This isn’t a prank: ThinkGeek and the enterprise of April Fools’
Snow was falling within the type of these tender white, potato-flake chunks you often see in movies. I might barely completed my morning cup of espresso and with out that essential psychological assist, I used to be having a tough time discovering the doorway to ThinkGeek’s ranch-type headquarters in Fairfax, Va. Within the blur of eight:fifty seven AM on a Tuesday on this winter-like spring, each window of the sprawling complicated appeared like a door to me. So I selected one and, miraculously, was noticed by Chris Mindel, a senior purchaser for the corporate, who let me and my videographer contained in the toy-crammed halls. It was then I observed the signal on the open door and burst out laughing. It learn: “This isn’t the door you are on the lookout for.”
I might had Willy Wonka on the mind earlier than, nevertheless it was clear now I wanted to modify, or at the least combine, gears. This was nicely-knowledgeable geek territory I used to be treading upon — hallowed Star Wars-quoting superfan territory — and I would just been granted a one-day golden ticket to discover it.
I might made the trek from New York to the DC space to get an inside take a look at ThinkGeek’s lengthy-standing April Fools’ Day custom. The corporate, which usually sells meme-, sci-fi- and geek tradition-infused novelty merchandise, like its Star Wars lightsaber chopsticks, does one thing considerably totally different for that one prank-crammed day of the yr. Months prematurely, the gleefully mad elves (or Oompa-Loompas, I could not determine) of ThinkGeek toil exhaustively to create joke merchandise, typically the stuff of fanboy/woman goals, for “sale” on its retail website; issues like Mr. Beard, a repurposed Keurig that administers spray-on facial hair, or the Flux Capacitor Automotive Charger.
There was that one incident the place the Nationwide Pork Board took difficulty with ThinkGeek labeling its Unicorn Meat as the brand new chicken
These properly-which means jokes additionally are likely to straddle a authorized grey space with established licenses and company entities. There was that one incident the place the Nationwide Pork Board took concern with ThinkGeek labeling its Unicorn Meat as the brand new chicken — an apparent play on the opposite chicken. Fortunately although, that stop and desist ended amicably and generated loads of publicity for each ThinkGeek and the Nationwide Pork Board. However it’s all good-natured, as Ty Liotta, VP of the corporate’s in-home product improvement group, or Geeklabs, identified to me. “We really feel that for April Fools’ we will take slightly little bit of … artistic liberties with the licenses as a result of it will be enjoyable.”
ThinkGeek’s by no means incurred the complete wrath of company lawyerdom for its whimsical April Fools’ creations. By that I imply they’ve by no means fairly been sued for infringing upon a license. Considerably counterintuitively, these one-day-a-yr, nicely-which means infractions helped ThinkGeek’s licensing enterprise go legit. They’re answerable for establishing and solidifying the corporate’s treasure trove of licenses and line of branded merchandise.
The truth is, the corporate’s licensing enterprise truly obtained its main kickoff from a gaggle of Lucasfilm staff that basically needed to see the Star Wars Tauntaun sleeping bag, an April Fools’ gag from 2009, made into an actual product for buy. The sleeping bag, impressed by a pivotal scene whereby Luke Skywalker is stuffed into the carcass of the beast for shelter, is a massively fashionable merchandise that is nonetheless bought at the moment. Because of that geek-tradition enthusiasm, the right company connections have been made and now, Lucasfilm counts as simply one of many dozen-plus huge-identify licenses in ThinkGeek’s arsenal.
Want a set of Recreation of Thrones Home Sigil wine charms on your ceremonial dinner? Or maybe a Minecraft foam pickaxe is extra your velocity? Each gadgets are usually not solely actual; they’re additionally up for order on ThinkGeek’s website. Regardless of the area of interest proclivity, ThinkGeek has slightly one thing for each method of nerd. In any case, this can be a firm that types staff into Hogwarts homes as a part of a group-constructing train; that instructs newly employed staff to fill out a doc detailing their geek experience; that labels its primary assembly room “The Boredroom of Doom,” and its purchaser flooring as “Bartertown.” The nerd pressure is robust with these people.
