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AKA The Time Machine

All sorts of information about the Strange Change Machine toys.

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New Information

I have heard tell that ToyMax actually did produce a new strange Change Machine in the early 90's. This information comes from someone who actually owns one of the toys. Unlike the pictures features in early ToyMax catalogs the creatures were all made out of glow in the dark plastic. The machine worked with the aid of a light bulb (similar to that in the new series of Creepy Crawler toys). I am not sure where this toy was distributed widely or not, and this is the only one I have ever heard of. Update! You can sometimes find them on

I have also heard that similar memory plastic toys are still being produced in Europe and can be opened using very hot water.

The Strange Change Toy was fairly unique in both concept and form. This is one of the few toys that Mattel made during the 1960's that is still just as good today as when it was made. (Well, if you use it too many times the memory plastic does not work all that good...)

The toy came in one of Mattel's most colorful boxes ever. Two sides were in full color and the ends and other two sides were in magenta, black on white cardboard. The side of the box, shown to the left, is a link to download a large version (519x248 42k aprox.) of the same picture to your computer.
The set consisted of a play mat/map, a vacuformed green set of strange looking mountains, the Strange Change machine itself, a pair of blue tongs, and sixteen fantastic time capsules.

The machine was the centerpiece of this toy. Unlike the squat and ugly Thing-Makers and Vac-U-Form machines this machine had a metallic cherry red finish and a futuristic plastic chamber on the top. The overall look gave the appearance of a 1960's time machine. In fact later versions (like the one shown above) were remarketed as "The Time Machine"

As for how the toy worked that was even more 'cool'! First you would plug the machine in and wait for it to warm up. The you put one or more of the time capsules on the right hand side on the machine to warm it up slightly. Then you would open the chamber up and toss in one of the capsules. The capsules were shaped like little squares with the Mattel logo on one side. Closing the chamber was the next step. After a few minutes a small plastic figure would emerge slowly from the capsule. Next you would remove the toy and wait for it to cool down. Just like the Thing-Maker the heating element in this toy was very dangerous. When you were done playing with the figure you would heat it back up in the Strange Change Machine and then quickly stuff it into the the compression chamber. By turning the crank on the side you compressed the hot plastic figure back into a time capsule. After a few minutes you could remove the capsule.

Clicking on the picture to the right will download a 521x343 59k aprox. picture of the front of the box. The capsules themselves came in four different colors. The Red and the Magenta were made out of a very sturdy plastic. The Yellow ones occasionally burned or became discolored. The green capsules fared worst of all becoming brown easily.

There were very few other related items for this toy. I only know of one. There was a pak of additional time capsules. I think it contained 5-8 additional figures. It was sold as a blister pack on a dark blue card with black ink.

How did it work?

Here is a rough sketch of the "magic" behind Strange Change.

Strange Change time capsules are made of a special plastic with shape memory. The memory is created by the manufacturing process. This process is much the same as the process by which heat-shrink tubing is made. The process went like this:

Mold the creatures in their "unfolded" form. In the case of Strange Change, the creatures were injection molded. Mattel designed the creatures and supplied the molds.

As the creatures left the molding machine, they were strung onto piano wire to make it easy to transport them through the rest of the process.

Now the magic part: the molded creatures were passed into a chamber and subjected to a high-energy beam of electrons. (Kids, don't try this at home...) The beam changed the molecular structure of the polymer. On a molecular level, many normal polymers (plastics) are like a bunch of cooked spaghetti, after you add a little olive oil! When you bend or stretch them, the molecules just slide past each other and they stay in the new shape. An e-beamed polymer is different. The beam knocks the long polymer molecules around enough to create bonds between them. These bonds are like little springs that hold the "noodles" together. So, what you get is more like a stretchy net than a bunch of noodles. In order to get the net to stretch, you need to heat it up a bit to soften things up.

