As a little kid in the 1960s my favorite breakfast serial was Quisp. It didn't taste quite as good as Cap'n Crunch, but the cereal pieces were shaped like little flying saucers and the mascot was a nerdy, mischievous pink alien with a propeller on its head. What could beat that? The television commercials for Quisp were entertaining, because they often featured Quisp's rival, an arrogant, cowboy-hat-wearing, subterranean jock named Quake, who had his own cereal, too. The two characters hated each other, and I hated Quake, too. I thought Quake cereal tasted horrible (though it was probably made from the same stuff Quisp was made from).
In those days, cereal boxes came with cool prizes: little plastic spaceman that slid onto your spoon handle, colorful characters that clung to your cereal bowl, miniature submarines that used baking powder to make them rise and fall in a bathtub. I had many of the cereal box prizes, but the one I was most excited about getting was a Quisp ring that had a clear plastic cylinder that housed a real meteorite. The top of the cylinder even had a small magnifying glass to examine the sample.
Unfortunately, General Mills played a dirty trick on me and other Quisp loyalists. They also made a Quake ring (which contained a piece of volcanic pumice) and there was no guarantee which ring you would get when you bought a box of Quisp.
As luck would have it, every box of Quisp my mother bought for me had the Quake ring in it. I was so disappointed in the Quake rings that I threw them away immediately. I did not want pumice. My cousin's parents had a fake oriental garden in their backyard with plastic bonsai trees "growing" out of a layer of artificially-colored pumice pebbles. Pumice held no mystery of the exotic for me. I wanted the otherworldly Quisp meteorite ring. My mother sympathized with me and sometimes bought two boxes of Quisp at a time, but she drew the line at throwing the uneaten boxes away to make shelf space for new boxes. I even tried counter-logic, buying a box of Quake to see if it might have a Quisp ring in it. When I pulled out yet another pumice ring from the bottom of the cereal, the visage of Quake on the box taunted me with a simian leer.
I never did get the Quisp ring. My theory at the time (and now) is that meteorites are much rarer and more expensive than pumice (no one spreads meteorites in their yard), so the overwhelming majority of rings given away by General Mills were Quake rings.
It is very difficult to find a Quisp meteorite ring for sale today. In fact, most 1960s-era Quisp cereal prizes are very expensive, considering they are tiny and made from plastic. For instance, the Quisp flying saucer model kit (which you had to send in for) goes for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Quisp space disc whistle rings sell for $75 to $90 on eBay, and the incredible Quisp space gun ring, which fires tiny rockets, goes for $110.
It's a shame that cereal boxes don't contain cool prizes any longer. The colorful trinkets brought me a great deal of joy as a child, and consumed an inordinate amount of my mental activity. Take a look at the "Crazy Rings" that Quaker Puffed Wheat offered for $.25 and one box top. You would receive all 10 rings for that price: a siren ring, a pencil sharpener ring, two puzzle rings, a water pistol ring, a ship-in-a-bottle ring, a whistle ring, a friendship ring, a meteorite ring, and a jingle bell ring. If I gave a box containing these 10 rings to my daughter she would be ecstatic for weeks.
If I ever get rich, I will start my own cereal company just so I can put cool prizes in the boxes.
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Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects