December 11th, 2009
12:28 PM ET

Mr. Squiggles is giving me a holiday toy headache

By Theresa Tamkins
Executive Editor, Health.com

Oh, Mr. Squiggles. You’ve broken more women’s hearts this year than Tiger Woods. Never heard of Mr. Squiggles? Either you’re lucky or, more likely, you don’t have anyone under 12 in your social circle. For the uninitiated, Mr. Squiggles is the hot toy of 2009.

Mr. Squiggles is a little robotic hamster that scurries around, rides a skateboard, rolls around in a hamster ball, and is just as cute as the real version—without the offending smell, cage cleaning, and tendency to bite small fingers.

At a cost of $8 to $10 each, what’s not to love? Mr. Squiggles, you had us – me and my 8-year-old who started crying for you back in August – at the hamster version of hello. And here’s where the heartbreak starts.

You can’t find Mr. Squiggles (he’s the brown one) anywhere. And don't bother looking for his pals Num Nums (gray), PipSqueak (yellow), or the white one (I can never remember its name) either.  These little fellows, collectively known as Zhu Zhu Pets have been sold out at Target, Walmart.com, and Toys"R"Us for ages.

Mr. Squiggles’s stardom means he’s traveling in more rarified circles now. For example, you can find him at amazon.com – at times for $70 or more. Or check out eBay, where a bunch of boobs – like me – are furiously bidding on hundreds of the robotic rodents.

That’s right. Me, who scoffed at desperate parents in the past and has been known to lovingly croon to her children, “You can’t always get what you want…” snuck onto eBay late at night – night after night – to watch the bidding madness.

And finally I pounced – and scored! – a Mr. Squiggles. And it was only about two to three times the original cost.

But the heartbreak just keeps coming. A mere 12 hours later, I discovered Mr. Squiggles might be a toxic toy, potentially contaminated with antimony, according to a report from consumer group Good Guide. Oh, how you crush me, Mr. Squiggles!

Part of me felt like the toy would have to be made out of salmonella-coated plutonium to deter me from my desperate quest. (Did I mention that it included having a second cousin who lives three states away scout out her local stores – unsuccessfully? Thanks for trying, Michele!).

But I thought I’d better dig deeper. Is Mr. Squiggles bad for us? Really? (Meaning our physical, as opposed to mental, health.) In a hastily posted note on Monday (which originally misspelled “hamster,” but was later corrected), Good Guide clarified that it tests toys using a technology called XRF technology, which is different from that used by government regulators.

The Zhu Zhu Pets manufacturer, St. Louis-based Cepia LLC, issued a statement saying “Test results show Mr. Squiggles, as well as all other Zhu Zhu Pets products, are well within U.S. government standards and these results have been certified by the world’s leading independent testing organizations.”

And the Toy Industry Association, which represents toy makers, also issued a statement saying XRF “has not been determined to be a reliable test method overall,” by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Parents can be assured that things that are on the store shelves do comply with our very strict federal standards,” says TIA’s Adrienne Citrin.

Good Guide eventually issued a correction, saying that Mr. Squiggles was safe after all. Apparently it was all just a horrible mistake.

That’s nice. But between greedy jerks buying up every available toy just to charge parents exorbitant prices online (yes, it’s capitalism, but I don’t have to like it), and mixed up toy testers, I just don’t feel the same about you, Mr. Squiggles.

A bit of a holiday mood killer. What do you think?

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