The e-beam cross-linking process (as it is sometimes called) was invented by the founder of the company who made the time capsule for Mattel. It was first used to make lightweight, high-performance wire for aircraft (the cross-links allow you to use a thinner coating of insulation on the wire, so you can make lighter, smaller wire). Soon after that, the idea came to the folks at the company that you could use the cross-links to give plastics shape memory. They started making molded parts and plastic tubing and sold it as stuff that shrinks when you heat it. Who needs electrical tape anyway! We sell about a billion dollars a year of stuff these days that is related to that one idea.

Stick with me for a minute, and all will become clear....

After the e-beaming, the creatures were dipped in a silicon material to keep them from sticking together during pressing.

Finally, each creature was removed from the wire, heated up, and pressed into the little square time capsule form complete with Mattel logo, and cooled to lock it into shape.

So, big deal, right? Anyone can heat up plastic and then press it into a shape. The question is, why does a square of plastic turn into a creature? Now you know! The key to Strange Change is not turning a little square time capsule into a creature, but rather letting a creature return to its real shape after it was pressed into a time capsule! By heating the creature, the plastic softens enough so that little springy bonds between the polymer molecules stretch and you can change its shape into a time capsule. If you cool it in that shape, it stays there because the plastic becomes too hard to easily deform. Now, take that time capsule, pop it into the chamber, and heat it up. The plastic softens, the little springy bonds between the molecules pull it back into its "real" shape, and....ta da...a creature!

This idea makes a cool toy because the process is reversible many times before the net of polymer molecules starts getting "worn out". So, you can scrunch and grow the thing many times before it no longer works.

A while back I got this in the e-mail...
Joe wants to know...

Are there any other people out there that still like this toy besides you and me? I still play with it occasionally and it always brings back fond memories. When I was young I got such a kick out of it when an arm or leg would suddenly POP out of the little blocks in the "time machine"! You could sit for hours, which is how long it took for them to form, and make up all kinds of things. And of course you would have to make them scream - "No, no.. STOP, DONT PUT ME IN THERE AGAIN.... ARGHHHHHHHH!!!!!" when you mashed them back into the compression chamber real hard with the tweezers. Good sadistic fun. Also, you always forgot to use the tweezers and picked up a very hot semi-molten figure that immediately stuck to your fingers, ouch! You just cant get a toy today that will give you a good third degree burn like that one could let me tell ya.
Please say you did these things too so I don't sound crazy!


Thanks to Mike Blanchard for most of the following information, though it has been added to and changed slightly...

The Strange Change toy originally had a decal or paper inset on the heating chamber which said "Time Machine". This may have been deleted in later versions of the toy due to it being a fire hazard.

Also original boxes boasted "Create 'em & Crush 'em in The Time Machine. Later issues of the toy had "Time Machine" changed to "Strange Change Machine" on both unit & boxes.
Rumor for the name change was that Mattel planned a line of Strange Change toys ( Flower power, Car-toons, & Monster Mansion were the speculative titles) and would then be able to drop the same "Strange Change" heating chamber into each set.

The original set came with 14 cubes & 2 formed creatures(orange pteranodon & pink "membrane man". You can tell a cube has never been used when the Mattel logo is raised up on the cube, and not pressed in as would be if you crushed it with the unit. All unused cubes also have a number on it.
After repeated "crushing" , the creatures would tend to shrink and lose most detail.

I believe all creatures in the boxed set always came in the same colors (i.e. the robot is always yellow, the snake is always orange, etc.)

2 accessory paks were also released of 4 creatures each. "Astropods" and "Creaturelings". The colors did not stay consistent with the accessory paks as they did in the boxed set.

"Creaturelings" contained the following :

  • Antosaurous
  • Beetleontodon
  • Snaggle Fanged Oculus
  • Hooded Skullkaronamus

"Astropods" contained:

  • Crabosaurus
  • Flyadon
  • Raspagator
  • Slunkapod

These accessory paks also came in 2 variations. First release had 4 cubes on blister card. Second release had 3 cubes/1 formed on blister card (Crab or Fly).

If you have any other information about this series of toys please e-mail me