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Where things stand with those little spherical magnets (BuckyBalls)

It’s been just under a year since we had an update about the CPSC’s favorite target: Those little spherical magnets commonly known by the brand name of BuckyBalls.

As you may recall, BuckyBalls came on the market a few years back, made quite a splash, but were then hounded by the Consumer Product Ssafety Commission to the point where these magnets were effectively banned.  Another spherical magnet supplier, known as NeoCube, also fell by the wayside, but a 3rd company, the almost unknown Zen Magnets (who apparently were first in with the product but last in overall sales due to BuckyBalls and NeoCube’s aggressive wholesaling campaign.) made the effort to fight back at the CPSC and actually won their court case.

Sadly, that was not the end of it. Zen Magnets has spent the better part of the past year just getting things in order for a new rollout of the classic spherical magnet product. Meanwhile they are bracing for another possible round of legal battles with the CPSC.

It might not come to that. The CPCS commissioner is on record as saying the following:

“We’re doing this without taking the time to learn the lessons about why we failed the first time, or if there’s any need for the rule… I think this is a factor of pure ego, and this agency has taken the thoughtful opinions of the 10th circuit personally, and we just wanna win for winning’s sake…”

The CPSC removed the rule on 3/1, as ordered by the court. But almost immediately the commission voted to implement a new rule regarding magnets. The precedent is set, however, so a rule as draconian as the last one would be lost in court even faster.

Meanwhile, what happened to the other companies? No idea what happened to NeoCube – their inventory was sold Zen Magnets (which may have caused them quite a bit of a legal headache) and we can assume they are long gone. Zen Magnets is in position to restablish spherical magnet sales. The folks who made BuckyBalls? Well, while Zen Magnets was fighting the legal fight against the CPSC they released a set of tiny rare earth magnets that they sarcastically named ‘Compliance Magnets’

Perhaps taking a hint from these Compliance Magnets, the makers of BuckyBalls released SPEKS. A set of rare earth micromagnets that is also compliant with the CPSC’s old rule.

Time will tell if they succeed with this product. Having personally handled such ultra-tiny magnets I find they had some appeal, but lacked the fidget potential the classic larger Spherical Magnets posessed.


As for our store? Well, we have our own (as the top image shows), and can sell them until another ban comes down. Sadly we can only sell these in-store at the moment.


More news on the banned BuckyBalls front, but not from Buckyballs

Ah, some day some Nostalgia program on VH1 will talk about the phenomenon made of sweet spherical magnets known most popularly as BuckyBallsBUckballs


BuckyBalls, ZenMagnets, NeoCube or other Spherical Magnets now (mostly) banned.


Breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law!

As of yesterday (April Fools Day ironically) Those much loved Spherical Magnet sets are officially banned from sale by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  After years of litigation, arguments, and sometimes even corporate tantrums the CPCS has said they cannot be sold for amusement, or as a toy, even to adults.

The rule, as stated on the CPSC website, says the following

“The final rule establishes requirements for magnet sets and individual magnets that are intended or marketed to be used with or as magnet sets. As defined in the rule, magnet sets are aggregations of separable magnetic objects that are marketed or commonly used as a manipulative or construction item for entertainment, such as puzzle working, sculpture building, mental stimulation, or stress relief.  Under the rule, if a magnet set contains a magnet that fits within the CPSC’s small parts cylinder, each magnet in the magnet set must have a flux index of 50 kG2 mm2 or less.”

That flux level is very low, and while most standard magnets fit under it, the rare-earth magnet power needed to give these spherical magnet sets their ‘stickiness’ won’t be reached.

So does this mean my old set of BuckyBalls is illegal?

No, the law does not outlaw any magnets. It does make them illegal to sell. Enjoy what you have, they cannot take them away from you. But they can prevent you from replacing them if you lose them.

Couldn’t you sell them as not being a toy?

I don’t doubt that some may try to do this, but really there is not much utilitarian use for magnetic sphere sets. You could sell small numbers as an artists supply perhaps, but trying to call them anything else will probably not fool the CPSC.

Are they really dangerous?

There is no danger as long as you:

a) Do not put them in your mouth

b) Keep them away from children who may put them in their mouth

Not necessarily in that order.

How can the CPSC do this?

They have jurisdiction over consumer products. Which is a lot of things. In fact it is everything we use every day. Most of the time their decisions make a lot of sense. In this case, their decision is not a popular one.

Can anything be done?

You can give the CPSC feedback, but do not expect them to go back on their decision.








Buckyballs, ALL rare-earth spherical magnets to be banned. But is the CPSC being honest?

Scarcely a handful of years ago, the rage in magnets was BuckyBalls, the little spherical magnets that were fun to build and just fidgetSphericalmagnets with. BuckyBalls were not the only producer of these magnetic spheres, but they were definitely the best known and most popular due to their aggressive marketing campaign.

However this popularity made them a huge target for any product issues and BuckyBalls was soon hammered by lawsuits brought by the CPSC and eventually were effectively forced out of business.

The reason? It was alleged that many children were swallowing the magnets and when two magnets attached in the intestines the skin could necrophy and sometimes surgery was required.

