Friday, December 21, 2012

Golden Age Christmas

The official soundtrack for this entry--MUST be played while reading:

Somewhere in My Memory
Candles in the window,
shadows painting the ceiling,

gazing at the fire glow,
feeling that gingerbread feeling.
Precious moments,
special people,
happy faces,
I can see.

Somewhere in my memory,
Christmas joys all around me,
living in my memory,
all of the music,
all of the magic,
all of the family home here with me.

It’s impossible for me to hear this song—originally from the Golden Age classic “Home Alone”-- and not be immediately consumed with warm fuzzy memories of the Christmases of my childhood. 

There were certainly a lot of great ones.  I remember the trips to cut down a fresh tree, then bringing it home and decorating it with my parents and my sister.  I remember spending Christmas Eve with my Dad's family and Christmas Day with my Mom's.  Delicious food, elaborate desserts, warm houses, lots of people laughing, lots of relatives who have since passed on.

And, the presents—oh, the presents!  Lego sets.  Wrestling figures.  Video games.  Board Games.  Bicycles.  Any toy you could dream of.  One year, I even got a swingset.  As a kid, Christmas morning represents all that you’ve worked for over the course of an entire year—affirmation that you were, in fact, a good boy or girl, and that Santa noticed and was rewarding you for it.

Early '90s Lego "Ice Planet" Set
WWF Hulk Hogan Hasbro Action Figure

The Original Gameboy (via

My Pal 2


I received so many great Christmas gifts in my childhood that it’s impossible to pick a favorite.  But perhaps the one that stands out most in my mind is when I got the original Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas in 1990.  I’m not sure that I appreciated how big (or expensive) a gift it was at the time, but I do know that I spent countless hours playing it throughout the rest of my childhood.

Six years later, when I WAS old enough to realize that a gift was expensive and difficult to obtain, I got another of my most memorable gifts—Nintendo 64.  That Christmas N64 was flying off the shelves, and selling for almost 4x MSRP on the black market.  But I guess I was just a lucky kid, because Santa somehow found one for me.

(Not me of course, but another young Golden Ager celebrating getting his n64 for Christmas)

For her part, my sister scored both a Tickle-Me-Elmo and a Furby during the Christmases that those items were all the rage.  My parents certainly weren’t paying more than retail price, but we do have an uncle who “knew some people.”

Christmas was just a wonderful time.  There were more great gifts than I could ever remember, but I know I’ll never forget the anticipation leading up to Christmas Day and the pure joy and excitement that we felt running downstairs on Christmas morning.  It was magical.

Sadly, as I got older, that magic wore off.  The air came out of the Santa balloon.  The toys and games turned to boxer shorts and tube socks.  The family gatherings that used to be so fun began to feel repetitive and boring, and all the good food we used to eat became a downer because I knew it would make me fat.  All the things that I used to look forward to, I became indifferent about.  And after a while, indifference and apathy gave way to an active dislike.  By my college years, I thought the whole thing was a commercial fabrication, and I actively told people that it was “a stupid holiday.”  A number of factors in my life had made me a lot more cynical about a lot of things, and Christmas, which had once been my favorite day of the year, became an object of scorn.

Then in early 2007 I took a service trip to Honduras that changed my perspective on a lot of things in life--so much so that I decided to spend Christmas that year at a Honduran Orphanage with some friends.  My mom was pretty sad that I wouldn’t be home for Christmas for the first time ever, but I think we both knew that it was the right thing to do.  The kids in Honduras had really never experienced Christmas the way I knew it.  As it turned out, Santa didn’t visit orphanages in Honduras—until 2007, at least.  We made a small stocking full of school supplies and candy for each kid, and gave each a toy or other fun present, many of which we’d brought with us from donors in America.  The excitement on Christmas morning was off the charts.  You would have thought they had won the lottery.  This was Christmas in its purest form, and it reminded me of the magic of the day.


Here’s why I tell you this story, on this blog for children of the '80s and '90s: as a generation, it is now our responsibility to ensure that every kid can experience the unadulterated joy of Christmas the way we did.  Many of us who grew up in the “Golden Age For Kids” have countless wonderful Christmas memories—“precious moments, smiling faces, happy people we can see—somewhere in [our] memories.”  We had loving parents and families who created those beautiful memories for us--the memories that we still carry with us today and that we'll carry always.  Unfortunately, many children aren’t as lucky.  They may not have parents in their lives, or they may be in families without the means to provide gifts or elaborate meals or parties.  

