Year in review

"Tickle Me Elmo," like all good legends, seemed to come out of nowhere. The fuzzy red Muppet doll vibrated into the national consciousness at the start of the holiday shopping season without warning. Elmo, long a favorite of children who watch "Sesame Street," has been available in doll form for years. But when New Jersey-based Tyco Toys offered one that says, "Ooh, that tickles," and giggles and breaks into hysterics when its stomach is touched, a phenomenon was launched.

Suddenly, everyone wanted a "Tickle Me Elmo" doll for their children. Then, just as suddenly, everyone wanted a "Tickle Me Elmo" doll to sell to someone else who wanted it for their children. "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls were auctioned. Raffles were held. Classified ads offered the $30 doll for as much as $2,500, and "Tickle Me Elmo" jokes began making the late- night talk shows.

In Frederickton, New Brunswick, some 300 Elmo-seeking people lined up outside a Wal-mart store five hours before it opened, then stampeded when the doors were unlocked, trampling an employee so badly he was sent to the hospital. At a Texas Wal-Mart, two employees were fired for hiding the dolls from customers so they could buy them for themselves. In New York, the son of jailed mob boss John Gotti, along with his friends, dropped $8,000 at a toy store and reportedly made off with a case of Elmos.

At the time this report hit the Web, however, it appeared the backlash had begun. Two days before Christmas, an Elmo doll was squashed flatter than a pancake by a 10-ton steamroller driven by a Maryland family that paid $800 to charity for the privilege. The local radio station sponsoring the event said that it was an ardent supporter of Elmo and Sesame Street, and "it amazes us that his positive message has been lost on greedy parents who have been taken in by the hype-driven media."

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