Five Things – 05.18.15 – Polished Floors Are Man Traps

1. The California Raisins: The Grape Escape – Here’s a puzzler: it’s the ’90s and the California Raisins can do no wrong as a franchise. Neither can Capcom, the developer of such hit original franchises as Mega Man and licensed home-runs like the Duck Tales games.  So why was it that a NES game based on the California Raisins and structured similarly to Duck Tales was basically completed and never released commercially?

California Raisins: Grape Escape

Here’s the plot: some jealous haters have kidnapped the Raisins and their musical notes (?), and you as the sole un-kidnapped Raisin have to go through five levels to retrieve them.  It looks like a pretty cool platformer, and the fact that your characters can (explicably) moonwalk and (inexplicably) shoot unlimited grape jellybeans gives a little uniqueness to the game.  Unfortunately, it was not to be.  It’s hard to imagine how the ax could have fallen this close to the finish line – the game was reviewed in published magazines and you can see the completed box art above with a Mega Man coupon offer.

Game Player's Cover

Maybe the Raisins had fallen off of the pop-culture shelf by then? Or maybe those haters who stole the musical notes got the last laugh after all.

Thanks to the existence of review copies and the internet, emulation of this game exists. Here’s a playthrough. Rest in peace, The California Raisins: The Grape Escape, you were too beautiful for this world.

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Five Things – 05.11.15 – Hey Birds! Here Are Cookies!

1.  Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince – Really not sure how this idea came to be.  In 1983, the Benji franchise was in the sweet spot of its popularity – that movie star dog could do no wrong.  He’s like Lassie, but interesting! Sort of.  Hanna-Barbera took on the task of pulling Benji from the big screen and putting him on television in weekly installments.  The best way to do that, they must have thought, was to put him in a sci-fi storyline with robots and aliens.
Benji Title

So yeah, Benji, the little dog who could help normal people solve normal problems, was suddenly tasked with helping an heir to an alien regime displaced by a coup restore honor to his planet.  Benji, Zax & the Alien Prince aired as part of CBS’s 1983 Saturday Morning lineup. The idea was that this deposed prince was sent to earth to hide, and he and his guardian robot Zax came across Benji.

Benji, Zax, & The Alien Prince

Zax, being a robot in the ’80s, was obviously a wisecracking know-it-all.  He and Benji had a friendly antagonistic relationship, and Zax was able to decipher Benji’s short barks into the long sentences that they apparently actually were.  Convenient! Zax also provided a good prop for Benji to do his tricks against.

benji trick


The series was mostly about bad guys from outer space coming to capture/kill the prince, and Benji’s successful thwarting of such attempts after Zax displays an inability to do so.

The series lasted only one season; it appears that that Benji love that consumed American youth in the 1970s and 80s only goes so far. I’m still scratching my head over who thought it’d be a good idea to take the Benji franchise into this territory – it’s a pretty square peg going into a round hole. It makes for some fun point-and-laugh nostalgia, but I can’t imagine anyone pitching this with any seriousness.

Here’s an episode. Woof.

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Five Things – 05.04.15- I Got A Creepy Crawly Halloween Thing

1. Hardees Mascots – It made sense that Hardees would want to get into some cartoon mascots to dial up their kids’ business; after all, McDonalds was practically printing money with their Mcdonaldland characters and their Happy Meals.  These characters came out in the early 1970s, and it feels like they maybe could have spent a little more time in the kitchen before they did.  Get it? Kitchen.  It’s a restaurant.  Forget it.

Speedy McGreedy

Speedy McGreedy was the bad guy of the bunch, dressed in nefarious purple.  His schemes were usually thwarted by Gilbert Giddyup, an old-timey sheriff, and the thwarting usually involved a hamburger.

Gilbert and Speedy

Neither character is particularly iconic, definitely nothing approaching the Ronald McDoald level.  There were several other characters, most of whom were variations on the idea of a large grotesque walking mouth.

Super Mouth


Motorcycle Mouth Frankenstein Mouth

My first thought was that the Mouths were like the Gremlins in Gremlins 2, but really they’re more like the Whammys from Press Your Luck – they don’t, as a species, gravitate toward good or bad; there are good ones and bad ones.

Then there’s the Fun Machine.  This thing is the real deal.

Fun Machine

The Fun Machine actually existed in Hardees lobbies.  When you got a burger and fries you received a token for one prize out of the Fun Machine.  This thing looks amazing:

Fun Machine

So maybe the characters aren’t icons and maybe some of them are a little bit creepy and maybe  (Fun Machine excluded) the whole thing is a little half baked all around. It’s still fun.  They’re not around anymore, and that’s a little sad.  The Fun Machine isn’t either, and that just stinks.

Here’s some of the commercials featuring the ‘gang’.

I wonder who shot Gilbert in his hat?

