The website Think Geek prides itself on selling “stuff for smart masses,” offering a wide array of gadgets, toys and nerdy sundries. Little did they suspect that one such brainy product would create mass hysteria at the Burlington Mall.

The Samurai Sword Handle Umbrella, a featured product in the site’s “Japan Fan” section, combines the functionality of a traditional umbrella with the flair of a realistic-looking samurai sword handle, all done an intimidating shade of matte black. Retailing for $20 (the shorter “Tanto” version) or $30 (the full-sized “Katana” version), this item is no stranger to controversy akin to the ‘gunman’ threat that forced the Burlington Mall to evacuate shoppers and call in the SWAT team.

In August of 2010, the item prompted a similar panic at an Atlanta college, resulting in a SWAT team visit and a ban of the umbrella from the school’s campus.  At the time, ThinkGeek joked that the product should carry a new warning: “May incite SWAT teams.” In each situation, it was the carrying of the umbrella – slung across the back like a traditional sword, with only the handle exposed – that provoked the weapon reports.

Both incidents have been roundly mocked on the Internet, held up as evidence of local authorities overreacting in our increasingly paranoid world. However, a cursory Google search reveals that, for roughly the same price, one can purchase a similar umbrella with a hidden blade inside – evidence that, perhaps, a little paranoia is healthy.

About The Author

Molly Coombs is a Blast correspondent and Spring 2011 intern

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