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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


No pressure, kids, but we're going to give you this game called Perfection. I'm not trying to drop any hints or anything, but don't mess up. If you do, everything will literally blow up in your face. It's a lesson that will serve you well for life.

This was a harsh reality type of game. It wasn't here to stroke your ego or tell you how special you were. It was here to show you what a colossal dimwit you were. What's that? You don't have the fine motor skills and nimble fingers to place all of the shapes in their corresponding slots in your slated 60 second limit? Well then, too bad. This thing's going off, and your minute's worth of hard work is going with it.

The game Perfection was originally launched in the 70s by Milton Bradley, but was repackaged and marketed anew to children in the 90s. They gussied it up with a catchy jingle and we were all more or less powerless under its time-bomb ticking charms. The jingle went a little something like this:

Put the pieces into the slot
make the right selection
but be QUICK! You're racing the clock
POW! Pop goes Perfection!
This piece here and that piece there
Put those pieces EVERYWHERE!
But be quick, or beware
POW! Pop goes Perfection!

It was a nice touch of them to include those Batman noises, it really adds to the effect. The enthusiasm of this commercial was nearly infectious, if the plethora of exclamation points above are any indicator. The only problem was, once you heard the song, it was stuck with you for life. I'm warning you now out of the kindness of my jingle-conscious heart: if you watch the commercial below, be prepared to hum it all day long. Your cubicle mates better not come after me.

I'll be the first to admit I was a little bit scared the first few times I saw this commercial as a child. Why exactly were the game pieces exploding outwards from that gentleman's chestal cavity? It's all just a little unnerving. I'll tell you one thing, though--it was a great cautionary tale against swallowing the tiny, undoubtedly delicious plastic pieces. Forget choking hazards, I was just afraid that every time that timer went off, the pieces would burst forth from my chest in a starburst formation.

There's nothing quite like seeing a child verging on a level of stress akin to a neurosurgeon before a big experimental procedure. I'm almost certain my heart still beats to the rhythm of that incessant building tick-tock of the Perfection timer. If this game taught us nothing else, it was that sometimes we work better under pressure. Other times, we're just that more terrified when the board inevitably explodes and interrupts our intense concentration. While the game was fun, no doubt, it had a sort of dark side that to this day makes me shy away from kitchen timers. I just don't trust them. It seems as if the second they go off, the inevitable next step is for my entire batch of cupcakes to leap forth from their metal pan prisons. I know I did not use that much PAM.

On the plus side, the game certainly dishes out a fair helping of excitement and healthy competition. At least that's what they call it, healthy competition. "Healthy" is really just a qualifier to justify our actions when we go all WWF on our little siblings when they beat our record. Everyone who's ever been around children for more than a few minutes knows that timing little kids is what makes them tick. You know, like a clock. If you tell a kid, "Clean up your dishes," they'll stare blankly back at you, wondering what exactly is in it for them. If you say to them, "You have ten seconds to clean up your plate," be prepared to see some lightning speed dish-washing.

Unsurprisingly there's something inherently enticing to children about winning, and adding the element of a timer gives kids something to strive for. A little competitive spirit never hurt anyone. Unless, of course, he was in too close a range to the Perfection board during that fateful pop! Then he's pretty much a goner.
The 90s version of the game came with 25 little yellow plastic pieces, each featuring their own miniature "handle" with which to maneuver the shape into its intended slot. If our hand-eye coordination wasn't yet especially well-developed, we would definitely be struggling with this one. As a depth-perceptionally challenged individual who frequently swings her tennis racket at absolutely nothing, this was more than a challenge. It was a serious obstacle, and my time suffered. While some of my classmates were reveling in their under-60 second record performances, I was still trying to shove the little star about an eighth of an inch too far to the left of its slot. It was, in a word, humiliating.

The board was an attraction in itself, featuring a springboard-type foundation that allowed you to depress the board in preparation for gameplay. When the timer went off, the board reasserted it initial upright position through the use of heavy force. I say "heavy" mainly because I was once struck squarely in the forehead with the little S-shaped miscreant. I'm just lucky the mark finally faded.

Perfection was simplicity at its finest. Sure, the game had a few bells and whistles on the updated version, but compared to many of its up-and-coming game rivals in the marketplace it was an incredibly straightforward concept. Discount all of the stress-induced headaches, residual internal ticking, and fear of TV commercial-style perfection pieces exploding from your chest and it was, in a word, perfection.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Girly Board Games

Male readers, you may just have to bear with me on this one. Actually, maybe you should use this as a welcome opportunity to bask in the notion that board games targeted at your demographic did not limit your life goals to princessery and shopping. You guys got to be ninjas and surgeons and we got to worry about getting a zit before our dates. And you wonder why we don't have a woman president yet. She'd probably get a zit before the big inaugural ball and concede. Damn you, Girl Talk, and your powerfully brain-dead life lessons.

I'd like to say this was an isolated phenomenon of archaic norms, and it was what I was planning on saying until I took a stroll down the toy aisle today at Target. Lo and behold, High School Musical Dream Date. That's So Raven Girl Talk. Hannah Montana Mall Madness. As if the frighteningly stereotypical girly game offerings weren't morally void enough, we've added new corporate sponsors and Disney tie-ins. Ah, the sweet scent of moral apathy. Now that's progress.

This genre were certainly not exclusive to the 80s and 90s, though it is more surprising that we upheld such outmoded norms this late in the game (some pun intended). With an increasing focus on gender equality, it seems that game producers chose to ignore any feminist progress and steer us straight toward the mall where they felt we belonged. All we needed was a fake credit card and some plastic crowns and we'd be back on track in no time.

Here is a light (pastel, if you will) selection of the games that kept girls beneath the plastic ceiling* of legitimate board game accomplishment:

Girl Talk

Girl Talk was a sort of innocent-ish truth or dare game that came with preset questions in board game format. It was also a teeny bit like MASH, as our accumulated points won us "fortune cards" that told of our future. Of course, according to Girl Talk, the future we yearned for was focused on marriage, career, children, and so-called "special moments". I'd like to give them some credit for including career, but if the game saddled you with a deadbeat husband and 12 kids, you were pretty stuck.

It being a parent-sanctioned game, the questions and dares were pretty tame. Dares included tasks like "Call a local radio station and dedicate a song to a boy you like!" "Make a prank phone call and hang up!" or "Lap water out of a bowl like a dog!" If you failed to perform the dares, you had to don a bright red zit sticker. On the plus side, if you agreed to be scorekeeper you were to be addressed as "Point Princess". Overall, not a bad deal.

Mall Madness

I know I've ranted on this one before, but it's so truly deserving of relentless bashing. Very few games are so shameless in their complete disregard of all things morally grounded. Mall Madness not only takes the cake on that one, it teaches us to put it on our credit card. We raced around chasing sales and scrambling back to the ATM for cash, which is just what 9-year old girls should be learning about.

