Opposite Day: Miniature Car Madness

Remember that car you strapped to a bottle rocket in 1968? It's worth $5,000 now.
Remember that car you strapped to a bottle rocket in 1968? It’s worth $5,000 now.

Nowadays, companies make millions of dollars a year selling miniature versions of America’s favorite form of transportation: the automobile. Hot Wheels specifically creates dozens of its own custom designs each year that are eagerly gobbled up by collectors. Meanwhile, children bug and cajole their parents into buying the latest Hot Wheels tracks with gravity-defying loops and twists.

It’s easy to see why toy cars would be such a big hit with boys, but where did it all start? These iconic toys have their origins in Matchbox cars, designed by Jack Odell in 1953 for his… daughter? Yup! The school his daughter was attending would only allow them to bring toys that could fit inside of a matchbox. So he designed a miniature version of his company’s toy steamroller. Matchbox was the best-selling die-cast car in the world by 1968.

That’s also the year that Matchbox got some serious competition: Hot Wheels. The American company’s (did I mention this phenomenon started in the UK? It started in the UK…) cars had low-friction “racing” wheels on their cars. This allowed for extra speedy passes on the available Hot Wheels racing tracks. Matchbox had neither of these, and had some catching up to do.

Matchbox never did manage to catch Hot Wheels. As is all too common, Hot Wheels’ parent company Mattel ended up buying out Matchbox’s then-owner Tyco Toys. So yeah, if you’re trying to be a rebel by buying Matchbox over Hot Wheels for your kids? Not so much. Nowadays Matchbox specializes mainly in faithful recreations of existing autos while Hot Wheels focuses on fantasy cars and track sets. See? Everyone wins!

Except for Micro Machines. They’re dead.

You didn’t think I was going to leave out Micro Machines, did you? Micro Machines was like the stunted third child that everyone begrudgingly admits to loving before ultimately ignoring them. Introduced in 1986, Micro machines emulated its bigger brothers, but in a smaller scale. The diminutive cars came in at around half the size of a comparable Matchbox.

Micro Machines sold more than Hot Wheels and Matchbox for the first few years of the company’s existence, its popularity no-doubt spurred on by the vocal gymnastics of John Moschitta. The company was sold to Hasbro in the 90’s and the original line of toys was discontinued. What was left didn’t sell as well as hoped and largely spelled doom for the fledgling line of micro-toys. The line was discontinued in 2006.

Opposite Day: The Biggest Little Train Set

One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.
One of the more boring parts of this train set, believe it or not.

Today’s Opposite Day post finds us on both sides of the fence: Witness Miniatur Wunderland, the largest, miniature train set in the world! It’s the biggest little train set!

Miniatur Wunderland (literally “Miniature Wonderland” in case that wasn’t obvious,) located in Hamburg, Germany features an expansive miniature train system as the center attraction, but surrounds it with much, much more. The nearly 40,000 feet of HO scale train track ribbons through over 12,000 square feet of miniatures that represent multiple countries. Planned expansions extending all the way into 2026 will see England and France added to the mix.

Miniature Las Vegas
Miniature Las Vegas

While the trains are the main focus of the miniature, the real draw is the insane level of detail and animation that’s been poured into every inch of the attraction. Real locations have famous buildings and landmarks recreated in exacting detail. You can see cars driving about, amusement park attractions whirling around, even miniature people going about their daily lives.

The Knuffingen Airport, modeled after the Hamburg International Airport, is among the most impressive parts of the model. You can watch scale model passenger jets taxi, take off, and land. Meanwhile cars, taxis and emergency vehicles mill about the airport. Support vehicles on the airport landing strip drive around and tend to the landed planes.

Not the Architect's matrix control room.
Not the Architect’s matrix control room.

What goes on behind the scenes is just as incredible. The control room alone has dozens of monitors showing the attraction “on stage” and behind the scenes, along with screens showing diagnostics and conditions of various mechanics. Every single moving vehicle (essentially programmed, radio controlled vehicles) reports its location and state of charge.

The system is smart enough to know when vehicles need recharged or repaired. The affected vehicle will drive itself through a backstage access point and into a charging station, for example. A duplicate will be activated and sent out to follow its route until the first vehicle is ready to leave again.

Venice, Italy is currently under construction, with England scheduled for completion by 2021. See a video of the attraction here.

 

The Mall That Would Be a City: The Mall of America

Does YOUR mall have an amusement park?
Does YOUR mall have an amusement park?

The Mall of America may not be the largest shopping mall in the world(it actually ranks only 33rd,) but it is unquestionably one of the most well-known. Located in Bloomington, Minnesota, the ever-growing mall sprawls across 4.87 million square feet, or 922 square miles. Within that area is a whole lot of history.

That history goes all the way back to 1956. That’s the year the Metropolitan Stadium (nicknamed “The Met”) opened it’s doors. It was home to the Minnesota Vikings and Twins teams until the Humphrey Metrodome opened in 1982. Four years later that an agreement was signed to build the mall. Groundbreaking on the project took place in 1989. The Mall of America opened in 1992, becoming the second-largest mall in the US at the time.

