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Pop Culture

'The Totally Sweet '90s'

A new book co-written by a producer looks at the lost toys, tastes and trends of the 1990s, from clear cola to Caboodles and slap bracelets to Surge soda.


Big Mouth Billy Bass

It was the worst thing to happen to mankind’s relationship with sea life since Jaws ate all those people. Push the button on his plaque and Big Mouth Billy Bass would launch into "Don’t Worry, Be Happy" or "Take Me to the River." Mercifully, they’re not made anymore, but if you’re crazy enough to want one, check your local garage sale. Your neighbors might pay you to take it off their hands.

Bob Ross and 'The Joy of Painting'

You never really intended to watch "The Joy of Painting," but once it came on, you were hooked. Who could turn off the gentle, giant-Afroed man cooing about "happy little trees"? Ross died in 1995, but his memory lives on through reruns – and his line of art supplies.

Bubble Tape

When the Mad Scientists of Gum World get bored, they think of a new shape or container. Sure, goody-goodies could take one piece and make it last till study hall, but the rest of us crammed in at least four of the promised six feet of gum into our mouths at once.


Caboodles were makeup cases that looked like Dad’s fishing tackle box. The product was inspired by a 1986 People magazine photo of Vanna White using a real tackle box to store her cosmetics. They were plastic pastel dream academies with removable segments.

Giant cell phones

Forget smart phones – the original cell phones were clunky and so heavy that holding one to your ear was like bashing the side of your head with a brick. But man, we felt like "Wall Street" king Gordon Gekko when we first started toting one around.

Clear colas

If the colors of the 1970s were earth tones and the colors of the 1980s "Miami Vice" pastels, what was left for the 1990s? For a while, marketers just gave up on color completely and suddenly, cler was the way to go. Clear beer, clear soaps, even clear garbage bags were all the rage. Byt Crystal Pepsi led the charge, even though after 1993, consumers couldn’t see their way clear to buying the stuff.

Dream Phone game

What the Mystery Date game was to an earlier generation, Dream Phone was to 1990s girls. At an age when calling a real boy was unimaginable, Dream Phone let girls practice, by calling up fictional dudes whose photos and numbers were on the game’s cards. Recorded messages gave you clues to whoever was crushing on you. The modern Dream Phone replaces the enormous hot pink handset with a smart phone, of course.


Although introduced in 1988, Dunkaroos –kangaroo-shaped cookies that came with a tiny swimming pool of frosting -- might be the most 1990s snack there was. But take heart! They’re still around, though hard to find. Try Walmart, Costco, your local dollar store, or order online from Amazon.

Fanny packs

Worn under the belly, fanny packs were like an out-of-fashion belt that swallowed an even more out-of-fashion suitcase. Designer Isaac Mizrahi has called them one of the most reviled accessories in modern culture.

Hacky sacks

Almost every guy who was a teen in the '90s can look back on sunny hours joyously wasted kicking a little beanbag around. If there was a game you could imagine Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo" playing, hacky sack was it.


Gak was thicker and less gelatinous than its boogery ancestor, '70s gross-out staple Slime, but it was no less entertaining. Run your hands through the wall-to-wall carpeting in any '90s house and you’ll find 20-year-old Gak clinging to every carpet fiber. Gak made a comeback in 2012.

Earring Magic Ken

Earring Magic Ken featured two-ton hair, a pierced ear, purple mesh shirt, shiny lilac vest, and a circular necklace that commentators such as Dan Savage instantly declared to be an intimate pleasure device. This Ken was all set to perform a rousing chorus of "Y-M-C-A!" but perhaps unlikely to be interested in hitting the prom with Barbie. The doll quickly became a hot collectible with gay men, while Mattel quietly discontinued him.

Mac Classic II

Born with the decade in 1990, the Mac Classic II is the computer that created a generation of gadget addicts. Never mind the nearly microscopic, nine-inch, black-and-white screen. We had Apples in our eyes now, and could taste a juicy techie future.

MC Hammer

Forget the music, we all know "U Can’t Touch This." Can we talk about MC Hammer’s pants? Cinched the top and bottom, they were part giant garbage bag, part genie outfit.

OK Soda

In 1993, Coca-Cola decided that even the sullen slackers of Generation X bought pop, and introduced the most non-corporate corporate beverage ever, OK Soda. With a flavor like fruity Fresca, bleak gray-and-black cans, and even a manifesto, OK was an odd attempt to reach a generation that pretty much drank soda like everyone else. By 1995, OK was KO'd.


Orbitz was the drink that resembled a lava lamp, clear liquid in a curvaceous glass bottle with tiny colored balls bobbing inside. The flavors were weird, and the floating balls had no taste. It’s little wonder the drink flopped within about a year.

Palm Pilot

Free for a movie Friday? In the 1990s, the answer was right in the palm of our hands, with the pint-sized PalmPilot PDA. Now we no longer had to run home and check our Garfield calendar to see if we already had plans!


Pogs were more than a fad, they were approved gambling for kids. Stack up the paper circles and throw your slammer at them to determine which of your friend’s Pogs you now get to keep. Sore losers – plus irresistible in-class trading – eventually got Pogs banned from some schools.

Ring Pops

Ring Pops were the only piece of bling that could give you type 2 diabetes. Kids who couldn’t care less about cut, clarity or carat weight were all about the most important "c" of all corn syrup.


Crocheted scrunchies, denim scrunchies, satin scrunchies, scrunchies to match your cheerleading colors– there was one for every outfit, and girls without ponytails sometimes wore them as bracelets. They’re still popular with gymnasts – just watch the Olympics to verify.

Slap bracelets

Slap bracelets are thin, fabric-covered ribbons of steel that curl around one’s wrist when cracked across the arm. They weren’t too pretty, but it was all about the application, marveling as the bracelet grabbed your arm like Doc Octopus wrapping a tentacle around Spider-Man.

Surge soda

Was it green? Was it yellow? Surge soda was a mix of the two, maybe the color you’d get if you soaked a highlighter in a glass full of lime Jell-O. The mega-caffeinated Coke product appealed for a while, but the Surge slowed to a trickle and by the early 2000s it had vanished from store shelves. You can still reportedly buy it in Norway, where it’s called Urge.


Tamagotchi was a huge 1990s fad requiring kids to feed, clean up after, and play with a little digital creature, kind of like that fifth-grade assignment where you had to treat a raw egg like it was your baby for a week. They’re still around, but now have an online element, and even more importantly, a way to turn off their annoying beeping and booping sounds.


There’s absolutely no excuse for Jaleel White’s "Family Matters" character, annoying Urkel, becoming a massive national hit, but it happened. He even briefly had his own infamous strawberry-banana cereal, Urkel-Os. Like Urkel itself, that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but made less and less sense in the cold hard light of day.


What was Zima? It wasn’t beer. It wasn’t wine. It wasn’t a wine cooler. Its maker, Coors, pitched it as "Zomething different," but hey, if even they don’t know what it is, how did they expect it to catch on? David Letterman helped seal the clear alcoholic beverage’s doom, pitching it as the preferred drink of nutty senators, confused marathoners, and oddly, Santa.