Thursday, December 16, 2010

Interlude--Stuff From YOUR Toybox

At the conclusion of the class that brought this blog into being (though not necessarily the conclusion of this blog itself!), I ask those who have been following along at home: What is your number one favorite toy from your childhood? You know, the one you begged Mom and Dad for, the one you wrote Santa for for Christmas, the one that you played with for hours and hours?

Now is the time for you to sound off about the best toy in YOUR toybox, on your television, on your bookshelf. What made your 90s childhood deliciously 90s? What was the toy that defined your childhood?

'Cause the cat's in the cradle...

Cat’s Cradle sure wasn’t invented in the 90s, but if you didn’t play it at least once in your childhood, you’re a dirty liar.

Cat’s Cradle is only one of many of the given names for this string game. Others include Candles, Jack in the Pulpit, and Scratch Cradle (a name that dates all the way back to the 1850s—just shows again that we children of the 90s sure can’t claim this game as our own, no matter how much time we whiled away playing it!).

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Puppy Surgery Surprise

Holy crap, this thing might have been even creepier than Furby (yes, it is possible!), though in a completely different way.

Puppy/Kitty Surprise (the two main pets available, although bunnies, horses, and bears were also available) was an adorable stuffed animal that came with a mama animal and a bunch of babies. Cute!


Fun, right?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spill your GUTS!

Come on, I couldn’t do an entry on ‘Legends’ and not do an entry on its companion show. For whenever one showed, the other was sure to follow.

Do do do you have it? OOH! Do do do you have it? GUTS!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gameboy Color--Because kids need to be able to carry their video games, damnit!

Gameboy/Gameboy Color

Now that the gaming industry has come so very far, I thought it was only fair to include a salute to the ‘big thing’ of our childhood—Gameboy and its later, more ‘advanced’ counterpart, Gameboy Color.

We were so excited to own these things, because come on, what kid doesn’t love hand-held video games? It was Super Nintendo that we could bring along with us to boring family gatherings, the doctor’s office, the bus stop, or wherever else we were forced to wait for long periods of time (or, of course, since we again loved making our teachers angry—school.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Troll Dolls (No Zs allowed!)

Troll Dolls were actually introduced and reached their biggest peak of popularity back in the mid-60s, but they were resurrected in the 90s and I would bet that most of us had one or two of those creepy little things stowed away somewhere. The biggest change in the 90s-remixed dolls was that the manufacturers tried to market this toy towards boys.

That’s right, boys and girls—this was My Little Pony for boys.

Some of them had clothes. Some of them had personas (wizard, ninja, etc.). Some had…gems in the middle of their belly. Some were just NEKKID. And all of them had brightly colored hair that stuck straight up and ugly, ugly faces.

The Troll Dolls didn’t actually do anything, despite manufacturers trying to convince us that they were actually totally cool! Needless to say, the attempt to make them popular amongst boys (including endeavors such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Trolls—BLASPHAMY I SAY!) was at best marginally successful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Polly Pocket--Old Polly vs. New Polly

One of the most popular toys of the 90s has endured a radical transformation since its debut in 1989. 

The premise of Polly Pocket was that it was a little miniature dollhouse that fit in a necklace. Unfortunately, while Polly and her world and accessories were indeed tiny, there is only so tiny you can make an elaborate world, meaning the ‘pocket-sized’ plastic toy was actually fairly large and clunky (considering it was meant to be worn or, I guess, put into a pocket—yeah, perhaps a backpack pocket or something because there was no way that thing was fitting into the pocket of a pair of little girl jeans). 

Behold: Old Polly

But at least the original creators, Bluebird Toys, ATTEMPTED to keep Polly and her accessories tiny and pocket-sized. When Mattel bought out the company in 1998, they ‘supersized’ Polly (supersizing meaning that they doubled or tripled her size—Bluebird’s Pollys were under an inch tall, while Mattel’s ranged from two to three inches, depending on which Polly set you were buying.) In Mattel’s version, only Polly herself was pocket-sized, not her world. Basically, Mattel just tried to shrink down Barbie and call it ‘Polly Pocket.’ (Oh, Mattel, you just keep trying to strike gold again, dontcha?) 

