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Full of beans

What an embarrassing security freakout you had there, Boston! Are handcuffed Smiley Faces next?

February 03, 2007

NOW WE KNOW what it takes to bring the city of Boston to its knees: a bunch of Lite-Brites, some batteries and a couple of weeks for the citizenry to notice them.

Emergency personnel and anti-terrorism squads shut down more than a dozen highways, transit stations and other locations across the city Wednesday after receiving reports about multiple suspicious devices. The slender, placemat-sized items had dozens of colored lights, exposed wires and circuitry, and were powered by a row of D batteries wrapped in black tape.

In other words, they looked like an upscale version of Hasbro's Lite-Brite, a toy for artistic grade-schoolers.

Too bad the bomb squads in Boston don't watch the Cartoon Network. Otherwise, they might have noticed that the lights formed two characters from the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" show: Err and Ignignokt, profane troublemakers shaped like escapees from a 1980s arcade game. The devices were a form of guerrilla marketing, not guerrilla warfare.

By the time the national security hysteria died down, it had crystallized into outrage at the two irreverent hired hands arrested in connection with mounting the displays and at their sponsors at Turner Broadcasting Co., the Time Warner Inc. subsidiary that airs "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." How could they slap brightly colored, magnetic signs of cartoon characters onto bridges and highways without telling authorities first!

Granted, we in Los Angeles can be a mite twitchy about such things too. Last year, an elite team of sheriff's deputies blew up a coin-operated Los Angeles Times newspaper rack after alert passers-by noticed a red plastic box inside with protruding wires. It proved to be a music box that played the "Mission: Impossible" theme song whenever the rack's door opened.

Still, the "Aqua Teen" promos came to Los Angeles last month too, and nobody freaked out. In fact, it's not clear that anybody even noticed. Nor were any bomb squads dispatched in New York, Chicago or the six other cities involved in the campaign. Perhaps we're more attuned to genuine natural catastrophes -- or just too dim to notice the potential threats in the promotional gizmos that surround us.

Or maybe Boston, with its history of self-inflicted wounds (the Big Dig, Bill Buckner, etc.) is hypersensitive to nuisances. Regardless, Beantown officials should use some of the cash they'll collect from Turner to get some training on how to identify a dumb stunt.

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