Five Things – 10.17.16 – Never Known To Fail


Robot Odyssey

I’ve never been as simultaneously captivated and out of my league as I was when I played Robot Odyssey as a child in the 1980s.


Robot Odyssey, created in 1984 by educational game company The Learning Company, had a unique sort of difficulty to it.  Other games by The Learning Company of the same era, like Gertrude’s Puzzles or Rocky’s Boots, were filled with logic puzzles that were difficult but generously so; Robot Odyssey basically asked you to learn engineering in order to succeed.


The premise of the game is that you’re in a dream and you’ve been transported to Robotropolis.   In the sewers of the city you find three robots, and those robots must be programmed to solve puzzles so that you can escape Robotropolis.  You start out with pretty basic programming, but the levels get more and more difficult and require more and more advanced programs to solve. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty quickly outclassed by this game, but that didn’t stop me from playing. I was a kid, I loved robots and video games, it was the ’80s, and they let me use the computer at school.


Everything about this game, from the Adventure-like design to the maddening complexity to the really beautiful artwork/character model/item design, tells me that this was a labor of love. The intense difficulty would usually be a fault of the game design, but in this case it’s our fault for not being as smart as we should be. This game expected better of us, and we failed to deliver.

Here’s a playthrough:



Pizza Hut got fancy in 1985 with their take on the Italian pie, the Priazzo.  Didn’t work out so well for them, but here’s their campaign in which they tried to position themselves as an Italian restaurant.


Hunt’s Remedy

This 19th century kidney/liver tonic ad is amazing.  I pity that skeleton!




This mellow 1970s commercial for the Romper Room Inchworm toy goes to show you just how sedated  people were back then.


Have It Your Way

Slightly more upbeat here, with the novel idea that you could get a hamburger exactly the way you want it at Burger King.  The “Have It Your Way” campaign came to define Burger King in the 1970s and 1980s, and was actually a pretty effective way for them to identify as a cut above the other burger franchises of the time.  Still, though, they’re a little too excited about giving you a burger your way.






Five Things – 10.10.16 – Wallow In A Sea of Emotionalism

Follow Us To Disney World

Last time we took a look at a 1984 video brochure for EPCOT Center. This one, called “Follow Us”, came out at the same time but has an expanded scope to the entire Disney World area.  At the time this included the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Discovery Island, and the resorts. The video starts off with a pretty sassy dance number.


Interestingly, the video is completely hosted by cast members – Disney’s term for in-costume park employees.  Different cast members take the viewer through the various areas of each park, speaking to what is presumably their area of expertise. Snow White even pops in to talk up Fantasyland.


The EPCOT focus is mostly a shortened version of what we saw last week.  The mime and that Mexican pavilion pair of diners who are in all EPCOT promo media show up here, too.

disney-mime mexican-diners

The last third or so of the video is about the resorts – a pretty large amount of time to dedicate to that sort of thing. It’s easy to forget that at this time the hospitality aspect of Disney World was still pretty new territory for them – everything else was (mostly) old hat.

contemporary sign-language

The video wraps up in a cheesy inspirational singalong, complete with sign language. I feel the same way about this that I did with the EPCOT video – it captures a moment in time of WDW’s history that doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s worth watching just for that.  Throw in an ’80s sensibility about how to sell this sort of idealistic experience and it’s a pretty satisfying watch.


The Magical Burger King

The creepily-smiling masked Burger King of the 2000s is iconic enough in his own right, but he’s actually a reboot of an earlier fully-human magician mascot called The Magical Burger King.  Here he is in all of his glory, performing basic magic tricks to a crowd of tolerant children.


Jim Henson – Robot

In the early 1960s, Jim Henson was hired to make a short film for Bell Labs exploring the relationship between man and machine. I’d say he nailed it.


Coors Light Ad

Does it get more eighties?


New Jell-O Flavors

I’m in! This vintage Jell-O Ad gives Jell-O the class it deserves.





Five Things – 10.3.16 – This Is My Door

Jim Henson’s The Cube

In the late 1960s, NBC had a short-lived Sunday afternoon anthology show titled NBC Experiment in Television. From what I can tell the show seems like a general-audience-aimed The Outer Limits, with an expectation for the audience to cut the NBC some slack if episodes strayed from traditional themes and formats.  In 1968, Jim Henson took a break from Muppet-ing to produce The Cube, an hour-long teleplay that aired on Experiment in Television in February of 1969.



