Pog Heaven

About a month ago, my children were clamoring to go to McDonald's--not for the food, of course--but to obtain small, seemingly useless cardboard disks with pictures of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers on them. Little did we know we had been touched by the latest preteen fad to sweep eastward from Hawaii and California. It's called pog, after a passion fruit-orange-guava juice drink, or trov, as in treasure trove, and it's the hottest thing going for kids ages 7 to 13. And this cross between marbles and baseball cards is just now coming into its own. The basic materials for pog can be picked up for a few dollars. Pogs are half-dollar-size, glazed cardboard disks, decorated with everything from Lion King characters to Civil War generals to sports stars. To play the game, you need a stack of pogs and a slammer, a heavier disk made of metal or plastic. The basic game goes like this: Each of the players antes up five of his or her disks and all the disks are stacked into one pile, face down. Taking turns, each player hurls the slammer at the pile, attempting to turn the disks face up. Any disks you turn up, you keep. If pogs reach the same frenzied level of popularity elsewhere as they have in California, expect to find them for sale everywhere from convenience stores to sports-card shops, as entrepreneurs like Bill Hodson, founder of Trov USA, do their best to get kids hooked on this new fad. "It's the marbles of the `90s," Hodson says cheerfully on a promotional video. Pog has a lot in common with marbles, a game popular for the first few decades of the century. Both are played for "keepsies," and both pogs and marbles are collectables. But pogs has a history all its own. The original pogs were cardboard disks that topped bottles of milk in Hawaii from the turn of the century until the 1960s. Early on, children discovered that the cardboard caps were springy, perfect for stacking and flipping, according to Tommi Lewis in her book Pogs: The Milk Cap Game. The exact history of the game is a bit foggy, with some accounts claiming it was especially popular during the Depression, when families could afford few toys, and others claiming it boomed during World War II, when most manufacturers were churning out products needed for the war. Either way, by the late 1940s and 1950s, the Honolulu Dairymen's Association, a group of milk deliverers, took advantage of the informal game to promote themselves, with the various dairies printing up caps with zippy logos. These caps are now among the most valuable in the burgeoning pogs-collecting field. But when glass bottles went the way of horse-drawn buggies and ice boxes, the game disappeared. Then, in the early 1990s, a Hawaiian schoolteacher resurrected the game from his childhood for his students. It just so happened that one of the best materials for the game at that time were disks from bottles of a new mixed fruit drink just launched by the Haleakala Dairy on Maui. Their caps proclaimed POG, and thus the name of a new trend was born. The game leapfrogged to fame in Hawaii before jumping the Pacific and catching on in California. Before long practically every business, from banks to fast-food joints, was offering pogs bearing its name or logo. Like any self-respecting craze, this one has spawned its own language, gear and backlash. For example, the decorated pressed-paper playing pieces are known as trovs, jamcaps, milk bottle caps and just plain caps, as well as pogs. And the more substantial slammers are also called trouncers, kinis and jammers. You can play pog with a wide variety of rules or calls, all with slick names like "grasshopper," "no slaps" or "no after-calls." Or you can play a "dirty" game, one with no rules at all. You can hold your slammer any way you want, too. The most common method is to hold it on the palm side of your index and forefingers so you can turn your hand over to slam the stack of pogs. You could also "slice" the slammer downward onto the stack or "high jump" by dropping the slammer from above. The pogs start at 15 cents apiece, while slammers go for $2 to $8. But don't stop there. Why play on the cement sidewalk or a tabletop when you can buy a slammer pad? And a long plastic tube will keep those pogs in mint condition. The game does have its dark side. A number of elementary and middle schools in California have banned the game from school grounds for being too disruptive. Teachers found that some students became upset when they lost pogs to their fellow students--a reaction that no parent will find surprising. author

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