The Retro Machine (Vol. 6)
Nerds, Book-It, Photon, and More!
Sorry it's been so long, but The Retro Machine spit this cartridge out at me and charged me like $75 for it, you know, for old times sake. So I've been saving up my pennies and here it is. If it starts acting up, just blow into it and re-insert.
I've often imagined that the Nerds candy was actually gravel from Willy Wonka's driveway. It's always been good stuff, albeit a little bit odd. My favorite way that Nerds candy was delivered to the masses was through the hollow plastic molds shaped like the Nerds "creatures". They seemed to be some sort of mixed breed of a hippo/rhino, but it was hard to tell either way. Nerds were dispensed through the bottom of the Nerd creature. I know that I bought more Nerds when they were sold in these little candy containers than at any other time in my life. To this day, on the rare occasion that I eat a Nerd, I imagine that Willy Wonka's driveway is made up of tiny Nerd creatures.
Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine
The Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine was practically a government-issued children's toy. Everyone I knew had one. Thinking back though, I can never remember actually eating a good sno-cone from this thing, but it wasn't good-tasting sno-cones that made this famous. It was the combination of a beloved license attached to a toy that brought parents and children together in a way that only the Easy Bake Oven had done. I remember stuffing ice cubes in, using the Snoopy plunger to push the cubes down as you turn the handle to break the ice up and turn them into ice shavings. Then you'd take your shovel, scoop the shavings out into those flimsy paper cups, and squeeze your little snowman guy to add whatever flavor juice you had. The thing was apt to tip over often and a pool of water always seemed to form underneath it, but there was no better way to get a sno-cone after a hot summer day.
Ah yes, Video Power. The first season of this show came on in the mornings before school. Host Johnny Arcade would deliver video game previews, reviews, cheats, and hints of the popular video games of the time. The bulk of the show featured this cartoon called "The Power Team" which was comprised of various video game characters from games such as Narc. Truly, this incarnation of the show was the best, and I always came this close to missing my school bus as I tried to catch the end of the program. Seriously, I'd sit by the window and listen for my bus to pull up, then I'd run out as it arrived.
The second season of Video Power ditched the cartoon and replaced it with a game show format that pitted kids of the day against each other with video game trivia and actual gameplaying sessions. The winner at the end got a true grand prize, which had all us jealous kids asking "if I put on a Velcro suit and was let loose in a videogame store, how many games could I stick to myself in a certain time limit?".
You can still catch episodes of this great early 90's show on where else? Youtube...
Play-Doh Fuzzy Pumper
And the award for "Kinkiest Sounding Thing That's Actually a Toy For Kids" goes to "The Fuzzy Pumper". It allowed you the opportunity to create Play-Doh hair and then use plastic clippers to cut and style the hair. I'm sure we all remember the first time we forced a lump of Play-Doh through tiny holes and watched it come out the other side. It was kind of magical in an innocent way. However, when you actually went to cut the hair, you generally just ended up mashing the Play-Doh together. My Play-Doh haircuts never turned out the way I wanted them too, but that didn't really matter. We'd spend countless hours trying over and over again to get it right anyways, just for the fun of it.
Etch A Sketch Animator
I remember when this came out, it was kind of a big deal. It was like "Etch A Sketch Evolved" and I had dreams of being able to use it to animate all manner of things, whole cartoons even. As with many things through the eyes of a child, your expectations are often loftier than what the toymaker is able to realistically deliver. It's not that the Animator was a huge disappointment though, it was fun to doodle around with. I remember the book it came with had pre-drawn animations so that you could see how the thing worked. In a nutshell, you drew the picture (Etch a Sketch style of course), saved the picture, then drew more frames in hopes of making it look animated. More often than not though, it just looked like blinking squares. Regardless, it was more fun to use than the traditional Etch A Sketch, and it provided me with hours of entertainment.
At some point in all our elementary school years, usually at the beginning, the teacher would talk about "Book-It". They'd whip out a chart with all our names on it and a bunch of star-shaped stickers. For every book we read (of substantial length) we'd receive a star sticker. When we got to a certain number of stars, all of our dreams would come true! Well, relatively speaking. It was more like you'd get a FREE personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut! Now back then that was like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it doesn't end there. If your entire class reached a certain quota of stickers, everyone in the class got a pizza party! For many of us, we were just happy to have that snazzy "Book-It" pin.