The Cube opens with the central character, The Man, upon his arrival and realization at his current situation.  He’s inside of a cube, presumably trapped, with nothing but white on the walls.  Throughout the hour he encounters several different people, who help him put together who and where he is; some arrive to assist him, others appear to test him, and still others show up to harass him.  All cause him to doubt both himself and the world around him.

opening family-visitors tv-professor-2

Each character enters and exits through doors that appear in The Cube, doors that vanish once that character leaves. Although he is told he is free to leave if he chooses, emphasis is placed on the doors that appear being that character’s door, and not The Man’s door.  Items appear and disappear as well, relating to the visitor’s need for it.  The Man increasingly feels like he’s on the outside of a colossal inside joke.

guitar religion

The episode does a pretty good job of setting both The Man and the audience’s expectations of these visitors intents and then turning those expectations over.  Each visitor embodies a theme of 20th-century life. Some are more blatant in their theme than others.


I won’t tell you how it ends; that feels cheap.  It only aired twice, once in 1969 and then in a replay in 1970.  To my knowledge it’s not available anywhere but on – there are no high-quality copies to be found.  It’s a fun watch, but I have to admit that I don’t know how I’d feel about this if I didn’t know that Jim Henson was behind it.  There’s a very college-psych-101-meets-drama-club vibe to it and while the acting and technical execution is great there’s still a whiff of something we’ve seen before in less-competent venues.

Definitely worth watching, though.  Here it is.

Intellivision Demo

If there’s a dryer way to deliver what was at the time an amazing piece of technology, I don’t think I’ve seen it.  The imagery and that early-’80s background music are fantastic, though.



Computer Criminals

I have no idea what this is from but I want to live in this hacker’s house.



A 1989 anti-marijuana scare film, starring pre-Beverly-Hills-90210 Kathleen Robertson!

The best part is how it ends with the usual 1980s advice to give anyone who suggests using drugs “crazy” and “edgy” insulting excuses like, “I can’t today, I’m basket weaving!”.


Sweet Stalkin’

I mean, look at this.





Five Things – 09.26.16 – Find The Future And Touch Tomorrow

1984 EPCOT Video Brochure

It’s been a minute since I scratched the EPCOT itch here, but this video brochure from 1984 certainly makes up for lost time.

epcot universe-of-energyhorizons

The focus of this extended commercial, as usual, skews more toward the World Showcase than it does on Future World, a strategy that always baffled me.  Were/are people really that interested in the World Showcase? As a kid it felt like a waste of half of the park and while I don’t feel that strongly as an adult I still wonder about it.  I think this shot from the Mexico pavilion has been in every piece of EPCOT promotional material from the ’80s that I’ve ever seen:


They don’t miss the chance to tell you that you can drink booze at EPCOT, either.  There’s also a strange interlude with a stuffy elderly woman and a mime who go on a date?

world-showcase-uk mime

The back (less-than) half of the video focuses on Future World, with some great glimpses of the attractions that aren’t there anymore.  The entire layout of the park just makes more sense with Horizons poking up.  Lousy sinkholes.

smrt-1 communicore


Also a little love for the oft-neglected World of Motion attraction.


This video probably captures “old” EPCOT better than any other I’ve seen. It doesn’t go into a ton of detail and it doesn’t need to – it’s just a big promo, after all. The wide shots of the park, the carefully staged in-attraction shots, and the elements of the World Showcase they included really paint the picture of a day that’s gone by. For better or worse.

For worse.

Here’s the video. So good.


Mighty Marvel Cookbook

Last week we looked at the DC Superhero Cookbook. Marvel beat them to the punch in 1977 with their cookbook, but it wasn’t really aimed at being healthy or anything. It was still a cute idea, and the art is great.

marvel-superheroes-cookbook desserts clobbered-omelet

I’m usually more of a Marvel guy, but I gotta give the win to DC on the cookbook front.


Star Trek: TNG Makeup Test

Watch the core cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation hold poses for an awkward amount of time.  Did anyone other than Geordi wear a visor in the show? It’s strange to see other characters here wearing one.

Of course Riker can’t hold his pose.


Super Bomberman 2 Commercials

This collection of Japanese commercials for 1994’s Super Bomberman 2 is an assault on the senses; there’s no shame if you can’t make it all the way through.  The live action Bomberman costumes are pretty great.


