The Mad Wrapper

An Introduction

To You From The Mad Wrapper
To You From The Mad Wrapper

Modern Mad Wrapper gift tags are the sort of puzzles that everyone in our family looks forward to finding, each year a different puzzle, each year one that causes friends and more distant family to call or stop in to see.  There have been marble sorters, stereograms, light shows, radio-controlled racing cars..a myriad of wonderful items TMW has used as gift tags.  Some are easy for anyone to learn to make, other ‘tags’ are amazing and for the more technically advanced among us.  You can go directly to read about some of the tags, or start here and learn the history behind those imaginative and fun Christmas gift-giving projects.

The Mad Wrapper Heritage

The History of TMW and Its Gift Tags

Not once has anyone in our family ever admitted publicly to be The Mad Wrapper. The revolution is secret – completely underground.  Yet, The Mad Wrapper (TMW) gift tags show up under the Christmas tree, year after year.

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Marble as Gift Tag (Marble Sorter)

I’m sure that some of my ancestors held Christmas vigil and gave gifts with ordinary tags the same way as their fellow good neighbors in town.  You know– for the tags, they buy a set of Christmas tags from the store: a pile of cardboard pieces each printed with a cute Christmas scene–a tree in the snow, a picture of Santa Claus. Each card comes pre-printed with the words To and From. If Vern had a present to give to his wife Dolly, he would write Dolly next to To, and Vern next to From.  Pretty standard stuff.

Alternatively, there have been people who prefer anonymity as wholeheartedly as the best of the introverts. At another house in another part of the country, when Nate wanted to anonymously give a small token to his

Monogrammed Toast
Monogrammed Toast

beautiful wife Faye, he would produce a card “To Faye From Santa Claus”, then slip it into her stocking when no one was looking.  Still pretty traditional.

But traditional at our house strayed a long time ago. It started slowly, then over time has grown to very interesting, sometimes preposterous proportions.

Where It All Started

One year long ago, somebody bought a usual set of Christmas tags. While most of the cards were filled in traditionally: “To: Eric From Mom”, some of these cards showed up under the tree with a few simple silly name tags, traditional tags that had unusual impromptu language, puzzling phrases, sometimes dense riddles, and were almost always anonymous or nearly so.
For example, on Christmas of 1968, a tag showed up: “To Eric From Ms. Claus” – my mother’s handwriting is unmistakable. The following year a gift showed up under the tree: “To Eric From Ms. Claus’s Husband” – my father was not to be bested. The handwriting and ink-color on the second half of the tag clearly did not match the handwriting on the first half  (which looked languorously faded like it had spent a year trapped in a box on an attic shelf).  And the following year this same card showed up: “To Eric From Ms. Claus’s Husband’s wife” – by golly, my mother was not going to be worsted!

Only a few gifts were delivered by Santa Claus or by our parents in those days.  There seemed instead to be a high correlation between 1) a great over-abundance of gifts from weird sources and 2) a great under-abundance of gifts from the parents.  Of those, a sizable number said they were from a wide verity of mysterious characters: super heroes, fictional villains, famous historical over-achievers, even inanimate objects. “To Eric From Beethoven”, “To Mike From Willy Wonka.”  Nonsense like that.

Sometimes a strange inscription was closer to a puzzle: “To: Mike, From: 20/20”, a gift that couldn’t have been from anyone other than his brother because Eric did not wear glasses for the entirety of his childhood; everyone else in the group has been blind as earthworms for as long as I remember.

Gift givers in my family have taken many aliases: Mister JollyMister JinglesSanta ClawsSentence ClauseNikki are a few. There have also been a lot of silly ones: Wheelie Boy, Roll’n Roland, Potato Head, and Tuber Tail. Often the gift giver might scrawl a hint (or a downright giveaway) in a tag: The Kitchen CrewL. L. Bean, and Brown Socks have each been an alias for one family member or another – some might say that that these may could be aliases for Mad Wrapper wannabe’s.

  • “To Linnea From Seven Toes” 1963
  • “To Eric From Ms. Claus’s Husband” 1969
  • “To Mike From the Mad Wrapper” 1970
  • “To Don From Beethoven’s 10th” 1971
  • “To Eric From Mozart’s Movement” 1972 (especially good potty humor in the eyes of a highly impressionable early-teen)

In the midst of all this tag banter, it was Christmas of 1970 that a package that turned out to contain, in the end, nothing more than a glass marble showed up under the tree.  The marble was wrapped in many frustrating layers of duct tape, nylon tape, string, masking tape, and cellophane tape.  It was placed in a large cardboard box that was also stuffed with newspaper.  The tag on the box read “To Mike From the Mad Wrapper.”  Everyone enjoyed the unwrapping (everyone except Mike) but no one (except possibly Mike) took notice of the inscription on the tag.  It is unfortunate that this inconspicuous tag was thrown out with the rest of the post-Christmas paper for this is believed to be the birth of The Mad Wrapper.

Early Mad Wrapper

Many of us are certain that Don initiated the name and this weird tagging.  He was certainly the one to first and formally announced that he was not The Mad Wrapper, nor any kind of Mad Wrapper… on and on … blah blah blah. His rambling dissertations of innocence convinced us he was guilty. His eloquent

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speeches riddled with double-meaning words swayed us to believe in his clear involvement. His contradicting actions baffled us to the point of extreme clarity. Even so, he never wavered under scrutiny. He never broke from the pressure. He stated his case well.  Fact: Don is indisputably Mad Wrapper #1 and will always be an inspiration to us all. (Is this good?  We wonder.)  Or maybe he had nothing to do with it…maybe it was his wife.

This game of tags has now persisted for decades in my family; each year is

Magnetic Strip
Magnetic Strip

stranger than the previous. In some cases it has become a trump game – my super hero is more outrageous then yours was last year; my double-multi-polysyllabic word is more multi-polysyllabic than yours ever will be; double negatives, triple negatives, double reverse psychology are perennial favorites. It’s outrageous, and it’s great fun.

Modern Mad Wrapper

Even more interesting, it is a game that Mad Wrapper #2 — most likely one of his offspring — has taken far beyond the earlier limits.  And one recent

Plasma Ball
Plasma Ball

Christmas there was not one but three distinct Mad Wrappers’ puzzles, each sporting its own unique handwriting and an exclusive theme of hidden treats inside.  Such incidents provide almost certain proof that there is indeed more than one Mad Wrapper villainously inciting chaos on Christmas day.

Time now to look at some of the amazing gadgets, illusions and mind benders that now  show up as gift tags:


the stereograms, marble machines, light shows, card tricks, and  maps, for example, that you will find elsewhere on this site.  And you can even learn how to become a Mad Wrapper yourself.

There are no laws to define a Mad Wrapper but there is a pattern.

  1. A souvenir from The Mad Wrapper typically takes great effort to open (but not necessarily).
  2. This item inside The Mad Wrapped box is often not worth the effort of the wrapping and unwrapping (but not manifestly).
  3. There is naturally a string of moods that oscillate wildly from manic to depression and back to manic again as a crowd of people teams together to unwrap a set of these atrocities (but not consistently).
  4. A Mad Wrapper victim usually ends his day of math problems or mind benders in a state of cerebral exhaustion (almost always).

Another Jig Saw
Another Jigsaw

Tinker Toys
Tinker Toys

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A Big Beautiful Pile of Junk!