Nerdy Things That Have Come and Gone

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By Scott Muller
 
I live in Florida, and a couple weeks ago I was visiting Disney Springs, a shopping and dining complex at Walt Disney World. I’m sure most of you know what Walt Disney World is, but many of you might not know what DisneyQuest is. DisneyQuest is an indoor, interactive theme park that opened in 1998 and was way ahead of its time. It had virtual reality rides and interactive attractions that were absolutely amazing to me. Essentially, it was as if Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Busters had a baby and someone injected the baby with steroids. The place was a nerdy kid’s dream come true. I’ve been there dozens of times throughout the years and I have a great time every time I go.
 
Unfortunately, like almost all good things, DisneyQuest is coming to an end. The “interactive theme park” is scheduled to close in July of this year. Based on articles I’ve read, it seems as if staying cutting edge became too expensive for Disney to maintain. I will say that the last few times I went the place had lost a bit of its luster, with no new rides in ages and a bit of sameness that made me sad.
 
DisneyQuest’s closing got me thinking about other nerdy things that have come and gone in my life. I decided to take a walk down memory lane and talk about some of my favorite nerdy things that I’ve seen come and go in my 40 years. These things are in no particular order and aren’t the only things I miss, but they’re the first that came to mind.

Waldenbooks (RIP July 2011) and B. Dalton Bookseller (RIP February 2013)

Back in my elementary school and teenage years, a trip to the mall wasn’t complete without a stop at these two stores to look at the latest MAD Magazine or choose-your-own-adventure book. Back then, it was totally cool for parents to leave their kids at a store in the mall and fully expect them to be there when they got back. I would sit on the floor and lose myself in a book while my parents headed to more boring stores like Sears, JC Penny, and Thom McAn. These days, other bookstores like Borders and Barnes and Noble are following suit, but Waldenbooks and B. Dalton were the first two dominos to fall, at least in my memory. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Books-a-Million can stay afloat; I’m one of those old farts that still enjoys reading an actual book. These new-fangled doohickeys like Kindles and Nooks aren’t for me.

Chuck E. Cheese’s as a Fun Place Where Normal People Go (RIP Sometime Around 1994)

When I was a kid, Chuck E. Cheese (Pizza Time Theatre) was a cool place with tons of fun stuff to do, including ball pits (another nerdy-fun thing that is going the way of the dodo thanks to germaphobic moms who think ball pits will kill their kids), cutting-edge video games (like one of my all-time favs, Dragon’s Lair), and super-cool playgrounds to climb around in. Now, Chuck E. Cheese’s is a magnet for whack-a-nuts and dumb, drunken idiots. Don’t believe me? Simply toss a Hot Pocket in the microwave, grab yourself something to drink, sit in front of your computer, and Google “chuck e cheese fights.” You’re set for a great evening. Combine that with the fact that all of the cool video games have been replaced by horrible ticket-redemption machines and the company has really killed off something that used to be really fun…and far less violent.

Jell-O Pudding Pops (RIP Slowly from 2004 to 2011)

I won’t bore you with the slow death of the Jell-O Pudding Pop. You can read about that here. What I will do is tell you how much I used to love them for dessert. They were so good, especially to me, someone who grew up in Florida, where it’s hot 346 days a year. Unfortunately, you can only jury-rig pudding pops these days, and the exploits of Bill Cosby basically destroy any chance of the Jell-O Pudding Pop making a full-scale comeback, which is a shame.

Lawn Darts, AKA Jarts (RIP December 1988)

Sigh. This is one of those cases where the stupidity of a few ruined things for the rest of us. I was playing lawn darts in my single-digit years and I never managed to injury, maim, or kill anyone. These things were actually banned in the U.S. and Canada (Canada! Canadians don’t do ANYTHING violent! How could you ban these things in Canada?!?) in 1988 and 1989. I remember spending many weekends in my side yard tossing the old-school metal-tipped lawn darts back in the day. I guess our alcohol-fueled society didn’t deserve lawn darts, and were punished by the far more drunk-friendly (and far more stupidly named) Cornhole. I guess it’s harder to kill someone with a bean bag. Thanks, drunken frat boys.

Mr. Wizard’s World (RIP Sometime in 1990)

Nickelodeon was a great network back when I was a kid. There were a lot of great shows like Turkey TV and You Can’t Do That on Television that were waaaay ahead of their time. Toss in some fantastic game shows like Double Dare, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Guts and awesome edutainment like Mr. Wizard’s World, and there wasn’t much that would tear me away from the screen. I used to love this show, which starred Don Herbert as the titular Mr. Wizard. In this weirdly-premised show, Mr. Wizard would invite random kids to what I’m assuming was supposed to be his house and teach them science while simultaneously passively-aggressively insulting their lack of scientific knowledge. At the time, I just thought the guy was teaching kids about science, but while revisiting the show, I realized he was kind of an a-hole. As a matter of fact, there’s a YouTube video that compiles a lot of ol’ Don’s best jerkiness. The video is called “Mr. Wizard is a D***.” You can watch it here. He might be a bit of a curmudgeon, but his was a show that was a fun way to learn about science prior to Bill Nye and that weirdo from Beakman’s World.

