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1980s and 1990s fads and crazes: Remember Tamagotchi, Star Wars cards in packs of bubble gum, Rubik's Magic, Pokémon and Tech Deck?

Kids today, eh? Always on their phones. Once upon a time the playground was a more simple place – an era of trading cards, conkers, munching on Wagon Wheels and a healthy disregard for health and safety.

We've certainly come a long way over the decades but many of us will look back fondly on the crazes which swept the nation in the 1980s and 1990s.

Simple pleasures for a simpler age? Do you remember these fads of years gone by?
Simple pleasures for a simpler age? Do you remember these fads of years gone by?

We're talking the sort of things which made both the lives of parents – who were subjected to non-stop begging to buy the en vogue objects of desire – and teachers, who, almost inevitably introduced a classroom ban after pupils' focus slipped from their formal education because they were playing with them.

So let's take a look back at some of the fads which so many of us were caught up in back in the day.

Rubik's Cube and Rubik's Magic

Did you know that Ernö Rubik, the man who created perhaps the most famous of puzzles, is still alive and kicking? The Hungarian inventor and professor of architecture is now 77 and lives in Budapest.

He was 30 when he created his fiendishly difficult Cube to which he lent his name – first a hit in his home country and then, after signing distribution deals overseas in 1980, a phenomenon. It's since sold 450 million units. And that's not including the vast array of unofficial rip-offs. It's also become something of a cultural icon for the decade.

Who hasn't tried a Rubik's Cube, eh?
Who hasn't tried a Rubik's Cube, eh?

Playgrounds were filled with children trying to work out how to get all the coloured squares back in their rightful place.

Many came up with the cunning idea of peeling off the stickers and, frankly, cheating.

Others celebrated when two sides were completed and felt success was just around the corner, but would later discover they had reached the peak of their skills.

And, from bitter experience, if you thought the passing of the years would give you a better chance of completing it, let me assure you, it doesn't. Even when following the online guides.

A few years after the Cube took the world by storm, there followed the Rubik's Snake, which was less popular, and then the Rubik's Magic.

An ingeniously designed thing which saw eight squares, picturing three hoops, linked by plastic strands.

To solve it you needed to somehow manipulate it so the hoops appeared to loop together.

It wasn't the hit of the Cube, but for a few years in the late 1980s it was an essential purchase.


Do children still play conkers? If not, they should. It is the playground equivalent of chess. Nut versus nut where nerve and the strength of your string were key to success.

A simple pleasure - but a glorious contest awaited those who could put some string through one
A simple pleasure - but a glorious contest awaited those who could put some string through one

Spot a crack forming? Could you target it successfully? Could you shout 'windmills' quickly enough if you sent your rivals conker spinning like an out-of-control swing and earn an extra whack?

Not only were they thrilling to take part in, but the spectacle of a big battle was fun to watch as someone's 39-er (each victory added to your conker's score – and if you beat a 12-er you won all its points too) was sent flying into a thousand little pieces just before the bell went to signal the end of break.

Granted, sticking a skewer into your conker to fit the string always brought with it the very real risk of said skewer going through your hand, but that was all part of the fun.

And, best of all, conkers were free to collect, while elevating anyone who had a horse chestnut tree in their back garden to almost regal status every autumn.


Handheld games were nothing new when the first Tamagotchi was born. But the obsession with these devices should have acted as a warning as what was to come – a generation, heads bowed, staring at a screen.

Created in Japan, the Tamagotchi was mercifully relatively cheap to buy (well, less than a tenner) but in extraordinarily high demand during its peak of the late 1990s.

Literally translated, it stood for 'egg watch' and in its plastic casing everyone who had ever yearned for a pet – but were put off by the house training mishaps of dogs and cats – could finally be responsible for a little creature.

All they had to do was feed the pesky blighter and, of course, keep it happy and healthy.

Much to every parents' great amusement, forgetting any of the above would result in a little skull and crossbones appearing and the death of the little pet you had hatched from its egg.

Did you manage to keep your Tamagotchi alive and kicking?
Did you manage to keep your Tamagotchi alive and kicking?

The owners generally didn't smirk so much having failed so miserably. Teachers were driven to the limit by pupils pausing getting their head around equations to feed their little bundle of joy.

Needless to say, the smile was wiped off many a parent's face when, with schools having banned them, they found themselves on Tamagotchi baby-sitting duty during the day.

Coca-Cola Spinner

I say 'Spinner', as that's what they were called. But to everyone else they were a yo-yo. And hats off to whoever at the fizzy drink giant thought to reinvent the age-old toy because during the late 1980s they managed to once again turn them into a must-have accessory.

