Terry Pratchett recently described Commander Samuel Vimes as a man with “Lego Foot”, which aptly describes a condition my father is familiar with from my childhood, where no amount of pain quite compares to that which occurs as you are trying to tread silently through your child’s bedroom, only to tread on one small plastic toy — possibly a pirate brandishing a dagger. About the only way to prevent the occurrence of Lego Feet is to wear steel-toed workboots while treading silently, which sort of defeats the purpose, and which no young father ever remembers to do.
I suspect that grandfathers everywhere delight in these tales, with some sense of getting their own back on their children for the pains suffered in the past due to a child’s naturally messy room, and those toys which you’d expect to be choking hazards. But in this age of burgeoning technology, toy manufacturers have planted extra little surprises for new parents that our parents could only dream about.
Take the little wooden animal puzzle. You know the one I mean: a slab of wood printed with pictures of animals. These animals can be removed by pulling on a handy red nob, and leaving a uniquely shaped hole that the toddlers are supposed to refill with the animals just removed, training them for a life of jigsaw puzzles and teaching them what animals printed on a slab of wood look like. However, manufacturers decided that this wasn’t educational enough, and so some have augmented this classic puzzle with technological accouterments requiring a battery. Thanks to a magic of a light sensor which registers when a piece that has been removed has been put back, a speaker blares the noise the animal makes. A wheedling little “mew” for a cat, a spirited “woof! woof!” for a dog, an extended “mooooo!” for a cow, and so on.
It’s important to note that these light sensors are not intelligent enough to check to see whether a piece has been put back properly. It only registers the loss of light. So, if another piece is placed overtop the spot, even if it doesn’t fit, the light sensor says to itself, “hey! who turned out the lights!” and unleashes the noise. You can even do this yourself by placing your hand over the sensor.
I don’t mind the noises. Vivian is more than happy to play with this puzzle, and it doesn’t bother me to hear farm animals going off while I write. However, one of the pieces, a rooster, has gone AWOL. So the puzzle is just sitting on the table, drinking in light, waiting for a piece that isn’t coming for a while. Which becomes a problem after Vivian has gone to bed, and Erin has retired for the night, and I’m all alone downstairs, cleaning up, locking up and closing all the lights. Finally, with the darkened house whispering around me, I head up the stairs, turn out the last light, and
“COCK-A-DOODLE DOO! COCK-A-DOODLE DOO!” screams the Rooster of the Baskervilles, come to peck out my eyes and feast on my liver and, at the very least, almost make me fall down the stairs in shock.
I curse the lost piece. I’m too tired to do anything about it, and the puzzle has stopped crowing. So I go to bed.
And replay the same incident the next night.