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    Office Playground

Short Summary:  A website that sells office toys and desk accessories.

Extended Summary:  Temporary employees.  We spend our days sitting at other people's desks.  We type on their keyboards, write with their pens, use the spare change in their desk for bus fare.  We develop opinions of the people we are replacing by clues they leave behind:  cartoons they tack up, inspirational quotes they have in their screensaver, framed family photos, and dirty .gifs they have carelessly hidden in their personal folders.  These items they have surrounded themselves with hint at who they might be, or who they want others to think they are.  Rare is the desk that contains no personal belongings, no customization, and no body hair.

The freedom to decorate one's desk is important.  It allows an employee to make some attempt at standing out, being unique among the identical and sterile cubicle atmosphere.  Temps, however, are allowed no such luxury, and while this may generally provoke a feeling of rebelliousness ("I'm a temp, I don't need to hang no steenkin' Pickles cartoons up), every so often we feel a twinge of jealousy.  Even the wanderers of the office world may occasionally feel the need to prop up a Dogbert plush toy or stifle the urge to display some magnetic poetry.  I, for one, went several years without giving in to this desire, foolishly thinking I was above such things, until it dawned on me that I wanted, nay, needed a plastic squeaking Buddha toy.

Enter Office Playground.  After exchanging a few e-mails with Bill Ross, president of the company, I decided, on his suggestion, to give his company a full review.  The free samples he sent, combined with a handful of other items I ordered, present what I feel is an adequate cross-section of Office Playground's product line, and afforded me the opportunity to play with toys for the first time in what must be years.  And they were my toys, not those of some faceless, obviously hairy employee I was replacing for a few weeks.

Playing with toys, I discovered, is not as easy as it sounds.  Now in my late-twenties, I found it hard to slip back into the imaginative mindset of my youth, where an afternoon could easily be spent engaging my Star Wars figures in an epic battle to capture the metal floor-fan in my bedroom (of course, it was a nuclear generator in the oft-played scenario).  Playing has become work, as quickly became evident over the past week.  It required a great deal of concentration, and occasionally I would emerge from my reverie, exhausted, a thin strand of saliva hanging from my chin, and all this from simply attempting to make a stretchy toy engage in conversation with a plastic surfer.

Still, I persevered, and here are the results.  Each item is listed with the price, a description, the official claim made on the website, my thoughts on the item after playtime, and a fun rating, based on a scale of 1-10.  Clicking the product pictures will open a new window to the official website.

In the words of Bill Ross, "Play away."

Nose Pencil Sharpener: $0.99

Description:  Here we have, basically, a pencil sharpener shaped like a nose.  

Claim:  People from all over the office will come looking to stick their pencils up your nose! You should let them.

Thoughts:  You might be thinking that it isn't much fun to play with a plastic nose, and you'd be right; playing with your own nose is probably much more fun.  But can your nose sharpen a pencil?  I think not.  The Nose Pencil Sharpener isn't really meant to be played with, it's a functional item with a humorous design.  It got a laugh from a co-worker and even from someone I described it to over the phone.  While people from all over the office did not come looking to stick their pencils up my nose, it is probably not the fault of the Nose Pencil Sharpener.  People never come from all over the office to see me for any other reason than to ask why they haven't been paid this month, which just goes to show you how materialistic some people are.  And if they did come over to use my Nose Pencil Sharpener, I wouldn't let them anyway.  Greedy bastards.

Anyway, it certainly works.  Pencil before using the Nose Pencil Sharpener:

And after:

To test the sharpness of my pencil, I walked up to the account manager, Phil, the one who says things like "Hey, you didn't have to get me lunch!" whenever he sees me bringing food into the office, and, upon seeing electricians working in the ceiling: "You guys putting in that skylight we ordered?"

You know.  That guy.

Anyway, I jabbed the pencil into his leg.

Sure enough, the point was sharp.  It works!

Plus, it's shaped like a nose.  Bonus!

Fun Factor: 5

Stretchies:  $2.99, pack of 12

Description:  Little rubbery men that can be stretched.

Claim:  You will laugh hysterically as you stretch its legs, arms, or head into hundreds of contorted shapes.

Thoughts: Stretchies come in a pack of twelve and may just be the perfect toy for a fidgety bastard like me.  They distracted me from my normal stress-related activities, namely chain-smoking, weeping hopelessly, and biting my nails down to the elbow.  They are extremely stretchy, and the rich, plastic scent that emanated from their malleable little bodies got me fairly high.  While the copy claimed I would "laugh hysterically" while stretching a Stretchie, I took it quite seriously, my brow furrowed in concentration as I tried to loop his leg twice around his throat, hook it under one arm, and tie it to his other leg, which I had slipped once around the torso and over his shoulder (see picture).   Perhaps I wasn't laughing hysterically, but it was a great deal of fun and, when combined with a few beers, certainly took the edge off the day.