The electronic version gave us an eerily disembodied voice, cheerily delivering commands to us. My all-time favorite is "You left your lights on! Go to the parking lot!" Now we're not only frenzied consumers, but vapid ones at that. It's only a few notches up from Teen Talk Barbie's "Math is hard!" and that's being generous.l

For the full post on Mall Madness, click here

Pretty Pretty Princess

This was amongst the most coveted of little girl games, teaching us at a young age that it's okay to play games as long as you end up with some jewelry. Many of us went on to build romantic relationships on that very notion.

The object of the game was to be the first player to collect our designated color of ring, earring, bracelet, and necklace plus the almighty crown. That damn black ring would always thwart our well-intentioned efforts, so we'd have to pawn it off on someone else in order to win. I'm not sure if there was any actual educational value to this game, but it did teach us how to cunningly set up our friends for failure.

Girl Talk: Date Line

I will admit that this game had me totally fooled. I thought that they'd come up with some fantastic technology that somehow converted my boombox cassette player into a predictor of romantic matches. You'd put a boy card and a girl card into this mysterious contraption and a conversation would play from the tape to see if it was a match or not. Only later did I discover that if I played the tape without plugging in that stupid little pink box, it had the exact same conversations. Obviously Milton Bradley doesn't think very highly of young girls if they thought we'd play this over and over again without growing suspicious. Then again, they had me fooled, so maybe they were right on.

Electric Dream Phone

In an age before all 8-year olds had cell phones, this game was awesome, if only because we briefly got to pretend we had our very own phones. It was kind of like Guess Who, only for squealing boy-crazy little girls eager to call up some totally buff hotties. We all went out in search of our secret admirers, though sometimes our hints were not so secret if someone pulled that speakerphone card. We all crossed our fingers to hear the magic words, "You're right! I really like you." We'd spend the better part of our teen years trying to replicate that thrill.

Girl Talk Secret Diary:

I know, I know. How many versions of this game were they going to release? The correct answer was "as many as naive young girls will blindly consume", translating to quite a few. Each one more brainless and boy-crazy than the last, many of us nevertheless adored these games. This version was sort of a cop out, as it was admittedly less involved. It came with a massive diary of some girls secrets. We were supposed to care about them for some reason or other, plus it forced us to divulge our own. It was basically like a confessional with less priest or Real World staff, depending on how you look at it. That is, whether you were raised Catholic or by TV. Just in case you needed clarification on that one.

These may not have been the most enlightened toys on the market, but that didn't stop us from going after them like a pack of shopping-crazed jewelery-adorned date-seeking wolves**. We might not have come out from them smarter or better or stronger or...what was I saying? Oh yeah, these games were pretty worthless, but we loved them all the same. We're all probably a bit more superficial and vapid for it, but at least we've got the balls to cluck like a chicken when Girl Talk tells us to. If nothing more, our subconscious avoidance of zit stickers will serve us well in life. I know it keeps me on my toes.

*I was going to say glass ceiling, but no toy company would have included glass in any of their products. Their lawyers would never go for it.
**In other words, not like wolves at all

Thursday, September 24, 2009

90s Kids TV Game Shows

People grumble a lot about this current generation of children. They complain that they're too lazy, too unfocused, or overly dependent on technology. I, on the other hand, have a different theory.

Kids these days are suffering from a major shortage of children's television game shows.

I mean, think about it. Really think about it. We watched a lot of TV, too, but what was the differentiating factor that motivated us to get up off the couch and do something? I'm telling you, it's game shows. Watching kids on TV partaking in mild to moderately strenuous activities was enough to give us something to aspire to. Sure, their activities were strange, unconventional, and had little applicability in actual society, but they were real kids who were challenging themselves physically, academically, or super sloppily.

And to those of you who didn't have cable, well, you'll probably feel just as bad reading this post as you did back when you were taunted for being the only kid on the block without cable. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Nick Arcade

I might as well negate everything I just said up there about these game shows encouraging kids to be active. Nick Arcade actually encouraged them to be pretty darn inactive. Contestants battled virtual video game wizards in a green screen world, creating a mesh of animation and live action in a virtual Nick Arcade universe. You have to admit, that's pretty cool.

Finders Keepers

Now this is my kind of show. As the owner of an incredibly messy room that resisted all sorts of motherly intervention attempts, I was deeply envious of the kids on this show who were allowed to ransack the rooms in this fake house. Some kids have all the luck. The game was bisected into two rounds. In one round (the boring round, if you will), kid contestants identified hidden objects in pictures. In the second (the cool round), kids were unleashed in a makeshift simulated house environment finding object based on the host's clues. The best part was the bonus Room-to-Room-Romp round in which kids frantically and methodically ransacked rooms for cards that could grant them such mediocre prizes as a summer at space camp or a gift certificate to KB Toys.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Speaking of mediocre prizes, Carmen San Diego's offerings teetered on the brink of insulting. That didn't stop us from coveting the goods and being tricked against our will into learning the geography we so desperately needed. Plus Rockapella was there to provide us with their sweet, sweet in-house harmonious musical stylings. If you didn't take home the gold, though, your prize pickings were admittedly slim. We're talking Rand McNally atlases and Carmen Sandiego sweatshirts. Oh well. It's the thought that counts.

Legends of the Hidden Temple

Speaking of vaguely educational children's television game shows. Legends of the Hidden Temple was sort of educational, in a confusing, myth-heavy sense. It's kind of Incan or Mayan, or whoever it was that was heavy into talking stone head Olmecs. The game began with the moat, as partner-teams would race to cross a pool and ring their assigned gong. In the Steps of Knowledge round, our friends answered questions based on the tale Olmec had recounted for them. The Temple Games featured Guts-like stunt work. The real fun, however, came in the Temple Run. It was like ancient Incan Finders Keepers, but with incredibly frightening Temple Guards who would steal your hard-earned pendants. Tough break, kids.

You have to admit, just a little part of you wants to be a Silver Monkey or Purple Parrot for Halloween. Go on now. We won't tell.

Double Dare

Some things are better left unexplained. Like why exactly in the above clip these kids are pulling rubber chickens out of the birdcages perched on their heads. Really, who comes up with this stuff?
It was a nice touch to make Marc Summers the host, what with his cleanliness-demanding OCD and all. Whether it was Super Sloppy, Family style, or just plain old Double Dare, a lot of really confusing stuff went on. Confusing and messy. We didn't know why, but we just wanted to be a part of it.

Get The Picture

In the 90s, it didn't take much of a premise to get a game show off the ground. All you needed was Nickolodeon's buy in, Mike O'Malley signed on as a host, and you've pretty much got yourself a show. It was a sort of mix between a trivia game, picture guessing game, and physical-challenge filled excitement fest. All in all, not a bad run.

Figure it Out

Sigh. If only I'd had some sort of secret hidden talent or spectacularly interesting fact about myself. I never quite qualified as a contestant for this one. The kids on this show always won. It was pretty much in the script. We were supposed to let our Nickelodeon-grade celebrity guests make fools of themselves and get endlessly covered in buckets of green slime all so we could win our Nintendo 64s and Figure It Out t shirts and call it a day.