Behold: New Polly and her Friggin' Jet

Monday, November 15, 2010

Non-Leisure Reading--Choose Your Own Adventure books

Time for another book series! Because I was (am) a geeky child and had many more books than I did toys.

The Choose Your Own Adventure novels were published from the late 70s to the late 90s, and were written in second-person format—because YOU were the protagonist. It was sort of like trying to take a video game and make it into a book. And kids apparently responded to it, as over 250 million copies were sold.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Little Pony--putting Carebears to shame

Think of the girliest thing you could imagine. For example, imagine a Disney princess barfing up rainbows while riding a unicorn through a magical land of lollipops, and you’ve imagined something close to the nauseatingly adorable My Little Pony toyline. 

 (It's so bright! So very, very bright!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Battle of the Bands: Backstreet Boys vs. N'Sync

A long, long time ago (y’know, like a whole decade ago), a Battle Royale took place over the airwaves.

In this corner, consisting of five guys in their 20s singing pop songs—N’Sync!

And in this corner, consisting of…five guys in their 20s singing pop songs….Backstreet Boys!

The crazy thing about N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys is the fact that they were essentially the same exact group, singing basically the same exact songs, and not only were they able to both enjoy incredible commercial success, but their fans would debate to the death over which was the superior group.

Oh, of course there were those who enjoyed both—I was one of them. But even those who had CDs of both groups had their secret preference. To them, one was simply the Better Group. But was one of them really better?

Let’s break down each group a little bit, shall we? 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Oregon Trail, hikin' and learnin' (horrors!) along the way.

Oregon Trail.

Guys…just…what was this game? Really. Why did we play it? It’s…I…I can’t even.

Okay, so I’ll be upfront and honest: There was a period of time where I LOVED Oregon Trail. Looking back, I have no real idea why. I will attempt to figure it out below.

The Oregon Trail was a computer game based on—what else—the actual Oregon Trail. If I remember correctly, we actually played it at school a few times, as a sort of learning tool (the fact that I then played it recreationally is making less and less sense). At the beginning of the game, you visited the store to buy things for your long, hard trek across the country, such as blankets, clothes, food, guns and ammunition (ammunition? Maybe that has something to do with it…). Truly riveting.

You would then decide how much of each group of supplies (food, clothes, ammo, etc.) to bring with you, and when to leave. It didn’t really matter when you left; you would always hit winter at some point, which is when you usually fell through the ice attempting to cross a river, or most of your party froze to death and you held a funeral for them.

Actually, it was pretty morbid for a children’s game.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Easy-Bake Oven, cooking eggs by lightbulb since 1963

So, I lied—Oregon Trail will be done at a later time, when I can properly wrap my brain around why the hell I loved that game so much. I balked originally at changing up what this entry was supposed to be about, and then I realized, hey, this is my blog, I do what I want! So instead, I’m going to look at the Easy-Bake Oven.

(First of all, with the penchant toy companies have for giving their products ‘cute’ names, I’m shocked that it wasn’t called the EZ-Bake or even EZ-Bak Oven.)

Okay, so the Easy-Bake Oven wasn’t a toy just of the ‘90s, but as someone who consumed countless cooked-by-a-light-bulb cakes and cookies (and forced family members to join in the salmonella-y fun!) throughout my childhood, I would be remiss to leave it out. 

(None of my creations looked like any of these things, especially that chocolate cake with pink frosting—false advertising!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Say Hello to Your Friends (YOUR ONLY FRIENDS)--Baby-Sitter's Club

Ah, the Baby-Sitter’s Club. The (massive) book series that taught us that the pinnacle of cool was being 11-13 years old and spending all your time watching over little children. (Seriously, they had eleven year olds babysitting! Sometimes for ten year olds. Because that one year makes alllllll the difference.) And if you were from New York, or dressed like you grabbed random clothes in the dark, you were EXTRA COOL.

