Showing posts with label Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Games. Show all posts

Monday, June 20, 2011

Classroom Games or, how our teachers used up the endless minutes they couldn’t fill with educational material

It’s amazing how some childhood experiences can transcend both generations and state lines. I grew up over 1000 miles from my current residence, yet somehow all of my teacher friends here utilize most of the same games and time fillers I knew when I was a child. Either there is some super elaborate network of teacher communication that has been going strong for the last few decades or those who work with children aren’t always as creative as they like to think.

Whatever the reason, any good teacher or substitute always had a few of these classroom games up their sleeve to fill a dreaded five or ten minute gaps in the daily routine. To their credit, these brave adults were essentially locked in an airtight room with us for eight hours a day; even the most innovative of educators has trouble filling a few minutes here or there with no designated activity. In order to fill the void, our crafty teachers utilized some of the following games to keep us organized and discourage general classroom chaos:

Heads Up, Seven Up

Heads up, seven up is like the gold standard in classroom games: everyone played it and everyone inexplicably believed it was worthwhile. There is no real point to the game, but kids eat it up regardless. Many of us spent the better part of our youths with our foreheads pressed firmly against our wooden desks, thumb extended heavenward, obeying silently as a teacher or classmate ordered us, “Heads down, thumbs up!”

The seven lucky chosen ones circulate the room, each pressing down a single classmate’s thumb. Then “Heads up, seven up!” is called, and the players (who mostly cheat mercilessly with glances at shoes) attempt to guess who pushed their thumb. Some people would use tricky tactics like pressing lighter or harder than would be characteristically associated with them, but in general there’s very little chance we could blindly guess at who pushed our thumb.

Hot or Cold

Especially popular with young children, our teachers probably liked Hot or Cold because it was so time consuming. A student would leave the room and the teacher would hide an item somewhere in the classroom. When the student re-entered, the class would direct them toward the hidden item by rating each movement as either “Warm” “Hot” “Cool” or “Cold.” If your teacher was good at hiding things this process could take quite a bit of time, thus keeping us busy for as long as they needed.

Quiet Game

Ah, the quiet game. Is there no moment more satisfying to a teacher than to have tricked his or her entire class into being silent under the ruse of a game? It’s not a game; it’s just being quiet, but someone wins and most kids lose. For some reason, it remains an effective way to silence children in public or on long car trips. There doesn’t even need to be a prize. Just declare someone the “winner,” and children will continue to compete for your attention.

Around the World
At the very least, Around the World was more educational than the other distractions on this list. Usually played with math or other easily flashcardable facts, two students compete to offer the correct answer first. The loser sits back down in the seat, and the winner goes on to battle his or her classmates at flashcard mastery. Teachers used varying rules, but usually whoever made it all the way around the classroom was awarded some sort of prize and tricked into learning multiplication tables.


If you think too carefully about it, hangman is a pretty morbid premise for a children’s game. On the upside, we had a chance to practice writing and spelling, but on the downside, the poor man has to be hanged for your inability to guess letters correctly. For those of us who were really horrible at Hangman, our teachers would offer us consolatory hats and ties and other hanged man accessories to further delay ending the game before we finally solved the puzzle. Little did they know they were also setting us up for a lifetime of being awesome at yelling the correct answers out at Wheel of Fortune.

Silent Ball

Kind of like the Quiet Game with a Nerf Ball, Silent Ball was another crafty ploy by our clever teachers to keep us from chatting during downtime. Students stand near their desks and throw the ball quietly to each other. Any bass passes, out-of-bounds throws, or missed catches led to an “out,” meaning you had to sit down in your seat. The last students standing were the winners, but the true winner was the teacher, seeing as how she had figured out how to adapt the Quiet Game for older, less gullible students.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seriously Strange 90s Children’s Games

As kids, most of us accepted children’s games at the face value at which their producers marketed them to us. It was rare that we would question the validity or normalcy of the games we saw advertised on TV. The catchy jingles encouraged us to beg our parents to buy them for us, and that was that.

Adult hindsight, however, tells a different story. More careful inspection of some of our most coveted highly-advertised games leads us to question the sanity of the people who produced them. There are more than enough crazy toys to mine several posts worth of material, so in this case, I’m just going to focus on the inane board games that by some miracle of bad judgment were green-lighted by R&D into full-scale production:

Grape Escape

I blame my adult love affair with wine with the subliminal messages garnered from endless hours of playing “Grape Escape” All that grape crushing was bound to latently inspire me somehow.The idea of Grape Escape involved constructing play-doh grapes and navigating them around a dangerous game board full of grape-splatting dangers and obstacles. The worst part was our little grapes had faces, so as soon as we’d grown attached to the anthropomorphic little fruit morsels, we had to bear the guilt and responsibility of smushing them with a steam roller.

Gooey Louie

Who exactly was buying this game for their children? When faced with a shelf full of wholesome and sometimes educational game, what kind of adult thinks, “Hey, we should get the nose-picking one!” I’m going to pin the purchases of this game on the so-called “fun uncles.” I can’t imagine many parents being incredibly enthusiastic to shell out $14.99 for their child to pull fake boogers out of a giant face.

