Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Battle of the squirt guns

Adults engage in water warfare to see which soakers are super

By John Johnston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        High noon, and humidity's rising. Overhead, a blistering sun bakes the landscape. It's a good day for a water-gun fight. The idea: Round up some macho guys and get them to test and rate some big, bad water blasters.

Water gunners: Ken Chow, John Johnston, John Harmon (with the Monster XL Super Charger), Chris Mackzum and Doug Becker.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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        Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris aren't available, so I find a few friends in my neighborhood who may not be macho but meet the key qualification: They have an hour free in the middle of the day.

        We gather in my Anderson Township back yard, and I watch their eyes widen. Smiles creep across their faces.

        “Oh, man,” says Doug Becker, a 43-year-old airline pilot. “Does that thing vaporize you as well as drench you?”

How soakers stack up
        He's talking about the biggest, brawniest Super Soaker of them all, the Monster XL Super Charger. It packs more than a gallon of water, features 11 nozzle settings and carries a warning label that recommends it not be used by children under age 8.

        Water guns, it seems, aren't just for kids anymore.

        “Originally, we felt our audience stopped at (age) 11,” says Al Davis, executive vice president of Larami, makers of the Super Soaker line. “We found that was not true.”

        The revelation came about four years ago, he says, when the company took its water guns to Florida for spring break. They were a big hit with the college crowd.

        Mr. Davis doesn't have figures for how many adults buy and use water guns, but from all indications those numbers are on the rise. Larami has begun making commercials targeting that market, he says.

        Certainly grown-ups are better able to handle gargantuan water guns. The Monster XL, filled with water, weighs about 20 pounds.

        “Even with a shoulder strap, that's heavy. An M-1 (rifle) didn't weigh that much,” Mr. Davis says.

        The squirt guns we rated seemed to bring out the beast — er, best — in our test group.

        “You gotta gang up on the guy with the biggest gun,” says John Harmon, a 35-year-old information systems manager.

        All eyes turn to Chris Mackzum, 39, regional sales manager for a company that deals in concrete fasteners. He looks downright menacing as he aims the Monster XL our way.

        “I love the smell of chlorinated water in the morning!” Mr. Mackzum bellows.

        Then it's a free-for-all, with everyone taking their best shots.

        “I surrender!” says Ken Chow, 45, who works in information systems. His water gun empty, he falls to the grass, laughing.

        “I'm not wet yet,” Mr. Mackzum says.

        He's lying.

        After each round of battle, we exchange water guns. “This thing's as big as I am,” Mr. Chow says, taking his turn with the Monster XL.

        Mr. Mackzum likes the Super Soaker CPS 1-3-5, which can fire one, three or five streams at once. “For close-range combat, awesome. I took out five people in one shot,” he says.

        We rate five water guns in five categories: ability to drench; accuracy; discharge time; range, or how far they squirt; and combat worthiness, or ease of use in a water fight.

        The surprise winner: The X-Stream Blastmaster X-S660 by Lanard, which I bought at Kmart. At $10, it's the least expensive of the guns we tested.

        Our test group especially liked the fact that pumping wasn't required to keep the gun pressurized; water squirts every time you press the trigger. Or as Mr. Becker notes: “You are always lethal.”

        The Blastmaster barely edged out the Super Soaker Monster Super Charger, a scaled-down version of the Monster XL.

        In somewhat of a surprise, the Monster XL — the most expensive model we tested at $49.99 — finished last in our ratings. Problem is, it's soooo big, maneuverability is limited. Also, after the first big blast, lots of pumping is needed to repressurize, leaving the user susceptible to attack.

        The Monster XL did, however, earn the highest score in the all-important “drenchability” category.

        The Storm Cyclone Force 3, although a relatively small water gun, earned high praise for its accuracy and range. “Good for sneak attacks,” Mr. Harmon notes. (It also features a photon beam that lights up the water stream, but it's invisible in daylight.)

        By the time we're done, we are a soggy bunch.

        “You still didn't get me,” says Mr. Mackzum, who looks like he's been standing in the shower with his clothes on.


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