That’s where we come in.  Whether it’s spending Christmas at an orphanage in a place like Honduras (or anywhere else) or it’s adopting an angel and buying a gift for a child that would otherwise be disappointed, or maybe it’s just doing some other act of kindness that benefits a child at this time of the year…. The responsibility is ours now.  God knows we had enough joyful Christmas moments throughout our childhoods—let’s make sure that the next generation has those same moments.  Because every kid deserves to experience the magic of Christmas—and if you can bring happiness to a child on Christmas, you just may be reminded of that magic yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our readers and their friends and families.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Unsolved Mysteries

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was originally written and intended for posting during Halloween week.  However, due to Hurricane Sandy-related power outage, we weren't able to get it posted until now.  Tried to update it to reflect the fact that we are now in November, but it was written with an October state of mind.  Hope everyone had a safe and happy Halloween).  

Autumn is probably the scariest season.  It starts to get dark early, all the plant life shrivels and dies, and on the 31st of October we have the scariest night of the year in Halloween.  It is against this backdrop that we bring you this entry on perhaps the scariest Golden Age television show: Unsolved Mysteries.


First airing in 1987 and running throughout the 1990s, Unsolved Mysteries used actors to recreate stories of real-life unexplained events.  Each episode would feature 3-4 segments telling different stories, each ending with lingering questions.  Topics covered included everything from missing persons and murders with peculiar circumstances to UFOs and supernatural phenomena.  Unsolved Mysteries had a dark, eerie feel to it—kind of like a toned down scary movie, only all the stories portrayed were based on real events.  The show’s producers were masters at drawing you into a plot only to leave you scratching your head, and when applicable, feeling sorry for the victims and their families.  Viewers were prompted to call in to the “Unsolved Mysteries Call Center” if they had any information on any of the cases profiled, and occasionally UM would provide updates that gave closure to mysteries shown in prior episodes.  But the updates were few and far between, and most times UM left its viewers captivated and bewildered.

The Music

Unsolved Mysteries’ famously ominous vibe was set at the beginning of each episode by the show’s theme music.  

With a sound that may remind listeners a bit of the theme to “The Exorcist”, Unsolved Mysteries’ theme became synonymous with paranormal activity in the Golden Age.

Often forgotten but perhaps even more chilling than the intro theme was Unsolved Mysteries’ closing theme:

And not to be outdone, the “UPDATE” music was pretty scary in its own right.  Unfortunately a cut of this track in its original form does not seem to have made it to YouTube, but this "8 bit Remix" gives you a taste:

The Stack

Unsolved Mysteries had a couple different hosts in its early years, but the show really took off when Robert Stack took over in 1987. 

A television and movie actor dating back to the 1950s, Stack’s stoic demeanor and cold delivery were a perfect fit with UM’s storytelling style.  He was often shown wearing a trench coat, slowly walking along a foggy and dimly lit street or in some other isolated and eerie film location.  Affectionately known to the show’s diehard fans as simply “The Stack”, Robert Stack’s presence on Unsolved Mysteries was an important part of the show’s mystique.

Favorite Stories

First, it is important to note that a number of officially licensed Unsolved Mysteries DVDs have been released.  They’re available onAmazon for a pretty reasonable price—everything from “The Ultimate Collection” to a number of “Best of” compilations featuring segments on similar topics.  There are also a number of segments available on YouTube, which should be viewed solely to get a feel for the show, and NOT to substitute for purchasing the DVDs.  GA4K has no relationship with the makers of the DVDs or with the uploaders of the YouTube content. 

Unsolved Mysteries told so many compelling stories through the years that it’s virtually impossible to narrow it down to any kind of “Top 10” list or anything like that.  Still, I’ll offer a few of my favorite segments to give a taste to any newcomers or remind the old-timers of just how enthralling this show could be.  Personally, I never took much interest in the episodes about aliens, ghosts or the supernatural, so I won’t highlight anything in those areas.  For me the most compelling stories were generally the unexplained deaths and the missing persons stories, which felt much more authentic.

Anthonette Cayedito

A young girl is abducted from her home late one night, but signs persist that she is still alive.

Friends 'til the End (The Boys on the Tracks)

Two teenage boys in Arkansas go out hunting one night and are found dead the next day.  The circumstances around their death are shrouded in mystery, leading some to believe that a major conspiracy may be at hand.  This one in particular is worth watching, as it will apparently be the basis of a full motion picture in the next few years.

Hyun Jong (Cindy) Song

A Korean-American Penn State student spends Halloween night partying with friends.  A friend drops her off at her apartment, and she is never seen or heard from again.