Crocodile Dentist

Perhaps a regular game of human dentistry wasn’t quite exciting enough to warrant its own game (let’s face it, it’s no “Operation.”) Someone must have been pitching their dental work game pretty hard when someone around the brainstorm table said, “Hey, let’s make it a crocodile!” I can only imagine everyone else voiced their assent that crocodile dentistry was indeed more interesting than a regular cleaning and checkup and called it a day.

Mr. Bucket

If nothing else, this one deserves a spot on the list for its questionably PG-13 rated commercials. Did no one at Milton Bradley think it may be a potentially bad idea for Mr. Bucket to introduce himself and immediately bring up the balls that come out of his mouth? Seriously, Mr. Bucket, at least buy us a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal or something.

Potentially lewd commercial aside, this game is clearly a ploy by adults to exhaust children using tedious, repetitive tasks. You put balls in the bucket, the bucket pops out the balls, you put the balls back in the bucket...well, you get the idea.


Has no one ever heard of calling an exterminator? At the very least investing in one of those 25 cent traps from Home Depot. This whole setup seems like a needlessly complicated means of going after a single mouse in the house. When I see a mouse, I never think, “Hey, I should take everything in my house that’s not bolted down, create an elaborate marble maze involving plastic cheese, bathtubs, and falling baskets, and spend several hours waiting for the moon to be in the seventh house and for Jupiter to align to with Mars so the conditions will be auspicious for mouse trapping.” Well, now I might think of it, now that it’s all written out like that. But I’m still not going to do it.

Don’t Wake Daddy

In theory this one makes more sense than several of the other games on this list. The object of the game is to not awaken the snoring plastic father while trying to sneak to the kitchen to fix yourself a midnight snack. I can’t say for sure, but was this perhaps one of those extreme anti-obesity households where they secure the cupboards with padlocks at night?

Whatever the reason for the stealthy snack operation, the means of trying not to wake Daddy are certainly questionable. If you land on a space that indicates you must make a noise, you have to pound Daddy’s alarm clock repeatedly. Now I’m not a sleep expert, but I have to imagine that setting and continually re-setting an alarm clock is not the best way to ensure someone stays asleep.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guess Who?

If you were ever seeking the culprit for racial profiling, you might want to take a look back into one of our favorite childhood board games. When skin color is one of the major defining characteristics standing between guessing the winning character and admitting Guess Who? defeat, it was a key tactic in the art of deductive reasoning. That said, if you happened to have one of the racial minority characters as your card, you were often out of luck--your partner asks, “Is your person white?” You say no, and they’re down to a quarter of the options. Right or wrong, this type of profiling clearly offered its own rewards.

For those of us who were highly experienced Guess Whoers, we knew all the basic profiling strategies. Gender was another popular choice, as the game contains a highly skewed ratio of men to women. As if women didn’t have enough to worry about, they now faced undue discimination and minority status on the Guess Who? board. And if it was a woman unlucky enough to be wearing a hat, forget it--you’d be figured out in 10 seconds flat. Game over.

Residual wide-ranging social implications aside, Guess Who? was beloved by children of the 90s for its simplicity. In contrast to its hard-to-assemble board game counterparts like Mousetrap and 13 Dead End Drive, Guess Who? was an easy way to engage kids with relatively no set-up. After the initial drudgery of clicking all of the flippable cards into place, you simply turned them up, grabbed a card, and began the game.

On the negative side, however, those 90s ads could be a bit misleading. So misleading, in fact, that manufacturer Milton Bradley was forced to include a disclaimer to alert gullible children that “Game cards do not actually talk.” Apparently children were so delighted by the sight of cards conversing with one another that the inanimate cards seemed pretty boring in comparison. What good is a game card if it won’t make witty asides to its row-mates?

For those of us who owned the game or had frequent access to it, the images of characters like David and Bernard are forever ingrained in our brains. So much so, in fact, that I’ve occasionally met people to whom my initial reaction is, “Wow, you look a lot like (insert cartoon Guess Who? character here).” This exchange is not only awkward but sometimes also leads to the person leaping to the immediate defense of their prized moustache, goatee, or bowler hat. Whatever the resemblance, it usually isn’t especially flattering: Guess Who? characters are not especially known for their good looks.

As far as the actual game, Guess Who? is arguably somewhat educational in value. It teaches logic, deductive reasoning skills, visual clues, grouping, and how not to ask stupid questions. That last skill certainly comes in handy, though Guess Who? only managed to develop it with yes-and-no response questions. For those of us prone to open-ended inquiries, we’re on our own. Unless we need to know whether someone is bald or wears glasses, it’s going to be tough.

Guess Who? was a fleeting diversion in that kids could only play it for so long. Children tend to be pretty sore losers, so among younger players temper tantrums were inevitably thrown over losses. Outcry over alleged unfairness usually broke out after a good-sported round or two, but it was usually pretty fun while it lasted.

It may have taught us to oversimplify and break people down into groups using visual cues, but we never thought of it that way. We were all just hoping our opponent ended up with one of the few minority women cards to ease some of our questioning pressure. In fact, Most of us still don’t know how to describe someone accurately unless they are wearing a hat or have some defining facial hair-type feature. Thanks a lot, Guess Who. If anyone we know ever shaves or removes their headwear, we're back at square one on recognition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gym Class Parachute Day

Ah, parachute day. Whether you were a budding star elementary athlete or one of the designated indoor kids, the parachute was a universally appealing gym class apparatus. Something about those glorious primary colors had the power to put children under some sort of enchanted parachute spell, mesmerizing them with its rhythmic movement and waves of red, blue, and yellow. Throw in the fact that we each had our very own handle and this was a participatory physical education dream. The responsibility was great, sure, but the excitement of playing a role in the billowing of the giant parachute was infinitely greater.