The Stretchies also come in several different colors, which is useful if you want to divvy up sides for some sort of Stretchie war (which, let's face it, is inevitable), and also makes it easier if you wish to name them.

For science fiction lovers out there, there are also Alien Stretchies, which I did not acquire, but which I assume are just as stretchy as the regular men, and add a flavor of the cosmos to your stretching activities.

Fun Factor:  10

Potato Pen: $2.25, pack of 2

Description:  A pen that looks like a potato.

Claim: can give one to your favorite client or co-worker. It's a potato and it's a pen... it is a potato pen.

Thoughts:  What the hell?  Try as I might, I could not think up any sequence of reasoning which would lead a human being to design, create, test, market, and sell a pen that looks like a potato.  So of course, I just had to have one.  Once I had one, however, I had no idea what to do with it.  It was, indeed, a pen shaped like a potato.  It wrote just fine, and had a real potato quality about it.

On advice of the website copy, I decided to give it to a favorite client or co-worker.  Of course, having no clients and hating all of my co-workers, I was in a bind.  Who to give it to?  Sandra, the woman across the hall with the five children, of whose pooping habits I know everything since she never stops talking about them?  While a potato pen might shut her up for a few minutes, I'm afraid one of her squalling infants might get his chubby, saliva-drenched hands on it and mistake it for an actual potato. 

I could give it to Gina, the tacky woman from the business office who wears so much hoop jewelry that when she walks she sounds like a slinky descending Mount McKinley.  But she'd probably start wearing it in her hair or something. 

In the end, I decide to give it to the Chief of Security for the building, a huge, hulking man named Dane.  The only verbal exchange we've ever had is him glaring at me and saying "You need to wear your I.D. badge while in the building," and me saying "I will, sir."  We have this exchange roughly four times a week (he's off Wednesdays).  But maybe I can win him over with my Potato Pen.  I head down to the security desk, which he sits behind like disapproving tower of stone.

"Hi Dane," I squeak.

He glances at me, then my chest, where my ID badge does not hang.  Before he can growl his usual warning, I offer him the pen.

"Would you like a Potato Pen?"

He looks at me blankly.  I should mention at this point that Dane also carries a gun.

I remember the copy and mumble stupidly: "It's a potato... and it's a pen.  It is a Potato Pen."

Dane said, and I quote, "Um, okay."  But he actually smiled, if a bit puzzledly, and, if I remember correctly, did not fire his gun at me or even pull it from his holster.  He did, however, remind me to wear my badge.

Fun Factor: 4

Guillotine:  $19.99

Description:  A miniature guillotine.

Claim:  The Guillotine will remind you to "keep your head" during those stressful times at work.

Thoughts:  The Guillotine is a nice addition to my collection.  It's solid metal which makes it very heavy and sturdy, and guarantees it an appointment with my foot at some point in the future.  The box purports that it is "the best thing ever to come out of France" (a statement I am inclined to agree with) and provides lots of interesting facts, such as that 13,800 French citizens were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution (records were made to be broken, France!), and that the last execution by guillotine took place as recently as 1977.

The replica is very well done, I must say; however, it did stir up some trouble on my desk, where all was not well among my Stretchie men.  As is typical for pliable men made of rubber, they had begun fighting amongst each other since their arrival, perhaps due to months of being confined to the same plastic bag, and the situation only became even more heated when the desk Guillotine arrived.

Okay, so the guillotine blade didn't actually cut off the green Stretchie's head.  But with a little imagination and a good pair of scissors, it still gets the job done.

As far as the claim goes, it did not remind me to keep my head in times of stress, but it did add some weight to my fantasies of chopping off my co-workers heads when they annoy me, which I think is what the ad copy really wants to say (am I right, Bill?).

Fun Factor:  9

Surfer Bob:  $4.99

Description:  A plastic guy on a surfboard.

Claim:  Give him a little nudge and watch him surf your monitor or desk. Don't worry, he'll be securely attached with the adhesive bottom.

Thoughts:  The phrase "adhesive bottom" makes me giggle.

To me, Surfer Bob looks a bit like He-Man in his pre-steroid days.

I stuck Surfer Bob on top of my monitor, and there he shall stay.  Sure enough, a nudge will send him rocking back and forth, and his adhesive bottom (snicker) keeps him in place.  The website copy also suggests: You'll hear the Beach Boys in your mind every time he cuts it up.  This turned out to be true, but it's hard not to hear the Beach Boys once the suggestion has been planted in your mind, so it's difficult to judge if this statement is accurate.

