Sunday, May 22, 2011


The spy craze of the 1960s turned out tons of related toys, and one of the best was Transogram's 1966 Spy's-a-Poppin, a target game/playset with fantastic design and tons of action features. The huge, 27 inch tall set enabled the player to enter the world of spy films, complete with exploding bombs, damsels in distress, sinister cloaked spy masters, secret hideouts, and, of course, a really cool (dart) gun. Sadly, the gun is almost always missing from this rare set when found (although mine does still have the "Magi-scope"): kids would, naturally, have used the gun in all sorts of other play. Even without a gun, though, the set is a precious find. Its fragility and size led to most being thrown away by spring-cleaning parents.

Box detail, with directions for play.

Here's how it worked: you, the good spy, are in pursuit of a bad spy. You've tracked him to his secret lair, tucked into a dilapidated brownstone next to a pawnbroker's. See your shadow on the steps? You're even wearing a trenchcoat and fedora!

Now, you have to get into the hideout. You decide to blast your way in. Subtle, you are not. The instructions tell you: "First you must get into the house. How can you do this? Well, the only way is to 'blow up' the front...and that's just what you'll do." On the top right of the building is a giant red plastic bomb. The instructions say: "Take careful aim at the bomb with your gun and shoot! Hit the bomb on top of the chimney and the front of the house falls down!" And it does!

The whole front panel of the building falls forward, revealing a tense situation: a beautiful blonde girl tied to a box of TNT. The instructions make sure you realize the gravity of the situation: "Holy Fallen Arches! You must watch your step because there is evil afoot inside!"

Next, you are told to "slowly study the situation. Look through the infra-red scope on your gun to see what danger lurks behind those innocent looking pictures on the wall." And danger does indeed lurk: the red filter on the gun's "scope" reveals a spy hiding behind the picture. If you look very closely, you may be just able to see his outline here: 

"Behold! There are two sinister looking characters watching your every move!" continue the directions. "You must erase them from the scene."

Shooting the pictures with the dart gun knocks them clean out of their frames, along with their hidden spies, presumably. But what's this? Apparently one of the spies was "only wounded," and has given "a signal to the Master Spy hidden at the top of the stairs! THE JIG IS UP! OH, WOE, WHAT CAN YOU DO NOW?"  The instructions are just as fabulous as the game itself, really. I'm guessing an unemployed screenwriter or English Lit. grad wrote them. But incidentally, wouldn't the "jig is up" moment have been when you blew the front of the hideout off? A logical misstep, there.

Anyway: as the top picture is knocked from its frame by your dart, it releases a catch holding the Master Spy in place behind the curtains. He begins clacking his way down the staircase, "hurrying to the bottom to 'do in' that poor, innocent girl tied to the TNT box..."

This is when the tension really ratchets up: the Master Spy descends alarmingly quickly on his way to the detonator, and as usual, the instructions convey the seriousness of the situation: "Take aim...steady now...mustn't bungle it! You must hit him before he reaches bottom. If you don't, he'll push the lever and...ZOWIE! But...if you're quick and have a sharp eye, you can save the're a HERO!"

The Master Spy and the girl who needs saving. 
Looks she's done for this time...

You can see more pictures of this set, and read the complete, fabulous original instructions, at Sam's Toy Box.


  1. I had this toy when I was a kid. It was a bit clunky, but it worked. The top picture (with the catch) was pasted on upside down in my set! I vividly remember the commercial which was very cool with voice-over narration and other film noir touches. It's great to see these images again. Thanks.

  2. Got one of these for Christmas. It didn’t work properly so my parents returned it but never got a replacement. The joke in the family was that Bellsnickle, the mean elf that took toys away from bad children, took it.

  3. Got it for Christmas worked great would give anything to get the game again