Apparently This Matters: Bye bye, Buckyballs

The creators of Buckyballs will stop making their product, much to the chagrin of fans.

Story highlights

  • The makers of Buckyballs are discontinuing them because of safety concerns
  • Buckyballs are hugely popular and superaddictive shape-changing magnetic beads
  • Buckyball supporters are furious. I feel their pain. Because these things are amazing!

There's a man defecating on my desk. He's Spanish. But, sadly, it's not Rafa Nadal. For surely that might count, then, as an oddly spectacular life moment worth Instagramming.

Thanks, Rafa! #Deuce

No, the squatting Spanish defecator I speak of is actually a three-inch-tall plastic figurine known as a Caganer. I bought it a while back in Barcelona, and, believe it or not, he's a traditional fixture in Catalan nativity scenes, which, apparently, are inspired by parking lots at Philadelphia Eagles games.

So, I keep my little Caganer near my computer because it makes me smile. But I also just like having interesting desk toys, even though it seems I've clearly been missing out on the single greatest one of all.

You see, this week the interwebs suddenly started buzzing about a very specific desk toy called Buckyballs. I had never actually heard of these things, but online chatter went a little crazy right after the company announced they were discontinuing production of their hugely popular and addictive shape-changing magnetic beads.

"Apparently This Matters" Is Jarrett Bellini's weekly (and somewhat random) look at social-media trends.

If you're not quite sure what I'm talking about, just think stress ball meets marbles meets Silly Putty...

...meets possible agonizing pain.

    Magnetic Buckyballs toys discontinued

    Amazingly, while everyone from WIRED to MAXIM to The New York Times has boasted about these tiny little magnetic balls of joy, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has basically deemed them to be just slightly less dangerous than trying to administer a hernia test to an unwilling gorilla.

    In fact, this past July, in their official lawsuit against the makers of Buckyballs, the commission noted that the magnets "contain a defect in the design, packaging, warnings and instructions which pose a substantial risk of injury to the public."

    It turns out kids like shiny things. And sometimes they swallow shiny things. But when those shiny things happen to be superpowerful magnets, it's actually a fairly serious health concern.

    Many retailers voluntarily stopped selling Buckyballs at the safety commission's request, but the distributor, Maxfield & Oberton Holdings, continued to manufacture and sell the product.

    Until Wednesday.

    That's when Buckyballs put out this statement:

    "Due to baseless and relentless legal badgering by a certain four letter government agency, it's time to bid a fond farewell to the world's most popular adult desk toys, Buckyballs and Buckycubes. That's right: We're sad to say that Balls & Cubes have a one-way ticket to the Land-of-Awesome-Stuff-You-Should-Have-Bought-When-You-Had-the-Chance."

    Buckyball supporters were furious. Now I feel their pain. Because these things are amazing!

    While writing this, I decided to step away from my work and scour the newsroom to see if anyone actually had Buckyballs. I wanted to test them out, but -- truth be told -- I also can't concentrate for more than 30 seconds at a time. So, I figured I might as well walk around and distract my co-workers.

    The logical first stop was Topher's desk, because his cubicle always seems to have a certain level of "flair." Unfortunately, since Buckyballs have nothing to do with "Star Wars" he didn't have any -- lest they disrupt the delicate feng shui of his Darth Vader shrine.

    "You have failed me for the last time, Topher."

    Fortunately, his desk neighbor, Michelle, DID have Buckyballs! However, she wasn't in the office yet, so I couldn't just politely borrow them for an hour.

    Thus, I politely stole them.

    Walking around the newsroom with this small mass of tiny round magnets was like coming to work with a puppy. Everyone wanted to hold it, and I watched seemingly mature adults delightfully morph into whimsical children, completely in awe of this strange, invisible force. For as the great American poets, Insane Clown Posse, once asked, "(Expletive) magnets -- how do they work?"

    Cute as it may have been to watch my colleagues smiling like little kids, the irony is that it's real children who have brought Buckyballs to their end. Despite the fact that, since 2010, there have been warning labels in five places on each box, and additional inserts specifically instructing adults to keep these far, far away from kids (you know, like poison or guns or that one creepy neighbor who always brags about once being on "Dateline"), Buckyballs are still being swallowed.

    So, the debate rages online: Was it right for the government to go after Buckyballs, or has the company properly done its due diligence to warn and protect consumers?

    It's sort of a moot point since, at least for now, what they have in stock is all that's left.

    Though, I suppose you could always just politely steal them from Michelle's desk.

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