For some reason or other, the genre faded into obscurity by the late 90s, despite the syndicated push of reruns on the Nickelodeon cable Games and Sports channel. Like I said, these kids just don't know what they've missing. Maybe once they've ransacked a temple only to be accosted by a full grown man in full Mayan sentinel garb all while wearing a helmet and kneepads, they would know what it was all about. Maybe.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wild and Crazy Kids

Sometimes you're watching a show and you can almost imagine what the network producers were thinking when they conceived of the inane idea. In the case of Wild and Crazy kids, I'm willing to venture that they were thinking, "What would be the easiest program to produce with universal appeal to children that costs us next to nothing?" The idea was marginally brilliant. A game show-esque format with a messiness factor guaranteed to lure in young viewers while concurrently forgoing any sort of prize or reward for the victors. It was more or less a case of take-everything-in-the-Nickelodeon-back-room-and-office-fridge-leftovers, arrange them haphazardly in a field, release a slew of cheaply t-shirted children, and let the games begin.

Wild and Crazy Kids seems like one of those one-in-the-morning ideas, the sort of which were particularly common to Nickelodeon during the 1990s. They simply planned some inconsequential events that were simultaneously sloppy and required little to no innate skill, handed out some t-shirts, and then completely snub the winners by offering no tangible goods in the means of congratulations. In days of consolatory Carmen Sandiego Gumshoe prize packs and all-expenses paid trips to Universal Studios, this was in somewhat bad form.They could have at least sent the winners packing with a Gak pack.

I always had a thing for Donny. Didn't you? Seriously. Look at him.

Luckily, the show was not particularly self-referential or self-examing. It never once alluded to the fact that hordes of children were covered in chocolate pudding and shaving cream with no foreseeable purpose or aim. It was, simply put, a chance for kids to be both Wild and Crazy. Oh, and they also got a free t-shirt, though inevitably they left the show with their trademark shirts covered in slime or pie.

Nickelodeon in the 90s was huge on slime and pie. There's no real discernible evidence as to why these were the prevailing super sloppy weapons of choice, but we just accepted that any misstep would lead to someone being doused in green slime or cream pied in the face. It was just sort of a given. Miss the baton pass in a relay? Slime and pie. Strike out at Dizzy Bat Home Run Derby? Slime and pie. Wipe out slip n' sliding? Well, you get the idea.

Each half-hour show featured three games of relatively equal insanity and inanity. The games usually went a little something like this:

As you can see, the production values on these shows were somewhat less than cinematic. The show looked more like a home movie of kids doing relay races at a school picnic than an actual show airing on a reputable children's network. As I said, it obviously wasn't costing them the big bucks, unless we're seriously underestimating the cost of spaghetti and tarps here.

Wild and Crazy Kids had three young hosts, with Omar Gooding and Donnie Jeffcoat emceeing both seasons and Annette Chavez and Jessica Gaynes each putting in one season. The hosts usually put on some sort of skit or teaser at the beginning of each show, which I once found hilarious but now believe to be potentially a bit grating. They also provided the commentary, taking very seriously elements like instant replays and play-by-plays. This sounds much more serious until you realize they were instantly replaying ketchup and mustard jousting.

The show was not without its gimmicks. They indulged in the occasional cheap cross-over inter-show challenge, such as in this episode with Marc Summers of Double Dare fame. Since the shows had a lot of shared underlying themes (read: slime and pie), it was not quite a stretch to envision the union of their Physical Challenge courses.

They also had a prime opportunity to hawk their very own Nickelodeon products, such as the oft-coveted Moon Shoes. After all, what's a cheaply produced aimless game show without a product placement thrown in now and again?

These guys were also sort of partial to making people spin around on a bat for dizzying impact. For some reason, all of these wild and/or crazy stunts seemed at least somewhat more humorous when the element of nausea and vertigo were in the picture. I doubt I'd make it through this segment without a Dramamine or one of those sea-band bracelets*.

Wild and Crazy Kids played it to the point. There was no moral of the story nor was there any remote educational value. The kids did not come away better people** by popping shaving cream-filled balloons while wearing moon-shoes. It was pure, guilty fun that never made any subtle attempt to market itself as anything other than just that. It may not have been the most affective shows of its time, but it's certainly a contender for one of the messiest***.

*I do not official endorse these products, but they do keep me from vomiting while deep-sea fishing or on glass bottom boats. I imagine a similar effect would have been had as a Wild and Crazy kid **To my knowledge. If you participated as a contestant, feel free to contradict this allegation ***Did I mention the slime and pie?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Super Mario Brothers

*Let me just offer this as a legitimate and all-excusing disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be knowledgeable about video games in any way. Please don't take my word for it on any technical points by any means. I don't know the names of the versions and all of the release dates. Please accept my humble offering of Mario love. Thank you.

I like that we all just accept it as fact that a stubby little Italian guy with a face-consuming mustache battles obstacles and adversarial Koopas to rescue Princess Peach (nee Toadstool). Even as I'm typing it, a small part of me is still thinking, well, of course, it makes perfect sense. Mushrooms give you power and flowers give you fireballs and if you shimmy down a tube, you enter the mysterious minus world where the coins make that satisfying "ding" with each collection. Duh. Everyone knows that.

Mario and all of his spin-offs have become such a ubiquitous part of our culture that we're all willing to go along with that plot line and say, yeah, why not? That's just the way it is. Have you ever tried describing a video game to someone who had never played a video game? You'll find that this intricate gamer world that you navigate without question is probably the most bizarre thing they have ever heard. It's the delightful escapism of video games: they're not the real world, nor do they pretend to be grounded in it. In this world, anything goes, and you always get to play the hero. Where do I sign up?

I admit I was not much of a Nintendo aficionado growing up. Not for lack of want, but more for lack of brothers. My parents never saw fit to buy my sister and I our own video game system, though we were allowed to play Mario and Tetris on my mom's Gameboy. Before you pooh-pooh my shaky gamer credentials, let it be noted that my mom used to bring me to work and in order to escape the tedium I'd sneak of to play their giant arcade game of Super Mario Bros. Don't ask me why they had this in a nursing home. I don't know. It makes no sense, so the only explanation was that it existed solely for me to delight in the incredibly addictive world of Mario. I appreciate the gesture, but did you have to put it next to that weird aviary thing? The chirping is sort of distracting.

This was the version I played, though admittedly with less skill. I still love that music. It's so satisfying when you get to that flag. Such joyful beeping. Ah, the memories.

I have also spent the last 30 minutes playing Super Mario Bros online here. Under the guise of doing research, I found myself cursing aloud over missed coin opportunities, unintentional mushroom collisions, and failure to catch a falling star. It just isn't the kind of game you can play halfway. It's all or nothing, and in most cases, it was all.

In the 80s and 90s, video games had a far different look and feel than video games of today. The violence was more lighthearted, our aims more simplistic, and our graphics admittedly more pixelated. That's not to say the games weren't complicated. The Mario games alone were a world unto themselves. On the other hand, our hero was a stocky Italian-American plumber sporting flamboyant red overalls. I guess we'll just have to take Nintendo's word for it that he's fully qualified for such a hefty task.

