Play-Doh. Oh, Play-Doh, how doth Shakespeare praise your squish'y fun?
'Cause, you know, PLAY-DOH. I still know that smell. I still know that cold texture that warms up in your hands. I know those little bits of it that somehow get onto the rug and are murder most foul to rip back up. I came here to not bury Play-Doh, but to praise it.
In my day, Play-Doh came in annoying to open containers that challenged your fingers at every eager opening. I think that they still had tin lids when I was tiny. These days, the tops are oh-so-much better to get off. The great thing, though, is that the stuff inside is still the same. That smell. Oh, that smell.
To be honest, I can't tell you how much time I spent playing with Play-Doh, nor how much time I spent forgetting to clean it up. The two really go together. Of all the messes that your parents could buy you, Play-Doh was both the most omnipresent and well liked. There's no other toy, so well loved, that it keeps its audience clear through adulthood. I literally cannot think of anyone, at any time, who got shamed for being too old for Play-Doh. That concept just doesn't exist. Play-Doh is the closest thing to the true universal toy. Not only do you not grow out of it, you cannot grow out of it.
The world of Play-Doh can be split into three types of player: those who make cool stuff, those who make freakish monstrosities that don't look like anything, and kids who just don't care. I fell into the category of freakish monstrosity maker. It's not that I sought to make monstrosities, but that's the best that my mangled mind could do.
Fortunately, there was more to Play-Doh than the finished product. The product is an experience all to itself. You squish it, roll it, mix it, flatten it, and pretend to do all sorts of things with it, such as cutting, stamping, texturing, and extruding. These actions were as legitimate as construction, if not more so.
The purchasable tool sets, even back in my day, were colorful and durable. The most coveted on, for me, was the extruder. My friends may have had some, but I don't recall having one. (That doesn't mean that I didn't have one.) You simply put the substance into a pusher, which went through a template, giving you a shape. The commercials always made that seem way fun, or at least far more fun than it actually was.
Play-Doh wasn't perfect, of course. It really liked to dry, so you always had to be vigilant about putting it away. Even so, it still dried out and got tough. If you made anything from it, the Play-Doh cracked as it dried, often ruining your creations. (Well, other people had their creations ruined. Mine were never good enough to ruin.) As Play-Doh disintegrated as you used it, small bits often got left over, then flattened into whatever they landed on. Fortunately, the bits usually came up easy, but anything ground into clothing tended to stay there.
The cheap version of Play-Doh was made of flour, salt, and a few other ingredients. This is the type that the parents made for school, as Play-Doh is relatively expensive and cost way too much for a large classroom. It wasn't quite the same, but it did good enough.
Wikipedia tells us that Play-Doh was created in the 1950's as a wallpaper cleaner to rid your house of those troubling coal stains. When natural gas came in, there was no longer much ado about coal, so the manufacturer had to find another market. That turned out to be schoolkids who were already using their product for school. After taking their product to the educational market, their fortunes were made, as a non-toxic cheap modeling substance was exactly the kind of thing that educators craved.
I am happy to say that I played Play-Doh with my daughter, which was always a challenge when she was two. The first thing that she did was to mix all the colors together. Yeah, kids. I remember my parents working furiously to keep our colors apart as well, but that's more important as they had five kids.