3 ridiculous things you used to find in cereal boxes

As part of our mission to exploit your fading childhood nostalgia for our own selfish purposes, today we’re going to talk about an integral part of childhood: cereal. Ah yes, cereal, that magical realm where a nutritious breakfast could somehow consist of a bowl of chocolate-flavored diabetes mixed with marshmallows.

No wonder he only has two teeth.

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Yes, unless you were one of those poor bastards whose parents only bought those healthy cereals that might as well have been sawdust and ground-up newspapers, delicious breakfast treats were pretty much what got us all out of bed in the morning (well, that and our parents increasingly visceral threats of bodily harm). But we can’t forget one of the most important parts of the experience: the cereal box prizes! These glimmering treasures of childhood would often be the deciding factor in what cereal we chose, because let’s face it, at some point they all sort of started to blend together. There’s only so many ways you can make compressed wheat taste like mediocre Halloween candy.

The added flavor is shame!

For the most part, the prizes were your usual kid-appeal merchandise: a plastic trinket, the occasional rub-on tattoos, and in one surprise onset of generosity, the famous Honeycomb Digital Watch, in case you wanted to show the world that you wear things you find buried in food.

Be the first to look like a giant dork in your neighborhood, kids!

However, there were the occasional prizes that made you wonder exactly what was going on over at General Mills; not necessarily bad prizes, just very baffling choices considering their usual selection of collectible figurines and trading cards. Today, we’re going to look at some of the weirdest things ever dug out of a box of sticky breakfast substitute.

1. Scratchy Music

As any musical purist will tell you, nothing quite beats out the terrible sound you can get from a classic vinyl record, except possibly the sound you got from the first item on our list: the cardboard flexi records. Starting in the 1960s, it became popular to include a singles record as a box prize. However, unlike similar more recent giveaways using CDs, these records were literally part of the box itself.

Honeycomb: the only cereal where the box has more nutrition than the food.

Flexi records were used to promote everyone from the Jackson 5 to KISS to the Archies (a cereal box that literally sang “sugar, sugar!” at you? A little on the nose, don’t you think?), though as you can probably imagine, being recorded on cardboard didn’t do the music any favors, especially since the singles had a tendency to warp and twist themselves after being removed from the box until they sounded like recordings of a cat torture factory.

Though in some cases, there really wasn’t much of a difference.


2. Horror Bowls

A popular idea for prizes has always been different kinds of licensed cereal bowls, and for good reason: the only thing that made your favorite cereal taste better was a cool bowl to eat it from. Unless said bowl looked like the disemboweled remains of your cartoon heroes.

The later seasons of the show took a macabre turn.

These rictus-grin nightmares were prizes included in the official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cereal, and for some reason were designed to look like Shredder had finally hollowed out our childhood heroes and turned them into ghastly kitchenware. While the choice of prize isn’t a surprise, since the owner of the TMNT brand is one of the most infamous merchandise whores to ever grace the planet and the sum total of our civilization will be mostly TMNT plastic garbage, the design of these horrors is utterly baffling, especially considering that there’s been other official TMNT bowls that didn’t look like something Wes Craven would make a movie about.

Look, kids, now you can eat breakfast with Leonardo’s dead eyes staring accusingly at you.

3. Paranormal Sensors

Our final item wasn’t nightmarish by poor design choice, but on purpose. The Kellogg’s Ghost Detector, a prize that showed up in the 1980s, was a small sticker that could allegedly tell if your house was haunted or not. Well, I don’t know about your house, but the damn sticker definitely was.

Collect all the souls of the damned today, kids!

After all, what kid doesn’t want to be reminded about the inevitable coldness of the grave with their breakfast? Thing is, if you were one of the kids who actually wanted to find a ghost in your house, you’d be disappointed, because these things were designed to always give a negative reading. They worked by curling up in response to body moisture, which meant that your house wasn’t haunted (man, the Ghostbusters made this job seem a lot more complex than it really was). So now you had two groups of angry customers: the ones who didn’t want evil clowns in their cereal, and the ones who found out that their house wasn’t even haunted, no matter how many decapitated hobos they buried in the basement.

Honorable Mention: The infuriating heartbreak of realizing years too late how much money was in your grubby little fingers before you wasted it or lost it because who the hell wants that damn annoying thing anyway?!

Before we end this article, I’d like to give a special mention to a cereal prize that isn’t technically for kids, so it didn’t make the cut, but is still ridiculous enough to warrant a mention: the 2000 Cheerios limited edition Sacajawea Dollar.

This coin was part of a U.S. Mint promotion to raise awareness about the golden dollar and was put in about 5,000 or so random boxes (the other boxes got a Lincoln penny, like some terrible Halloween treat). Today, these things can go for up to $25,000 to collectors because the tail feathers on this coin are more detailed than the normal Sacajawea dollars. And you were grateful to finally find a gas station willing to take yours off your hands in exchange for a Diet Coke.

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  • Joel Schlosberg

    Wait, “used to”? As in, they stopped putting stuff in cereal boxes? When did that happen? Okay, the records (and other intangible items like the Chex Quest video game that originally was distributed via a CD-ROM disc in the box) could be replaced by digital download codes on the boxes. But they just stopped with the actual plastic junk? Not a complete diet!

  • prairiemike

    It’s funny …. the things you remember.

    This piece reminded me of a kid who actually wore his “rearview” sunglasses (plastic sunglasses that had reflective foil on the inside edges of the lenses so you could — in theory — see what was going on behind you) to school. This would have been in seventh grade, if I’m recalling, which would have made him somewhere around 12. I don’t remember which cereal box from whence they came, if he ever mentioned it, but it forever banished him to the country of the weird.

    On a barely related note: The actual golden dollar coins are kind of a funny thing. You might think that a dollar coin would be most useful in vending machines, but the golden dollars do not function in that capacity. In fact, I ended up with three of them a while back in a trade for dollar bills that were actually useful in the vending machines at work. I threw them in a drawer as a curiosity, and only remembered them when I ordered pizza during the Super Bowl last month and didn’t have any cash to tip the delivery guy. So I gave him the three dollar coins and he did a double take at me like he thought I was trying to tip him with bus tokens or something.

    It’s the little things that keep us amused, I guess.

  • Murry Chang

    Haha holy crap I remember those ‘Ghost Detectors’! Good times!