SMOKE: Childhood Crazes
Originally published: 31 October 2003
Remember latest crazes? They were brilliant. I never seem to come into contact with them any more these days, and not having a kid of my own - and with all my brothers and sisters safely graduated from school - I have no idea if kids still have latest crazes.
I would imagine that they do, but probably a far more commercially driven version of latest crazes than when I was at school.
Companies and advertising agencies dictate what the latest cool stuff is these days, but when I was at school in the 1980s it was the other way around - companies weren't pitching their products, the kids themselves were.
Obviously there were some huge commercial successes back then as well, but the success of many of the toys and fads that we had in those days was largely attributable to the quality of the products, and less to do with immense marketing campaigns like we have today.
Despite having the memory of a goldfish, despite having the memory of a goldfish, despite having the memory of a goldfish, despi...ah, fuckit man - I was surprised to discover that I could remember quite a few crazes from my school days, and if you were anywhere near a school in South Africa in the eighties, then you may remember a few of these.
I hated the damn thing with a passion, mainly because my older sister got the booklet that goes with it - which teaches you how to solve the cube in 18 moves or something - and once she'd memorised it she never let me see how it was done, and hid the booklet.
I never solved the cube - the most I was ever able to do was two sides - and since I had to impress someone - anyone - with my skill in solving it, I took it apart one day and put all the pieces back in the correct order. But it never worked quite the same again.
There were a number of variations of the Cube - there was the cylindrical one, the snake, and a number of others which were never quite as popular as the original.
It is still rated as the biggest worldwide craze of all time - it exploded onto the international market in 1981, by 1982 it had made it into the Oxford English dictionary, and by 1983 had all but disappeared, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared.
And it had nothing to do with marketing - the first marketing of the Cube began by a guy walking around the Nuremberg Toy Fair playing with it, and the interest generated was immense. It grew from there and made Enro Rubik - the Hungarian designer of the Cube - a vast fortune based purely on a bloody good idea.
That sort of thing just doesn't happen anymore nowadays.
Yoyos - unlike Rubik's Cube - were a latest craze for a few months every couple of years, and I actually got quite good with them. A couple of times a team from Coca Cola came to our school and did yoyo demonstrations, and they were always highly impressive.
My best was always Rocket in your Pocket, achieved by generating a lot of spin on the yoyo and throwing it high into the air, to catch it in your inner blazer pocket. It wasn't as difficult as it sounds, but it always impressed the uninitiated.
The Coke yoyos (you also got Fanta and Sprite) were the most common, which indicates how well Coke did their marketing homework - but they weren't the best yoyos. They were too heavy and the lighter and fancier the yoyo, the more prestige you had.
I remember collecting the thin rubber tabs from inside the caps of Coke bottles for a good few months, as if you got all 20 different tabs you could get a free yoyo - a really good one. I collected all 20 and one day my yoyo arrived in the post - a black, superlight, extremely fancy professional yoyo.
Unfortunately the first lad bigger than I who fancied it grabbed it for himself, and there was no arguing with that. I think he did me the courtesy of giving me his old Coke yoyo, but it was hardly compensation for my hard work and pride in my fancy one.
Marbles were like yoyos - the craze also came round every few years, and became a pretty cutthroat affair. Marbles were rated according to some "worth" system - the plain, cats-eye marbles were worth one, crystals were worth seven ordinaries, then there were ghoens, ironies/steelies (essentially ball bearings), spiders, chinas, alleys and agates, to name a few.
There were the obvious marbles games, but you could also trade them according to worth, and in our school you were not judged according to how many you had, but on the quality of your collection.
Are marbles still played today? I have no idea.
One big craze in the mid-'80s was Superheroes - you got a huge book with place holders for 100 superhero stickers and you could buy these stickers in packs of five from most toy shops and cafes.
Once your book was full it was all over, but it took a very long time to fill the book, mainly because of the few very hard to get items. There were very common stickers - like The Green Lantern - which you were always getting, but guys like Superman were very hard to find.
I eventually filled my book and after that lost interest, but it was great while it lasted. My mother would always add a few packs of stickers to a birthday or Christmas present, and I traded and swapped to get the rest.
These days Nintendo games are highly sophisticated, 3D console games, but before computer technology hit the big time Nintendo produced those brilliant handheld games like Donkey Kong, Chef, Deep Sea Diver and more, and at one stage these games were a major craze.
Donkey Kong was undoubtedly the best - particularly the one with the double-screen - and everywhere you looked boys had their heads bent over a game, furiously slamming the small buttons and trying to get highest scores.
My dad went to Japan during this time on a business trip and came back with one for me (I'd never had one before) which nobody else had - an Olympics game. You could compete in 10 different Olympics events and the faster you tapped the keys the faster you ran.
Naturally - the first bloke bigger than I to spot it and like it confiscated it for himself, and he and his mates discovered that you could run even faster if you madly ran the end of a pen over the button multiple times.
This procedure stripped all the plastic off the sides of the buttons, completely ruining the game, and once it was unplayable I finally got it back.
And there you have it - some of my memories of crazes. There were also gender-specific things - like slam books, trading cards (I can't remember what the game was called, but you had cards of, say, tanks - each with their own specifications - and you would read out top speed, for example, and the other player had to have a top speed that bettered it to take your card), BMX, breakdancing and pretty paper.
What do you remember?
All Smoked Out,