It just goes to show that it doesn’t take flashy or expensive equipment to delight a child and pique his curiosity. These parachutes were extremely simple in design and use, yet they rarely failed to entertain us during a vigorous physical education hour. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to label it as actual exercise, but maybe all that arm flapping gave us some sort of low-level workout. As long as it tired us out enough for naptime, our caregivers were more than satisfied.

Just in case you haven’t brushed up on your gym class parachute activities in a few years, here is a handy guide to some of the many magical games offered by this overhyped nylon bedsheet with handles.

Making Waves

Even the youngest Gymboreers can take part in this one, assuming they have the ability to grasp the handle and wave their arms maniacally. To create waves, all the children in class simply have to pick up a handle and shake vigorously. The parachute billows back and forth, the kids ooh and aah in amazement, and the teacher sneaks out back for a smoke.


I actually believe we may have called this maneuver “Mushroom Cloud,” but that’s probably just a tad too morbid to fathom for five-year old children. “Hey kids! Isn’t this just like an atomic explosion?”

In this exercise, all children have to obediently pull their handle up and over themselves to retain a bubble of air in the center. It’s like a little fort, only much more colorful and slightly awesomer. Plus all your friends are there. I kind of want to stage a Jellyfish right now, it sounds 100% preferable to a day at the office.

Variation: Washing Machine

Make a Jellyfish/Mushroom configuration, but allow the kids to shake crazily while inside. If it’s not realistic enough, feel free to put them in an actual washing machine.


Insert sports ball in center of parachute. Grab handles, shake like maniacs. Commence in delight at rubber balls popping in air. Repeat ad nauseum. Seriously, children never tire of this. You could do it forever.

Shark Attack

The details on this one varied from school to school, but the game universally included screams of bloodcurdling terror. Two children are selected as sharks, the equivalent of “It” in a game of tag. All the other children place their legs under the parachute as the sharks attempt to pull them under in Jaws-like attack mode. Good news is, once you were eaten, you magically became a shark who got to eat swimmers, too. You know, just like in real life.

Merry Go Round

This activity leads me to believe our teachers were fairly sadistic and all had a good laugh in the breakroom at making us dance like obedient trained monkeys. Everyone grabs the handles and the teacher calls out a movement, like “Skip!” or “Run!” The kids run wildly in a circle until they collapse in a pile of heavy-breathing exhaustion.

All Change/All Switch

Here’s a good way to check if your students know their birthdays or which letter of the alphabet begins their name. Make them all hold the chute tightly above them, then call out a command like “Everyone with June birthdays, switch!” The idea was to allow everyone to switch before the parachute fell, but there was always some kid without a June birthday who’d tackle the parachute to the ground before they had a chance to try. Jerk.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


What kind of a child wouldn't adore playing with stacks of bottle caps, delighting in making little wavering leaning towers of Pogsa and later bashing them with a heftier, weightier cap? It's such an attractive option, I can't imagine how it took us 60-odd years since the games conception to discover its true awesomeness. It may have had something to do with printing technology; Pogs featuring psychedelically colorful eight balls and yin yangs are far more attractive to children than plain old guava juice bottle lids. Still, though, we're just hurling a slightly bigger disc at a pile of smaller discs, so something tells me we as 90s children possessed the inherent trait of being incredibly easily amused. You just couldn't sell that to today's kid. They'd be bored out of their minds before you even got to the word "slammer."aa

Pogs quickly achieved cultural phenomenon status, hurdling onto the toy scene in the early 90s. Pog legend (and possibly some factual information I didn't have the initiative to confirm) has it that the game originated in the 1920s/30s era in Hawaii, using milk caps. Decades later, a teacher introduced the game to her students using lids from POG juice: Passion Fruit, Orange, Guava. Get it? Pog? I think you get it, I just wanted to double check.

Pog play is incredibly, almost deceptively simple. In retrospect it almost seems as if a part of the original instructions have been lost somewhere along the way; it's hard to believe this basic game not only held our rapt attention but also lay claim to great chunks of our allowance money and precious limited recess time. The players would build a stack of caps at least four high with all pogs facing down. There are variations, of course; in some games each player built their own stack, but generally it required some buy-in of one's own valued pogs into the high-stakes mix of potential pog loss to superior slammer wielder. Each player takes a turn hurdling the slammer at the stack, claiming the pogs that land upturned and returning the downturned pogs to the original stack.

In some cases, we would play simply for fun, allowing each player to reclaim his or her beloved pogs at the end of the game. In others, though, we were out for keeps. We had to be careful which of our most beloved pog designs we decided to throw into the mix; in many cases, other players would leave the game with their pockets or patented pog stack cases lined with our once-treasured designs. It was sort of gambling 101 for children, and most of us were about three slammer throws away from needing a 12-step program. Each throw felt like this would be our chance to claim our neighbor's rarest and most valuable pog holding, but in most cases the house won and we were SOL. It's hard to look cool when all that remains in your pog case are the reject kitten and education-themed designs. Who's going to want to slam that?

