More toys!

Review date: 27 August 2002.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


More toys!

Toys, toys, toys. You know you want them.

Well, actually, maybe you don't, yet.

Read on.

The Potato Gun

Spud gun

No, this isn't one of the big ones. This is the standard hand-toy type of spud gun, which I thought everybody knew about until I discovered that half of my friends didn't.

Honestly. Kids today. What do they teach them in school?

A toy spud gun is a simple little air-pressure pellet pistol. It's got effectively zero barrel length, but it still manages better accuracy than a lot of kids' projectile launchers. It's very close to completely harmless; shooting someone in the eye at close range won't make them happy, but shouldn't do any lasting harm.

To load this gun, you just dig the end of the barrel into a potato and then lever it out again, so a little plug of potato breaks off, neatly sealing the barrel's end. Now, when you pump the gun's trigger - pulling the whole front of the gun backwards, and pressurising the barrel with an internal piston that's fixed to the back of the gun - pop, one spud pellet flies downrange.

With a good squeeze and a bit of upward angle, the 20 foot range that Backyard Artillery claim for the potato gun is perfectly attainable.

One potato can provide hundreds of pellets, and you can shoot them all over a garden or other outdoor area without worrying about policing them up afterwards. Just leaving them to rot is perfectly fine.

Spud guns are not, of course, much of an indoor toy, unless you don't mind little starchy marks all over the place, and decomposing pellets under the furniture. But apart from that, they're wee rippers.

The spud gun I had when I was a kid was a metal one, with a hammer at the back that you could use to fire a paper cap at the same time as the potato pellet, and a clip-on nozzle piece that let you use the gun as a (thoroughly underwhelming) water pistol. This gun, in contrast, is plastic, and can't fire caps or squirt water. But it seems quite solidly made, and it's not expensive; Backyard Artillery are selling it for only $US5.95 plus shipping.

The Bug Gun

I'm trying to think of a better toy for a small boy than something which says, on the packaging, "FLINGS BUGS WITH SUPER CATAPULT ACTION!"

I do not believe such a toy is likely to exist.

Bug Gun

Let's be perfectly frank about this, right off the bat. The Bug Gun's purpose is the flinging of insects. At people who really don't want to be hit by them, naturally.

Flinging insects. That's what it's for.

Yes, you can fling fake insects, and things other than insects, and you can fling them at inanimate targets as well as at people. The instructions on the back of the package tell you to use "a rubber bug or some other non-injurious item", and you get five rubber bugs with the gun (one of them is actually a lizard, but never mind.

The manufacturers are fooling nobody, though.

Small boys with squeamish sisters. That's the target market.

That said, there's no reason why childish people of all ages can't get some entertainment out of this thing. Backyard Artillery sell it for only $US5.95, and that's pretty good value, if you ask me.

Bug Gun open

The Bug Gun is a spring-action flinger with a rectangular "trajectory box" which is big enough to hold objects up to 14mm wide by 48mm long by about 16mm high (0.55 by 1.89 by 0.63 inches). You'll generally not load it with anything that big, though; apart from the unhelpful downward trajectory you'll get from the flinging arm accelerating the top of the projectile more than the bottom, large-ish missiles are also likely to be too heavy. You can, for instance, barely fit a AAA battery into the box, but it won't fly far.

Bug Gun loaded

After you put your projectile, whatever it may be, in the trajectory box, you click down the cover, which hinges from the back of the gun. The cover stops the ammo from falling, or crawling, out.

Both the cover and the box are retained by one simple trigger latch (or "sear", in gun-parts lingo); they each have a tab that clicks into place under the latch, one on top of the other. This means that if you pull the trigger a bit, the lid will flip open without the tray itself being released.

Pull the trigger fully, though, and both parts flip up at once. With the right ammo - which is to say, probably not one of the unaerodynamic rubber bugs - a 15 foot range is attainable.

This, in case you were wondering, isn't a particularly educational device, despite the "Catapult Facts" on the back of the packaging. These "Facts" are based around a picture of a classically wrong, no-sling, torsion-arm "ballista"; real ballistae were much more likely to look like this model, not like a mangonel to which someone forgot to attach the sling.

Note: If you are a small boy, I suggest you disregard the above paragraph, and try very hard to persuade your parents that the Bug Gun is, in fact, more educational than a set of encyclopedias. It's worth a try.

The Turbo Tube

Turbo Tube

If you like weird flingable flying toys - Aerobies, boomerangs and so forth - then the Burpco Turbo Tube is a classic of the genre. It was first sold in the 1960s, and has been resurrected along with the Burp Gun (which I reviewed in my first toys piece), because, well, it's still fun. It costs $US7, including shipping, for US customers; you can buy it online at the Burp Gun site.

As you can see in this movie on the Burp Gun site, the thing flies. Just looking at it, you'd think it wouldn't, but it does - and it flies well, too, provided you give it a decent chuck and apply some spin as you release it. The Tube'll spiral in the air somewhat, but with a bit of practice you can get quite accurate with it; the alleged maximum range of 120 feet is a bit optimistic for people with normal throwing power, but since the thing looks like a spray-can lid at first glance, it's still pretty remarkable. And the Tube is made of bright yellow plastic, so it's easy for a catcher to see.

The Turbo Tube isn't an amazing unprecedented invention. It's just a plastic version of a tubular paper aeroplane design that's been around for a while. The paper versions, of course - there are variants - aren't really outdoor toys; the Turbo Tube's extra mass makes it suitable for catching games.

For the money, this isn't a bad toy at all - if, of course, you like this sort of thing. It looks a bit too much like exercise to me. I prefer something motorised.

Like this.

The bubble gun, redux

Bubble gun

I checked out a bubble gun in my first toys review, but the one I got for review then had a dud motor. Now, I've got one that works, and works well.

For the full skinny on the thing, including a shot of the rather interesting giblets, check out the first review...


...because I'm really only mentioning it again so I can show you this picture of my friend Tim.

He's a candy raver from way back, as you can see.


If you're looking for an office toy, the Bug Gun is a good one. A variety of random desk objects can be loaded into it, its range is suitable for bombardment of nearby cubicles, and it comes with rubber bugs. You can't do much better than that.

The potato and bubble guns are, obviously, not really suitable for places where making surfaces sticky can result in termination of employment. But the former is a great outdoor plinking device for anyone who doesn't detest "war toys", and the latter ought to pass anybody's pacifism test.

The Turbo Tube is an outstanding parkland conversation starter, as, like the Boeing 747, it really doesn't look like something that ought to be able to fly.

For fiddle-toy value, though, it's the Bug Gun all the way.

To all the entomophobic sisters out there, I tender my apologies in advance.

Review toys kindly provided by Backyard Artillery.


Here's my first toy-guns-and-stuff review.

Full disclosure

If you follow any of the Backyard Artillery links in this review and then buy stuff, I'll get a cut of the profit.

Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)