BuckyBalls stated they were aware of two dozen emergency room cases out of  3 million of BuckyBalls sets sold, while the CPSC claimed over 1700 cases. BuckyBalls agreed to multiple warnings on the box agreed and to not sell the magnets in toy stores, but it wasn’t enough and the CPSC, in an unprecedented move took action to push BuckyBalls out of stores.

Unfortunately, the company that produced BuckyBalls, Maxfield & Oberon, did not handle the situation well. At times they made reasonable replies, but at other times the company’s founder went on anti-Obama screeds  that did little to defend the company’s position and probably estranged would-be supporters.

That being said, the push on BuckyBalls may have been the CPSC’s least popular action ever. But that didn’t stop them from pushing harder. Last month they put into law a total ban of rare-earth magnet sets to take place in 2015.

BuckyBalls, as noted earlier, are not the only spherical rare-earth magnet sets on the market. Even we at the store sell sets (although not online, and they are kept in a cabinet), at least two other companies, Magnicubes and Zen Magnets, sold the magnet sets. only Zen Magnets remains.

Zen Magnets is taking a slightly more scientific approach to defending their products. Instead of lashing out in anger, the founder, Shihan Qu, actually took a closer look at the CPSC’s claim of ‘1,700 emergency room incidents’ involving spherical magnets and found something rather odd. Here is their video:

The short version is: It seems the CPSC was using a very, very loose Venn diagram of search terms used in emergency room cases (words like ‘rare’, ‘powerful’ ‘spherical’  were all accepted) and considered any case that fell into that diagram to be a spherical magnet case. On its own that is shaky research, but it gets worse when the same terminology is used on the 3 years of emergency room cases prior to Spherical Magnets being introduced and shows there were just as many cases that fall under those terms over those 3 years.

The raw data from which the CPSC extrapolated their ‘1700 cases’ can be found here with highlighting to note the period when spherical magnets were introduced and what cases are doubtless caused by ingestion or aspiration of spherical magnets (most emergency room visits did not involve surgery).

Savemagnets.com is the place to visit to see latest developments in the attempts to prevent a CPSC ban.



The Fall Of BuckyBalls

Somewhere in 2008-2009 a few people started realizing that a bunch of spherical  high-powered neodymium magnets were lots of fun to play with. They were an excellent ‘fidget’ toy. They could also be used to make different structures and were overall a lot of fun.

No more.
By the time you read this, BuckyBalls will be a thing of the past. Less than two months ago BuckyBalls announced that they would no longer sell to stores in order to control who buys it. Then, less than two weeks ago, they announced that they would no longer produce BuckyBalls or BuckyCubes. The few sets that remained would be sold online only. In effect, the company was being put out of business.

Why? The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) initially was satisfied with BuckyBalls efforts to restrict sales to children back in 2010, this year they decided the measures were not enough and demanded that BuckyBalls cease selling them altogether. BuckyBalls  was essentially regulated into oblivion.

The reason for this action was that there had been incidents where children swallowed the magnets. Swallowing one magnet is not a problem, but swallow two or more and they will ‘pinch’ in different parts of the intestine.  There were no deaths but the surgery to resolve this is messy and complicated. There were some 2 dozen incidents out of 2.5 million sets of BuckyBalls sold. In all cases the swallowing was done by children (usually pretending to have tongue or facial piercings) who were not supposed to have the BuckyBalls per the warnings from the company.

There are other companies that produce spherical magnets, but the quality seems to vary from company to company. One set we got as a sample lost its nickel coating very quickly and tarnished. Another lacked the ‘power’ that makes BuckyBalls effective. A further one seemed to use regular magnets with nickel coatings so that it resembled BuckyBalls but was not.

We are saddened by the loss of this product. While it is bad that some kids were injured it should also be noted that BuckyBalls took great pains to keep kids from getting them. It seemed like each week we would get another set of stickers and instructions on who and how to sell BuckyBalls. In all the medical cases the product was being used improperly, and by people who should not have had them.

If you still want some, as of this writing BuckyBalls had a few thousand units remaining that they are selling solely on their own website www.getbuckyballs.com.

BuckyBalls – No longer sold in stores!

We’ve recently reported on how the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been suing BuckyBalls to try and force them to stop selling their product due to a handful of swallowing incidents. The lawsuit has not gone any further and BuckyBalls has been fighting back hard . But at the same time they have had to take steps to get more control over their product. The result? As of last week, BuckyBalls told its sales reps that it would no longer be selling BuckyBalls to stores and other vendors.
You can still get BuckyBalls from their website, but it is exclusively available from them. We have reverted to 2008.  This will be a blow, not only to stores that enjoyed good sales of the BuckyBalls, but also to the BuckyBalls company which has probably sold the majority of units through vendors like us.
This turn of events was a sad decision in our opinion. We understand why the company had to do it, but are upset that we will not be able to sell this wonderful magnet product.


BuckyBalls To Be Banned?

BuckyBalls have been a best selling desktop toy since we added them over three years ago.  A bunch of spherical high-power magnets the stick together well, but can be manipulated like silly putty or made into all kinds of cool shapes.

