Day 335: Happy 50th Birthday, Lots Of Stuff!

originally published November 30, 2012

According to Wellcat.com, an arbitrary website that appears to want to sell me balms and pillows, today is Stay Home Because You Are Well Day. So if you haven’t left for work yet, don’t bother. Grab your phone, tell your boss you aren’t coming in because you feel great. Savor the ensuing eight hours, or perhaps use that time to update your resume because you probably just got fired.

But we need something to celebrate today. Sure, it’s Friday, but that’s not enough. Maybe an anniversary? It’s always the somethingth anniversary of something, right? Fortunately, I have a list of somethings right here, and they all share the common bond of turning 50 this year. So pick a reason, and though you may not be able to get the day off work for it, maybe you can sneak a flask to your desk and have a few drinks in its honor. Why not? It’s Friday.

Computer Games

I hope all the rogues, wizards and… I don’t know… disco-gnomes?… who are playing World of Warcraft today will take a moment and pause for a moment of celebration. Their legacy began 50 years ago with a game called Spacewar!. It took about 200 hours of work to create this game, and that’s 200 hours of work at M.I.T., so like 8000 hours by normal human standards. The game was conceived by three men: Steve “Slug” Russell, Martin “Shag” Graetz, and Wayne “Those Bastards Didn’t Give Me A Nickname” Wiitanen.

The game seems to be far more extensive even than Pong, which was still a decade away. Two players control ships, maneuvering them around the screen to avoid the star in the middle (which also has a gravitational field). They try to shoot each other and stay alive. The stars in the background were also a literal model of the night sky. Players had to watch both their fuel and missile supply. Honestly, this game sounds tremendously complex for having kicked off the genre.

When you get tired of the new Call of Duty, you can still play this one online.

Seafood-Themed Crackers

Technically this snack is older than 50 years, but it began life as a Sweden-only product, so for the purposes of our discussion, happy fish-aversary. Since 1962 if you’ve had a hankering for the delicious flavor of goldfish but don’t like getting fish innards stuck between your teeth (and who does?), you have had the option to snack on these crackers instead.

Though you can purchase ‘plain’ flavor – and I don’t know why you would – the first flavor to be offered on this side of the globe was the incredibly popular cheddar. Of course they have diversified, so if you’d rather your fish taste like salt and vinegar, pizza, buffalo wings, chocolate, or calcium enriched, the options are there.

Time-Directed Confectionary

Mmm… when I was a kid, this was the elegant snack I wanted to wear a monocle while I ate. A hearty paste of saccharose, water and yummy enzyme invertase is coated in dark chocolate, then gently inserted by debutantes wearing white silk gloves into their little paper envelopes. The After Eight is a glorious treat, and it’s 50 years old.

Rowntree, the English company that also unleashed Kit Kat, Aero, Rolo, and the M&M-like Smarties we enjoy in Canada and the UK, is responsible for the After Eight. In 2010, they shifted production of this minty square of goopy heaven from England to their Halifax plant, so now I have a real reason to visit the east coast. Finally.

The Very Odd Ogg

This curious turtle-frog creature was a toy introduced in 1962. The object is to roll the four plastic balls that came with Odd Ogg into its gullet. If you miss, the Odd Ogg sticks out its tongue and backs away from you. If you succeed, it rolls toward you, in spite of whatever nightmares it knows it may be inspiring.

Odd Ogg wasn’t a huge success in the toy world, but it had a solid following among kids who didn’t have access to the Spacewar! game console at M.I.T.. Ideal Toys did okay though – they were still cashing checks on their Magic 8-Ball toy.

Grown-Up Apple Juice

Strongbow Cider currently owns about 10% of the global cider market, so they’re doing okay. Myself, I’d prefer a Rock Creek dry cider produced by Big Rock Brewery, and not only because they are my unofficial sponsor company. But I’m here to celebrate Strongbow today, which began realizing their best possible interpretation of the apple fifty years ago, thanks to H.P. Bulmer in England.

To make this cider, they use 50 different varieties of apples. I didn’t know there were 50 varieties of apples, but apparently there are and these are all cultivated in England and France. The vat that holds the cider at the brewery is the largest alcoholic container in the world, holding 15 million gallons of delicious intoxication. Before you book a brewery tour, I should warn you that swimming is not allowed.

Some of Marvel’s Best Ideas

Tobey Maguire’s douche-chill-inducing dance scene reminds me that Spider-Man turns 50 this year as well. Amazing Fantasy #15, his debut,was released in August of 1962. He was the first teenager to take center-stage as a superhero, rather than being relegated to Boy Wonder / Sidekick. He had his own comic book by March of 1963, and over the next few months Spider-Man became one of the most beloved comic book heroes on the planet.

In the last five decades, this franchise has been translated to TV shows, coloring books, records, novels, a trilogy of huge-grossing movies and a reboot in the past decade, and the most expensive (and injury-inducing) Broadway musical in history.

Wow, 1962 was a good year for Marvel Comics and Stan Lee. Inspired by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein, Lee wanted to make a good-guy monster. Green was chosen because it wouldn’t tie in with any race or ethnic group. The Incredible Hulk didn’t quite get the reaction Spider-Man received, and the comic has been wound down and relaunched more than once. But Hulk was the highlight of the Avengers movie this year, and it’s looking like he’ll be a top-10 superhero for at least the next 50 years.

A lot of great cultural milestones kicked off in 1962, from the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to The Jetsons to the initial publication of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Too much to cover it all, and I’ve already breeched my quota.

There you have it – if you can’t milk an excuse to not go into work out of all this, then you just aren’t trying hard enough.

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