Strange Change Machine
The Strange Change Machine was a Mattel toy introduced in 1968, in which "shape memory" plastic figures of prehistoric animals & science fiction-like creatures could be reconstituted from compressed "time capsule" form, and re-compressed back into that form. The label on the box declares: "A Strange Change Toy featuring The Lost World," suggesting that perhaps this was the first of a proposed series. The "Lost World" was the only scenario produced with this toy before it was discontinued.
The playset itself consisted of:
- The Strange Change Machine - constructed of a red metal base and a domed "Expansion Chamber," with a heating element at the bottom, a "Pre-Heat Area," for warming the capsules, and the "Compressor," a hand-cranked screw-press for re-compressing the figures into nondescript blocks with the Mattel logo restamped on the surface. Some editions had a label on the side declaring the device a "Time Machine."
- (16) Time Capsules - the plastic squares, which became the various dinosaurs, monsters, robots, "Astropods" and "Creaturelings", such as the Membrain Man, who strangely enough made an appearance in a Fantastic Four comic drawn by Arthur Adams.
- (1) pair of plastic tongs (usually blue).
- Instructions printed on a fold-out, color "Landscape Map of the Lost World," which took the form of a primordial forest surrounded by a volcanic mountain range.
- A 3-D green plastic base - listed in the instructions as the "Home for Lost World Creatures" - and resembling the landscape printed on the back of the instruction sheet. The base also served to hold the machine in place in the box.
To reconstitute a figure, one would first pre-heat the "capsule" on the side of the machine, then toss it into the heating chamber, and close the door. Over the course of a few minutes, the plastic would soften enough for the original shape of the figure to reassert itself, and it would slowly open up into that shape. (Tongs were provided for removing the still-hot figure.)
To compress a figure back into "time capsule" form, one would place the figure into the heating chamber, until it began to sag slightly, then remove it with the tongs, stuff it into the open press, and crank the press closed. After a few minutes, the compressed figure would cool enough to retain its compressed shape.
How it worked
The process is actually quite similar to the way heat shrink tubing works: in the case of the tubing, it is molded in its "shrunk" size, cross-linked (usually by exposure to certain types of radiation, such as electron beams) to convert it to a thermoset, then reheated and stretched. In the case of Strange Change figures, the figure is molded (in what appears to have been polyethylene), exposed to electron beams to cross-link it, coated with a long-lasting release agent to keep it from sticking to itself when compressed, then (in much the same process described above, only with power equipment) compressed into "time capsule" form.