From Diapers to Dracula

October 19, 2012 — Halloween is a time for nostalgia, a time for remembering when you could believe there were monsters in your closet, a time when it was okay to trick-or-treat, a time when the hours you were allowed to stay up past your bedtime were magical. It’s also a time to correct past mistakes. One of my biggest (that I’ll admit to) is that I’ve never played with any grow-in-water toys.

At least, that’s what Wikipedia calls them. I’m not sure what the scientific consensus on the nomenclatures of this class of toys is, honestly. But you know what I’m talking about. They’re tiny synthetic-looking animals or characters that you throw in water for a few days and then watch as they somehow expand to hundreds of times beyond their original sizes.

I’ve always been fascinated by them, although I don’t know why I never had one has a child. Apparently I wasn’t that fascinated with them. But I have always wondered what they felt like. What they were made of. If they were just big scams like X-ray specs and pet rocks.

But now I know. Thanks to Halloween.

Last month I bought three Halloween-themed grow toys from Michaels: a skeleton, a vampire, and a werewolf. They had a witch, too, but I skipped out on her because I just couldn’t see how making a witch bigger would make for a better witch.

They’re each about an inch tall and cost a buck apiece. I think that was part of my fascination as a child, when they cost mere cents. I mean, why buy full-sized toys when you could spend a fraction of the money and grow them yourself? Same principle as the backyard vegetable patch.

The hands of a child.
The packaging for these particular toys labels them as “Grow-a-Creature,” and other then some brief directions illustrated by a skeleton in a glass of water, was rather sparse on information.

It does, however, show you how to say “Grow-a-Creature” in three different languages. And the day that comes in handy in my life is the day I’ll be able to sell the rights to my story for millions.

The packaging also claims that the toys will grow 5x their size in a mere 72 hours. Even more remarkably, it also claims that once dried they’ll shrink back and you can do it all over again. That seems a little too durable for a one-dollar toy.

Before submersion, the toys feel like little erasers. Dense and slightly pliable. Of course, you’re not really supposed to play with them too much at that stage, so I tossed them without ceremony into a vase of purified water as per instructions and left them to drown for a few days safe from silver bullets, wooden crosses, and teething dogs.

And they grew.

They grew right on schedule too, although at slightly different rates. The vampire clearly expanded the most while the skeleton became the runt of that monstrous litter. I assume it’s because the vampire had more substance and/or surface area than the skeleton. Should’ve picked up the witch, I guess.

I left them underwater for a day or two longer than 72 hours, but they didn’t grow much, if any, after those first three days.

When we dumped the water out, it left a clear, viscous, Vaseline-like coating inside of the vase and all around the kitchen sink where we drained them. The creatures themselves were also slimy, but a quick dry with a paper towel made them more pleasant to hold. Our kitchen sink is still slimy.

They were also, surprisingly, at least close to being 5x bigger. I can’t tell you exact dimensions because I wasn’t too scientific with this process. Didn’t even measure them, although in hindsight that seems like a pretty important point to this post.

Other than their colors fading a bit and their features bloating, they were pretty awesome in their expanded sizes. They felt more rubbery, and were fun to hold play with…according to my daughter, anyway. She made them ride plastic horses for days.

I did a little research on these things. Turns out they’re made from a “superabsorbent polymer.” The material was developed to hold vast amounts of water in proportion to its substance. It was developed in the 1960s as a soil additive, but was first used commercially for adult diapers and feminine hygiene products. Apparently the developers had a lot of fun playing with those things and turned them into toys. Sounds about right.

Still the hands of a child.
Within a few hours, the monsters started to show signs of shrinkage, and over the subsequent days eventually reverted at least close to their original dimensions, albeit slightly deformed. They seem to sweat the water out, since each always had a moist coating whenever I picked them up. I even got to see the inside of one of them when my daughter accidentally ripped off the werewolf’s foot. They were wet and spongy inside. Like a cactus.

Still, these things are everything they’ve ever promised and have temporarily restored my faith in man. Now, I have to fight the urge to abandon every other part of my life to test them like they’re alien artifacts. I want to see how they do in salt water, cranberry juice, gin. How they do under a hair dryer. In a microwave Whether throwing them in an Olypmic-sized pool would cause them to grow to Olympic-sized proportions.

Okay, an Olympic-sized witch does sound pretty cool.

Reverted back to close to their original form...
minus a werewolf foot.