(The caption says: "How can a seven-year-old make Claudia feel so dumb?" Trust me, Claud--it ain't that hard.)

Basically, for those of you who didn’t own, oh, 50+ of these books, the Baby-Sitter’s Club revolved around a group of girls (the number ranged from four to seven at any given time), who, under their trusty leader Kristy, the ringleader of the cult…baby-sat. A lot. Like…all their spare time was spent either baby-sitting or planning some kind of festival or carnival or fair for their baby-sitting charges, all while dealing with the Serious Issue of the Week, such as racism, cancer, divorce, or Mary-Anne getting a hair cut without consulting her friends. And they did it all for low, low wages.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hey now kids, come rather 'round. See what just Skipped into town!

Skip-It is one of those toys that you can’t believe it took so long for toy manufacturers to think of. Or maybe it isn’t that it took them so long to think of it—maybe it took them until the late-80s/early-90s to decide that maybe, just maybe, this thing could actually sell.

Because on the surface, Skip-It sounds too simple to be a commercial success. A plastic loop goes around the ankle, attached to the ‘Skip-It’, which could best be described as resembling a ball and chain. You then moved your ankle in a circle to send the Skip-It around in a circle, which you then hopped over. It can best be described as a combination of jump rope and hula-hooping (you know, just for your ankle), and is just about as complicated.

The secret of Skip-It? It had a really catchy jingle.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Preparing the future 'Teen Mom's of the world--Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi, more than any of the other variations of electronic pets that came after it looking to capitalize on its success (GigaPet, NanoPet, etc.), was the one that had the most potential to be traumatizing—because of all the different models, Tamagotchi was the one that came the closest to Real Parenting.

By that, I mean that your Tamagotchi could die, you had to clean up its poo, and the game was never ending.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Stuff On Our TV: Legends of the Hidden Temple

The game show ‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ premiered on Nickelodeon from 1993 until 1995, and was in reruns until 1998. It involved six teams of two competing in three rounds of competition in order to advance to the final round—the Temple.

The six teams first had to cross a moat, usually via rope/floatation/paddling in some way, one partner at a time. If they touched or fell into the water, they had to return to the other side. The top four teams would move on to the Steps of Knowledge, where they would be told the Legend of that episode which would be the theme of the remainder of the episode and then quizzed on their memory. The top two teams would then move on to the Temple Games, competitive games based on facets of the Legend, and the team to win two out of three of the games would move on to the Temple, where they would be expected to retrieve the artifact from the Legend.

This. Show. Was. Awesome.

‘Legends of the Hidden Temple’ is one of the things from our childhood that in my opinion, doesn’t just hold up to hindsight, it is actually becomes more awesome the older you get. (As the original target audience included high school/college students, this is unsurprising.) When I was a little kid, the Temple Guards freaked me out a little bit too much for me to dream of being on ‘Legends’, but looking back, I totally could have schooled those kids on how to assemble the statue in the Shrine of the Silver Monkey.

(Seriously, how did so many kids have so much trouble with that freaking monkey? It was three pieces! Three!)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wide World of Ty Beanie Babies

Unsurprisingly, along with a ton of Pogs and a ton of Pokemon cards, I also had a ton of Ty Beanie Babies.

Ty Beanie Babies were exactly what they sounded like—little stuffed animals filled with plastic pellets at their center to give them a sort of floppy appearance. They weren’t particularly cuddly, really, and they didn’t do anything. They were your standard little stuffed animals—albeit stuffed animals that came with a name, birthday, and little poem that gave them a more personalized feel. And yet Ty Beanie Babies became a HUGE phenomenon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Frightful Furby

I present to you: the thing of nightmares. 