What Kind Of Man Owns His Own Computer?

Kind of crazy to imagine a time in which this question needed to be asked and answered.






Five Things – 09.19.16 – We’re Jiggling Too Much

The Bloodhound Gang

The Bloodhound Gang is to the 1980s PBS show 3-2-1 Contact what Mathnet was to Square One. That reads like a standardized test question, but it holds up.


The Bloodhound Gang was the breakout segment of the larger educational program, featuring Vikki, Ricardo (Rembrandt from The Warriors!), and a rotating cast of junior detectives who solved a mystery (roughly) every week.  The mysteries were somewhat age-appropriate, and solving them usually involved some sort of science or math trick.  The bits were short, around 5 minutes, and serialized; mysteries would take a few days to solve.


The segment was very popular on 3-2-1 Contact, to the point where there would be an announcement at the beginning if an episode didn’t include a Bloodhound Gang segment. The Bloodhound Gang was cancelled after the unfortunate and untimely death of Ricardo, actor Marcelino Sanchez, in 1986.

The fond memories of the segment/show and its catchy theme song live on, though.  Here’s an episode.


DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook

This bizarre(-o?) (get it?) set of recipes featuring the Justice League and aimed at kids first appeared in a 1981 issue of Woman’s Day, but eventually was published as its own thing.

DC Cookbook Cover

This cookbook pretty much nails everything it tries to do.  The recipes are fun and more or less in-ine with the character they’re associated with. The writing is cute and cheesy and comic-book-y, the illustrations are absolutely fantastic, and the food itself is (relatively) healthy.






It’s out of print so you could maybe find a copy for a whole ton of money, or you could visit this Tumblr set up in tribute to it!


Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans

Before World of Warcraft took over the MMORPG world, Blizzard merely had a hit PC game franchise on their hands and apparently a very ’90s mentality of how best to manifest that franchise.  Why did Warcraft need to stay a strategy game? Why not, say, a point-and-click interactive narrative game? If not for thinking like this, World of Warcraft may never have come about; thankfully, though, someone put the kibosh on this adventure game adaptation of the Lord of the Clans novel before it saw the light of retail. That didn’t stop fans from discovering it decades later, though.  This is some Legend of Zelda: Wand of Gamelon level-stuff, right here.


Dinosaurs and Other Strange Creatures

The stop-motion in this now-largely-false educational video about dinosaurs is out of this world. Everything else is not.


Two Bytes Are Better Than One

This 1977 ad for Texas Instruments 16-bit microprocessor is great. You can’t fool me with those glasses – that guy’s not a nerd!






Five Things – 9.12.16 – To Cogitate And To Solve


Mathnet appeared as a serial segment on the public television show Square One in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  For me, it was Square One – everything else about the show was either a prelude to or epilogue from Mathnet.


Mathnet parodied the 1950s police procedural show Dragnet.  Kate Monday and George Frankly solved “crimes” (more like mysteries) by using logic and math.  It works better than you’d think.  Segments ran each day in sequential order, with the case usually being solved by the end of the week.  All together the storylines run from 30 to 60 minutes.


Mathnet was a core component of Square One up through its final season in 1992.  It continued in replays through 1994, then showed up on Nickelodeon’s Noggin network after that. I also remember it being shown in the classroom on rainy or otherwise lazy days.  Here’s an episode.


The Box (Network)

How do you go up against MTV  in the mid-80s, the undisputed kings? You create a video jukebox, allowing viewers to call in and use special phone numbers and codes to put in your order for current or classic music videos, thus programming the air.


The Box ,originally the Video Jukebox Network, hung its hat on this idea of empowering the viewer. it even featured videos that couldn’t/wouldn’t be seen on MTV or were banned. Each of the over 100 affiliates had its own playlist, so there was a pretty good chance your order would get played quickly.


MTV eventually bought The Box, and a couple of years after the purchase the network was shut down in 2001 – a pretty good run.  It was never a true competitor to the music video giant, but what a way to swing for the fences technology-wise.  Here’s some of The Box.


Canadian Library PSA

A grainy, poor quality, but nonetheless charming animated 1992 PSA for the library.


