“Create ’em! Crush ’em! Create ’em! again and again…”
In 1968, 25 years before Jurassic Park hit cinemas, Mattel introduced Strange Change Machine, a clever toy that allowed children to “magically” create their own prehistoric creatures.
Where the movie scenario relied on DNA, fossils, and amber, Strange Change Machine’s magic lay in plastic polymers, injection molding, and electron beaming. Mattel manfactured “time capsules,” small, square pieces of plastic stamped with the company’s logo on one side. 16 multi-coloured time capsules shipped in a set, each capable of auto-magically producing a unique creature from the Lost World.
Adding to the toy’s futuristic vibe was the Strange Change machine itself, which had a metallic red finish embossed with a metallic label on one side. A large metal crank, an expansion chamber housed under a plastic dome, and a compression chamber all completed the setup. The machine came nestled in an other-worldly looking set of vacuum-formed green mountains.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
Like Mattel’s other “hot” toys of the time (like Vac-u-Form and Thingmaker), Strange Change Machine required heat to transform the time capsules. Once the machine was warmed up, children dropped a time capsule into the plastic chamber and closed the door. Several minutes later, a small figure would emerge from the capsule. The figure was removed from the heat source and allowed to cool before it could be used for play.
So how did this magic happen? Mattel’s injection molding process created each figure in an unfolded state. Once fully formed, a creature was subjected to an electron-beaming process that changed the polymer’s molecular structure. After being e-beamed, the figure was dipped in silicon and finally pressed into a small square time capsule. This manufacturing process allowed each square to return to its original state when heated, despite being compressed.
The e-beam cross-linking process had another fun side effect, which Mattel integrated into Strange Change Machine: Once they were done playing with a creature, kids could heat it back up, drop it into the compression chamber, and use the crank on the side to compress the hot plastic creature back into a time capsule.
After cooling, the time capsule could be stored for use another day. A time capsule could be transformed back and forth several times before it lost its effect.
ON THE SHELF
In addition to the machine, time capsules, and vacuum-formed base, an original Strange Change set also came with a combination instruction sheet/play mat and a pair of blue tongs. Mattel also offered 2 accessory packs — Astropods and Creaturelings — for Strange Change Machine, each with 4 new creatures.
In the mid-1990s, Toymax released a new Strange Change machine. The re-issue used a lightbulb as heat source, had a more enclosed heating unit for enhanced safety, and featured glow-in-the-dark creatures.