Without a doubt, the most advanced form of chocolate life on Planet Earth today. Imagine an egg made of chocolate. Not a solid block of unswallowable chocolate, as you may have seen around last Easter, nor yet an egg filled with a horrible gooey yolk of liquid caramel or whatever those Cadbury monstrosities have inside them. No. This egg is made of a thin layer of white chocolate covered with another thin layer of milk chocolate, cleverly concocted so as to be absolutely unmeltable. At Fahrenheit 451, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will become blackened charcoal, but Kinder Surprises will still look like eggs. I haven't quite confirmed this in laboratory settings yet, but I have faith.

And why, you may ask, is the egg hollow? Is this not wasteful? Is it not a cheap scam by the manufacturer? Nay, doubters. For inside this thin, yet scrumptious, dual-layer chocolate exterior, is the Surprise. The Whammy. The Toy. The Fun Thing, etc. (You have seen the adverts, haven't you?) Yes, there is a small, collectable toy inside your chocolate, much like the crunchy frog hiding inside the eponymous sweet from the Whizzo Chocolate Company, but not as froglike or crunchy. The toys are contained in yellow plastic capsules which, in themselves, are fairly marvelous and are especially good for people with cats or younger sisters. When wielded by skillful ninja kinder, the emptied capsules can be shot at unsuspecting co-workers (or cats, or younger sisters) by merely applying pressure near the joint in the middle. If your touch is deft and your aim true, one end of the capsule will pop off the end you are holding and fly many dozens of inches towards your target with frightening accuracy and a satisfying "Pop" noise.1 But let's get on to the heart of our lesson: the actual toy inside the yellow capsule inside the chocolate egg (which was inside a foil wrapper, but if you've still got that on at this point, you're really in trouble and will need to go to Room 411, where they teach Remedial Sweets for Troubled Youngsters).

So, onwards - to the toy. The toys inside Kinder Suprises, or Kinder Eggs as they are known to all but the manufacturers, come in an astonishingly wide variety, and yes, they are collectable. Ferrero's website says they launch 100 new toys every year and have been doing so ever since 1974, when the eggs first began to hatch. The really clever part, the bit that makes me really think Ferrero know what kids are all about, is this: they manufacture all the toys in equal amounts. No artificial collectorism here. George Lucas, I hope you are taking notes, because I'm still pissed off about that "Power of the Jedi" Biker Scout debacle.

Some of the toys are simple plastic dolls, or figurines if you must, about one inch tall. Each year they have a couple of new series of these. A few years back there were groovy alligators: alligators suntanning, alligators playing golf, alligators all around. No, sorry, that last was a Maurice Sendak book. Then there was a hippos series, and I believe there were some frogs, and - but you get the idea. On my shelf at the moment is an elephant with a sign that, mysteriously, says "Elefantao" on it. At this moment, I am informed by a British egg-collecting Website that creatures called Vampirellies are now available in that joyful land, but I despair of ever seeing one with mine own eyes. All the dolls are handpainted, of course.

But the plastic dolls are not the good toys. In fact, when I get an egg with a doll in it, I am usually most disappointed. No, the good ones are the mechanical toys. Ferrero has a crack team of elves, aggressively headhunted away from the North Pole, inventing thousands of mechanical toys small enough to fit into a one-inch plastic capsule. And they do marvelously. These toys range from little racing birds with flywheels that make them go astonishingly far when rolled on a hard surface, to miniscule jigsaw puzzles, rhinocerouses with gears inside them that make their heads bob when propelled, squads of football-playing kangaroos, snap-together plastic dioramas depicting Pleistocene life, trains with pirate patches on them, and many many many other wonderful things. They all come unassembled, with instructions, and usually a little card showing all the toys in that specific line. It should be instantly obvious that assembling the toys with the aid of the instructions is wimpish and unmanly, something only a true dweeb would do. C'mon man, these are toys with four to eight parts each. If you can't get them without a little instruction sheet, you should go back to Java programming or Psychology or whatever you were doing before you came here.

Unfortunately, I must conclude this lesson on a note of sadness. For it is most disheartening, but undeniably true, that Kinder Surprises are not sold in the Kingdom of Despair wherein I have been forced to live these many surpriseless years. I don't know why - they claim it's something to do with a certain Small Parts Law, but I feel sure it must be part of the plot to make me unhappy. If you're ever in the civilized world and are just searching for ways to make me happy, don't bother with the cheesy T-shirt. Just bring me a Kinder egg. It costs less than a T-shirt, too.

1 - Sadly, this part has changed as of 2009. The capsule inside the egg is no longer made of two parts, but one piece with a hinge. I can only assume that this was done For Our Own Good. To this I say, thanks Big Brother, but it's nobody's business but my own if I want to put someone's eye out with a small yellow plastic egg yolk. Just cut the hinge with a boxcutter and Voila! you have a Kinder Egg capsule that can be fired at annoying little sisters and inquisitive cats, safety laws be damned. Stereoscopic vision is overrated, anyway.

In the past year or so, Kinder Eggs have finally become available in the US of A. In my hometown they are sold at frou-frou delis (the same ones that sell the cadbury crunchie bars) for a dollar. However, either the Small Parts Law is still in effect, or American kiddies have been deemed too inept to build the tiny intricate creations enjoyed by their European counterparts: every American egg I have opened contains one of the disappointing plastic dolls that DejaMorgana mentioned. The dual-layered chocolate is the same, but no one buys Kinder Eggs with eating in mind; the chocolate is just a nice bonus.

One brief addition to DejaMorgana's excellent above post. The yellow capsules in the eggs that hold the prize can be extremely tricky to open (especially when wielded by small kinder fingers) and proper technique is the mark of a true Kinder Egg aficionado. The key is to press at the middle joint that separates the two halves with both thumbs while simultaneously twisting the halves in opposite directions and pulling up. The capsule should open with an extremely satisfying pop and your (hopefully European) toy will emerge.

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