If your memory fails to summon the high-stakes intensity of the game, just watch the following commercial. It will tell you all you need to know about just how hardcore 90s kids were about their pog play. Filled with semi-subliminal messages like "Wanna Play Gotta Play Above All," it's a frightening insight into the level of serious we invested in our pog collecting and gaming.

Pogs and their heavier, more potentially injury-inflicting counterparts Slammers established a ubiquitous presence on playgrounds and in classrooms everywhere. Schools called foul on the game, declaring it a soft form of gambling. Many school districts issued bans on the seemingly innocuous toys, declaring their "playing for keeps" nature to promote unhealthy and immoral gambling habits. Pogs soon went the way of the slap bracelet, reduced to underground, rule-defying secret game play.

The majority of parents pooh-poohed the schools' claims; the pogs weren't inherently dangerous and to many it seemed a reasonable alternative to TV and video games. Kids, after all, do have some inherent right to be kids, no matter how firmly schools push to eliminate it. In the schools' defense, though, they did have some grounds for banning on the same level of the later Tamagotchi craze: these things were distracting. It was tough to convince our teachers the slamming of a large disc into a pile of smaller discs was educational in its own right. Displacement? Physics? I'm still working on a viable explanation. I'm still meaning to get back to my second grade teacher on that one.

The game became so popular that manufacturers were scrambling to get their images plastered onto cardboard discs, releasing a horde of licensed designs and highly coveted collectible pogs onto the skyrocketing game scene. Soon fast food joints were offering pogs alongside children's meals, sports teams issued baseball card-esque designs, and even religious organizations sought to promote their moral messages on these ever more visible youth-accessible miniature billboard space. All types of licensed images found their way onto the fronts of pogs, giving a wide variety of kid-friendly enterprises an entirely new vehicle through which to promote their franchises.

Granted, some of the cross-promotional morally conscious pog marketing got a bit out of hand. While it might be cool to have a pog or two with some deeper meaning, many of the pog producing organizations sought to use the fad as a platform for their mission statement. Groups like anti-drug education program DARE and the US Environmental Protection Agency were soon printing pogs by the stackful, their well-meaning capitalization on a trend sucking a reasonable amount of the fun out of the game.

Like any good childhood fad, as soon as adults get too involved in utilizing the phenomenon to their benefit, it sends a message to kids that its trendiness is on the way out. Once adults have embraced a trend with the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude, kids' internal coolness radar alerts them it's probably time to find a new favorite pastime. Beanie Babies, anyone?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SimCity, The Sims, and Other Computer Games in the Sim Series

No wonder all of us 90s children have such a puffed-up sense of self-worth and entitlement. What else would you expect after repeatedly encouraging us to play the role of virtual God throughout our childhood and adolescent years? Through the magic of computer games, the Maxis company gave us a unique opportunity to create our own little worlds complete with a population of inhabitants to control according to our benevolent or occasionally sadistic whims. We may not all have been kind and compassionate gods to our burdgeoning creations, but we certainly were powerful.

The first SimCity computer game debuted in 1989, featuring a simulated city-building program. It seemed like an innocent enough concept, and almost extensively educational at that. The object of the game was to build fully functioning cities that could withstand the impact of various disastrous scenarios, ranging from the realistic (1906 San Francisco earthquake) to ridiculous (Tokyo attacked by unlicensed Godzilla knockoff). Upon first glance the game seemed tedious, but it quickly became exceptionally addictive. Dealing with zoning laws and tax codes are a small consolation for the unlimited control of our little city. We commanded our anonymous miniature townspeople to do our bidding, and we saw that it was good.

SimCity was a runaway success, leading to countless reincarnations and reinventions. Clearly, people just could not get enough of ruling their own microcosmic universes. It was a pretty good feeling, after all. For the cost of a computer game, you could elevate yourself to the status of almighty ruler. All in all, not a bad deal.

The follow-ups to SimCity were endless. We had SimEarth, in which we got to design and guide the development of your very own planet. There was SimLife, allowing us the opportunity to mold the "genetic playground" of an ecosystem of plants and animals. We even had SimFarm, a primitive predecessor to that pesky Farmville on Facebook. The next time you have to endure endless newsfeed posts regarding the sad encounter of an ugly duckling or sad brown cow found wandering on the outskirts of a friend's farm, you may want to shake your fist in disgust at the Sim creators who planted the idea in the first place. Yes, I said planted. It's a farm pun. Get over it.

Early predecessor of Farmville? We may never know, but I'm going to blame them either way

By the year 2000, it seemed nearly inevitable that the computer whizzes over at Maxis would run out of ideas at one point or another. SimCity 2000 and SimCity 3000 seemed to have covered all possible ground for the game. It was hard to imagine expanding beyond the already exhaustive details of the SimCity series. By SimCity 3000, the programmers had gone so far as to insert angry citizen protesters when we made an unpopular public works decision. It sounded like they must have used up all of their viable computer game ideas. How much more could they possibly squeeze into a reissue?

And then, suddenly, Maxis issued us an entirely new vantage point from which to get our world-ruling jollies. In 2000, they released The Sims, through which we could live the complete simulated life of a virtual character. We may have thought we had been playing God in all previous incarnations of the game, but that all seemed pretty entry level once we saw what was to come.

