Every parent out there knows the feeling of buying a child an expensive toy and seeing them lose interest in favor of a totally mundane object. Whether it be a roll of bubble wrap, a rubber band, or a large refrigerator box, kids make the best of what’s in front of them using that often overlooked sixth sense: IMAGINATION.
Although growing up in the 90s afforded the opportunity for many electronic, complicated playthings with many small parts that were easy to lose, break, and choke on, there was still room for the old classics like a bouncy ball, a stick, and another activity that started out simple and harmless and blossomed into something much more sinister. I’m talking about the catalyst for a worldwide wave of childhood gambling. I’m not talking about jacks, dominoes, or baseball cards, oh no. I’m talking about the seemingly benign, but feverishly addictive Pogs.
Pogs is, in its simplest terms, a “card” game from the 90s. At its height, it was the cause of more playground crying than a skinned knee. Basically, pogs are little white paper discs with designs on one side. The game is played with these paper pogs and their heavier counterparts known as slammers.
Slammers are made of either heavy plastic or metal and come in a range of thicknesses and weights. The heavier the slammer, the better chance you have of winning. Some of the slammers that were owned by friends of mine were beyond obscene. They were multiple inches in thickness and weighed as much as a gallon of milk. Personally, I always took the high road and kept my slammers within reason. I’d dabble in metal ones, but I always kept them to a low thickness to avoid being labeled a cheater or a fink.
The rules of the game are as such:
1. Players each contribute the same amount of pogs and place the pieces face down
2. Players take turns throwing their slammer down on top of the stack of pogs in the pot, causing them to bounce all over the fucking place
3. All of the pogs that land face up after the slammer throw now belong to the thrower
4. After each throw, the pogs which have landed face down are stacked back up for the next player’s turn
5. When no pogs remain in the stack, the player with the most pogs is crowned champion
There were also two versions of the game depending on how seriously your particular schoolyard treated the rules. Those who played friendly games would recollect their own pogs after each game and cared more about bragging rights than gaining a larger collection of pogs. On my particular schoolyard, we took things much more seriously. We played for KEEPSIES.
Keepsies was reserved for the upper echelon of pogs players who were willing to gamble. Keepsies meant that whatever pogs you won during competition with a fellow pogger were yours to keep. There was no whining. There was no recollecting your pieces. They were gone. Those who agreed to the terms and tried to weasel out after they had lost some of their favorite game pieces were laughed at and ostracized by their peers. It was these dishonorable assbags that ruined the game for everyone.
Because so many kids were crying to teachers, principals, and recess aids about losing their most cherished pogs, many schools issued schoolwide bans on the game and any kid caught with pogs or pog paraphernalia would have it immediately confiscated and put into the dreaded teacher’s desk drawer, to be returned at the end of the semester or (more likely than not) never again.
Unlike some of you fickle, degenerate souls, I kept my pog collection well after the craze had hit its peak and arrived at its inevitable plummet from popularity into creepy obscurity. Recently, I dug out these gems and decided to talk about some of my favorites from the collection. Enjoy.
Among the multi-colored goodness of the collection, the first item on my list of things to discuss are these 1994 World Cup pogs from Morocco and Nigeria. I have absolutely no idea where I procured these particular pieces, but they confound me to this day. Why would I pick Nigeria and Morocco? These are two countries I probably couldn’t point out on a map and here they are, chilling among my most treasured lot of little round paper discs. Not only that, but the text on them assures that they are also “Advanced.” Whatever the fuck that means.
Moving on, I also noticed a large number of dinosaur pogs from the Academy of Natural Sciences. I had always loved that place because it contained a giant, animatronic Brontosaurus, but I fail to remember them ever giving out pogs. I had at least fifteen of these dino pogs, but I pulled out a handful of my favorite dinosaurs to showcase.
I’ll start with the velociraptor. Raptors were quickly becoming a favorite of mine as a child after hundreds of viewings of Jurassic Park. Although recent evidence suggest that they were probably covered in feathers, I much prefer the featherless raptor with high intelligence and a hunter mentality. They’re like dino wolves. You can’t get much more bad ass than that.
On the Jurassic Park subject, that’s also the reason that the dilophosaurus was included on my list of favorites. Despite mutilating Newman aka Dennis Nedry in a jeep during a mucky rainstorm, I just can’t gloss over a dinosaur that spits. I don’t know how scientifically accurate their spitting is or if there is even evidence for it, but I really want to believe its true and will continue to do so until someone tells me otherwise.
Finally, no collection of dinosaurs would be complete without my old friend the tyrannosaurus. Despite his feeble arms, the T-Rex is a fearsome beast and it’s awesome to imagine him biting the shit out of brontosauruses and other lame plant-eating creatures. Even before Steven Spielberg’s mega blockbuster, I had a collection of T-Rex toys that would simply decimate my other dinosaur figures given the opportunity. More often than not, the T-Rex was used by my heroic action figures as a lethal pet to unleash on their unsuspecting enemies.