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Five Things – 04.27.15 – Computers Are Not Especially Good At Acting Like Real Creatures

1.  Children of the Dog Star – Tommyknockers for kids? Sign me up.

Children of the Dog Star

OK, not really Tommyknockers, but darn close.  Children of the Dog Star was a 1984 children’s series set in New Zealand, about a group of kids who discover a bunch of alien relics.

RelicAcross the first few episodes they uncover more relics and figure out how to assemble them. Conveniently, a brass weathervane at Gretchen’s uncle’s farm turns out to be the catalyst for the machine, and they activate an old probe that is linked to Sirius, the Dog Star.


The probe turns out to be a teaching probe named Kolob, sent ages ago to teach science to humans. It also knows the kids’ names by scanning them. It then seems to go haywire and ‘pauses’ the entire town so that nobody but the three kids can move.


The kids are somehow able to establish a communication link with the aliens who sent Kolob in the first place, and are chastised for having re-assembled Kolob.  There’s a nice moment of First Contact, and then both species team up to destroy Kolob and hide the weathervane to prevent any future assembly.



If we’re being honest, this probably could have been a three episode series.  It holds up a lot better than a lot of stuff from the ’80s, though. The alien design is pretty inspired and you can tell they were really trying to do as much with the effects as they could on their budget.

Here’s the first episode.  That intro!

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Mercury Ad

Five Things – 4.20.15 – To Be Drained From The Sea And Made Fresh As Rain

1. Out of This World – GM’s Futurama pavilion’s been covered here before;  the film accompanying the exhibit does a great job conveying the excitement and hopefulness of the future, a wonderful when instead of an if.  Frigidaire tried the same thing around the same time with their video titled Out of This World.  It uses alot of the same footage and tries to do the same thing that GM’s video did, but kind of blows it.

Futurama Ride

Out of This World takes what they presume to be your average American housewife and sends her through Futurama.  She marvels at the direction our civilization is headed, into bases in Antarctica…

Antarctic Base

…beneath the sea…

Undersea Facility

…and into the jungles, where bulldozer technology will be unparalleled.


Seriously, they go there.  Most futurist videos produced by corporations try to downplay the obvious fact that they’re eager to develop tools that exploit the natural resources that we discover, but Frigidaire didn’t seem to get that memo.  They claim in this video that we’re going to “drain the sea” to make fresh water for ourselves, and that we’ll transform the Amazon jungle into farmland and pastures for cattle.

The wonders of the future then shift to things a little closer to home, namely kitchens.  And stays there. The last half of the film is about kitchens.  To be fair, they’re gorgeous kitchens:

Future Kitchen


Fabulous Kitchen

The housewife star of the video is floored by the kitchen technology as well as the other ancillary appliances, like a mobile bar that can be rolled into any room:

Portable Bar

Or the inexplicably outdoor laundry room on the back porch.

Porch Laundry

The already-awkwardly-turned video then takes another awkward and sort of offensive turn, in which the housewife travels through kitchens of the world, herself acting as the housewives of each region.  There’s not much that’s different about each kitchen other than the food that’s in the fridge and the decorations that are on the table, but they seem to feel that they’re on to something and spend several minutes on the world tour.

Then the housewife wakes up and realizes it was just a dream, that she never went to the Futurama exhibit at all, and that she’s stuck in her terrible non-futuristic AMAZING KITCHEN.

Amazing Kitchen

That’s kind of three strikes, right? They’ve shown a rotten intention toward our natural resources, a rotten notion of gender roles, and a rottenly lazy attempt to showcase the different cultures of the world.  It just goes to show that maybe not everybody should go for the futurology angle with their infomercials.

Here’s the whole thing.

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Red Doorway

Five Things – 4.13.15 – There is Danger Outside, So Don’t Go Outside

1.  Protect and Survive – Coming right out of the gates with a downer!
protect and survive

Protect and Survive was a 1970s series of Public Service Announcements in the UK aimed at educating people of the things they needed to take care of in the event of a nuclear attack. Unlike a lot of nuclear propaganda from the time there’s not really a lot of paranoia here, just a stiff upper lip and a level-headed rundown of what would need to be done.  The even tone of the PSAs makes the whole thing even more chilling, particularly when they’re explaining how to bury and tag a body in terms even a child would understand.

The thing is, horrific what-if aside, there’s a lot to love about this series.  The graphics and animations are great and the soundtrack is a chilling synth dream.

OpeningThe opening graphic of each PSA.

Attack Sounds

A visualization of what the attack siren will sound like.

Fallout Warning

A visualization of the Fallout Warning.

No RoomThe top two floors are bad for fallout!

RadioAn unnecessary but beautiful graphic of the radio making…sounds.