In The Sims, we had full control over a virtual person (or people, if you were an adequate multi-tasker). Many of us saw fit to actually model a Sim after ourselves, christen it with our name, and try to control its life decisions. What we may not have known, however, was that our mischievous little Sims were imbued with the pesky power of free will. Yes, that's right. The video game versions of ourselves over which we thought we had full control were actually wont to rebel against our commands and make their own decisions. Even if you tried your best to give your Sim an exclusively happy life devoid of disappointments and unfortunate experiences, he or she was bound to go off on their own and make some poor choices. Go figure.

Not all of us were kind and just rulers of our virtual underlings, either. Many of us derived great pleasure from cruelly experimenting with the emotions and reactions of our Sims. There were countless instances in which to muse, "I wonder what would happen if I..." and then proceed to subject our innocent Sim to all forms of unhealthy deprivation and morally ambiguous scenarios. "I wonder what would happen if I blew up his house?" "I wonder what would happen if I won't let him use the bathroom for six days?" "I wonder what would happen if I force him to have romantic liaisons with every neighbor on his block?" I wonder what would happen, indeed. Even without the aid of my handy Simmish to English dictionary, I could tell my Sim was not especially pleased with the lifestyle choices I'd made for him.

What , you don't like discussing Uncle Sam's hat with your neighbors?

What started off as an interesting concept and novel idea for a computer game quickly morphed into an existential experiment in human behavior. The trickiest part was there was no way to win the game. The combinations and permutations of situations were infinite, and as long as you kept your Sim eating and sleeping, they would keep on living. They dealt with the same minutiae as the rest of us; their circumstantial residence in a virtual world didn't preclude them from having to pay bills and brush their teeth. Unluckily for them, the original version of The Sims didn't give them weekends off. Bummer.

The Sims went on to become one of the bestselling computer games of all time, proving that we all must deep down have some morbid fascination with the notion of playing god to a host of virtual people. In The Sims and all of the Sim worlds that preceded it, we got our first taste of complete power, and it felt good. It wasn't until more recently that they unleashed the ultimate virtual rulership beast: Spore. Seriously, if you have not played it, go pick it up. It's amazing. You grow from a spore into a sea creature and you evolve and you kill things. Just don't blame me when you start dreaming in tribal strategy and have sudden flashes of inspiration for a redesign for your creature's aerodynamicity. Yes, I just made that word up, but didn't you hear? I'm entitled. I'm a creator.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Double Dare

Don't forget to entire the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!

Why don't we offer the Physical Challenge as a viable alternative to difficult tasks anymore? It always worked for our pals on Double Dare. Just picture it. You're in a crowded classroom taking your bar exam and you come across an exceptionally confounding question. Imagine how much simpler things would be if you could simply alert the proctor you were going to take the Physical Challenge instead. You'd get up from your desk, put on the giant clown pants, and proceed to catch flying pies catapulting toward you at breakneck speed. "Pie in the Pants" was a credible recourse for baffled minds on 90s kids game shows; why not extend it to other arenas? At the very least, it would give some much needed excitement and spontaneity to those boring hours-long tests.

In actuality, not much of the Double Dare world translates into real life. It's a testament to the show's creators' creativity--or insanity, depending on your sense of whimsy and wonder. It was like some sort of alternate kid fantasy universe: children slimed their parents, slid down a giant Sundae Slide, and went home with armloads of cash and prizes. It was crazy and nonsensical and criminally messy, but it was undeniably pure kid-driven fun.

It's another one of those Nickelodeons 80s and 90s anomalies where you'd just got to wonder what was running through the network executives' respective heads when the Double Dare creators pitched them the show. "We open with a messy challenge, see. Then we move onto a random, disjointed trivia round that's actually an excuse to stump kids and have them opt for an even messier challenge. Next, the team with the most points attempts an utterly insane obstacle course, searching for flags in piles of sloppy food, swimming through vats of jello, running on a giant hamster wheel, and monkey barring their way over to the spewing Gak Geiser. If they make it, they go to space camp and get to thow up on one of those anti-gravity simulation spinny rides. How does that sound?" To which we can only imagine the Nickelodeon bigwigs replied, "Excellent! We'll take 500 episodes."

The show went through a series of reformatted and re-imagined incarnations, but the underlying structure remained the same. First up, we had Super Sloppy Double Dare:

It seems the major differentiating feature of Super Sloppy Double Dare was that it was not just regular sloppy but indeed super sloppy. The original version of Double Dare was messy, but SSDD brought disgusting sloppiness to a whole new level. The challenges existed for the sole purpose of creating the most explosive mess imaginable. This version had more thematic episodes and gimmicks, but the main change was probably in the significant increase in the number of janitors employed by the show.

There was the quickly-dropped Celebrity Double Dare concept:

This version never actually made it into production, so all we have to remember it by is this pilot footage. It was mostly like Double Dare, but everything was just a tiny bit off, meaning fans would probably never accept it. It was hosted by a feathered-haired Bruce Jenner, who depending on your generation is either that dashing Wheaties box-gracing Olympian or the frozen-faced dad on Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Next up we had the popular Family Double Dare:

This clip hails from the Nickelodeon (not FOX) era. Just in case you were curious.

For this version, the show had a brief stint on the Fox network in a Saturday night timeslot. As the name implies, this version pitted two families against one another in lieu of all-kid teams. Teams included two parents and two children. Families cycled through the same segments as in the original Double Dare (Opening Stunt, Physical Challenges, Triva, Obstacle Course) but it was a new plane of funny to watch adults wade through knee-deep slime ravines. The show moved back to Nickelodeon in 1990, where it continued to humiliate parents everywhere through the cunning use of pies.

