X-Ray glasses, two-man submarines, and Sea Monkeys: Ripped off by a comic book

The New Yorker from a couple of weeks ago has a great comic strip–how strange that does seem!–yes, a comic strip about a kid who orders a “log cabin” from a comic-book ad. He can barely stand the anticipation, but when it finally arrives, it’s nothing more than a sheet of colored plastic that you drape over a table.

When I was about 10 I ordered a pair of Amazing X-Ray Goggles, and they turned out to be nothing more than a pair of plastic binoculars in a folding case. I remember seeing ads for all sorts of incredible things, most notable a submarine that would hold two people, and only cost a few bucks. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s must remember seeing these ads, but what I’d like to know is what did you order and what did it actually turn out to be?

The Amazing X-Ray Goggles! They see through nothing!

I sent many a dollar to the Johnson-Smith Company for stuff like that.

I remember as a kid asking my Dad if the ‘Hero of The Beach Ads’ by Charles Atlas could really turn me from a 97# weakling into the guy who never gets sand kicked in his face. His reply, “Kind of…they send you a pair of those phony x-ray glasses”. I never realized the humor in that until just now.

The only thing I ever got ripped off on was a Double LP Collection entitled “Hustle 76”* that I ordered through a TV commerical. I was 10 years old and raked leaves from every house on my block to earn the $4.99 + S&H. My Mom kept warning me it wasn’t going to be the ‘original artists’ - but if I earned the cash, she’d write the check. I had no idea what the term ‘original artists’ meant, until I heard the fuckin thing.

*Believe it or not, someone is trying to sell one on e-Bay.

A rip off avoided: Around 8 years old, in an Avengers comic book, I remember seeing an ad for a hovercraft. It took me several weeks to accumulate the 4.99. I wasn’t even aware that there was P&H. I was old enough to be aware that there COULD be something fishy about it, but studying the ad didn’t reveal any info. So, I had put together my money and went to fill out the little form. I looked at the ad again. It said the hovercraft was 18" long. Wait a second, I thought. 18 feet long? That doesn’t seem right. For $5? After asking my stepdad what the difference is between the ’ and the " I realized I had avoided a major disaster.

Looking back now, for those few weeks of saving my money, the amount of time I spent daydreaming about freaking everyone out, and imagining the look of the other kids as I cruised by in my hovercraft, going to school in my hovercraft, was definitely worth $5 to me.

I probably spent that $5 on candy.

I bought a “remote controlled vampire bat” from the back of Boy’s Life. It was a rubber bat on a string. I was crushed.

I’m the proud owner of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” nary a Beetle on it. It was a dollar when I bought it as a naive kid.

I always wanted one of the hot air balloons. I pictured myself taking off and exploring.

And the sea monkeys! I always wanted sea monkeys–as advertised in the back of Boy’s Life and Popular Science.

And the amazing muscle machine (looked like a stick with two rubber bands attached to the ends)…never had the money to scrape up for any of it.

I did so want to draw the bunny or pirate and go to art school be correspondence, though.

There was a comedy bit, I think, where someone bought some X-Ray Specs, and everything he looked at had a bone in it…

And hey, you can get all the free Sea Monkeys you want at Mono/Great Salt Lakes…

They’ve been advertising for the art school for the last two months on television, so you can still get that degree in cartoonology.

I never got anything but I really wanted that 1001 army men set with all those tanks and battleships and such.

Later in life someone told me that they were tiny shreds of paper with little squiggles on them.

I remember ordering in the early 80’s from the back of a comic book. For the life of me I can’t remember what it was supposed to be, but I thought it was the coolest thing in the world, and it had to be legit because they were offering it in a small ad buried in the back of my most favorite comic book (somehow it made sense back then).

My mother tried to warn me against it, but decided on letting me find out on my own. I scrounged for weeks, and then waited another 6-8 for delivery and finally got my large eyeball balloon with plastic streamers that did nothing and popped within a week.

My favorite comic book still bears the page missing the tiny ad I had to cut out and send with payment… a lasting reminder of my naivete and shame.

I disagree.

I call one of my favorite shops (the Magic Fun shop, 4455 Frankford Ave) “The store of everything you could order from the back of comic books”. I’ve bought hypnodisks, spark rings, flashpaper, puzzles, magic light bulbs etc.

And the two-man sub ad (and the amazing 6 foot robot ad) clearly said they were ads for plans. It being the sixties, I think the average boy would have been able to scrounge up the necessary plywood, nails, and power tools. Also, Sea Monkeys are cool.

A kids magazine, actually it was The Electric Company’s magazine (yes, The Electric Company had a magazine! Deal with it!) did a bit where they ordered all the stuff from the back of the comic book page. They then reviewed it. Verdict: damn near everything sucked.

X-ray specs: just had an image of a skeletal hand.
Dollar making machine: You had to put the dollar in first
Book Safe: Worked, but was cheesy plastic.