1989 Fraggle Rock VHS Club Commercial

Mail-order book clubs are a pretty poor investment, as are mail-order music clubs, but I think mail-order VHS clubs took the cake as the worst way to spend your money of the 1980s.  Here’s one for Fraggle Rock.


The Box (Orbital)

Got 30 minutes? Of course you do.  Here’s Orbital.



The Internet

Five Things – 09.05.16 – I Shall Become A Man Named Gene Watkins

Half Hour To Kill

Vincent Price, aka The Man Who Had Time To Do Everything, was the host and star of this fantastically named 1958 mystery anthology pilot.

Half Hour To Kill

The intent appears to be that he’d always host but only sometimes star.  The nature of the pilot combined with the presence of Price seems to suggest that the series would be of of a pretty dark fare.


Even though the majority of the episode is a conversation between two people It’s a surprisingly tight story, almost effortlessly creepy and has a satisfying ending. It’s difficult to see why this wasn’t picked up as a series based on this episode.


Check it out.

“Caviar is a luxury item – and so is murder.” Classic Price.



Texas Instruments Transistor Ad

I love this 1950s ad from Texas Instruments for their transistor technology. The layout, the fonts, and the snapshot of the moment in time when a transistor was a really big deal combine to make this ad something special.




What Is The Internet?

This 1994 segment explains the internet in an almost-insulting fashion and suggests ways to get Dad on the in-ter-net for Father’s Day.

The info-bahn.

Nintendo Power Set

Now you’re playing with body power!


Chewels Ads

I remember Chewels in the ’80s, but I never thought of them as competitors to “real” gum.  I thought they were for cleaning dentures or something along those lines.  Here are a few commercials that prove that a) it’s gum and b) it tastes better than other gum.






Space Age

Five Things – 08.29.16 – The Universe Is Wide

Prisoners of Gravity

A guy in space, all by himself, broadcasting his thoughts on society to the people below.  This thoughtful 1989 public television show celebrated nerd-dom long before it became cool to do so.

PoG Intro

Prisoners of Gravity was hosted by comedian Rick Green. As the title sequence tells you, his character was sick of all of the bad news on Earth and launches himself into space. From his satellite he sends out a weekly transmission exploring all sorts of subjects in the science/technology/comic/fantasy realm.

Rick 2

Most episodes featured several interviews; they occupy the bulk of the show.  Novelists, actors, comic book writers and illustrators were all given lengthy interviews conducted via satellite link from space.  Thoughtful questions were raised and, particularly in Harlan Ellison’s case below, both sides of the coin were presented.  Topics like first contact with aliens, the good and bad side of fandom, and questions like “Do you have to like science to like science fiction” are treated as actual discussion topics, not fluff, and Prisoners of Gravity deserves credit for creating a forum to discuss them pre-internet.

PoG Interview Harlan

I can’t help but get an MST3k vibe from the ‘guy alone in space on TV’ premise, but the similarities end there.  It’s its own thing and it’s clear in every aspect of the show that it was a labor of love.  The show ran from 1989 to 1994, for five seasons, extending out into the US from season two onward.  Then, for some reason, it was cancelled.

Here’s an episode. Harlan Ellison’s so salty in his segment! The sting of The Starlost probably never went away.


Virtual Boy Commercials

There’s one common thread in all of  these commercials for Nintendo’s Virtual Boy: the fact that this console came from and transports people to an alien wasteland devoid of life or enjoyment, fraught with conflict. Why would we bring this thing to Earth?


1980s General Foods International Coffee Magazine Ad

I love the horizontal placement of the different flavors along the bottom. See? Earth’s doing just fine without the Virtual Boy.

General Foods Ad

Star Phone 10,000

This plays like a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live.  The guy even looks a little like Phil Hartman. The “features” that this phone has!

Now I miss Phil Hartman.


Phil Harman Bloopers

Now I miss him even more. The one with Phil and Jan in the bar. Oof.

Friend of mine?




Dress Casual

Five Things – 08.22.16 – Hasta Luigi, Baby

Nintendo 1993 Holiday Demonstration Tutorial

This is the Poochie of corporate training videos.

Nintendo Training Video

Sent to game retailers before the 1993 holiday season, this demo employs a Bill S. Preston/Jeff Spicoli/Zack Morris hybrid being to take employees through the steps of acting properly as a Nintendo representative.  It tries so hard (and fails) to be cool that it doesn’t really accomplish anything else.