We also had Super Special Double Dare, which was basically a pared down retooling of Celebrity Double Dare. We had sports stars, Nick stars, and minor celebrities competing for charity. I don't know if it necessarily lived up to its promise of being Super Special, but it was at the very least averagely special.

Unfortunately, the Double Dare book didn't close then. There was actually a Double Dare 2000 version, or as 90s children may better know it, The Version That Shall Not Be Named. Heresy, I tell you. Um, hi, they called the Obstacle Course the Slopstacle Course. Really? Really? They should be ashamed of themselves. Where's my beloved host Marc Summers? What? Relegated to an executive consultant credit? For shame.

Can you believe this was already ten years ago? Depressing, no?

Speaking of Marc Summers, Double Dare and his ever-expanding portfolio of other Nickelodeon hosting duties turned him into the poster child for irony. Unbeknownst to the world (and to Marc, until he was diagnosed at age 43), Summers suffered from obsessive compulsive disorders. Yes, that's right. The man who brought us our daily dose of super sloppiness later went on to co-author the book, "Everything in its Place: My Trials and Triumphs with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder."

Double Dare lived on in syndicated reruns for many years following its 1992 cancellation. As Summers remarks in his book, "We had enough episodes on tape to do reruns forever." Indeed, the pure volume of episodes must speak to the high demand for this type of purely entertaining children's television programming. Yes, the show had a trivia question or two thrown in for good measure, but it was far from educational. It taught us something far more valuable: how to have fun and be kids. Oh, and how to dig a flag out of a Super Sloppy Blue Plate Special. I'm still thinking that one's going to come in handy someday.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Memorable 90s Game Commercials: Jingles That Will Occupy Valuable Brainspace for Eternity

Don't forget to entire the Children of the 90s Ultimate Nostalgia-Fest 2010 Giveaway! It's open until Wednesday, February 17. Click here to see rules and enter for your chance to win some fun Goosebumps, BSC, Magic Eye, Lisa Frank, Pete and Pete, and more!

A catchy advertising jingle can be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's a surefire way to ensure that your product is a memorable one. If you've got consumers humming your commercial tune as they pass your item in the store, you know you've effectively set up camp somewhere deep within their hippocampus. Their limbic systems are undoubtedly clogged with your over-exaggerated guitar riffs and exclamation point-punctuated lyrics. On the inverse, your key demographic will probably grow to find your TV spot so irritating that they've developed fantasies of setting your company's ad recording studio ablaze in a fury of arsonist proportions. To sum all that up, you've got a good chance of coming up with something viewers will remember, but a far slimmer chance to coming up with something they'll like.

Sometimes when I'm trying to balance my checkbook or divide 1399034 by 3324235 in my head, I shake my fist heavenward, cursing the ad exec who jammed up my valuable brain real estate with his hook-laden commercial jingles. I'm convinced that if I'd never seen that Crossfire commercial, I'd be able to fill up an abandoned lecture hall chalkboard Good Will Hunting style, no problem. You see, the problem isn't in my own finite mental capacity. It's in the commercial jingle squatters who've built up makeshift shantytowns all over my brain's memory centers. We all could have been great thinkers of our generation had we never heard a Hungry Hungry Hippos conga.

While there are multiple offenders in the case of our brains v. trivial television knowledge, the Most Wanted would probably be children's commercials. In this case, TV spots for children's games. Take a quick stroll with me down memory lane and see if you can't recall these catchy jingles. You might no longer be able to memorize the national foods of northern European countries, but dammit you can break into jingle with minimal provocation. That may just have to be the best we can hope for at this advanced stage of memory blockage.

Twister: The Hot Spot!

I know I say this a lot, but this commercial is just so 90s. The extreme music, the quick shot-switching camera tricks, that corny wavy crayoned-on graphic; all signs point to 90s. It's like we couldn't come up with a special effect or camera trick without having to immediately incorporate it into every film-related endeavor. The lyrics are pretty convincing, though: "There's excitement goin' round/there's a party goin' down/Twister! The hot spot!" Get it? A party going down? Oh, 90s jingle composers. Is there no end to your double meaning witticisms?

Perfection: Pop! Goes Perfection

Just watching this commercial is enough to get my heart pumping fast. It takes me right back to the frantic assembly of the board before it scared the bejeezus out of me with it's unprovoked popping. Luckily, I never came down with that condition the guy in the commercial has. I've yet to see any geometric pieces expand and retract from within my splayed chest cavity. When we get to that point, I think I'll have more to worry about than trying to deprogram that jingle from my brain.

Don't Wake Daddy: Dooooon't Waaaake Daddy!

Now here's a great game: try to sneak into the kitchen to steal food without tipping off the man of the house. No wonder our nation has such a high obesity rate when our board games are like how-to manuals on sneaking chips and cookies. The jingle gives us a stage-whispered "Is he gonna wake up?" on repeat, but it seems sort of like an empty threat. Daddy still never gets out of bed or takes off his floppy nightcap. He never chases me 'round the board for my cookies. The game is inherently flawed.