The general formula here is "read books, win pizza" which judging by the current state of health in our society, I'd say many of us were darn good readers!
Boy, did we ever think we were hot stuff when we wielded a Photon Phaser Gun. Like robots, neon, and hair bands, lasers were a huge commodity in the 1980's. I remember the first time I fired a Phaser gun and the target detected that I had shot at it from across the room. Oh yeah, we really had something then, didn't we? The set I had came with 2 Phaser guns and 1 target.
You and a friend would each get a gun and then engage in back and forth exchanges. If your IR beam hit the tip of their gun before they got yours, you won! There was a much nicer set out though that had helmets, chest targets, and other cool things. Photon arenas sprung up in places like Ocean City Maryland. In fact, I have a tape of a Photon session from back in the day. But there was another brand out, I believe it was called "Lazer Tag" and it was much more popular with the mainstream. Photon rocked in its own way though, it was a heck of a lot better than firing toy pistols at each other.
Perhaps the most memorable thing about Giggles cookies were the commercials. They always featured some kid who absolutely could not stop laughing while the other kid would explain what makes Giggles cookies so great. "There's two kinds of fudge in each one!". I always liked the chocolate colored ones, they were nice to find in your lunchbox. Looking back, the soul-less eyes and their almost ghastly grins made these sort of creepy in a clown sort of sense. Maybe they should've called them "Heebie Jeebies". Har har.
V-Tech Talking Baseball
This was a hot game of handheld baseball. I mean, the thing talked to you! Remember, this is a few years prior to the launch of the Nintendo Gameboy, the device that would forever change handheld gaming, so V-Tech's Talking Baseball was a high end piece in 1987. I had many an epic battle between the Eagles and the Buffalos because, well, they were the only two teams to choose from. It was a two player affair as well, so you and a friend could face off. Of the similar types of handhelds available at the time, this was certainly one of the more coveted ones.
Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego?
No, this is not a piece about the PC game, this is a piece on the fantastic PBS game show that aired in the early 90's. The cheesy clue sketches, comedic interactions between Greg and The Chief, the memorable melodies of Rockapella, and the colorful cast of Carmen's crooks, all added up to one of the finest educational game shows to ever air on public television. Seriously, if you missed this show as a kid, you truly missed out.
Lynne Thigpen (The Chief), who sadly passed away in 2003, was the true anchor of the show. She had this authoritative air about her that retained the humor of the show, but at the same time instilled this sense of urgency that compelled you to watch in hopes that Carmen would get caught.
The show captured the spirit of the game, keeping close to the detective theme (words like "gumshoe" come to mind) all throughout. The prizes they gave away were always funny. The third place contestant would walk away with a Carmen T-shirt while the second place contestant would get something like a world band radio. The grand prize was always a trip to anywhere in the lower 48 states, but to get that you had to find seven places on a continent in 45 seconds. It wasn't easy, and many kids failed to catch Carmen. The ones who did had to have an absolutely flawless run.
Without a doubt, the one thing that to this day remains as the shows legacy was it's quirky theme song. I can't think of any other way to end this than to say.....
DO IT ROCKAPELLA!!
Sing it with me!
Well she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina,
She's a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize,
She'll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China,
Tell me where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
Steal their Seoul in South Korea, make Antarctica cry Uncle,
From the Red Sea to Greenland they'll be singing the blues,
Well they never Arkansas her steal the Mekong from the jungle,
Tell me where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
She go from Nashville to Norway, Bonaire to Zimbabwe,
Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back!
Well she'll ransack Pakistan and run a scam in Scandinavia,
Then she'll stick 'em up Down Under and go pick-pocket Perth,
She put the Miss in misdemeanor when she stole the beans from Lima,
Tell me where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
Oh tell me where in the world is... Oh tell me where can she be?
(all geographical data is current as of the date this progam was recorded)
Miss one of the previous Retro Machine editions? Get them here!
Volume 1 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1814/
Volume 2 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1845/
Volume 3 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1890/
Volume 4 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1929/
Volume 5 http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/1978/