Mario and his younger brother Luigi were residents of the Mushroom Kingdom. As the name implies, their homeland was indeed a monarchy, home of our beloved Princess Peach (or Toadstool, depending on which version you're looking at). I have to admit, I am such a girl. I always loved the Princess best. I always liked Super Mario Bros 2 because you had the option of playing as her, and she was a pretty awesome hoverer. In other versions, I was nowhere near adept enough at Nintendo gameplay to actually ever make a legitimate rescue (or, let's admit, even come close) but I did totally reach the Princess in Mario Teaches Typing. I kicked ass at that game.*

I like the way they claim this version (Super Mario World) is "more realistic". Do explain.

For some reason, when their beloved Princess is in peril the kingdom turns not to some sort of qualified combatant but rather to our little mustachioed plumber in overalls. You literally get to root for the little guy. Mario is tiny. Bite size. Pocket size. Fun size. You get the picture.

Mario was originally known as "jumpman", which is not particularly surprising when you observe his vertical bounce prowess. As a player, jumping became our major means of defending ourself and obtaining valuable powers and weaponry. Our journey is treacherous; weird creatures throwing crap at us, knocking us off of things, and generally standing in the way of our honest and decent quest. When those crazy turtle-bird dealies** started ricocheting back and forth and threatening to knock me off my little brick walkway, I was pretty much toast.

This is probably the coolest thing I've ever seen. I'm aware that this confirms my status as a huge nerd, but that does not in any way stop me from coveting this cake

We braved underwater levels, underground levels, sky levels, warp land, and all sorts of other exotic video game worlds to rescue our fair princess. For those of us caught time after time with a disappointingly premature death (read: me playing the flash version online right now), the game was endlessly frustrating. The sheer joy at beating a level was the ultimate triumph, while the crushing disappointment of being killed yet again by that same stupid fall was the ultimate defeat.

While most kids fought their way through and persevered, showing their hard-working earnestness and goodness of spirit, I was not among them. I was more the type to say, screw it. I'm going to play Duck Hunt. I get a gun in that game.***

*Yes, I recognize that a typing game is notably dorkier than a video game and achievements are thus far less admirable. Thank you for pointing that out.
**I'm aware that there's got to be some real name for these things
***Can you believe it? A gun!

Friday, July 31, 2009

I SPY Books

It's a parents dream: for the low low price of $9.95, you can guarantee your attention span-less child will stay put in a single spot for an uncharacteristically extended period of time. Heck, parents would probably pay upwards of $100 for results like these, so those Scholastic people are really cutting them a deal on this one. Writer Jean Marzollo and photographer Walter Wick are probably laughing all the way to their interestingly cluttered homes full of cleverly arranged tough-to-spot ornamental and thematic objects.

Following in the well-hidden footsteps of Where's Waldo, Scholastic's series of I SPY books offered a handily portable search game certain to provide children with endless hours of contemplation and entertainment. Each page was its own magical little world of plentiful well-placed objects, usually within some sort of thematic framework. The pages themselves were visually impressive enough to enthrall children of any age, while the clever written riddlers were at times enough to stump any parents reading along.

These books were full of imagination and wonder, which generally translated into them being simultaneously mesmerizing and frustrating. Sure, the pictures were hypnotizing in their high level of visual interest, but they also gave our poor little eyes stare-at-an-eclipse level strain. It's a wonder we weren't all marveling over these books stooped over with Quasimodo-esque posture donning granny glasses dangling from a chain. If anything had the power to age us prematurely, it was these damn visual puzzlers.

We all started off pretty cocky. They'd throw a few easy search assignments at you to build your confidence in typical 90s rah-rah self-esteem style. Some of the clues were completely straightforward, as least in theory. In practice, we were required to actually locate these objects amidst a sea of unimportant junk. Just when we thought we'd finally conquered these perplexing puzzles, we'd get to one that had some sort of riddle. Oh, great, so now we have to think, too? What is this, The Eleventh Hour? And no secret solution in the back? For shame.

The pictures themselves were an impressive feat alone. Where exactly were they getting all of this stuff? I've been to plenty of garage sales and swap meets, but I've never managed to accumulate this volume of junk. How could they possibly track down so many button, marbles, manacala beads, and checkers to artfully arrange in a chaotically ordered manner?

And what sort of mixed messages were these sending children? Our parents say "Clean your room," and then offer us a book full of vast quantities of object in complete disarray? I tried writing a poem to go with my messy room, but my parents weren't taken in by my I SPY-like effort. If only they'd solved that riddle, I'd perhaps have had the confidence to pursue my then-chosen career as a search picture book stanza composer. Plus, they could have found my stuffed manatee.

Despite these personal setbacks, I can still admire these books' intricacies. While most parents tired of reading the same books to their children over and over, the I SPY series provided both parents and their offspring with hundreds of new items to discover with each read. You even have the opportunity at some healthy competition in your race to locate all the listed objects. Just be prepared for the inevitable resultant tears when your overly competitive father shouts, "In your face!" repeatedly to celebrate his obviously unfair victory. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Parents also had the advantage of softening the blow of defeat on their younger, more fragile children (read: the illiterate. Well, they can't. But you get the point.) Many of them quickly realized that especially in a family where multiple ages of children played with this book, you could, ahem, adapt it for younger non-reading kids. In other words: lie. Lie, lie, lie. "Oh, what does all that writing say? It says, look for the big happy clown in the middle of the page! What's that? Found it already! What a smart little boy!"

Try as I might, I was never able to recreate this scene with my own Tinker Toys. Perhaps it's because I didn't have a proper protractor and rainbow xylophone on hand.

In Scholastic's infinite wisdom (evidenced by their glorious, glorious book orders), they fashioned these books to be lightweight and highly portable. Translation: bring it in the car and maybe your children will shut the hell up on a long road trip. Without this type of legitimate distraction, who knows what dire lengths you'd have to go to to satiate your restless and irritable children. In my family, we were reduced to stopping off at a cemetery so us kids could run around. Unfortunately for my parents, from then on whenever my sister and I spotted a cemetery from the car, we would eagerly implore, "Play, play!" Honestly, we wouldv'e been much better off with an I SPY book. After all, it's far more difficult to disrespect the dead with one of those babies.

So for those of you with children who prefer not to engage in any type of sacrilege sure to anger someone upstairs, I'd highly recommend investing in one of these. And for those of you without children, my advice stands. Alright, so you may get some questionable looks when you whip out I SPY: Spooky Night on your subway trip home from your hours of enslavement to the man, but just imagine how excited you'll be when you finally locate that cross-eyed jack-o-latern.