Mr Bucket: The Balls Pop Out of my Mouth

This commercial took a lot of mocking for obvious reasons. I mean, really. They couldn't think of any alternate phrase for their namesake bucket to sing than "I'm Mr Bucket! The balls pop out of my mouth!" They're not even trying.

Hungry Hungry Hippos: We're Hungry, Hungry Hippos!

Speaking of games that may have played a part in our nation's eating patterns. The entire point of the game is to gobble up criminal quantities of grub. It's not exactly a health-conscious message, but then again maybe marbles are a nutritionally sound food. And anyway, who doesn't like a good conga? We're hungry, hungry hippos! We're hungry, hungry hippos! It's pretty contagious.

Lite Brite: Turn on the Magic of Shining Light

Okay, you got me. This isn't technically a game, per se, but the song has been stuck in my head since circa 1994 and I just couldn't bear the burden alone anymore. Thanks for saddling your share.

Connect Four: Go For It!

After seeing this commercial, I couldn't wait to hang out with my expressive, wisecracking Connect Four checkers. Imagine my shock to find mine were defective. They never said a thing.

Crossfire: You'll Get Caught Up in the (Crossfire!)

I've got to hand it to these ad people. They really manage to make a moderately fun board game look a fast-paced superhero action adventure. I always thought the song went, "Crossfire, you'll get caught up in the," as if they were filing it in the library's card catalog. "Let's see, let's see...It's by last name first, so that would be 'Crossfire comma you'll get caught up in the."

Kerplunk: (Insert Badass Rap Here)

If there's a more quintessentially 90s commercial out there, let me know, because I'm pretty sure this is it. These kids are having almost too much fun. You've got to question if Kerplunk really has the power to make that little girl throw her head back and cackle in pure ecstasy. Maybe she just really likes the rap. I know it does it for me. "Start with the sticks! Like so! Makin' a pit! Where the marbles go!"

Guess Who: Can You Guess Who?

Thank goodness for that disclaimer at the end: "Game cards do not actually talk." Could you imagine what a letdown we'd have gotten if we'd just believed our game cards would spontaneously spring to life upon initiating game play? The notion is almost too exciting to bear. Fortunately, our dream-crushing friends over at Milton Bradley have made sure to quash any sense of childlike whimsy and imagination.

Mousetrap: The Fun is Catching!

The fun is catching. Hmm. I mean, I get it, yes, very clever, but it sounds like we all need to wear swine-flu facemasks to engage in a simple round of mouse-trapping. I did always like those scheming cartoon mice at the beginning of the ad. They seem so determined to chart their route, I almost felt a little guilty thwarting their well-laid plans.

It's a testament to these ad campaigns that we can still hum along to their corny jingles fifteen-odd years down the road. I suppose there are worse things to have squatter's rights on your mindspace. You might not be able to solve a quadratic equation without a bit of scrap paper, but at least you'll have some good internal theme music going while you try to work it out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Children of the 90s' Favorite Card Games

In an age before high stakes online Texas Hold 'Em and the Wii World Series of Poker, it didn't take such a steady stream of ceaseless technology to hold our attention. As kids, we didn't even need to have any cash at stake to enjoy some good old fashioned gaming. A deck of cards from the dollar store was usually more than enough to keep us going for hours at a time. Depending on how traumatizingly competitive your friends were, you could get locked in playing card rematches for days. After all, they called it War for a reason.

By no means did children in the 90s invent any of these card games--far from it. We were a generation still easily engaged and entertained by the same games that had kids for decades before us. Sure, we loved our Gameboys and Sega Geneses*with as much devotion as kids today value their Nintendo DSes or Wii consoles, but we were also pretty satisfied playing a simple card game. As long as it had all of the necessary prerequisite components--rapid hand movements, quick thinking, overarching competition, the potent power to shame one of our unsuspecting and easily agitated friends--we were captivated.

Our favorite games went by many names, but the rules were usually the same. I always marveled at the manner in which these rules were transmitted from generation to generation, kid to kid. Most of us couldn't remember ever learning the rules, but we usually excelled in the arts of slapping jacks and dumping our Speed stockpiles all the same.


If you've got exemplary fine motor skills, this is the game for you. Those kids that couldn't hold their scissors right (er, me) always lagged behind in this race against your card-letting opponent. In Spit, both players have five mini stockpiles of card with the top one face up and a hand of Spit cards. In preparation for many office-drone days spent mastering computer solitaire, each player would try to use their available cards to put down the next card in ascending or descending sequence to the card face-up in the middle pile. Sound complicated? It is. I'm still not sure I understand it after that mediocre description.

Once neither of you could play any cards, you could yell "Spit!" and turn over some new cards. It was usually a battle of who was quickest, which is why the other version is more aptly named Speed. What kind of a name is Spit, anyway? In Speed I actually had a prayer of winning because my far-faster opponent couldn't see my cards, but I usually still lost every round regardless.


Whoever dreamed this one up no doubt aimed to give it the most bad-ass name to belie its incredible simplicity. Two players have a pile, you each flip up your top card, the one with the higher card takes both, first with all the cards wins. Sounds simple, until you get into a war. That's right, a war. Sounds scary, right? Some hand-to-hand combat, perhaps, or maybe some friendly fire?

You think those things sound warlike, wait till you hear this: you put three cards facedown and one up. The one with the best top card wins it all. I know, I know. Heavy stuff. If you get lucky, you can keep warring until someone wins a massive pile of cards and their opponent pouts in shame. It's all pretty intense, so I'll give you some time to let it all sink in.