Tommy Burkett

A college student is found dead in his home, and it is ruled a suicide.  However, evidence mounts that a homicide and cover-up may be the real cause of death.

Kurt Sova

A teenage boy goes to a party on a Friday evening.  He then goes missing, but is seen around town by an eyewitness.  Three days later his dead body is discovered in a local ravine, but it is determined that he had been dead for only a short time, and an autopsy cannot determine a cause of death.

Blind River Rest Stop

Maybe one of the scariest re-enactments in the show’s history, this case tells the story of two cold-blooded murders at a secluded Canadian rest stop late one night in 1991. 

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Growing up in the late 80’s and ‘90s, my parents used to let me watch this show, but I’m honestly not sure why.  It was—and is—one of the scariest television programs I can ever remember.  It may not have had the shocking moments of a horror movie (ie. killers or monsters jumping out from behind stuff), but knowing that these REAL murderers and kidnappers were still out there was enough to give any youngster nightmares. 

Matthew McConaughey in a UM re-enactment, sporting a '90s denim vest
One thing I really enjoy when going back to watch the show now is the distinctly ‘80s/’90s vibe that’s evident in so many episodes.  The real people telling their stories and the re-enactors both have a distinctly Golden Age fashion, and there are many times when a prop or something else in the storyline will make you say “Oh yea, I remember that…”  It’s a fun side-plot to the otherwise dark and mysterious re-enactments of often horrible events.

Horrible, but completely captivating.  

Once I start watching Unsolved Mysteries segments on YouTube, I find it very difficult to stop.  One advantage that we have over those who viewed the original UM telecasts is that we have the internet at our disposal.  If you watched an original episode on NBC in the early ‘90s, a segment would grab your attention, you’d hope for resolution, and then the episode would end and that was it.  You were entirely dependent on Unsolved Mysteries to provide you any updates on the cases profiled.  Today, you can just throw the person’s name into a search engine and find all sorts of articles and updates.  A number of fan websites have popped up as well, most notably the Sitcoms Online Message Boards where you can interact with other diehard fans of the show, get updates on any new leads in any of the cases or exchange theories with others who have put a lot of thought into them.  In short, the show never stops—for better and for worse.  It’s great that now you can see a case and be able to get a heck of a lot more information than just what the Unsolved Mysteries producers provide.  But getting so involved can make it even more frustrating when you run into dead ends.

Probably the most frustrating types of cases on UM are the ones where everybody knows who did it, however there is no body and/or not enough evidence to press charges, and so the killer gets away with it.  Probably the most egregious example of this is the case of Wendy Camp.  It seems pretty clear to me that she, her daughter and her sister-in-law were the victims of foul play by her ex-husband and/or his family.  Unfortunately—despite seeming like a total buffoon in the segment—her husband Chad apparently was smart enough to dispose of the body well, and without a body or any other evidence it’s impossible to file charges against him even though everyone knows he did it.  The case of Jeremy Bright is another tragic example, where everybody in town seems to know who did it, but without a body, justice cannot be served.

Another frustrating aspect of Unsolved Mysteries are the situations where law enforcement is clearly negligent in its duties—either due to incompetence, or deliberately because they have some agenda.  That’s a more common theme than you might expect, found in a number of segments, particularly when you research them online and hear from local people who had first-hand knowledge of the situations.  It’s a valuable lesson for all of us—in the event that something terrible does happen to a loved one, don’t trust that law enforcement will do everything they can.  Monitor everything yourself and don’t trust anyone to have your best interest at heart.

Watching Unsolved Mysteries really makes you appreciate some of the changes for the better in modern culture.  I can’t tell you how many segments I’ve watched and thought, “Wow, this death could have been so easily prevented if the victim just had a cell phone…”  Mobile phone technology is universally applauded for making our lives more convenient, but it’s also hugely valuable for enabling people to contact someone if they’re in a dangerous or vulnerable situation.  Another important advancement is the development of ubiquitous surveillance technology—security cameras everywhere.  In the case of Deborah Poe, it may seem crazy to a modern viewer that a convenience store that was open overnight and that was staffed only by a woman in her 20s did not have any security cameras, but that’s how things were in the ‘80s.  Today, situations like that are extremely rare.  DNA testing is another technology that is omni-present today that may have been extremely useful in many of the cases on UM, but that didn’t gain widespread popularity until recent years.
Also, there have been some societal changes in behavior that are for the better.  In “The Orange Sock Murders”, we see the violent rape and killing of two women in their 20s who tried to hitchhike home from work.  To the modern viewer it seems like these two women must have had a death wish to hitchhike at night with a strange man, however in many parts of the country in the 1980s that was just what people did.  As society has become a little wiser to the habits of predators and sociopaths over the last few decades, we’ve realized that things like hitchhiking with strangers are dangerous activities and we avoid those situations.


