Tasting Sweet, Seeing Green

A Monkees record on a Honey Combs cereal Box. I think I had this one.

When we were little there used to be cool toys in cereal boxes (and in boxes of Cracker Jack, too, when Cracker Jack came in boxes versus bags). The toys in my childhood cereal boxes were like toys kids get in a Happy Meal except they were always plastic. Sometimes you get a stuffed toy in a Happy Meal. Never in a cereal box.Occasionally there would be a record manufactured right into the cereal box. We’d cut it out and try and play it in the red Close N’Play. It always–and I mean every time–was unplayable. But we’d act like we could make out the tune because it was a record, and it was ours.

Usually the prize was inside of the box. The box also housed a highly-sugared, highly-manufactured grain like Cap’n Crunch (I’d pick out the crunch berries if Mom got that kind), Fruit Loops, Apple Jacks (my definite fav) Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms (of which the commercials were significantly superior to the cereal. Yea, even at those times).

Okay. I admit that I ate all the cereal that I would never buy my own kids. Guilty as charged.

The giveaways in the cereal boxes were featured in the ads during the Saturday morning cartoons. No. Seriously. There used to be a time in which kids didn’t have cartoons on demand. We had to wait until Saturday mornings for our cartoon binges. I’m not making this up.

Anyway, when we’d open a new box of cereal, we’d immediately flip the box over to see the prizes featured on the back. There would always be pictures of the prize inside. Sometimes the prize would have wheels, sometimes the pieces of the prize had to be disengaged from plastic that held all the pieces inside a cellophane bag and sometimes the prize had a rubber band so that you could launch something. To be clear, we never put an eye out. Dad did, more than once, step on a toy wherein it would be embedded in his foot. So it’s not like these prizes were without danger.

We–us three kids–came up with the rules on who got the prize. At first, someone would dig through the box and just grab it. Possession nine-tenths being what it is and whatnot. There was some coming to blows with this method. Grabbing the box. Fighting over the box. Just sneaking the box. Punches and sometimes tears.

We needed something new.

The next method was that when you poured the cereal, if the prize fell into your bowl, you got to keep it. This seemed beautifully random. Except it wasn’t. There was some maneuvering of the box, shaking to one side to unearth the toy and unfair joggling and manipulation. This technique soon came into disuse, likely because of blows being had.

There had to be a better way.

Turns out that their was almost always different toys in each promotion. There would regularly be three color options for the toy. Almost always blue, green and yellow. We used this to create a system that effectively avoided blows. When we got the box, each of us would select a preferred color and whatever color the toy was, whenever it appeared, we knew who it belonged to.

We went one step further and standardized on a selection order–by age. I was in the middle, so I was okay and the youngest was just happy to be in the game.

So for years I thought that my favorite color was green because the Oldest Sib would always always always always select the blue toy. And nobody wanted the yellow toy. So I would select the green and made myself feel good by deciding that it was my favorite color anyway. The Youngest Sib got dibs on the unwanted yellow.

Eighty or ninety or even 100 percent of the time there would be a yellow toy in the cereal box. So the Youngest Sib, despite not making a choice, made out well. And, most importantly, there was no coming to blows anymore.

Cereal boxes do not have good toys anymore. Even though I don’t buy the crap cereal that I grew up on, I still nostalgically look at the boxes. No toys. Those times are over. The other time that is over is the time in which kids would figure out what they decided was fair–without any parental meddling.

And, in case you were wondering my real favorite color is red.

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