Regardless of the area of interest proclivity, ThinkGeek has somewhat one thing for each method of nerd
Willie Yonkers, ThinkGeek’s industrial designer, is the maker drive behind the corporate’s fanciful creations. He is the sawdust-coated worker, oftentimes cloaked in protecting goggles and face masks, who figures out how one can deliver these pretend merchandise from the smoke-and-mirrors fashion of manufacturing to a strong prototype that might be proven to shoppers. It is his dedication to bringing a degree of polish to ThinkGeek’s general product lineup that is helped the corporate not solely rely much less on Photoshop to realize its April Fools’ imaginative and prescient, but in addition get these merchandise nearer to a “pre-engineered CAD state” for precise manufacture ought to they make the minimize.
The NERF Nuke, one among ThinkGeek’s standout April Fools’ creations this yr, is one thing Yonkers would like to see go from joke idea to retail product. The acquainted-wanting, orange and yellow nuke is an excessive tackle NERF’s historical past of froth-based mostly artillery. It is a nuclear bomb outfitted with suction-cup darts and, sadly, it isn’t a working prototype — not now, anyway. “It could possibly be finished,” Yonkers admitted, “however we’ll need to see if there’s sufficient curiosity in making that one into an actual factor.” To gauge that April Fools’ curiosity, ThinkGeek appears to metrics like web page views and referrals, but in addition lets clients immediately vote from every gag product’s order web page.
Amongst this yr’s April Fools’ crop, about 4 merchandise owe their existence to 3D printing, of which the Unicorn Consuming Horn and Das Can-in-Stein (a beer-can holder within the form of a stein) are two prime examples. It is a apply that started with, unsurprisingly, Star Wars. Though this time, it was lightsaber popsicles, and never the snug innards of a deceased beast of fantasy, that kicked off a brand new technique of manufacturing. ThinkGeek does have its personal 3D printer — a 3D Techniques CubeX Duo — tucked away in a closet of its “Room of Requirement,” aka the maker workplace that is residence to Yonkers and electrical engineer Hilary Hoops, the woman chargeable for the extremely common Technomancer Digital Wizard Hoodie. However since that 3D printer can solely deal with low-res, low-high quality elements, ThinkGeek’s design staff often turns to corporations like Shapeways and Quickparts for manufacturing.
Amongst this yr’s April Fools’ crop, about 4 merchandise owe their existence to 3D printing
Liotta advised me that the majority of ThinkGeek’s core clients are, by now, nicely conscious of the corporate’s annual April Fools’ joke, saying, “They’re simply ready to see what we will do simply because they need to be entertained by no matter it’s.” It is the factor of shock and invention, typically helped by piggybacking on a borrowed license, that retains individuals coming again. However these clients even have an finish aim in sight: They’re returning to see if any of those merchandise make it to retail.
That anticipation’s nice for the corporate’s morale (and backside line), nevertheless it additionally makes this two-month race to April Fools’ manufacturing all of the extra aggravating for ThinkGeek’s employees of affable, renegade elves. It is an admittedly good drawback to have, however one which’s compounded by the extent of noise generated by different corporations that take part in that day of tech tomfoolery. “Initially, once we have been doing it, it was very easy to face out,” Liotta defined. “And through the years, it is turn out to be rather more difficult as a result of individuals do superb issues for April Fools’.” That could be true, however judging from this yr’s lineup, I might say Liotta and his crew have a positive shot at slicing by means of the muddle and bringing a smile to even probably the most cynical of April Fools’ observers. Myself included.
By 5 PM, the snow had stopped falling, leaving the slippery asphalt beneath my ft and the piles of amassed fluff on close by automobiles as the one remnants of that dream-like morning. Someplace contained in the ThinkGeek workplace, there was a Tauntaun sleeping bag that wanted drying off — we might used it for an outdoor shoot earlier that afternoon because the surrounding environs loosely resembled Hoth. However that fond second of playtime was firmly up to now. My all-entry cross to ThinkGeek HQ had come to an in depth and it was now time to return to my comparatively much less magical, much less enjoyable life in New York.
On the practice experience again, I could not cease reflecting on the day I might spent submerged in ThinkGeek’s assume tank of nerdcore creation. How might I simply clarify to my associates that particular surroundings, that zany day care the place the adults receives a commission to play and create? The perfect I might provide you with was this: “It is like what would occur if Santa’s elves, who all knew the whole historical past of Physician Who, determined to go rogue, leap ship from the North Pole and arrange a boutique store simply outdoors of D.C.” Even that, although, could not fairly seize and convey the magic contained inside ThinkGeek’s halls.
However that wasn’t all I had on my thoughts as I watched the surroundings zip by from the practice’s quiet automotive. I had Willy Wonka on the mind… once more and particularly, this sing-music quote:
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