A plush chunk of talking bacon may not be exactly what your kids hope to find under the Christmas tree. But consider this: instead of jousting to snag the latest video game or Barbie—and furnishing your children with the same stuff as their friends—you can give them a huggable doll shaped like breakfast meat.
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive, but as anyone who grew up playing with a Slinky, a Squirmle, or Silly Putty can attest, it’s often the strangest toys, the ones that freak us out or make us squeal, that become our childhood favorites. They also allow kids to explore a culture through its toys, bringing the sense of discovery that comes with traveling right into your living room.
Indeed, there are toy manufacturers and home-crafters across the globe that cater to kids’ taste for the bizarre. A few of the odder toys out there seem geared to kids from certain cultures. An American child, for instance, might not feel particularly inspired to play with a platter of crocheted sushi rolls, while a Japanese or Muslim child might be baffled or even horrified by that talking slab of bacon.
More often than not, though, strange toys have universal appeal. What child, for instance, wouldn’t enjoy turning an ordinary bathtub into a cauldron of neon-bright, popcorn-scented goo? Or morphing a boring old toothbrush into a whirring bristled robot beastie? (Parents, start planning your oral-hygiene playdates now.)
The truth is, it’s not just kids who get a kick out of weird playthings; some toys have just as many fans among adults. The Hexbugs series of robotic insects, for instance—which includes a freakily authentic spider that scuttles and swivels its head—are collected by parents as well as children. Other toys are so grossly humorous that almost anyone with a base sense of humor can appreciate them.
“I’ve played it with over a thousand kids and adults,” says David Norman, whose U.K.-based company Goliath Games makes a hugely popular poop-and-scoop game called Doggy Doo (more than a million have been sold this year alone). “The inherent funniness of hearing a dog pass gas and poop is a riot for all ages.”
These mini robotic creepy-crawlies move just like their real insect counterparts do. The series includes a three-inch, six-legged Spider, which scuttles in an alarmingly realistic arachnid fashion while swiveling its head from side to side, and a Larva, whose segmented body wiggles ickily and swerves to change direction as it approaches obstacles. Best for freaking out Mom: the light- and sound-sensitive Crab, which “hides” in dark corners until a flicked switch or loud noise brings it bolting out into the open.