The mall is home to over 520 stores, three of them “anchor” stores. Amenities include over fifty restaurants to choose from and a Radisson hotel directly connected to the mall. There are also 14 movie theaters showing the latest movies in 3D. Go visit the Nickelodeon-themed theme park in the middle of the mall, or hang out at the smaller Crayola experience. Barring that, you can always buy tickets to visit the flight simulators or the Sea Life aquarium.

Never one to sit still, the Mall of America is on the grow. Construction is underway to increase the size of the mall. At least one extra attached hotel will be added, along with a Bass Pro Shops location. A full-sized ice rink and entire water park are also being planned. Additionally, there will be 200,000 square feet of added retail space. If all their plans come to fruition, the mall will effectively double in size. The mall would potentially become the third-largest in the world.

And since you asked… Yes, the mall has it’s own zip code. Why wouldn’t it?

 

Opposite Day: Big Trouble in Miniature China

Must have been Grad Night again...
Must have been Grad Night again…

Fat Mop Zoo’s second Opposite Day takes us to Citrus Ridge, Florida, the final resting place of the Splendid China miniature theme park. Open in 1993, it had sixty different miniature hand-made replicas of famous Chinese landmarks in 1/10 scale to explore. In addition to the exhibits, park goers could be entertained by a cast of sixty Chinese dancers and performers.

Before...
Before…

The Great Wall of China replica consisted of over six million one-inch bricks and stretched a half mile. The Imperial Palace covered more than a half acre. The Leshan Giant Buddha (pictured to the left and below) was four stories tall, still dwarfing onlookers even as a miniature.

Despite its grandeur, Splendid China became a source of controversy almost from the moment it was announced.

After.
After.

The theme park was technically more or less owned and operated by the People’s Republic of China. Tibetans and other cultural minorities with cultural landmarks exhibited in the park were actually offended. They felt the theme park essentially claimed these landmarks as China’s own.

Additionally, a number of school boards and teachers’ associations banned field trips to the park. There were many Americans that were unhappy with the park, seeing it as a tool of propaganda. Even those lively Chinese performers were unhappy with the park. Many escaped from the park and sought asylum in the United States. US performers were eventually hired to fill in the empty positions.

The park finally closed after a decade full of protests and controversy. The park was invaded and ransacked by the local youth time and again in the ensuing years. What was left of the miniatures saw pieces stolen or destroyed. Eventually the whole park was slowly being reclaimed by nature. After passing through several owners, the remains of the park started to be torn down in 2013.

Perfectly Aged Drinking Establishments

Ug Beer Bar: Established 40,016 BCE
Ug Beer Bar: Established 40,016 BCE

It seems like every town has the one local bar that’s been around “forever”. The funny thing is some bars really have been around forever. Today, we’re embarking on the ultimate global bar crawl.

Okay, so the oldest bar in the world doesn’t quite date back to prehistory, but you can still make it pretty far back. The oldest documented bar, appropriately established in Athlone, Ireland in 900 CE, is simply known as Sean’s Bar. I’m going to go ahead and guess that having a creative name back then just wasn’t as important as it is today.

Renovations in 1970 revealed building materials in the walls that dated back to the 10th century. The bar also has records of every owner of the bar dating back to the same time period. The most notable owner? Boy George. He owned it briefly back in 1987. The paperwork available was compelling enough for Guinness to grant them the record for World’s Oldest Bar.

If Ireland is a little farther than you are willing to travel for some well-aged whiskey, you can always hop on down to Louisiana. The oldest continuously operating bar in the US is located in New Orleans(again some would say appropriately.) Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop opened its doors sometime prior to 1772.

The infamous pirate Jean Lafitte is, somewhat obviously, rumored to have owned the watering hole at one point. There’s been no concrete evidence found to prove this belief, unfortunately. Pirates weren’t known to keep good records of their activities for some odd reason.

Soap Operas: A Very Long History

Like this but with soap, right? I'm a guy, so...
Like this but with soap, right? I’m a guy, so…

A mainstay of modern America, the soap opera has been with us for a very long time. How long, you ask? How about since 1930, when Painted Dreams debuted on Chicago radio station WGN. The show about a widowed mother and her unmarried daughter was only fifteen minutes long per episode. It was picked up by CBS radio in 1938 and ran until 1942.

That’s no time at all, next to the longest airing soap opera of them all: Guiding Light. This long-lived soap opera started it’s run on NBC radio in 1937. GL switched over to CBS radio ten years later. It finally made it’s television debut nearly two decades after premiering on the radio. The year was 1956.

Sadly Guiding Light proved to be a passing fad, only managing to stay on the air for 72 years. Fans of the soap opera need never fear, though. The soap opera has long since become an international staple of daytime television. Shows are produced in Europe, Asia and Australia, to name just a few places.

That leaves just one mystery: Why is it called a soap opera? Back in the old radio days, the stations sought to have their shows sponsored by companies looking to advertise their wares. Being that these shows were listened to primarily by homemakers, soap products became the predominantly advertised goods. The name has stuck ever since.