SEGA as a Console Maker (RIP Somewhere Around 2001)

After I sold my Atari and dozens of games to get the money to buy a Nintendo, I thought I was set for life. However, just a few years later I managed to win first prize in Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Sweepstakes. My prize? A brand new SEGA Genesis and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog. I was in love. Colorful graphics, a big chunky controller, and a new library of great games like Sonic, Altered Beast, Shining in the Darkness (and later, Shining Force, which was the JOINT), and NBA Jam (Vlade Divac and James Worthy were unbeatable!). I went on to purchase the ridiculously underrated Sega CD (Sewer Shark was such dopey fun that I couldn’t stop playing it.), Sega Saturn, and Sega Dreamcast (Crazy Taxi was probably my favorite launch title ever…so much fun and easy to pick up and play). I have fond memories of my time with my SEGA systems, and I’m looking forward to a SEGA Classic similar to the one Nintendo created. Hopefully, though, SEGA will create more than 27 consoles that scalpers sell for $5,245 each on eBay. Fingers crossed!

Joel Hodgson as Host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (RIP Sometime in 1993)

It was through dumb luck that I stumbled upon what would become one of my favorite television shows of all time. Mystery Theater 3000 had an amazing premise: make fun of horrible movies using a plethora of semi-obscure pop culture references. I discovered MST3K on a local cable station in the middle of the night after an evening working at the local grocery store while in high school. As a guy who loves pop culture, the various references Joel and his robot buddies (Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot) flung at the screen were absolutely hysterical to me. The show came and went on my local cable channel, but popped up on Comedy Central, and later the SyFy (or Sci-Fi when people could still spell) Network, but it wasn’t the same after Joel left. He was replaced during the fifth season by writer Mike Nelson. I didn’t dislike Mike, but I always preferred Joel. They’re bringing back MST3K on Netflix, but I’m not nearly as excited about that as I am that they’re bringing back some old episodes, as well. If you want to watch a super-fun show, hop onto Netflix and watch some of these old episodes; Eegah, I Accuse My Parents, and Teenagers from Outer Space are among my favorites. This is one thing that has come and gone, but is (much to my delight) coming back again.

Chuck (RIP January 2012)

This is one of the main reasons I’m writing for this website. I was a huge fan of this show from the first episode. I’ve watched all five seasons three times through and would have no problem watching it again. As a nerd, this show has everything I could want in a show: a nerdy, likeable protagonist, an absolutely gorgeous female lead, tons of nerdy Easter eggs and cameos (Reginald VelJohnson reprising his role as Al Powell from Die Hard was a stroke of genius.), and a great story made this perhaps my favorite show ever. It really stung when this show went off the air. I’ll always hold out hope that they’ll bring this show back in some way, shape, or form. I’m sure nerds everywhere will rejoice.

Blockbuster Video Stores (RIP from 2010 to 2015)

Technically, according to Wikipedia, there are still 12 Blockbuster Video stores somewhere in the United States. However, to me, this place is pretty much dead and buried, which is a shame because I really enjoyed walking through my local Blockbuster video and look for titles I normally wouldn’t think to watch. I feel the same way about movies as I do about books; it’s just more fun to hold a physical movie in my hand than it is to watch something off of Netflix or Amazon Prime. Plus, Netflix doesn’t have nearly the selection I thought it would; ironically, there are more quality television shows than there are “flix.” It sure would be great if Blockbuster would make a comeback; there was nothing I enjoyed more than making it a “Blockbuster Night.”

The Suikoden Video Game Series (RIP February 2006)

This was another gem I stumbled upon at my local flea market. I’m usually 50/50 when it comes to role playing games; games have to hit a sweet spot for me to really enjoy them. Suikoden managed to hit the sweet spot with its large (but actually surprisingly deep) cast, warm story, and fun gameplay. The first two Suikoden games were among my favorite of all time (right up there with Final Fantasy III or VI, depending on how big a Final Fantasy nerd you are). The third and fourth entries were kinda’ disappointing, but Suikoden V really brought me back to the glory days of the franchise. It’s a shame that, at least based on research I’ve done, that the series seems to be done. The original title is still playable on the PS Network, I believe, so at least there’s that. If you can dig up a copy of Suikoden I, II, or V, I highly recommend it…there’s some really great stuff there.

In Conclusion and Honorable Mentions

I like to keep things to a nice round number, and that’s 10, so I think I’m about done. Other things that were considered for the list include outdoor playgrounds at McDonald’s (these might still exist, but they seem few and far between), Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World (a real travesty that this ride doesn’t still exist), Bob Barker as host of The Price is Right (Drew Carey just doesn’t do it for me), VHS cassettes (the world seems less kind now that we don’t have to rewind), WCW wrestling, and the original Twinkies (the latest version tastes like what I’d image those tumbling mats they use for gymnastics taste like).
 
They say that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. In the case of this article and my research for it, I studied history in the hope that I COULD repeat it. There are some things from my history that I really miss and hope with fingers crossed will make a comeback. In some cases, like MST3K, my wishes have come true. With a little luck, even more of my nerdy history will repeat itself, as well.


    One Comment

  1. McmoychukMay 9th, 2017 at 4:15 am

    My guess is that you are 52. Great memories.

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