I have to start by saying that even as a child, I thought Furby was the creepiest thing ever, and I had NO desire to own one. First of all, because what the hell even WAS it—a radioactive owl? It was the closest thing I could think of, at least. The large, blinking eyes that made a very mechanical sound as they opened and closed were freaky, and the idea that it didn’t speak English to begin with, but learned it, honestly weirded me out too. After all, I was a child of the 90s; I didn’t like these silly advanced notions! In retrospect, Furby might have just been ahead of my time.

(However, looking at the Wikipedia article, they were programmed to learn English automatically no matter what, so really, it wasn’t ‘learning.’ If you spoke Spanish? Tough crap, your Furby was still going to speak English. That soothes my 90s soul a bit, that Furbies weren’t TOO advanced. And eventually, Furbies were made with capabilities for up to 24 languages.)

More likely, however, they were just creepy, creepy toys.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Pokemon Empire

The Pokemon franchise was one of the biggest features of our 90s childhood, and really, looking back on that time, it’s amazing how much money a franchise based on insect collecting made when it made it big in the USA in the late 90s. Unlike the Pogs craze, Pokemon still remains extremely popular, and the franchise is still growing and evolving.

Pokemon are, as I’m sure most of you know, those little monster like creatures that fight each other for no apparent reason other than for the sport of it, and live in little balls that people (“trainers”) can carry on their belts.

Once upon a time, there were 151 unique Pokemon. Now, there are 493.

What is so unique, in my opinion, is just how many ways these ‘Pocket Monsters’ (as they were known in Japan) were packaged. There were: trading cards, Gameboy games, Playstation/Nintendo games, stuffed animals, a TV show, books, comics, movies, McDonald’s toys, snacks, clothes, school supplies, action figures, board games, and PLANES. Yes, as in AIRPLANES. And those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head! Nintendo opened up an entire Pokemon store, because they could. Because people would BUY this stuff! In just ten years, Pokemon made Nintendo over 25 billion dollars worldwide (“Pocketing Profits.” ).

Introduction and Pogs: The Bottlecap (?) Game

I don’t know about you guys, but sometimes I look at kids today and I get really, really jealous. Why? Because of the diminished responsibility of childhood? Because of their carefree nature, because I long for the days of recess and believing in Santa? No.

Because their toys? Are insane.

Seriously, I have three first cousins still under the age of ten, and it seems that they turn up their nose at anything that doesn’t perform more than one function. “That’s all it DOES?” was a resounding chorus whenever I’d innocent pass on one of my old toys with the na├»ve belief that they would enjoy it as much as I had. One, a girl, has a shelf overflowing with stuffed animals called Webkinz. They look innocent enough but you take them online and apparently they have a whole virtual WORLD. In my day, that would have been like, three separate toys. Another is a Wii Mario Kart master at the tender age of four, turning the wheel with the Wii remote stuck inside with the sort of skill that makes me wonder how he’ll be when he starts learning how to drive an actual car: “I already know that, I played Wii!”

But then I think, y’know, we had some pretty cool stuff in our day, too. Maybe it wasn’t as technologically advanced, but maybe that was a good thing. We certainly had to use our imagination more. Maybe our toys didn’t come with three separate intended purposes, but by God, we would make them have three purposes!

In “Stuff Fom Our Toybox,” I’m going to take a sometimes snarky, sometimes thoughtful, and always nostalgic look into the toys (with occasional detours into the realms of books and trends) that defined our 90s childhood, and why, deserved or not, we thought they were so awesome.

For my first entry, I thought it was only appropriate to begin with a toy that was defined by the 90s. A flash in the pan, it exploded onto the US scene in the mid 90s, only to disappear into obscurity a few years later, never to be heard from (or played with), again. And yet, when I speak about toys from our childhood, it is immediately what comes to mind for many.

I speak, of course, of Pogs.

The name POG actually comes from the name of a juice (who knew?)—Passionfruit, Orange, and Guava juice. The game of Pogs was originally played with the bottlecaps of this juice, until the Canada Games Company figured that if they slapped some pretty pictures on the top of round discs, they could make a lot of money off of easily amused children.

And they were right.