If you’re looking to watch something legitimately scary with a Golden Age flavor, look no further than Unsolved Mysteries.  The true fans watch it late at night, all alone in a dark house.  Bonus points if you live in a rural or isolated area, in a house far from a population center.

Unsolved Mysteries was a long-running program that held the attention of viewers for over a decade.  In the process, it was responsible for the capture of several murderers, child abductors and other criminals.  In some cases it helped reunite children with their families.  In other cases it helped families to find some closure on a lost child or loved one.  For these valuable services, the show should be applauded.

But sadly, a majority of the cases profiled on Unsolved Mysteries through the years remain unresolved to this very day.  People who went missing 20, 25, 30 years ago still remain missing today.  In many cases the family members profiled on Unsolved Mysteries, desperately seeking answers about their loved ones, have moved on or passed away themselves.  In some cases the search for the truth persists, now with social media and the internet as allies.  But if secrets have been kept this long, chances are they may never come to light barring a deathbed confession or some miraculous recovery of a corpse.  For the sake of the poor victims’ families, I hope that one day they find that type of closure and that justice is served.  Until then, we can all continue watching the videos, surfing the blogs and message boards and checking Google News for updates.  There’s always that glimmer of hope that one day there will be a breakthrough. 

Until next time.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dungeons & Dragons: The Animated Series

Cartoons in the ‘80s were a bit of a mixed bag.  The cynics will tell you that ‘80s cartoons were just elaborate advertisements created to sell action figures and other merchandise—commercials with commercials.  But while marketing toy lines was certainly a consideration, the idea that ‘80s cartoons had no substance is false.  Many—nay, MOST—of the cartoons from the 1980s were enjoyable to the kids who grew up on them—and a number of them are still great to watch today.

For this entry, we’re going way back to the mid-1980’s—really the dawn of “The Golden Age For Kids”—to remember a cartoon that helped pave the way for a lot of the best cartoons and kids shows of the next 15 years.  I didn’t watch Dungeons & Dragons in its original run, as I was only a small child when it first aired, and I’ve never played the role-playing game either.  But after hearing some good things about the show and realizing that the entire 27 episode series was available on Amazon for less than $10, I thought I’d give it a shot.
And I’m very glad I did.


On a trip to an amusement park, a group of 6 kids (5 teens, 1 pre-teen) decide to check out a Dungeons & Dragons ride.  However, something goes wrong on the ride and they are unexpectedly transported to a strange and mysterious realm—the realm of Dungeons & Dragons.  There they meet fierce opponents, including the evil sorcerer Venger and the 5-headed dragon Tiamat.  Their guide to the realm is the wise and powerful but enigmatic Dungeon Master, who grants each of the six kids a role and a power: Ranger, Barbarian, Thief, Magician, Cavalier and Acrobat.  The kids use their powers/weapons to defend themselves and fight against evil as they move through the realm trying to find a way back home.

Principle Characters

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Hank is the group’s natural-born leader.  It’s never specified, but Hank is your standard “captain of the football team” type.  He’s decisive, level-headed, principled and courageous.  Dungeon Master makes Hank the Ranger, meaning he has a longbow that shoots energy arrows.  There is no central protagonist in D&D, but Hank is probably the closest thing.  I imagine that young boys watching the show would look up to Hank the most.  Hank is voiced by Willie Aames who many Golden Agers may remember as Buddy Lembeck from Charles in Charge.

Blue-eyed, red-haired and freckled, Sheila is the group’s most emotional member and at times provides a mother-like presence.  Dungeon Master proclaims her to be the Thief—which apparently does not carry a negative connotation in the realm of D&D.  Her “weapon” is a cloak that makes her invisible when she puts on its hood.  While it’s probably not the coolest weapon of the bunch, it helps the gang escape from a number of difficult situations.  Many hints are given that Sheila’s feelings for Hank may go beyond just friendship, but nothing is ever confirmed.

