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Custom toy hobbyist creates Cinnamon Toast Crunch with shrimp tails artwork after viral story about box of tainted cereal

Cambridge resident Miles McAlpin has been making “bootleg toys” for the last year. So when comedian Jensen Karp shared on Twitter that he’d allegedly found shrimp parts in his breakfast food, McAlpin seized the online moment.

Cambridge-based artist Miles McAlpin created a fake box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with shrimp tails after a story about a man finding shrimp bits in his cereal went viral.Miles McAlpin

People have been captivated this week by the tale of a Los Angeles-based comedian who claims he found what appeared to be bits of shrimp shells and other mysterious items — like a piece of string — inside a large box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Miles McAlpin was no exception.

As the saga unfurled on Twitter, leaving cereal fans gagging, the Cambridge-based artist seized the viral moment. On Monday, he went to work on a custom “bootleg toy” that resembled a box of the popular brand, complete with bits of faux shrimp tails, landing his creation an appearance in the New York Times.

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“I find it funny that such a small story of some guy sharing that on Twitter could become a talking point for people for two days,” McAlpin, 34, said Wednesday. “[I wanted] to create something that I thought would make people laugh, and just kind of tap into that shared humor that we are all having on this one topic.”

On Monday, comedian Jensen Karp tweeted a picture of the box’s curious contents to the makers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch asking why there were “shrimp tails in my cereal?” The image showed what looked like two shells, covered in cinnamon and sugar, splayed on the counter alongside small squares of the cereal.

Over the next two days, the story exploded online as Karp documented his interactions with General Mills and shared pictures of other unusual objects he allegedly found in the cereal. Karp has maintained that the incident is not a comedic gag, according to the Washington Post.

The online banter about the shrimp tails, and how General Mills was handling the situation, has sparked recipes for “Cinnamon Toast Crunch tempura shrimp” and jokes about how a man with the last name Karp wound up with the remnants of an ocean creature in his bowl of cereal.

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For McAlpin, the Internet drama served up a heaping spoonful of inspiration. Last spring, when he was furloughed from his job in the travel industry due to the pandemic, he decided, like many others, that he needed to fill his time with a hobby.

Bread-baking wasn’t in the cards. Instead, he began making custom toys and action figures — many with a comedic twist — based on cultural moments and conversations.

McAlpin’s inspiration came from similar artists he’d been following on Instagram. Over the past year, he has whipped up dozens of one-off novelty toys, with the hopes of selling them through his Instagram account “Sir Collect-a-Lot.”

They include posable action figures of comedian Dave Chappelle, actor Ben Affleck outside of a Dunkin’ shop, and Internet personality “Scumbag Steve.”

In September, when Nathan Apodaca became a sensation after posting a TikTok video of him skateboarding to Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit “Dreams,” while chugging Ocean Spray cranberry juice, McAlpin was quick to pay homage.

“I got into making ones like Internet personalities, celebrities, people I thought would make a funny action figure that you wouldn’t otherwise see,” McAlpin said. “I definitely also think there is something hilarious about producing a toy based on something like the Cinnamon Toast Crunch thing.”

Producing toys can take a few days, and McAlpin uses a range of materials, including clays and paint. To create the custom card backs for each one, he prints out images from Adobe Photoshop onto special paper and then glues them to trimmed cardboard. The figures are placed in a plastic bubble and secured to the front.

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The fake Cinnamon Toast Crunch box was done in the same fashion. But he made it in record time, eager to seize the cultural moment.

The collectible features the tag lines “Shrimp Tail is always the 1st ingredient,” and “mmm....real shrimp tails” written across the front of the card back. McAlpin also photoshopped the ends of shrimp tails into a picture of a bowl of cereal and placed bits of cereal and fake shrimp tails in the plastic case in front. The cardboard backing is two-dimensional but looks 3-D.

On Tuesday, McAlpin tweeted a picture of his creation to Karp.

“Sorry, but I had to make this for you, Jensen Karp,” McAlpin wrote.

The comedian, still very much embroiled in his shrimp tail fiasco, shared McAlpin’s tweet with his 173,000 followers.

“I don’t feel ‘better’ about things,” Karp wrote.

McAlpin’s tweet later appeared in a New York Times story about Karp’s quest to figure out exactly what he had found in the cereal bag, a surreal moment for the hobbyist.

“I was pretty astounded,” McAlpin said. “But people chiming in to tell me it’s funny, that kind of brings it full circle. That silly joke I had in my head ends up making somebody else laugh, and that’s kind of the reward.”

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Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.