Bob was not really my first choice for a wobbling doll.  Truthfully, I would have preferred the Hula Girl, which Office Playground also sells.  However, the workplace has become so politically correct that Hula Girl, in my office at least, would no doubt be considered sexist or offensive, despite the fact that she's wearing more than Surfer Bob.  Hula Girl is a classic, really, a throwback to the days when you could have a martini over lunch, smoke at your desk, and chase your secretary around with your pants down, while fearing nothing of a reprisal.  These days, forget all that.  I can't even chase my secretary with my pants up.  I don't even have a secretary.  I am a secretary.  A temporary one, at that.

Fun Factor: 7

Hindi Bendy and Laptop Buddha ($3.99 each)

Description:  Bendable and squeezable religious icons

Claims:  (HB) With all its endless stretching possibilities and positions, you just canít keep your hands off the Hindi / (LB) Perfect for the Buddhist or computer geek in your life or office.

Thoughts:  Come on.  "Endless" stretching possibilities?  There's only one real position for the Hindi:  ALL SIX HANDS IN HIS CROTCH!  Why, Hindi can be ruder than any of the other bendy toys with three arms bent behind his back.  I have to admit I'm more than a little jealous.

Hindi Bendy is, of course, a Hindu, a religion that, as far as I can tell, I know absolutely nothing about.  It does sport, however, several deities with six arms, such as Ganesha, who also had elephant features to boot!  I don't know what the founders of this religion were smoking, but I bet it was expensive.  Hindi also has a dot on his forehead, which symbolizes something that I'm far too lazy to look up.

I know a little about Buddha from reading Siddartha by Herman Hesse a few years ago.  I seem to remember that Siddartha was born into a life of unimaginable luxury, but cast it aside to seek enlightenment after witnessing various forms of human suffering.  After a great many trials and years of meditation, he found that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by mental and moral self-purification.

Laptop Buddha sits with a portable computer in his lap, and when you squeeze him, he squeaks.

Now, perhaps I'm way off base here, but would Buddhists and Hindus find these items, well, offensive?  If so, then I must add a few extra points to their fun rating.  There's nothing better, in my opinion, than cheesing off a few fervently religious people.  If Office Playground ever develops a bendable rubber Christ, or perhaps a squeaking Virgin Mary, I'll order up a few dozen gross.

And hey, being portrayed as a squeak toy shouldn't be a big deal for a guy who was played by Keanu Reeves in a motion picture.  Am I right?

Fun Factor: 6 (+2)

Pin Art:  $9.99

Description:  This thing you can press your face into and the little pins will make the shape of your face into it... uh... it's like, the pins take the shape of your face... but the pins aren't sharp or anything, it's not like they poke into you... hell, I can't really describe this thing.

Claim:  Pin Art is big time fun!

Thoughts:  You know, it is fun.  

I like pressing my face or hands into this thing, or just tilting it back and forth and listening to the gentle clatter of the pins against the plastic.  It's very therapeutic, and all the little pins pressing against my fingertips or the back of my hand feels kinda nice, kinda like acupuncture without HUGE NEEDLES PIERCING MY FLESH. 

This item I took home, not knowing which of my disgusting, greasy-faced co-workers might decide to press their slimy flesh into it while I wasn't there. 

This is a smaller version than the ones I've seen in stores, but you can still fit about half your face in it.  Pictured here is my nose and glasses, but the fun doesn't stop there.  In fact, I daresay there is not a single item in my apartment I didn't make an impression in my Pin Art with.  I find it fascinating.  I even took an impression of my Nose Pencil Sharpener.  Yes, I do have that much time to spare.

If it insulted a popular religion, this would be the perfect toy.

Fun Factor: 9

That about wraps up the toy end of it.  I'd like to mention that this is just the tip of the iceberg:  Office Playground has a multitude of stuff to play with, so check out the site and see what you like.  I really was surprised how low the prices were for even the more expensive stuff.

And how is their service and reliability?  Well, the items I ordered arrived promptly and were well packaged.  I ordered my stuff online, but there's other ways to do it: by phone, fax, mail, or simply by yelling out the nearest window (Office Playground has a veritable army of informants).  They accept all major credit cards, checks, money orders, even livestock!  They don't require a minimum order, and they offer volume discounts.  All in all, Office Playground is a flexible as their Hindi Bendy.  They even do promotional products, putting your company name or logo on a wide variety of office toys.  Once I develop a logo, I plan to have Office Playground put it on some stress balls, because I want the words "Not My Desk" and "squeezable balls" to be synonymous.

Thanks to Bill Ross for the samples, for being a good sport, and putting in a good word for me with my parole officer.