More than Friends? via

The group’s youngest member by several years, the impetuous Bobby is Sheila’s younger brother.   Playing the role of Barbarian, Bobby wields an oversized club that shakes the earth when he slams it down.  Like his sister, Bobby is an emotional character, a little bit temperamental and very protective—especially of Uni, the group’s unicorn mascot. 

via DeviantArt
A bumbling amateur magician known for botching card tricks in the earth realm, Presto’s role in the realm of D&D isn’t all that unfamiliar as Dungeon Master conveniently decides that he will be a magician.  Unfortunately for Presto, his difficulties performing magic tricks persist in the new realm too.  This leads to Presto lacking in self-confidence.  His hat has magical powers, enabling him to cast spells and pull key items from it to help the crew in times of peril.  The only problem is that Presto rarely gets it right and more often ends up pulling something ridiculous from his hat, providing a little levity.  Once in a while though, Presto comes through and saves the gang with his magic.

The tough but friendly Diana is given the title of Acrobat, which works well since in the earth realm she was an all-state gymnast.  Her weapon is a magical staff, which she often uses in more of a pole vault fashion.  Diana is amicable, courageous, and very independent.  Other than Hank, she seems to be the group’s strongest leader.  Overall, Diana is a good role model for female D&D fans and is probably the character who would be most fun to hang out with in real life.

The ultra-sarcastic Eric fills the “wise-cracking sidekick” role for the group.  A spoiled child of wealthy parents in the earth realm, Eric is prone to whining about the group’s situation.   He’s also famous for acting tough but cowering when facing a dragon, monster, or other enemy.   Though his friends tend to view him as a complainer and a general pain in the butt, Eric’s cynicism is very accurate at times and his frequent questioning of Hank’s leadership provides the group with an important voice of dissent.  He also brings some comic relief—many times the whole group will get a good laugh out of watching Eric freak out about some harmless creature chasing him.  Dungeon Master makes Eric the Cavalier, meaning he has a protective shield.  Despite acting cowardly at times, Eric steps up and uses his shield admirably to defend the group from attackers on more than one occasion.  Eric is voiced by Don Most, famous for his role as Ralph Malph on Happy Days.

Dungeon Master
The mysterious Dungeon Master presents himself to the kids as their guide to the realm of Dungeons and Dragons.  Appearing as a very small and bald old man, Dungeon Master is also a supremely powerful wizard and is very knowledgeable about the realm.  He tends to communicate in riddle form, often befuddling the children.  There is a certain Yoda-like quality to Dungeon Master, but at times it seems like he is deliberately withholding information from the kids, and his true motives are hidden.  Dungeon Master seems to have an interesting relationship with Venger, the realm’s most dangerous sorcerer and most feared villain, but details are scarce.

If Dungeon Master is the realm’s Yoda, Venger is its Darth Vader.  An evil Sorcer, Venger is known for his fangs, his bat-like wings, and his iconic one-horned helmet.  He rides a black stallion that can fly through the sky.  In addition to his own powerful magic abilities, Venger is in control of an army of orcs and has a shadow demon as his right hand man.  The only force in the realm more powerful than Venger is the dragon Tiamat.  Venger seeks the 6 weapons that the protagonists possess, for if he can obtain them he will be strong enough to defeat Tiamat and control the realm.  Venger is voiced by Peter Cullen, most famous for voicing Optimus Prime throughout the Transformers series and Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh.

Episode Structure

Episodes of D&D:TAS tend to follow a pretty standard pattern.  The group will be meandering aimlessly or working toward some forgettable task when Dungeon Master will mysteriously appear from nowhere.  He’ll provide them with a cryptic clue of how they might get home, often using puns and riddles rather than simply telling the kids what to expect.  Then, just as quickly as he arrived, Dungeon Master seemingly vanishes, and the heroes are left to try to decipher his directions.

They’ll set out in whatever direction Dungeon Master told them, but on the way they will run into some other person or group who is either imprisoned in the realm or somehow being victimized by a monster or a spell.  The heroes will nobly put the interest of this person/group ahead of their own and free them from their captors.  Somewhere along the way Venger gets involved but he is fended off.  It’s a happy ending for the victims, but Hank, Sheila, Bobby, Presto, Diana and Eric are still stuck in the realm without much direction.  Dungeon Master tends to show up again near the end, and it will become clear that helping the helpless and/or freeing the oppressed was his ulterior motive all along.  Most episodes end on a light note, often times with Eric getting himself into a sticky situation to the amusement of the others.

Miscellaneous Thoughts & Analysis

It took a few episodes for me to fully latch on to D&D.  It started a bit slow, but once you got a little more familiar with the characters it was really an engaging cartoon.  By the time I got to the last episodes, I was really sad to see it end.

