I have restless hands. When I’m anxious or trying to come up with an idea (or anxious about trying to come up with an idea), they start fidgeting. I’ll pull my right earlobe and scratch the back of my scalp. I’ll take off and wipe my glasses ad infinitum. God help me if I have a zit.
So when I can find things to occupy my manual fixation — smooshy, spongy, texturally satisfying things — I buy them. Last year, on a trip to the Japanese emporium Tokyo Hands, where you can find everything from a jaw exerciser to horse-oil soap, I left with nothing but a $20 stretchy baguette. On that same vacation, I bought a squeezable Doraemon sushi keychain that I’ve since had to toss from overuse. (If you’re in search of adorably springy faux food, the Japanese have perfected the form.)
Nothing compared to my discovery, though, earlier this year while at the Brookstone in JFK. That’s when I spotted Kinetic Sand, which at first glance looked like one of those desktop zen gardens. Instinctually, I grabbed the dirt by the fistful and experienced something close to tactile nirvana. It’s hard to describe exactly what it feels like, though squeezing wet sand — its gloopy, semi-liquid state transforming into a solid when compacted — comes close. Unlike its found-in-nature cousin, though, kinetic sand has a certain rubbery grace — it falls apart as cascading, interlacing strands because it actually contains silicone oil (2 percent of it; the rest is natural sand). It’s like watching an ice shelf collapse or a slow motion mudslide, minus the apocalyptic implications. Instagram accounts devote entire feeds to the sensory pleasures of the stuff. I’m a touch man myself, but some people find the sound of its being cut and scraped soothing, too.
I now have a three-pound bag of the Swedish-made toy sitting at my desk. Whenever I feel the urge, I’ll grab a handful and play with it. Because of the supernatural powers of silicone, it never dries out and never makes a mess. It’s the least I’ve ever spent on therapy.
Other Texturally Satisfying Desk Toys
As a genre, slime is even more popular than sand, but I find it less than practical. The stuff is fun to squish and squeeze (and the sounds!), but you’ll have to be careful as it tends to leave a snail-like slick and collects lint and fuzzies.
There are only a few of these left, but Amazon has more colors here.
A take on Floam, which was basically Gak with styrofoam balls, this stuff is such fun to crunch into various shapes. The major downside is that it dries out quickly and hardens, which marketers tried to turn into a selling point, but even as a kid, I knew it was a fleeting joy.
A spiritual sibling of Kinetic Sand, Bubber is more clay-like, with a finer grain. It’s almost like a grittier version of Play-Doh. Though I prefer Kinetic Sand’s more aerated texture, Bubber can be molded to retain its shape, also without drying out.
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