What a great thread! The two items I remember ordering were the “skin cap wig” so that I could make myself look bald! and a self taught Karate lessons. I had more fun with the karate lessons WAITING FOR THEM TO ARRIVE as I walked all around town going “Heeee Ya!” and faking kicks and chops. When it arrived it was basically asking for more money for the actual lessons. I was pissed. The skin cap wig was basically like a flesh colored balloon cut in half with two flaps to cover your sideburns.


Anyone remember the two man sub episode of “Get a Life” with Chris Elliot? Great episode.

Back i nthe late 80s a comedian did a special on HBO or MAYBE COmedy Central where the plot was that he had ordered something from one those companies and had never got it. So he went to track down the company. I think it was Dana Gould, but I am not sure.

And some of the ads had addresses for ordering monkeys in the US mail. That’s come up a couple of times on the boards.

We got US editions of comics where I grew up in Australia when I was a kid - so all the ads were basically impossible for me to order from, thus saving heartache I suppose. BUT I had a total fixation on twinkies and hostess fruit pies. And now I have been forbidden from eating them now I live in the states, because apparently the rapturous picture of just how wonderfully delicious (especially the cherry pie) they must be from the ads wasn’t quite, ahem, accurate.

I bought the hovercraft…

It was kinda OK for a while. Plastic shell with a fan, attached to the controller by a couple of feet of stiff cording. Entertaining enough for a 12 year old.

The “Thousand Magnets” set was very disappointing, though. Sheets of magnetic material similar to those ones to turn your photos into fridge magnets, but thicker, no adhesive backing and scored with a rectangular pattern. The idea was to break apart the sheets along the score marks and you would have…a thousand magnets! That were each maybe 1/4" by 1/8" and completely useless for anything.

To be fair, that’s what they are. I was invited to a party once, where the invitation said ‘Wear something unusual on your head.’ So I went to a novelty shop and bought a ‘skinhead wig’. A friend helped me put it on with some spirit gum and make-up. It looked fairly convincing. Then for ‘something unusual on my head’ I put the liner from an SPH-4 helicopter helmet on my head as a hat.

I have some make-up books that detail how to make one of these out of latex, but I’ve never made my own. Looks like the novelty shop item, anyway.

I tried X-Ray Specs once. They belonged to someone else. I wish I had a pair now. I think they’re funny.

I had Sea Monkeys, but I wasn’t impressed. I don’t remember whether I got them out of a comic book, or if dad picked them up somewhere.

I was in San Diego when I was a kid. Dad was an avid water skiier. I loved the ocean. I watched The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau all the time. I loved Sea World and The Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I really wanted that DIY submarine! Couldn’t afford it though. I couldn’t figure out how it could be so inexpensive (even if I couldn’t afford it) and still work. Man, I wanted it though! (I’ve seen DIY subs on The Science Channel. I’d still like to have one. A real, functional one, of course!)

I always wanted the huge army man sets. I used to paint my army men. Fleshtone skin, camouflage uniforms, brown and black guns. Then I’d set them up and shoot them with rubber bands. I’d build little villages out of scraps of wood, and use a scrap of wood as a lever. The came was to throw a rock at the lever and ‘blow up’ the hut. Then I discovered candles and flammable aerosol… :smiley:

But aside from the possible exception of the Sea Monkeys, I didn’t order stuff from comic books. I did get a Beatles battery-powered Yellow Submarine for a cereal boxtop and a dollar (I with I still had that item!). But most of the stuff I ordered came from Penrose, Colorado. I lived for seeing that brown UPS truck arrive with my Estes model rockets! :slight_smile:

That’s strange. Most X-ray specs had lenses that created two overlapping shadows around any object. The shadows overlapped inside the object, creating the illusion you could see inside it.

I still have a dollar making machine. If your audience is children age seven and under, or if you’re gifted at sleight of hand, it’s still a great item. I inherited the machine from my Bubby. I shall take it with me on my next visit to the family to share with my five-year-old niece.

Re Hovercrafts

Another ad for plans was a hovercraft powered by old vacuum cleaner parts. Mythbusters worked on one of these and found it worked. Vacuum cleaners+plywood+tarp+duct tape=hovercraft that rode several inches off of the ground.

Re Submarines

I have about twenty thousand comic books. If necessary, I an find and scan the ads. I am positive I have never seen an ad for a two man functional sub. The ads were plans for building a play sub large enough for you and a friend. It sat on the floor of the den. But, the amazing light up display, and the incredible working parascope created the illusion that you were exploring the remarkable ocean depths, or bravely fighting evil Nazis or Godless commies.

Same deal with the robot. The ads clearly show a boy inside a homemade robot, having fun and shocking all his friends.

Re Bald Caps

Unless you’re dealing with a professional level prop company, that’s what bald caps are. Even professional level stage bald caps are pretty crappy looking without theatre lights and a touch of make up.

Re 1000 Magnets

Couldn’t you at least build a three dimensional dog with them as shown in the ads?