Suggested public transit reading to ward off unwanted conversation. I'm warning you though, finding that jack-o-latern is a real bitch.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Memorable Late 80s and Early 90s Board Games

All images via

In the 80s and 90s, a funny thing happened. While classic boardgames and their reformulations still reigned supreme, things got a little experimental down at the ol' toy production offices. It seemed as if any and every idea that anyone had ever conceived in a bout of confusion or insanity could be swiftly and cleanly (sort of) translated into a game soon available for purchase at your local toy store.

Some of these ideas were more innovative than others, implementing newfound technologies and novelties into a board game concept. Others erred slightly on this side of lazy. Either way, children consumed them with relatively equal enthusiasm and zeal. Put it in a commercial during Saturday morning cartoons or a block of solid Nickelodeon programming and it's nearly inevitable that kids will go begging for it.

Here are just a few of the crazy ideas that inexplicably came to fruition from the late 80s to early 90s. Don't say I didn't warn you--some of these commercial jingles can lodge themselves pretty firmly in your brains.

Thin Ice

Not to be confused by its 1968 ice-breaking board game predecessor Don't Break the Ice, Thin Ice used indefinitely cheaper materials. For one, instead of solid, sturdy ice blocks, we were dealing with a flimsy piece of Kleenex. That's right, every box of Thin Ice came complete with a little pocket pack of facial tissues.

The game set-up involved two stacked rings, one a water-filled marble chamber and the other the home of the tightly-stretched tissue. Using comically oversized tweezers (designed to look like Eskimos, if that makes any sense to you), the players would take turns taking a water soaked marble from the lower chamber and gently placing the dripping sphere onto the tissue layer. The player for whom the tissue breaks is the loser, meaning winning really only takes place by default. It was sort of like Jenga, only completely different and involving a soggy Kleenex cleanup component.

The commercial jingle was pretty baffling as it featured an incompatible surf-themed tune. There was no attempt to connect or cover for the disparity between the jingle and the premise of the game. We were left to ponder it along with our parents, who wondered why they could have saved their fifteen bucks and simply given us their old marbles and a pack of soggy tissues.

Monster Mash

You can't rag on these games for lack of creativity. Lack of common sense and grounding in reality, perhaps, but creativity and innovation was certainly present. Monster Mash was actually a fairly clever game, complete with a newfangled "monster maker" apparatus. Simply depress the button on the top of the monster maker, and the eye, mouth, and body images would shuffle quickly, producing numerous varieties of cuddly purple monster.

Each of these monster formulations had an image on a corresponding playing card, laid out on the floor in front of the players. Each player had a hand shaped suction cup-tipped "thwacker" (yep, a thwacker) with which to slap (well, thwack) cards. In each turn, a player would press the button on the monster maker and it would jumble the images to produce a novel monster. The first player to secure the appropriately matching monster card with their thwacker wins the round. The player with the most cards at the end of the game wins! Crazy, no?

I was able to finagle the original 1987 ad but as usual with these late-80s games, the quality is admittedly poor. Very poor. You can definitely gather the overall memory-jogging idea of it, though:

Shark Attack

Mm, nothing like terrifying children with crazy-eyed, enormously toothed killing machines. Actually, the automated shark was pretty slow-moving, but the suspense was definitely there. Back that baby up with some of that Jaws theme music and prepare to see some serious shark-induced tears.

The game was fairly simple. At the outset, each player selected an adorable little fishy that more likely than not would end up as cruelly chomped shark grub by the end of the gameplay. The game included dice with colored dots on each face representing a colored fish. When your color came up, you were allowed to move your fish a measly one spot out of the reach of the hungry, laboriously circling shark. The last fish left uneaten wins. I'm going to go out on a limb here and venture that this game ended in tears for many of its youngest players.

The commercial features a predictably annoying jingle with prime cheesy 90s lyrics:

Pizza Party

Introduced in 1987, Pizza Party was a new spin on the classic Memory game. The concept seemed to rest on two simple but undeniable truths about children: they have an undying love for both delicious pizza and goofy anthropomorphic characters. Slap a face on that mushroom, a sly grin for your pepperoni, and kids will eat it up. Hopefully not literally as the pieces were made of cardboard, but I'm not going to say I haven't seen it tried.

The object of the game was to be the first player to successfully fill your entire slice with a single topping by selecting by memory from upside-down toppings in the center of the gameplay. Ah, to teach children the joy of monotony and...what's the opposite of diversity? University? That doesn't seem right. I may have to get back to you on that one.

In the above picture, the full pizza is assembled in all of its delicious board game glory. I personally always thought the pepperoni and the mushroom sort of had something going on, what, with all those flirtatious sidelong glances. Regardless of inter-topping romances, the game was probably best remembered for having an incredibly irritating, repetitive jingle. Though YouTube and its retrocentric users have failed to provide me with any high quality footage, someone did helpfully upload the video taped off of their TV. Please excuse the quality. Of the picture, that is, that jingle comes through loud and clear and is certainly inexcusable.

Grape Escape

You have to love the tagline: "The squish 'em, squash 'em, squoosh 'em game!" Perhaps somehow vaguely linked to the wine-making experience, Grape Escape features pliable clay grapes attempting to make it through the game without meeting certain grape fate at any number of grape torture stations. The game came complete with different colors of clay to denote different players and adorable chubby grape molds with which to form your game piece. If your grape was smushed, you had to form a new grape and start from the beginning.

The object and premise of the game are pretty shaky, but it wisely banks on the notion that children garner pleasure from destruction and mayhem. It probably didn't do a whole lot for conscience-building, but then again they were only play-doh grapes. A little overzealous masochism never hurt anyone. Right?

The over-the-top reactions of the children of the commercial are truly priceless:

The game is also admittedly; similar in concept and materials to its fellow 90s morbid clay-squashing game, Splat!:

So there you have it. While the late 80s and early 90s board game producers were not necessarily churning out the most educational and thought-provoking of board games, they certainly demonstrated that they had a knack for understanding children. Mayhem, destruction, being eaten, slapping things, eating oily foods...they had our number all right. Perhaps it's not the most flattering reflection of our generation, but we certainly had a good time.

Monday, May 18, 2009


As you came to on your living room couch, your panicked mind frantically tried to recollect the events of the past day. These blackouts were becoming increasingly frequent, and more and more time was passing unaccounted for. You were concerned over these lapses in memory, seemingly jolted back to reality in a cold sweat and wondering what exactly had happened over the last several hours. You held some vague recollections, but on the whole it seemed pretty fuzzy. Ashamed to admit your addiction to your friends and family, you began to try hide your usage and downplay its increasingly prominent role in your everyday life.

No, your problem wasn't drugs or alcohol. It was Tetris.

In a distant time before lifelike 3D video games and their complicated nuances, we could sit intently for hours on end, eyes glazed over at the innumerable self-directed rotations of the confounding tetrominoes that lay before us. Over and over, we orchestrated our little shapelets into interlocking patterns. Left, clockwise, down. Right, right, counterclockwise, down. Right, Right, down. Left, counterclockwise, down. The interlocking pieces fixed together in a satisfying manner, all while playing their trademark siren song:

Even just hearing the song catapults my mind back to its scheming, strategizing, anxious Tetris-engaged state.