Nintendo Dancing

This guy hangs out on the couch for the majority of the tape, in varying levels of splay.

Using a blend of sharp graphics, blaring rock music, grating ‘attitude’ and roleplayed scenarios, employees learn about the differences between the NES, the Super NES, the Game Boy, the advantages Nintendo has over the competition, and how to set up and maintain the various display systems.  There are also some heavily stylized interludes of kids playing video games that make no sense.

Nintendo Rock Out

I really can’t overstate how hard this video tries to be cool.  Its attempts at being playfully subversive results in it not being clear who this is actually targeted at. I can’t imagine a retail employee getting anything out of this video and a consumer would see right through it.  It’s a pretty good example of how corporations viewed kids in the early ’90s, though, so at least it’s worth that. Check it out.


Captain Lou Albano Anti Drug PSA

A good message in this 1980s anti-drug PSA, but a strange one once the religious blanket gets draped over it.


Manhunt Board Game

A group of players travel around a board gathering clues to eliminate suspects of a crime. Sounds like Clue, right? No – it’s much more complicated.

Manhunt Box

In Manhunt the players are all detectives.  A crime is agreed upon by all players at the beginning of the game and entered into the Clue Scanner.  As players move through the game they are given the chance to insert probes into the Clue Scanner which gives more information to the nature of the crime. This information can be used by the players to whittle down their list of suspects and ultimately determine who done it, winning the game.

Manhunt Board

So, Clue.  But with a Crime Computer, a Clue Scanner, a Probe, a Detective Handbook, and some other stuff to complicate it up.  Still, it’s got a great look and if I had seen this game as a kid I’d have been all over it with all of the devices. Now, a game based on the PS2 game Manhunt? Take my money, please.

First Color Videotaping

In 1958, NBC recorded and rebroadcast the first color videotaping, a speech by President Eisenhower. This video starts in black and white and NBC president Robert Sarnoff flips the switch to color a few minutes in. A pretty great capture of a pretty amazing moment, and the movement in the video looks so snappy for 1958.


Rowntree’s Ad

There’s something in 1940s ad for Rowntree’s Fruit Gums that really grabs me.

Rowntree's Ad








Five Things – 08.15.16 – We Fly On, Untouched


On one sunny afternoon in 1986 Vincent Price, dressed as a mailman, delivers a VHS tape to a kid named Matthew.  The tape, Escapes, is a horror anthology hosted by Vincent Price.  He starts watching it, and so do we. I’m not sure which level of inception we’re at at this point.


It’s really just five short horror stories wrapped by Vincent Price and given a strange intro and outro to make it make sense.


There are five stories here: Something’s Fishy, Coffee Break, Who’s There, Jonah’s Dream, and Think Twice.  None of them are particularly scary in the execution, and some are downright stupid, but they’re all good snapshots of ’80s cable video production.  Coffee Break is probably my favorite of the batch; it feels like an early Stephen King short story minus the actual scary ending he probably would have written.

Coffee Break

What strikes me about the ending (spoilers) is that characters from each of the stories come together in a “shocking” final scene, proving that this isn’t just some acquisition effort at getting a bunch of unrelated stories and running them side-by-side. As an MST3k fan this video conjures up memories of Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, which is actually slightly more involved in stitching the standalone stories together than this piece is but actually has a bunch of acquired, unrelated pieces in it – from different decades even. Still, same idea.  It’s worth a watch, there’s something warm and familiar about it all.


World War III, Part Two

The thrilling followup to last week’s 1950s scare comic about World War III. This installment features battles in the air, on land, and under the sea… and doesn’t really resolve much. It actually  makes the story much more confusing as to what the makers of the comic’s real agenda was. I’ve also never seen it spelled “Commy” before reading this comic.

WWIII Part Two


Nintendo Interactive Retail Store Displays

This 1992 training video about maintaining Nintendo console in-store play units goes further than it needs to in the effort to entertain.  Probably as far as it can. It’s hard to believe that this is this guy’s real voice – it sounds like the voice someone would use to make fun of this guy’s real voice. That’s a compliment, though, I think!


19th Century Obesity Ad

There’s very little to appreciate about this fat-shaming newspaper ad from the 19th century, but the aesthetic appeal of the images and the wall of text do catch my eye.

Fat People


Bluegrass 45

Current obsession: This 1970s Japanese Bluegrass band.