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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

80s and 90s Sugar High

Sometimes we all look back and cringe just a bit at the sugary garbage we ate as children. Though it may still hold some nostalgic appeal, it’s tough to defend some of the candy we so adored as kids. You would think we were all spent a significant portion of our youth drifting into diabetic shock--how else to explain the pure sugar our parents pushed down our throats? I can only assume they had no orange juice on hand and had to save our lives with the cunning use of Pixie Sticks. There’s just no other explanation for willingly serving your child the equivalent of the contents of your sugar bowl.

For those of us who now work with or have children of our own, we know the lure of bribery is one we cannot always ignore. Do your homework? Have some Nerds! Clean your room? Help yourself to the Fun Dip. Sure, it’s morally ambiguous, but it works. Sometimes, you’ve just got to give in and let the kids be kids. In this case, that means our parents allowed us to hype ourselves up on a diet of pure sugar only to crash later with unforeseen consequences of immeasurable crankiness. We loved them for that moment in which they relinquished the candy, though, and that’s what really counts.

We ate all sorts of processed sugar masquerading as innocent snacks, but here are a few of the sweetest culprits:

Pixy Stix
Possibly the worst offender, Pixy Stix were composed of little more than colored sugar. Apparently an acceptable snack consists of taking pure sugar and a dab of food coloring and calling it a kid-friendly nosh. The worst of the worst prize went to the giant-size straw version, which we can only imagine contained a full two-pound bag of refined sugar.

Fun Dip

What better to dip candy in than candy? It’s a perfect solution to all your dipping needs. Simply take sugar molded into a solid mass and dip it into its granulated counterpart. Delicious.


Nerds may have been glorified color-coated rock candy, but we can award some credit where due for delicious flavor combinations. Nerds conveniently packaged two complementary flavors in a single box, allowing us to ingest our flavor sugar with a well-balanced palette.

If you thought it was kind of gross simply to consume sugar-laden hard candy, imagine adding an element of extreme germ exposure to the mix. The problem with Jawbreakers lay in the fact that they were simply too large to be consumed in a single sitting. The result? Days of your giant candy hanging out in a bowl or similar open-air receptacle, collecting delicious dust mite seasoning mix.

Pop Rocks

Pop Rocks have been available since the 70s, but their popularity saw a resurgence in the 80s following their restock on candy store shelves. The candy suffered briefly from the implications of an urban legend that claimed the candy could make your stomach explode when mixed with soda. It can’t, for the record, but it still does work to scare children as effectively as it did back then.

Warheads/Cry Babies

Children have a naturally competitive nature, so it’s little surprise that they became the target market for discomfort-themed food. It may not sound especially pleasant to endure a painfully sour candy throughout the dissolution of its coating, which is because it’s not. At all. Not even a little bit. With children, though, the natural playground spirit of competition made candies like Warheads a huge hit--not to mention a major indicator of elementary school street credibility.

Sour Patch Kids

Sour Patch Kids represent sour flavor in its slightly less repugnant form--as a sugar coating over a chewy fruit snack-type candy. It admittedly burns off a taste bud or two, but it’s a small price to pay for coolness in front of your pro-sour friends.

Push Pops/Ring Pops

Of course, no discussion of sugary 90s candies would be complete without mention of two of the most traded and widely respected hard candies on the playground market: push pops and ring pops. Both caused unnecessarily sticky messes and had limited functionality outside of their general novelty appeal, but who cares? They were delicious in their own sugary way. Though, to be fair, they did give a generation of young girls very unrealistic expectations about the size of a rock they could be expecting on their engagement ring.

It should go without saying that I just can’t discuss 90s-themed sugar highs without playing the eponymous song from Empire Records. All of the sugary sweetness, none of the calories. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

80s and 90s Back to School Checklist: School Supply Trends

It’s that time of year again. You know the one: the time for back-to-school shopping and all the fresh-smelling new school supplies your child-sized heart can fathom. It’s tough as adults to deny the covetousness we feel when passing the mid-to-late August back-to-school displays at Target or OfficeMax. Even former low-performing students with an aversion to all things academic feel the allure of freshly sharpened pencils and shiny new folders; they symbolize an anticipation for a year that’s tough to match as a grown-up as the seasons blend together in ubiquitous office life.

Though we can’t go back to those simpler times in which colorful erasers could denote immeasurable promise and potential, we can at least reminisce about the items that gave us that rush of August or September excitement. I even give you full license to stop at that school supply display next time you’re out shopping and buy a 45 cent puppy folder or two--it’s a small price to pay to recapture the delight of back-to-school items like these.

Trapper Keepers

No back-to-school supply list would be complete without a big binder to hold it all together, and no binder proved more popular in the 80s and 90s than the Trapper Keeper. With its flashy licensed designs and velcro closure, it served as the perfect all-purpose paper holder for school-age children.

Lisa Frank Folders

We’ve talked about Lisa Frank merchandise a lot here at Children of the 90s, and with good reason: it was everywhere. You couldn’t open a girl’s backpack in the mid-90s without finding a store inventory-level variety of Lisa Frank paraphernalia. Most little girls have a natural inclination toward loving colorful kittens playfully canoodling with high top sneakers or bunny rabbits laced tightly into ballet slippers. Lisa Frank simply played into this scientifically proven fact with major financial results.

Sanrio Erasers
All kids need to clean up after their mistakes, so what better way to do so than with an eraser printed with the whimsical Japanese Sanrio characters? Whether you were a Kerroppi fan or a Batz Maru fiend, these collectable erasers usually found their way into your pencil box.

Yikes! Pencils

Yikes! Pencils were all the rage in the early-to-mid 90s. As the above commercial suggests, Yikes are the only pencils as unique as you. Even though everyone else had them. Aside from that minor detail, the commercial tagline says it all: “They write like other pencils, but they make you go, ‘Yikes!’”

Pencil Cases

Of course, you had to store all of these supplies somewhere: your cubby wasn’t going to organize itself. Selection of the perfect pencil case was always a good way to kick off a new year. It was important to set the tone with a colorful translucent plastic case textured with bumps or perhaps the more sensible opaque case bearing a picture of--you guessed it--pencils. There’s something to be said for taking things literally.

Gel Pens
Following the release of gel pens, it seemed all art supply and office stores immediately had the best colors placed on backorder. The reason? Young children purchased these writing utensils nearly as quickly as they were shelved. With fun metallic or signature “milky” colors, gel pens were a fairly certain way to render your eventual yearbook inscriptions both sparkly and indecipherable.


Lunchables aren’t exactly a school supply per se, but they were a staple for earning some serious cafeteria clout. Parents concerned with nutrition and possessing general anti-junk food attitudes weren’t likely to be found of these lab-generated Oscar Meyer concoctions, but parents short on time seeking convenience surely appreciated their simplicity. They may not have borne especial resemblance to real food, but they were fun to assemble and devour. Plus, the fancier versions came complete with fun size candy bar and Capri Sun juice box. What more could you have asked for?

Pencil Toppers
For those of us who couldn’t decide between toys and school supplies, pencil toppers provided us an excellent middle ground. Teachers undoubtedly despised these unnecessary distractions for their complete lack of functionality, but kids adored the notion of their pencils wearing a little Troll doll hat. Adorable.

Digg This!