I’m not exactly sure what a ceratosaurus is, but he has teeth and horn-like bumps on his head, so he’s in.
Aside from the soccer and dinosaur theme, the only other pogs that have any semblance of fitting into a set are the Poison pogs. Now, I don’t know if they were related to the band or they were a different brand all together, but they were often covered with skulls and bones and usually had “POISON” written on them somewhere. I chose two that stood out.
The first is a picture of a human skull wearing what is presumably its own rib cage and sternum as a hat. The skull also seems to be impaled by a pair of drum sticks. As a child, anything with a skull on it fascinated me and this was no exception.
The other poison pog is far more unique. It depicts a horse running through a giant fire and shooting flames from its nostrils. I don’t particularly like horses, but if they could shoot flames out of their nostrils, perhaps I would cut them some slack.
The rest of the pogs I’ve arranged for your viewing pleasure have no conceivable theme. They’re just ones that looked cool as I was shuffling through a pile of paper discs. They have no back story and lack a brand name or label, so I’ve chosen to lump them together.
A pair of cartoon heads seemed as good a jumping off point as any, so I grabbed these two and marveled at their inherent goofiness. The first head looks vaguely like a cross between Beavis and Butthead and the second has that all-too-familiar middle-parted hair that every kid sported at some point in their 90s upbringing. The backgrounds are colorful and neon and the second face’s disembodied lower jaw is nothing short of unsettling.
I always loved the pogs that had the holographic, shiny backgrounds as well so the mummy and the chinese cat were obvious choices. This particular mummy looks remarkably fiendish and I’ve always had a thing for mummies. The chinese cat speaks more to my personal proclivity toward minimalism. Its humble design would make a great company logo.
On the subject of skulls, the “Skeleton Crew” pog would be at home in the poison set, but it’s just another lone pog that would normally go unnoticed if not for my keen eye. The skeletons depicted seem to be photographed skeleton toys and that makes this pog even cooler. I find myself wondering what kind of crew they were. Did they work on a train? Were they skeleton electricians? I like to think that they’re part of a crooked union trying to demand better health benefits.
I also found quite a few pogs in my collection sporting an 8-ball logo, but this one was my favorite. It depicts a shirtless, hairy-chested king with a viking-like blonde beard and gold accessories holding a giant scepter with an 8 ball on top. It’s fascinating.
Another very animated pog I uncovered is this “Hot Head!” pog. It’s a football player whose helmet is far too small for his oversized head and is being thrust violently into the air from the angry steam coming off of his head and out of his ears. He sports a furious grimace and looks on the verge of having a heart attack. Maybe he shouldn’t be playing football with that kind of condition.
Finally, we come to another sports-themed pog, but this time it’s a human-like bear playing baseball. I don’t know why this one caught my eye, but I can’t help but be intrigued by the thought of a bear playing baseball.
Now, we move on to the most important part of any pog lover’s collection: SLAMMERS. Like I said earlier, I didn’t go over the top with my slammers in an attempt to cheat kids on the schoolyard. Mine were of a modest thickness and I relied more on personal skill to take home loads of another kid’s pogs.
The first was a promotional slammer from McDonald’s. It’s not heavy or all that great of a slammer, but it sported the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers lightning bolt logo and proclaimed itself a “Power Disc,” so I had to include it. The slammer itself was of a thin, cheap plastic and the background was an ugly mishmash of colors resembling a puke rainbow. Despite all of its shortcomings, I would display anything engraved with the Power Rangers logo proudly.
Next, we had another plastic, but significantly heavier slammer with a Flyers logo on it. It always bothered me that such a masculine team with a historical significance like “The Broad Street Bullies” would have their logo plastered on something covered in glitter, but I guess they were trying to make it look like ice. They failed, but I can’t get rid of anything with a Flyers logo on it. I’m a fan through and through and I remember using this very slammer on numerous occasions and winning handsomely with it. I’ll always have a place for you in my life, glitter puck.
The last slammers on the list are made by the aforementioned Poison company, as if you couldn’t tell by the skulls and neon colors. They’re both made of metal and fairly heavy and come in the shape of a saw blade. The green one was always one of my favorites and shared slammer duties with the glitter puck. For some reason, both of the skulls find it necessary to hold a solitary rose clenched in their teeth. I don’t know who they’re trying to romance, but they’ve certainly won my heart. I think I gravitated toward the green one because he’s wearing sunglasses and a pimp hat. He’s obviously the superior of the two.
Thanks for taking the time to relive the old glory days of pogs with me today. Until they find their way back into the mainstream, what I’ve got in this translucent green tube is all that remains of my childhood pog obsession. May its ashes be cast into the sea, should I depart from this world prematurely. They would’ve wanted it that way.