Watching this compilation of PSAs really affected me in a way a lot of these nuclear attack preparation videos haven’t.  I think it’s that the practical approach to survival and daily life highlights the reality of just how horrific this situation would be for a family. This was a genuine concern back then, and finding something that doesn’t over-dramatize this already dramatic situation makes it more…real.

Here’s the whole string of them.

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Jai Alai Sign

Five Things – 03.30.15 – An Insurance Called “Preparedness”

1. Rural Civil Defense Films – There’s a lot to scratch your head over when watching these 1965 Rural Civil Defense PSAs about nuclear preparedness. These films appear to be targeted at farmers, or anybody who might have lots of land and livestock and not much access to up-to-the-minute events.  It seems that these savvy filmmakers decided that farmers respond best to marionettes acting out very broad ideas for how one might prepare for the end of the world.

Be Prepared

Like most of the media from around this time, there are decent nuggets of advice buried among other suggestions that are just…weird.  For example, securing your livestock and thinking of their safety is a good idea! What’s the best way, you might ask? Line their barn with blocks of hay to protect against fallout!

Hay, Fertilizer, Blocks

The fertilizer and, you know, actual blocks in this shot are strictly for human use.  Livestock gets the hay!


One of the PSAs focuses specifically on nuclear fallout, highlighting it as a concern but then kind of casually suggesting ways to avoid it: peel your fruit, wash your food.  And throw the peels in a clearly labelled trash can?

Radioactive Waste Bin

I guess these PSAs are better than no PSAs at all, and people probably did need these tips, but it just feels sort of half-baked.  They all end with a call to action to “Contact your county agent of civil defense director”, but did they really think anyone watching this PSA would do that?

Here’s the string of ads.  Good stuff.


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light years ahead

Five Things – 3.23.15 – A Bursting Bubble Containing Its Own Tragic Irony

1.  How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race – Here’s an interesting branch of the nuclear scare of the 1950s: this “article” was published in the December 1953 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, informing the masses of what would probably happen to the human race in the event of a Nuclear War.

How Nuclear Radiation Cover


How Nuclear Radiation Cover 2

(This is a serious article.)

I’m actually going to post the entire thing since, besides being absolutely hilarious, the ads are fantastic. The tl;dr for you, if you don’t want to soak in all 9 pages, is that a nuclear conflict has the potential to cause a sudden and widespread mutation in humans – effectively creating a new race. This guy really specifically predicts what this new race would look like – huge heads, very tall, and four toed! This new race will either become our masters, or they will kill us all, or we will hunt them down to the last mutant, or we will co-operate with them.  Really taking a stab there, listing literally ALL possible outcomes.

Nuclear Radiation Page 3

Nuclear Radiation Page 4

Nuclear Radiation Page 5

Nuclear Radiation Page 6

Nuclear Radiation Page 7

Nuclear Radiation Page 8

I choose to shrug this threat off!

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Jellybean Art

Five Things – 3.16.15 – The Job of Looking Ahead

1.  The Kids Guide To The Internet – Here’s what appears to be an effort to position the internet as the least cool thing in the world.  If the “Christmas Jammies” family existed 20 years earlier, this might be what they’d be doing.

Kid's Guide to the Internet

Kids Guide to the Internet shows how a nuclear family of the ’90s uses the ‘net (they call it that) to change their lives, and really drills down on how the kids might use the internet- mostly writing emails to the President, looking at museum floorplan layouts, and hitting up the Wall Street Journal.

Kids on the Internet


This is back when “professional” webpages looked like spam webpages do today.  The video is largely useless, and you have to wonder who was buying it. Schools for rainy days? Grandparents? Clueless parents? Probably all three, and throw a couple of copies for a youth group or two in there as well.

There’s also a catchy ragtime tune that pops up every two or three minutes. WATCH IT.

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On Duty

Five Things – 3.9.15 – The Energy That Makes Junior Run

1.  Is This Tomorrow? – This comic book from 1947 seems almost like a parody of the anti-Communist paranoia of the day.  But it’s not.

Is This Tomorrow

Is This Tomorrow 2

As the sticker indicates (why would you use a red sticker for an anti-Communist pamphlet?), this is the doing of the Catechetical Guild Educational Society,  You can see from the first page that the fear is laid on pretty thick.  It’s all about how the Communists will infiltrate our government, labor unions, schools, and Hollywood to make us all hate each other and bring us to a tipping point…and then cause a crisis that will naturally put them in charge.  Once in charge, they’ll obviously burn all of the food and then go for the Catholics… which is what I think the Catechetical Guild might have been afraid of the whole time.

The whole thing’s over at, but here are some of my favorite panels. It’s all just so absurd.

GrenadeJust like that, government overthrown.

Extraordinary Powers

Seems legit.

Burn the Food

Seems legit.

Machine Guns

Those soldiers have….machine guns!


As you do.


Ten Commandments

Actually hard to argue with most of these.  Be American first is kind of an odd one.

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