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Did you ever have (or encounter) a Stretch Armstrong Doll when you were young? First manufactured in 1976 by Kenner (the toy company best known for Star Wars action figures), Stretch Armstrong was this beefy jock guy who looked like he had been discovered in a YMCA lost & found. If you pulled on his rubber arms and legs they would just keep extending and extending to an obscene and improbable degree. The toy was made of latex with some otherworldly nightmare jalop inside (the internet tells me it was super refined corn syrup: apparently the toy inventor just went to A&P and bought a bunch of karo and cooked it down).

Anyway Stretch was an awesome toy. I knew this kid who had one and he had this game where he would grab the arms and you would grab the legs and then both children would pull as hard as possible…

then he would let go and Stretch Armstrong would fly into your face like a huge grubby rubber band on steroids causing you (or at least me) to fall over. It was like being molested by a C list wrestler!

I haven’t seen a Stretch in forty years, but for some reason I have been thinking about him (perhaps because he seemed like a lovable character but was secretly a dueling device). I feel like toys are really important to childhood development, but my reminiscences about Stretch Armstrong also make me wonder why this is so. Maybe he taught that we must be flexible to achieve our goals but we must also always remember that we live in an adversarial society (or maybe the lesson is really about the fundamental importance of corn syrup). Are there any toys that pop back into your head after decades?

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I had lots of favorite toys as a child—the toy I loved most changed as I changed ages (a truth which continues to be valid).  However, like most boys of my demographic, one of my all-time favorite toy properties was the Star Wars action figure line by Kenner.  This was a line of licensed toys based on the blockbuster space opera films. The Kenner action figures changed all the parameters of toy manufacturing & sales and made a bajillion dollars…but I don’t have to tell you about Star Wars action figures; unless you are some bizarre eremite or a post-human reading this in the distant future, you already know all about them.  Anyway I uncritically loved all the figures I had–except for three problem figures:  R2D2 had a white marble stuck up inside of him which made it impossible to deploy his third leg (I had the droid shop—and the third leg! but to no avail). Han Solo’s head broke off and was lost: he was in the Hoth Anorak, so afterwards he just looked like a mountaineer who had slipped, but I still knew it was Han, so it was pretty devastating. And, perhaps worst of all, somebody chewed up Greedo’s head.

The internet, however, has no lack of unblemished Greedos.

The internet, however, has no lack of unblemished Greedos.

Now R2D2 was not a problem—you could still play with him.  Han Solo’s terminal accident came as I was outgrowing the figures.  But, throughout my childhood, Greedo’s disfigurement always bothered me.  Plus who chewed up his head?  Was it the dog?  Was it my little sister?  Was it me?  He had come into my hands when I was at such a tender age, that the secret of his scars was lost.  I could make it work—Greedo’s fate in the movies was pretty inglorious.  When you were playing, it was easy to make believe he had been savaged by some horrible space monster.  Yet he was one of the most alien of the alien characters and that was diminished.  Plus his big soulful empty eyes—his best feature!–were ruined.

Peckoltia greedoi (Armbruster/Auburn University)

Peckoltia greedoi (Armbruster/Auburn University)

That is a pretty long introduction to today’s post which–as you no doubt anticipated—is about catfish! Johnathan Armbruster is an ichthyologist who curates the fish collection for Auburn University Museum of Natural History.  Recently, as he was going through old specimens, he found an unknown catfish collected from the Amazon in 1998.  Using his special ichthyology powers, Armbruster determined this was an entirely new species of armored suckermouth catfish. Destiny was in his hands.  He had to name the new catfish.  I should mention that the defining features of this new armored catfish were its big soulful empty eyes (as well as some head appendages and a ribbed body).

Greedo really was named first

Greedo really was named first

Armbruster reached back to his own childhood memories and named the fish Peckoltia greedoi, in honor of the incompetent Rodian bounty hunter (well also in honor of Gustavo Peckolt, a member of the Natural History Commission—but Armbruster didn’t get to choose the genus name).   Looking at the fish, the movie character, and the action figure, I become ever more convinced the little catfish is actually named after the toy. I wonder if Armbruster’s Greedo action figure was chewed up too.

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