There are a lot of “surface” things to like about D&D.  It’s set in a colorful realm that provides all of the necessary ingredients for a good story.  The main characters are fairly well-written and generally likeable in their own way.  Also, many of the characters that the heroes encounter in their travels have compelling backstories.

Venger's Castle, via

But probably what stands out most about D&D was that it had a little bit more depth than its predecessors.  In the ‘70s most of the cartoon offerings on television were pretty sanitized, like Super Friends, Scooby-Doo, or Yogi Bear.  D&D was one of the first cartoons to really step outside of that space and show that kids could handle action and slightly more mature plots, and that animation was an acceptable way to deliver that content.  The show was not without controversy though—the National Coalition on Television Violence demanded that the FTC run a warning before each episode and claimed that it had been linked to real life violence and deaths.

D&D treated its viewers like they were capable of handling more than the same old formulaic kid stuff.  One of the ways that that was manifest was by having storylines that wove through multiple episodes.  For instance there are many allusions throughout the show that there is more to the relationship between Dungeon Master and Venger than what meets the eye.  This subtext persists for a while, until the final moments of the episode “The Treasure of Tardos” when DungeonMaster says sotto voce (at a time when no one except the viewer can hear him): “There was good in Venger once—a long time ago.  Everyone makes mistakes—Venger was mine.”  The true nature of their relationship isn’t revealed until the series’ (unaired) final episode.

The true nature of Dungeon Master & Venger's relationship
is clouded.  via

The show also delivered some more mature themes at times.  Maybe the most popular episode among the show’s fans is Season 2’s “The Dragon’s Graveyard”.  For the first time the heroes voice their frustration with Dungeon Master for using them to fix up other problems in the realm.  They end up in the home of Tiamat—the mysterious “Dragon’s Graveyard”—and Hank is faced with a decision of whether he should kill Venger  if it helps the gang get home.  One of the show’s writers, Michael Reaves, suggested that that episode and scene “caused a battle royale with Broadcast Standards and Practices.”
Jossef Muller, the Nazi who finds redemption
in the realm of Dungeons & Dragons 
Another great episode that was far more mature than you’d expect was Season 3’s “The Time Lost”.  In this episode Venger uses his “Crystal of Chronos” to warp space and time, and he pulls both a futuristic fighter jet and World War II Luftwaffe plane into the realm of Dungeons & Dragons.  Venger’s goal is to send the Nazi pilot—a man named Josef Muller-- back to the earth realm to win World War II for Germany, thereby altering Earth’s timeline and preventing the kids from ever entering the realm of D&D.  But after meeting the heroes, the Nazi pilot has his eyes opened and eventually finds redemption.  This particular storyline was so mature that I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I watched it.  It’s not every day that you see a Nazi as a central character in an 80’s kids cartoon.

D&D:TAS actually has a lot of similarities to one of my favorite post-Golden Age tv shows: LOST.  In both shows, a group of unwilling passengers crash land in a strange and mysterious place, and the plot of the show revolves around their quest to find a way back home.  In both shows the protagonists encounter a number of different inhabitants of this strange new place—some good, some bad, and some who have elements of both.  In both shows the person or entity that is portrayed as being the source of all evil (or “big” bad guy) turns out to not be, and both shows force you to question whether the person/entity portrayed as the defender of all that is good and righteous is really so righteous himself.  Heck, both shows even feature nameless pillars of smoke that have existed for thousands of years and that embody true evil.  The similarities are so numerous that it makes me wonder whether or not the creators of LOST watched and were influenced by D&D:TAS.

Dungeons & Dragons' "The Nameless One"
Lost's "Smoke Monster"

This giant statue inside Venger's castle appears to show Venger
with a 2-horned helmet.  Or, perhaps this statue is not OF Venger
but instead someone he idolized.  Since we only see the statue from
behind, we'll never know.
A giant statue seen only from behind?  Hmmmmmmm.

Perhaps the coolest D&D plot is one that never really happened.  The show’s final aired episode, The Winds of Darkness, was good but did not bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion.  One more episode, known as Requiem, was written but never aired.  Over the years there was much discussion about the plot of Requiem, particularly among diehard fans who used the internet forums to communicate.  One of the most popular theories was that Requiem revealed that the kids had actually died on the amusement park ride, and that they weren’t truly in a different realm but in Hell, tortured by Satan in the form of the Dungeon Master.  It’s one of those endings, kind of like “The Sixth Sense”, that just makes you say “Whoaaaaaa”, because it would make so much sense if that really WAS what happened.  Also, reminds me of more than a few “LOST theories” I read through the years.