BuckyBalls have had their struggles over that time: The biggest issue it seemed was the skyrocketing price of rare-earth neodymium used to make the Buckyballs. But it seems they were causing injuries to children too. Not the very young kids you might expect, but kids in their tween/early teen years. It seems that some kids were using the BuckyBalls to make fake tongue stud or other piercings and swallowing them. Now this might be dumb already, but then you have to consider that swallowing just one BuckyBall isn’t going to be a problem (as long as you stay away from MRI machines. You have to swallow two or more. Then they attract each other in different parts of your intestinal tract and pinch them together the intestines and cause health problems.  To date, 2 million sets of BuckyBalls have been sold, with approximately 1 dozen incidents (another dozen have been attributed to other magnets toys) that required surgery. No deaths have been caused by BuckyBalls.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission moved yesterday to ban BuckyBalls due to these cases. Despite BuckyBalls’ makers Maxfield & Oberon making efforts to prevent young  children from being sold BuckyBalls (extra packaging, voluntary recall). CEO Craig Zucker has blasted to arbitrary and unfair nature of the suit, stating “”I don’t understand how and why they did this without following their own rules before allowing us to make our case. It almost seems like they simply wanted to put our products and industry out of business.”

It should be noted that CPSC has asked M&O to cease selling BuckyBalls, which is a bit like asking Ford to stop selling cars. CPSC has also targeted BuckyCubes, a product with a cube shape instead of spherical for the same reasons as BuckyBalls, despite there being no incidents with BuckyCubes and a much lower likelihood of any such incidents due to them not resembling tongue studs. In essence, the CPSC has asked M&O to go out of business.

Stay tuned to see how this turns out.

UPDATE: Maxfield & Oberon has struck back with this reply: https://www.getbuckyballs.com/buckyballs-only-marketed-to-adults-cpsc-press-release/

BuckyBall Sidekicks!

The skyrocketing price of rare earth magnets has left its mark in the toy and science world. Even with the recent price crash many toymakers are still dealing with much higher prices than from a couple of years ago. So sadly this means that the classic BuckyBalls would be priced at over $40 a set – a bit too high for most people to spend on a small toy, no matter how addictive.

So enter BuckyBalls Sidekick. The same classic toy but at an affordable $24.95 and in a 5 x 5 x 5 cube. The magnets are the same, but you aren’t forced to buy as many and you can still mix them up!

BuckyBalls Sidekick

The Sidekick also comes in the Executive Edition colors as well, The Gold

Gold Sidekick
The Black

Black sidekick

And the Silver Sidekick

Silver Sidekick

All of which have a cool contrast and color compared to the standard nickle-coated Buckyballs.

We’ve also added something new – The Big Book of Bucky (volume 1)

Big Book of Bucky

This new book is 80 pages of pictures, tips, tricks and other fun things to do with your BuckyBalls! hexagons, cubes, and much more! Your BuckyBalls may have come with an instruction sheet, but nothing like this!

Neodymium, The Rare Earth Magnet, and its Price.

Neodymium is the 60th element on the periodic table and the primary material for high-power, Rare-Earth Magnets. These Neodymium magnets have about ten times the power of regular ferrite magnets.

  Of late, however, Neodymium has been undergoing some rather abrupt pricing changes. In the past, it was a moderately expensive element, which kept high power magnets on the pricey side. But once China’s mining industry and production capabilities came up to speed, the price dropped dramatically and soon China had a lock on the mining market. Most domestic neodymium mining closed down.

Neodymium is not rare, it is found all throughout the Earth’s crust. But finding deposits worth mining can be tricky. China soon reduced exporting neodymium to develop their magnet industry. This  meant that while getting raw neodymium was difficult, cheap rare-earth magnets were soon widely available. Rare-earth magnets become so affordable that they are almost like toys. In fact, many toys do employ neodymium magnets and would not work with normal magnets. Neodymium also pops up in other ways: high power remote-control toys use motors with neodymium magnets. Neodymium is also used in many high capacity batteries, and power generating windmills require them for the highest output.

But of late there have been issues with magnet supply – we’re not running out – but China kept Neodymium prices under heavy control while their magnet industry developed. At the beginning of this year, China loosened those price controls. As a result the price of neodymium skyrocketed – as much as quintupled since the year began.

Local vendors tried to keep their prices down as long as they could, but they could not absorb price increase after price increase. In the past month alone Spectrum Scientifics has gotten three notifications from vendors that product prices would be increasing as the magnets in them became more expensive.

Will this sort itself out? It is hard to say and at Spectrum we are science-lovers, not miners or economists. Some have cried ‘Peak Neodymium!’ over the price increases but other assure us that there are deposits all around the world, but then another element needed for Neodymium magnets, Dysprosium, becomes a factor as there are very few deposits to mine. Solutions may be found but at present the industry is lagging.

Sadly, this does mean some toys we sell at Spectrum Scientifics will go up in price, as will a lot of other things. Did you know a Toyota Prius needs almost a kilogram of Neodymium?

Update: See more developments on the price of Neodymium