I once played this game with a kid who called it "Heart Attack", which I thought was kind of cute but mostly tragic. I prefer Slapjack, which is kind of violent but mostly tasty. Everyone goes around and puts a card on the pile and nothing happens. For many, many rotations. Fun, right? Then, a jack is played, and the fun begins! By fun I mean attempting to slap the deck while more likely inadvertently taking out one of your fellow players. The likelihood of this game to end in injury is extremely high, and chances are even higher that this injury will lead to both tears and tattling.

Go Fish
This one is an old standard, so I felt compelled to leave it in despite the fact that it's not the most exciting of cardgames. I used to like it because we had a special deck of cards with different kinds of fish on it, so instead of asking if you had any threes I could instead inquire as to your possessing any Terry Tunas. It was a fleeting thrill, though, because the game is pretty much only exciting if you're 8 years old or younger. It goes a little something like this: whoever ends up with the most pairs wins. Try to contain your excitement.

Egyptian Ratscrew
This image is from the iPhone version. I want this so badly, and I don't even have an iPhone

The name of the game never phased me as a kid, but really, what? I don't get it. After conducting some diligent research (read: Wikipedia. I do.) the origins of the name remain a mystery. No matter where it picked up the quirky moniker, this game defies categorization.

ERS is, in technical terms, an infinitely more awesome version of the game Slapjack. Don't believe me? Take a break from delighting in your daily dose of nostalgia and go play Slapjack. Now go play Egyptian Ratscrew. Consensus? The level of awesomeness doesn't even compare. It's like comparing Jacks to Aces, which if you play Egyptian Ratscrew you know to be impossible. Jacks are far superior. And so is Egyptian Ratscrew.

It's an indubitably complex games, but here's a subpar summary: everyone gets an equal portion of the fairly distributed deck. You go around in a circle putting a card each face-up on the center pile. Any face card or ace is something of a trump card, bringing you one step closer to ownership of that hefty middle pile. You've got an opportunity to present a trump card of your own, too: for an ace four chances, a king three, a queen two, and a jack one.

There's also many variations of pile-slapping involved, most commonly in the arena of double cards in the middle pile. Slapping can be assigned to other rarer and more delicious anomalies, like sandwiches. This tends to get pretty competitive, resulting in worst-case scenarios like broken fingers, ring-related maimings, and severed friendships. Don't worry, though. It's still awesome.


This is a game that teaches children two valuable skills for their future casino gambling experiences: bluffing and swearing. In brief, you go around in the circle and have to put down cards in sequence. You get to put them facedown, though, which means you can lie your head off. One time I got busted trying to put down five queens. Five queens. True story.

If you think someone is lying, you can typically yell "Bullshit!" or in more PG cases something like "Doubt!" or "Bluff!" Those don't really pack the same punch. You're trying to get rid of all of your cards, so you'd want to dump as many as possible on each turn. If you get caught BSing, you have to take the pile. If you wrongfully accuse someone of BSing, you take the pile. It generally leads to a lot of heated arguments, and, appropriately, swearing.


Above is the drinking version? Doesn't it look fun?

Speaking of swearing. This is apparently the Americanized version of the Japanese game Dai Hin Min. Really? Dai Hin Min** to Asshole? No wonder people scorn the Americanization of things. It's pretty brutal.

The game involves different rankings, usually called something like president, vice president, treasurer, and asshole. You might not know it, but that's the actual line of succession we use in this country for ascendance to leadership. You better hope nothing happens to that treasurer.

It's kind of complicated, but the gist of it is that you try to get rid of all your cards and, like in real life, holding a higher office affords you certain privileges. I recently discovered that this game is also commonly played as a drinking game, so I'm gonna get on that and let you know how it goes. It sounds pretty promising.


My boyfriend and I had a disagreement about whether or not this game existed, as he was about 87% positive I had just made it up. Luckily in this age of information technology, the internet confirmed what I often suspect to be the case: that I am right. He graciously conceded and I tried to explain the game to him but he still found it to be completely ridiculous, which is probably true. If any of you out there have played it, though, back me up on this one.

You start with four cards apiece and start passing cards around the circle with the goal of getting four of a kind. It sounds simple enough, but it gets incredibly frustrating, particularly after you let that queen go and then three more went by and you're collecting twos and you're almost positive that girl across the circle is too. Really, tempers are flaring here. Once one person has achieved four of a kind, they grab a spoon from the pile in the middle, or touch their nose, or stick out their tongue, or perform whatever pre-agreed upon notion signifies their achievement.

There's always one person who's too caught up making their four-set that they miss out on it entirely and are thus publicly shamed as the loser. I'm not sure if the bitterness translates that well over the internet, but suffice it to say I've been in that situation many, many times, and it's pretty embarrassing. It's like your ultimate fear: everyone is looking at you and mocking you and you have no idea. Scarring.

Enjoy your weekend, children of the 90s! I give you full license to practice any of these as weekend drinking games, feel free to report back on Monday on how that went. I think there's some serious potential here.

*I'm sorry, is that the plural of Genesis? Geneses? Genisises? Someone help me out here.

**Translation: Poor Man. I told you the Americanized version was worse, but I just thought I'd add a supplemental footnote in case any of you innocently pondered if Dai Hin Min translated literally to "asshole"

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