Of course, it is just an urban legend, as confirmed by Michael Reaves on his personal website.  To clear things up, Reaves went so far as posting a PDF version of Requiem’s script.  While it doesn’t truly wrap up the plot and it’s not quite as shocking as the Hell reveal would have been, it’s still a pretty neat episode in its own right.  Some creative folks in the youtube community did a dramatic reading ofthe script, complete with voices that sounded pretty similar to the real characters.  If you watched the show but haven’t seen the video, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Final Thoughts

Maybe in some cases there is some merit to the idea that ‘80s cartoons didn’t have a ton of substance.  But Dungeons & Dragons, to me isn’t one of those cases.  It has its plot holes and a few other issues at times, but overall it’s a pretty good story that was well ahead of its time in a lot of ways.  IGN, which ranked it the 64th best animated show of all-time, described it as “truly a mature soap opera with swords and monsters.”  I think that’s pretty fair.  The show did a lot of things that were previously off-limits for kids cartoons and was influential in shaping what cartoons would look like in the later years of the Golden Age.  For that we owe it a debt of gratitude—and for less than $10, a watch or re-watch.

Special thanks to, an awesome resource for fans of the show.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Golden Age ('80s and '90s) School Supplies

This week, as millions of children across the country go back to school, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the most essential school supplies of the Golden Age.

Notebooks, Folders & Binders

In the Golden Age, organization started and ended with the Trapper Keeper.  It was the one stop shop for all of your folders, notes and paper assignments.  The Trapper was great once you got to middle school or high school because you didn’t have to remember which classes had homework (and therefore required you to bring home the notes) and which didn’t—just keep everything in your Trapper and throw that in your bookbag at the end of the day.

In the '90s Trappers started to feature some futuristic and psychedelic cover designs.  Like just about everything else in that decade, bold and vibrant colors were essential.  The Trapper was more than just a useful school supply, but a way to express yourself.

Even Aunt Beckie from Full House loved them!

Like Trappers, folders were a popular way to show off a favorite team, character or something else personally significant.  And also like Trappers, they came in a variety of bright colors and designs.  Particularly popular among the female crowd in the ‘90s were folders and notebooks featuring the artwork of Lisa Frank.  Frank’s products and artwork were easily identifiable by their bright neon and rainbow colors.  They generally featured female-favorite animals, including unicorns, puppies and dolphins.  Eventually Frank diversified away from folders and stationary products into related goods like pencils, stickers and lunchboxes.  Lisa Frank products were certainly girly, but I have to admit that the bright, vivid colors were quite sharp and distinctly ‘90s. 

Writing Utensils

Of course in order to write in all these nifty notebooks and binders, we needed some writing utensils.  Like most everything else in the Golden Age, the loud and vibrant were preferred over the mundane.  The ultra-flashy Yikes! pencils became popular in the 90’s, featuring bright colors and sometimes holographic designs.  When you sharpened the pencil, the wood portion was dyed a different color, giving the pencil a louder, multi-colored look.  It’s pretty rare to see a successful branding campaign for a product as cheap and commoditized as pencils, but Yikes! was able to pull it off in the ‘90s.

A number of other pencil trends came and went in the Golden Age.  In my elementary school, very popular among the guys were football pencils, which featured an NFL team’s name and/or logo. 

Popular with many girls was the push-up style pencil, where instead of sharpening it down, you removed the top piece, put it in the bottom and pushed up a new sharp piece.  Of course, if you lost one of the pieces, you were done for.

Just having flashy pencils was not enough for us.  In the Golden Age, kids loved to accessorize and jazz up their writing utensils.  “Pencil Toppers” were little decorations that had a hole in them so that we could sit them over-top of the erasers on our pencils.  Pencil Toppers came in a number of forms, but the omnipresent-in-the-90s Troll Doll was a favorite.

Pencil grips, or “grippers” as many kids called them, were also a popular accessory.  Even though the gripper theoretically should have been a stigma, since you generally only got one if you weren’t holding your writing utensil properly and needed a device to help you correct that, it was instead viewed by most kids as a cool way of jazzing up otherwise boring pencils.  The triangular prism gripper was common in the early years, but seemed to give way to a smaller, gel-ier style of gripper as the years went on.