Regardless of whether or not you personally lay claim to an original Game Boy, it's likely at some point you were exposed to the addictive contagion of Tetris. When you woke up in the morning, there was Tetris. When you daydreamed aimlessly during lectures about Tuck Everlasting or prime numbers, there was Tetris. When you lay down to sleep at night, there was Tetris. Try as you might to deter Tetris from infecting your brain, your mind began to morph into a singularly Tetris-strategizing way of thinking. Every problem or dilemma you encountered suddenly broke down in your head into "L-shape. Square. Squat "T". Line. Square-edged S. Square-edged Z." These were your tools now, and they overtook your mind like a robotic-music-soundtracked parasite. Though some may have tried to fight it, resistance was inevitably futile. Eventually, we would all come to worship at the great shrine of Tetris.

The original video game was released in 1985, but it really gathered steam with the release of the original Game Boy. First of all, let it be known that Game Boys may now seem fairly pedestrian and unimpressive, but upon their launch these things seemed relatively remarkable. I mean, imagine, parents now had a way to keep their children occupied and could now combat whininess with quiet personal gaming. While other handheld system had been available previously, none reached the cult of video game personality that surrounded Game Boy.

When one purchased the almighty Game Boy, it contained a cartridge of the game Tetris. "Tetris," you may have thought to yourself. "Why, I've never heard of it. Perhaps I should give it a go."

And suddenly, without warning, 12 hours had passed.

The game seemed simple enough, but it truly lured you unsuspecting into a series of mental aerobics. At first glance, Tetris was deceptively benign. Seven different shapes (tetraminoes, for anyone out there who would like to one day drop this word casually in conversation at a cocktail party and alienate friends with their undeniable geekiness) descended slowly down the screen. Your mission, should you have chosen to accept it, was to maneuver these shapes by rotating them in 90 degree increments to fit together and avoid gaps between shapes on the bottom of the screen. When you succeeded in creating a solid line without gaps, the line disappeared and the stacked tetraminoes shifted downward.

If you have never played Tetris, you may be thinking, "So? That doesn't sound so captivating. It actually sounds mind-numbingly boring."

Au contraire, my Tetris virgin friends. The true hook of the game was the progressive expedience of the falling shapes. They began slowly, lulling you into a sense of false security. "I'm mastering this!" You would marvel. You reckoned yourself a sort of Tetris savant, wondering what all the fuss was about. Why, this wasn't tricky at all!

But then.

Shapes began falling faster and faster, both efffectively obliterating your game and crushing your can-do spirit. "Well," you thought. "That wasn't much fun at all. Maybe if I just try it one more time..."

And so it went. You could never play "just one more time". For many, Tetris became a way of life, counting down the minutes until you could get your next fix. Games would replay continuously in your head, as you mentally shifted and manipulated the shapes into an interlocking configuration. You could so easily see where you'd been drawn astray; how could you have thought the L-shape should lay downwards and horizontal? That should have been vertical, dammit.

In my household, it was only my mother who owned a Gameboy. She would sit long nights on the den couch, with the glow of the sidetable lamp illuminating her glassed-over eyes and quick-moving fingers. She also liked to play the music (rather than selecting the more polite you're-in-a-shared-space-for-God's-sake mute option), and I believe she had a strong preference for Melody B. My mom was actually a pretty ace Tetris player*, but she was totally stingy about it. Ocassionally on road trips when she tired of it. we were allowed to have a go. Soon both my sister and I were hooked, and the nightly bickering over our one measly Game Boy led to the institution of a scheduled rotation. It was that important to us. Really, it was. I treasured my time with that game, down to the last second. We all boastfully recounted our high scores, and delighted in our autonomy at selecting our own music track. And if we made it into the hall of fame, well, that was just the cherry on top.

I never did get my own Game Boy, but I did get a graphing calculator. In middle school I was briefly able to resume my Tetris dependency during alleged learning time in class until I was outed by a fellow classmate when I failed to pay attention during a class discussion. I had been called on by the teacher, but I was justifiably immersed in my record high score, thank you very much. Thus ended my once-stellar Tetris career. Just think. I could have gone pro, if it weren't for teachers questioning my perfectly legitimate use of a calculator during an English lesson.

There is, however, good news for all of us. Tetris is back and in more forms than ever before. No longer must we wait our turn for the family Game Boy. Not only is it available in numerous forms for free play online, you can now discreetly play on your phone as well. You even have this to make sure a coworker doesn't tattle on you playing at the office.

Happy playing, children of the 90s. Just don't blame me when you find yourself emerging from a Tetris-induced blackout. You've been warned.

*In case you were curious, she now highly recommends Bejeweled and Bomp Bomp Ball

Check it out:
Play Tetris Free Online (note: while checking out this site, I got roped into playing for 27 minutes. Like I said, I warned you.)
Tetris for iPhone
Tetris T-Shirt, Anyone?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Electronic Mall Madness

There are only so many viable ways to ensu
re that young generations sufficiently absorb capitalist values to grow into eventual obedient consumers. The young and idealistic must be programmed to possess superficial values and a strong sense of materialism like the generations of buyers and sellers who preceded them. The real question is, how?

Of all the un

likely sources, the Milton Bradley Corporation seemed to have the answer.

They called it
Mall Madness.

For those of you who managed to survive the 90s unscathed by Milton Bradley's sadistic form of capitalist indoctrination, let me paint a picture for you. If you were at any time under the spell of this board game, you will likely want to purchase this picture by the end o
f reading this post.

The preceding description may be a tad harsh, but it's difficult to deny the deliberate value placement this game projected onto impressionable young minds. As someone who will freely admit her mother denied her the purchase of this game following a particularly potent temper tantrum in the game aisle of Target, I can understand its allure. The 90s toy industry was big on gender stereotyping, and board games were no exception. A 1991 article in Discount Store News offers the following bit of insight into early-90s toy and game marketing:
"Boys play Nintendo," a Parker Brothers spokesman said. "Girls play board games."
As much truth as there may have been to this, it is a bit disturbing nonetheless to observe the sweeping generalizations made by toy companies in an effort to neatly separate children into marketable demographics. Mall Madness was a product of this marketing philosophy, and dictated to girls that it was acceptable to be vapid, superficial, materialistic, and openly money-hounding. The real problem was, I wanted to be all of these things. The commercial seemed to speak to me specifically. How exactly did they get inside my brain to produce a commercial tailor-made to meet my shop-till-I-drop needs? They were selling us a set of admittedly questionable values, and we were more than happy to purchase it with the adorable fake credit cards included in the box.

There have been a few subsequent reincarnations of this beloved late 80s/early 90s board game, so I believe this official description from comes from the most recent one. However, its uncanny similarity serves to show just how far we have not come since the game's original release.

Talking! Electronic!

Find the steals and deals! And see what's in store for you!

Hey girls! Don't miss the big SALE!

Grab your cash and hit the mall! Get your shopping list ready and race from store to store. Quickly find the best deals and make your purchases. But remember, not every shopping trip goes smoothly. Sometimes an item you want is not in stock. Or you must go to the ATM for more cash. First shopper to make 6 purchases and get to the right destination wins!

