[Note to readers: The videos are here, we promise. If you don’t see them, try a different browser.]
Alex Pappademas: Because apparently in 1986, one year after Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Milton Bradley thought kids ages 10 and up were old enough to contemplate a brutal post-apocalyptic wasteland future in which vehicular homicide is the only law: It’s Thunder Road, you little assholes! I can’t tell if there was any object to this game aside from occasionally picking up large sections of “road” and dumping everybody else’s little muscle cars off the table, a feature I bet never, ever led to bloody playroom-floor brawls. But the off-brand Ted Nugent wailing the narration (“Only one surviiiiives!”) over hot-rodding heavy-metal guitar definitely implies white-knuckle death-race excitement, as do the kid actors’ super-intense, agonized game-faces. This is maybe the most coked-up-seeming board game commercial ever made; in the shot around the 20-second mark where they’re all freaking out and pounding the coffee table it really looks like they’ve been awake for four days blowing rails and trying to muster the courage to go rob Alfred Molina’s house.
Dan Fierman: I love this ad, which was a staple of my early-‘80s childhood and led to an entire generation ironically using the phrase “Preeeettttyy sneaky, sis!” for everything from petty theft to cold war espionage. And I miss Connect Four, which was a stupefyingly dumb game that I played more than I care to remember, mostly for the opportunity it provided to be a total dick, sending the checkers scattering across the table like stray ball bearings mid-game with just a flick of your index finger. But as one of two proud older brothers in my family, I have always deeply questioned the realism. In my house, a loss to our little sister would have resulted less in a genteel, sportsman-like bon mot and more of a “pick up the game and smash it on the floor and maybe hurl a few checkers like throwing stars and break some dental work for good measure”–type deal.
But other than that, a good effort by our friends at Hasbro. And that bowl cut to boot!
Mark Lisanti: Kids, there was a time when video games were a highly abstract art form, devoid of photorealistic graphics that rendered an alien’s freshly frakked head in high-definition, brain-gushing, stomach-churning detail. You had colored rectangles you maneuvered around a dial-operated television with a primitive stick, and it was up to you to decide what your rectangle should look like inside your mind-screen. It was nightmarish. An entire generation was lost.
And, oh, holy shit, Pete Rose is in this! Also Bart Giamatti, posing as an umpire for some reason, presciently banning the eventual Hit King from the sport for betting on rectangles. His own rectangles, but still, the integrity of the game must be protected.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Andy Greenwald: “They’re hippos, see, but so much more than that. Their bright colors represent our true selves, the way we can only be in the wild. Untamed. Ravenous. Their ferocious appetites a gaudy manifestation of our rampaging, furious id. The more they consume, the less sated they are. It’s always more, more, more. It’s where we’ve been. It’s who we are. Just like these sorry animals, if we never stop to breathe, then we’ll never notice that it’s all frivolous, really. The food we eat, the petty, quotidian satisfaction we desire, the societal approval that we crave. In the end, it’s nothing but marbles. Like a child’s game.
“It is a child’s game.”
“I dunno, Don. Sounds heavy. How would we shoot it?”
“Just get the right kids, Harry. Jesus. Do I have to do everyone’s job around here? And a song. Make sure there’s a catchy song. And whatever you do, don’t let the dark-haired girl win.”
“I can’t believe this. I have at least 999,999 ideas that are better than this! It’s a tacky toy for god’s sake.”
“Ginsberg! Let Don have this. He needs it.”
Tara Ariano: I’m not sure why my parents never bought me Operation no matter how often I asked for it. Their reason for not buying me a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine was presumably the mess, but Operation is tidy enough; at any rate, its pieces were hardly any smaller than the littlest Lego pieces or Barbie shoes, and we were always stepping on those with our bare feet. It can’t be because Operation would be loud and/or nerve-racking, because they had no problem with Perfection. But revisiting this ’80s-era ad suggests a possible reason for my parents’ antipathy toward the game: Like all good Canadians, they must have been appalled by the spot’s implication that practicing medicine is for moneygrubbers, and not for learned, upstanding people who are certainly not going to get rich as long as they continue treating patients in Kamloops or Uranium City. I guess I bitched about this early in my time dating this dude in university because he bought me the game for our first Christmas, and now we are married. We’re also U.S. permanent residents who pay for our own health insurance and therefore understand how very true this ad actually is.
The Grape Escape
Molly Lambert: Tess Lynch suggested I do Mall Madness (“an interesting study in fiscal responsibility”) or LIFE (“SO FASCINATING, what does it say about LIFE?”) but for whatever reason the only board game commercial that permanently stuck in my mind-craw is this 30-second spot for The Grape Escape. Maybe it’s because of how gleefully the kids murder the clay grapes, or just the intensely colored plastic Edgar Allan Poe death machine. Is it a war game? I never played The Grape Escape, or encountered it in real life anywhere, but I must have seen this commercial a billion times and I can sing all the words to its “Funiculi Funicula” theme song. I just know that the scissor cutting that little horrified grape in half is burned into the back of my eyeballs for all eternity.
Girl Talk Date Line
Tess Lynch: I can’t find the original Girl Talk (“A Game of Truth or Dare”) commercial, but don’t worry, I had this one too (and Girl Talk Secret Diary) — that ad was a bit of a misfire, whispery in all the wrong ways and featuring a little brother named Myron). The OG edition involved prank-calling boys you liked, drinking water out of a bowl “like a dog,” and something about peanut butter and arm pits, if memory serves. There was also fortune-telling involved. If you didn’t complete the dare or share your secrets, you had to wear a red “zit sticker” on your face for the rest of the game. It was a lot of fun during slumber parties, which actually proved problematic for me as I became something of a compulsive Girl Talk player. I brought the game with me on family vacations, and spent more than one bizarre weekend (these may be specific to the siblingless) bullying my 80-year-old Nana and parents into Girl Talk hostage situations. My grandmother telephoned at least three of the primest cuts of third-grade boys I could think of, as well as (I’m pretty sure) a local radio station (almost definitely Z100) to dedicate a song to one of them. My folks sat there with zits glued to their faces and fear in their eyes. It was probably a relief when I switched over to Date Line, less mortifying because nobody’s reputation was at stake, but also somehow more mortifying because game night turned into a room full of people talking to the disembodied voices of imaginary Canadian boyfriends (or, as I sometimes did, you could play alone until someone busted into your bedroom to see who you were talking to and found you hunched over a pink cassette player conversing with Derek).
Mike Philbrick: The setting of this commercial helps sell it more than anything, making it way better than the more iconic version, which featured Vincent Price playing what I assume to be a campy vampire. In this one we have four kids running on the beach suddenly, the game washes ashore. Why? Are they marooned on an island? That’s what we’re supposed to think, right? Anyway, the game goes on to see who will have their one marble left and be declared the “sole survivor.” The kid in the bucket hat wins and doesn’t jump up in joyful victory — he opts for the silent, reflective sense of accomplishment. And when he does, you can almost feel the revelation in his eyes: “I need to kill everyone here if I’m going to make it.”
Michael Weinreb: This is not only a prescient foreshadowing of the Mac-PC wars, but it’s also a fairly accurate re-creation of last season’s Patriots-Broncos divisional playoff game.