As we got a little older and our teachers gave us the go-ahead to move from pencil to pen, we had a wide array of new directions to go in for our writing needs.  One trend that emerged among '90s girls was gel pens.  Structurally similar to a regular pen, gel pens were distinct for suspending their ink in a water-based gel which was usually visible through a clear pen barrel.  Gel pens came in a variety of colors and were almost never confined to the standard black and blue.  Colors like mint green, pink, lavender and sky blue were favorites.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention multicolor pens, which let you select a different color by pushing down a little lever.  You could easily change colors mid-assignment (even though I can’t really imagine many situations where you’d want to).  I am pretty sure every Golden Ager had at least one of these pens, and I’m pretty sure all of us did the same thing—try to push down more than one of the colors (or all of them) at the same time to see what would happen. 

Of course to carry all of these spiffy writing utensils, we needed some sort of case.  Soft pencil cases were popular, but in the ‘90s Spacemaker pencil boxes managed to overtake them.  I tend to think that the pencil box was good if you had a desk to store everything in, or if you were using itat home.  If you were trying to carry it from class to class, it was a little too big and cumbersome.  But it certainly caught on, as most Golden Agers seem to have a clear recollection of the Spacemaker box.

Crayons & Markers
The standard bearer for crayons in the Golden Age was the Crayola 64 box.  Everybody knew that you couldn’t REALLY draw a good picture with an 8 or 10 pack.  The full compliment of 64 colors was essential.  Crayola really outdid themselves when they installed a sharpener right into the back of the box.  If your crayon was getting a little bit dull, all you had to do was peel back the paper a bit, sharpen ‘er up, and you were back in business.  I have no recollection at all of where the shavings went.

In the early 1990s, in conjunction with the release of their colossal 96-crayon “Big Box”, Crayola decided to introduce some new colors to the world in a way that only they could.  16 new fluorescent crayons were added, and a contest was started to name these brand new colors.  As best I can tell, this contest actually ran for over a year, with the winners being announced in 1993.  Some of the new color names included “Robin’s Egg Blue”, “Macaroni and Cheese”, “Timber Wolf” and “Razzmatazz”.  Congratulations Golden Agers, these were your contributions to the world of color.  For a full list of the winners and a really neat history of Crayola through the years, check out CrayonCollecting.Com.

As we got older, it became clear that crayons were for little kids, and if you really wanted a vibrantly-colored picture, you had to go with markers.  Crayola again was the market leader, and their standard 8 pack was usually enough to whip up something “fridge-worthy” in Art class.  But Crayola rocked the marker world in the ‘90s when they invented “Changeables”.  You could write in one color, then a few seconds later you could rub a clear “magic wand” marker over some portion, and the places that were wanded would change to a totally different color.  It might seem ho-hum now, but in the early 
90’s this literally seemed like magic and was pretty much the coolest thing ever.  A short time later, Crayola introduced a cousin to the Changeable—the Overwriter.  You could write something in a dark color—say, black--then write on top of it with a lighter color, and it would actually show up!  Again, mind-blowing in its time.  Some nice girls on YouTube provide a little demonstration to jog your memory.  

But Crayola wasn’t the only marker maker in town.  Who could forget the scented goodness of Mr. Sketch brand markers?  Each marker had a distinct scent that usually smelled like a food item of the same color.  The complete list was: 

  • Red: Cherry
  • Orange: Orange
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Green: Mint
  • Dark Green: Apple
  • Light Blue: Mango
  • Blue: Blueberry
  • Purple: Grape
  • Pink: Melon
  • Magenta: Raspberry
  • Black: Licorice
  • Brown: Cinnamon

I was partial to the citrusy yellow and orange myself, but most all of them were pretty terrific.  Mr. Sketch markers were also a particular shape that made them easy to connect to each other, which was great for building a marker-tower or a marker-sword—you know, if you were so inclined.  All these years later you can still grab a 12-pack of Mr. Sketch on Amazon for less than $7, if you want to make a picture for your mom, build her a marker tower, or just sniff them “sketchily” while she looks on with concern. 


And finally, who could forget the lunchbox, probably the most fun item to select on your back to school shopping trip.  It was (at least) a year-long commitment, so you had to choose carefully.  Being a huge Ninja Turtles guy, they were my lunchbox of choice (me and a few million other kids my age).  My big sister, on the other hand, opted for New Kids on the Block.  There were so many great lunchbox designs in the Golden Age that you almost couldn’t go wrong.

What were your favorite school supplies in the 80’s and 90’s?  Which are kids still using and which have been forgotten by time?  Tweet us @GoldenAge4Kids or drop us a comment.  As always, a big thank you to those whose old photos we've borrowed for this entry.