Taking Mall Center: "Hey, this is on clearance!" "Cha Ching!" "Oh, we're out of stock, try again later"
Even just reading this description makes me want to go out and purchase it. The big SALE? Deals? Purchases? ATM? CLEARANCE? Sign me up!

This game told us exactly how we as girls were supposed to behave and what types of things we were supposed to care
about. While in retrospect this should probably alarm and concern all of us, I'm sure the majority of you--like me--are out there thinking, "Oh, yeah! I loved that game!" It's hard to be outraged over something that you once coveted with near-religious fervor. Even the games instructions illustrate just how stupid they thought young girls were. Observe, an excerpt:
The Voice of the Mall will say, “Hi Red!...Hi Blue!...Hi Green!...Hi Yellow!” When you hear
your color called, immediately press the Move button. This lets the computer know which shoppers
are playing.

EXAMPLE. You are the red shopper, Anne is the green shopper and Donna is the yellow shopper. As
soon as you hear “
Hi Red,” press the Move button. Next you will hear “Hi Blue!” Since no shopper
is blue, no one presses the Move button. Anne presses the Move button immediately after hearing
Hi Green!” Donna presses the Move button as soon as she hears “Hi Yellow!”

The Voice will repeat each unselected color one more time — just in case a shopper forgot to press
the Button when his or her color was called. If you hear your color repeated, press the Move button.
They probably could have left it at that first paragraph, but no, that would have been needlessly simple and comprehensible. They had to assign these imaginary characters names, because no way would these girls ever figure out who Player 1 and Player 2 were without them.

Also, this creepy unexplained disembodied
electronic Voice will actually repeat itself just in case any of you girls are too slow to have partaken in this ridiculously simple task in the first place. Got that, or do I need to explain it again? Milton Bradley would probably vote "yes".

Not only would the Voice tell you what to buy and where to go, it also informed you of your most basic needs. "You're hungry," it would declare. "Meet a friend at the Pizza Place."

Or, alternately, and arguably more straightforward,
"Go to the restroom." You almost have to wonder to what extent game designers assumed girls would actually get up from their spots on the slumber party floor to take an actual bathroom break upon hearing this command. I think they may have built in an extended pause in the recording expressly for this purpose.

Or my personal favorite, "You left your lights on. Go to the parking lot." Not only are girls only
good for spending money and buying useless material goods, they're also air-headed bimbos who can't be trusted to adequately perform even the simplest of everyday tasks. You've got our number, Milton Bradley (call us on those Dream Phones you gave us anytime!).

I suppose one could argue this game occasionally has the effect of teaching children how to budget, but the noticeably irresponsible level of spending is not exactly to its credit (yes,
credit. Like the cards. I'm all for subtle humor). However, the game's written instructions actually drop heavy hints on how to circumv
ent overdrawn bank balances by highlighting some of the underlying glitches in the game's programming. If you make a purchase and then find that you actually had no money in your account, you can simply return that purchase to keep the money that is in no way rightfully yours. There's nothing likely clearly outlining the means of deception and greed to a couple of enthusiastic shopping-crazy 9 year-old girls.

The crowning glory of the game, however, is the inordinate amount of physical assembly it requires.
In light of all of their good-natured gender stereotyping, it seems the kindpeople at Milton Bradley were banking on the notion that these Mall Madness-purchasing households contained a father or some brothers, or else this game would never be up and running.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The MASH Game

We all grew up with big dreams. For some of us, it was to have a blossoming career. For others, to raise a happy and healthy family. There are some of us out there however, with more pre-specified ambitions.

Namely that you're going to marry Screech from Saved by the Bell, live in a mansion in the United Arab Emirates, have 12 children, and drive your purple subcompact car to your job as a housewife everyday.

Sound odd? Absolutely! But if the fates proclaim it, so shall it be.

The fates we're talking about here are admittedly less professional than your run-of-the-mill neighborhood psychic or carnival palm reader. Regardless of their questionable credentials, we trusted these fortune seers to predict for us a decidedly silly, squeal-inducing future. These were our peers on the playground, and they held in their hands our very fates.

The brilliance of MASH was that it became a universally known and widely accepted practice among children in the 80s and 90s. If you were to have stopped by nearly any elementary school and asked if they would like to play MASH, no one would look at you questioningly or jump in to discuss the preachy-ness of Alan Alda's television directing career. They would grab a pencil and a piece of looseleaf and start prophesying.

One of the main elements we all loved so dearly about MASH was the ability to lightly humiliate our friends by assigning to them less-than-stellar options in any of the preselected categories. The categories usually ran a little something like this, with at least 5 options listed per category:

This one was a constant; the game's namesake. MASH stood for Mansion-Apartment-Shack-House. These were your choices for living accommodations. In some circles, more creative (read: cruel) options were added, but this was the basic underlying foundation of the game. This was one of the more important categories, as we all assumed money would make us outstandingly, incomparably happy. And they say kids don't learn anything from TV.

Boys'/Girls' Names
Depending on your gender, you were ordered to name 5 people of the opposite sex. When meaner kids were running the show, they would get to select the options for you, but usually you had some say in who was listed. It was requisite to list your crush, unattainable famous people, and at least one unsavory kid; this was usually the kid who picked his nose in the back of the classroom or was forever regaling his classmates with stories about what happened last night on his ant farm. It was generally understood that the more appalling and undesirable options you listed, the more hilarity would ensue when your moment of fortune-telling came to fruition.

However, if you were lucky enough to bag JTT or Tatyana Ali in a game of recess MASH, you were certainly entitled to bragging rights for the remainder of the school day.

This one was pretty self-explanatory, but it was always fun seeing what wacky undesirably professions one could add to the list of possibilities. Garbage collector? Septic tank engineer? Cootie quarantiner? Sure, you can always throw in some of the standard Doctor/Lawyer/Teacher/Housewife fare, but that was never quite as humorous or entertaining.

Gender role-reversal was also popular. A male housewife? An instant classic!

Again, the money=happiness paradigm reigned supreme. Sure, a Corvette or a Lamborghini would be nice, but what's that when you could have a broken down AMC Hornet?* What, I ask you?

Some versions also included car colors, which are not inherently funny but accurately reflect a child's disproportional sense of humor. A pink car? For a boy? Oh my god. Pink. And for those of us who dreamed of one day owning a shocking fuchsia Maserati, well, this was our chance. That is, if you didn't get stuck with the puce Buick instead.

One of the games more practical aspects, we all were truly curious about where we were going to end up. However, as children our worldview was relatively limited, so we frequently had our pick of 5 neighboring suburbs of our then current location. A kid can dream, can't he?

