less practical items, including:

-skateboard -roller skates -big wheel? -unicycle

Similar idea[edit]

Mathematical Symbol Fight is also about using common items for unusual purposes. 22:59, 28 May 2023 (UTC)