Number of Children
This was a pretty obvious dimension; two or three were preferable, six was sort of a bummer, and ten was ridiculous. Bear in mind the Duggar family of 18 Kids and Counting fame were not yet being broadcast into our susceptible minds weekly, so we were under the impression that there was some sort of a finite cap on how many children one could feasibly physically produce. Unfortunately, most of the options listed in this category were pretty reasonable and rational and hence lacked the shock value of some of the more outlandish categories. Depending on your foreseen mate, however, the shock value could fluctuate significantly.

Once all the lists had been generated, the real fun could begin in a tedious, meticulous fashion uncharacteristic of otherwise attention spanless children. At this point, there were several ways in which to randomly select a benchmark number, all of which were terminated by the fortune seeker saying, "Stop!" Usually, you would draw spirals or tally marks and whenever the MASHee indicated for you to stop. Whatever the number of circles or tallies drawn would serve as your reference point number. If your number was four, you would start at the top, count down four items, and cross off the fourth. From that one you would count another four, cross out the list item you landed on, and so on and so forth until you had one item remaining in each category.

For those of you to whom this makes no sense at all (and let's be honest, if you never or rarely played this game, this is a pretty shaky explanation), I invite you to play the online version for illustrative and/or enjoyment purposes. Go on, I'll wait.

If you ended up with less than spectacular results, fear not; the beauty of MASH is that it can be played repeatedly until you finally achieve your desired outcome. Much like a Magic 8 Ball could be shaken again and again until it displayed the coveted response, so too could MASH be reformulated and re-tabulated umpteen times.

So go ahead, keep playing. I think you'll find that despite your current status as a so-called adult, this game retains its novelty. For those of you lucky enough to possess an iPhone but are currently living in tenuous fear of being caught slacking by your boss/parent/significant other/roommate/pet, don't worry. As the iPhone commercials so helpfully inform us, "there's an app for that":

Feel free to drop your MASH results in the comment box.

Check it out:
An Amazing MASH Game T-Shirt
Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen: Bratz MASH

*My dad once owned an AMC Hornet. One day, he came outside and found that someone had stolen his driver's side door. His driver's side door. This story is completely unrelated (especially since it happened in the 70s) but it is also true and hilarious and therefore must be shared.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Choose Your Own Adventure

You find yourself in an underwater palace. You see the walls slowly moving inwards on you, and begin to panic. You have 12 minutes worth of oxygen remaining.

To continue exploring the underwater palace for treasure, turn to page 18.
To swim ashore to safety, turn to page 22.

What would you do? The options are endless! Well, actually, there are only two. But, hey, I get to choose! Let's swim to safety! The word "safety" is right there! A clue!

You are nearly to the shore. Dry land is a mere 100 yards away! You notice a shark encircling you, blocking your escape to safety.

The shark eats you and you proceed to die a tragic, gory, horrifyingly gruesome death.

Okay, so maybe Choose Your Own Adventure books weren't quite so graphic, but there was a lot of dying. The publishers easily could have released a subseries entitled "Choose Your Own Death" and no one would bat an eye.

The omnipresent themes of untimely death led to the inevitable appearance of spoof CYOA covers like this one

Fortunately for persistent and patient (read: cheating) readers, there was usually one measly way out. However, if you took a single misstep (or mispage-turn, as the case may have been) you would have to spend hours retracing your path and trying to save your doomed reader self from certain death in endless capacities. The more savvy and lazy of CYOA readers would flip ahead in search of the heroically safe solution, but the real devotees suffered endless deaths in their quest for ultimate salvation.

Choose Your Own Adventure books were not solely a 90s phenomenon, but certainly enjoyed a heyday during the decade. In step with parenting trends emphasizing the individuality and uniqueness of each child, parents sought out reading experiences that would draw out their child's exceptional qualities. Okay, so maybe that isn't exactly true, but I had you there for a second, didn't I?

Initially formulated in the 1970s as Adventures of You, CYOA pioneer Edward Packard quickly saw the error of his grammatical ways and changed the title to the now known-and-loved Choose Your Own Adventure. You would be hard-pressed to find a more straightforward and self-explanatory name for a book series, but their charm was implicit in their simplicity. Perhaps they weren't literary masterpieces, but their interactivity certainly got kids reading, if only to find out all of the spine-tinglingly grisly forms of death that awaited them at every wrong page turn.

A seriously clever (if somewhat blurry) map of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Book from

With hilariously tongue-in-cheek titles like You are Microscopic (1992) and Tattoo of Death (1995), it was clear the series' authors didn't take themselves too seriously. Certainly there was never another series whose titles so frequently made use of poorly-placed exclamation marks. In fact, it was as if all the authors had taken some sort of Into to Choose Your Own Adventure course with a heavy focus in exclamatory punctuation. Such ridiculous titles as Hijacked! (1990), Kidnapped! (1991), Earthquake! (1992), and Typhoon! (1995) made use of this absurd formatting. It seemed to become a successful CYOA author, you needed only to think of a single theme, italicize it, add an exclamation mark, and you would be immediately added to the publisher's catalog. Come book-order time, your long-awaited title Unneccessary! would shoot to the top of the RL-6 bestseller charts.

Also notable in CYOA stylings was its unique use of familiar pronouns to address the reader directly. Usually, we open a book expecting to be a third party to the story and would be a bit shaken if the author began making direct requests of us. However, Choose Your Own Adventure books were formatted to make the reader feel as if he or she was actually directing of the action, no matter to what extent the quality and grammar would suffer. It was all about you, and it was thus necessary to begin practically every sentence with that pronoun. It's as if the authors feared that if they briefly diverged from constantly referencing the second person singular, the reader would be completely lost. "Well, wait a minute," they'd say, scratching their heads. "I thought this was about me. Why, I'm not in here at all!"

The best part of these books was that plot was generally a secondary feature. The author had used most of his or her talent and energy to produce a fully-functional interactive book that brings a reader to an ending with each read. It was almost as if the plot was an afterthought. After all, who was the author to be writing anything of substance when it was you, the reader, who was to choose his or her own adventure? To illustrate this point, I give you the back-cover copy off classic CYOA #11, Mystery of the Maya. Granted, this particular book was published in 1981, but I assure you it only got worse rather than better:

Your best friend Tom has been in Mexico for a short trip, working on a TV report on the ancient Mayan civilization. Three days ago, he vanished without a trace. The only clues you have are terrible, haunting nightmares where Tom is killed in a Mayan sacrificial ceremony. You must find him before these nightmares become reality! Can you even trust your own dreams? Maybe someone is telepathically leading you off course so you'll never reach your friend in time! What should you do next?

Of course! A Mayan sacrificial ceremony! There is really no other remotely credible explanation for your friend's disappearance. Well, except for that someone may be using their powerful influential ESP to lead you astray. Back of the book, you ask such powerfully deep questions. What should I do next?

If you've yet to get your fix of these, fear not, they're still available at fine retailers everywhere. If you're not into the retro reading, in 1998 they began publishing new CYOA titles under the cleverly-named Chooseco label. Just think, if they can select a company name like that, imagine what sort of choices they have in store for you!

Check it out:
Official Chooseco CYOA site
Choose Your Own Adventure...DVDs?

Awesome CYOA T-Shirt

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