The humble yo-yo has been knocking around the world since 500BC (according to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia) and its popularity has ridden many a wave over the years.

If you're too young to have met them yet they are – wait for it – a round piece of plastic which goes up and down a piece of string. Sounds good, eh?

But whether it was just some masterful marketing or time for a revival, the Coke-branded 'spinners' were embraced as we all learnt to get the disc to spin at the bottom before a little jerk of the finger brought them back to sit in the palm of your hand, while others could show off with a range of trickery. 'Walking the Dog', anyone? Simple pleasures, but remarkably satisfying when it worked.

Star Wars trading cards in bubble gum

In the late 1970s, the arrival and popularity of Star Wars on the big screen spawned a selection of items no self-respecting school child could do without. Whether it was a Stormtrooper-shaped eraser, a pencil case with the Millennium Falcon on, or one of a number of pencil-toppers featuring the main characters, shops cashed in and parents saw pocket-money demands increase.

But for many it was the trading cards which were in such high demand.

If only we'd all kept our original Star Wars toys (and never unboxed them, and kept them in pristine condition)
If only we'd all kept our original Star Wars toys (and never unboxed them, and kept them in pristine condition)

And, in an era before people started worrying about their children choking on bubble gum (or was that just my parents?), the way to collect the cards was by buying a packet of gum which came with the prized items included. Yes, it meant the cards reeked of the gum too, but that didn't matter.

By the time Return of the Jedi rolled up in 1983, the sticker had emerged victorious and the cards-in-a-pack-of-gum craze was, sadly, over.

Tech Deck

Skateboarding has been one of those perennial past-times which generations of youngsters have grazed their knees trying to master.

It's always carried a bit of the 'rebel' about it as a past-time. That is, until you're about 13, at which point everyone thinks you're too old and any chance of looking cool dissolves.

So it can only be assumed, as our roads got busier and parents preferred the 'wrap my child in cotton wool' approach to raising their offspring, the late 1990s saw a craze take-off which left most adults scratching their heads over.

Tech Decks were tiny little skateboards for your fingers. Miniatures of traditional 'boards' complete with all the brandings those who like these sort of things care about.

You could perform all sorts of tricks from the safety of your school desk or sofa. Risking nothing more than, at worse, breaking a finger nail.

Do they get you from A to B though? No. Stand on one and they will break. What, then, you may well ask, is the point? Answers on a postcard please.

Hacky Sack

These little things came in and out of fashion during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Small little balls filled with non-bounceable materials, the idea with the Hacky Sack was you dazzled your mates by showing how good your keepy-uppy skills were.

Or, indeed, you shared the love, by gathering around to try and keep them airborne before they, inevitably, hit the dirt like an ice cream cone tumbling head first into a sandy beach.

Like so many of these short-lived crazes, it didn't take long to realise they weren't as easy to control as they looked and frustration crept in closely followed by unceremoniously dumping them in your toy cupboard.

There are still plenty of folk who continue to train hard and Hacky Sack world championships are still regularly held.

Pokémon cards

How do you get Pikachi on a bus? Poke-'em-on. It's an oldie but a goodie.

The Pokémon phenomenon continues today, some 25 years since the Japanese creation first appeared as games on the old Nintendo Game Boy.

While many played the game, it also became essential to collect the various cards that were issued. 'Gotta catch them all' ran the slogan, and the youth of the late 1990s decided they would do their very best.

Pokemon cards were a huge craze - now many are worth a small fortune
Pokemon cards were a huge craze - now many are worth a small fortune

As Pokémon – a variety of mythical creatures each with their own special powers – morphed from video game to cards, to TV, to film to T-shirts and much more besides, so their popularity grew.

Woe betide you if you threw your original cards out though. Many today sell to collectors for a small fortune.

The most recent Pokémon craze – which arrived just a few years ago – is Pokémon Go, which allows smartphone users to 'see' the little critters bouncing around their house, back garden or high street and then catch them by flicking a, ahem, Poké Ball at them. Things are different now, aren't they?

Panini stickers

Panini has been churning out sticker albums for decades
Panini has been churning out sticker albums for decades

Panini stickers are a bit like vinyl records. Just when you thought modern media devices would replace the simple pleasures of taking them out of their sleeve, admiring and absorbing them, before carefully adding them to your collection, the over-powering stench of nostalgia keeps them afloat.

Which parent, after all, is going to deny their child the pleasure of collecting the faces of their favourite football teams? So while they may not shift in the numbers they once did, they still remain hugely popular.

And Panini is the undisputed king.

Granted, there aren't so many perms doing the rounds as there were in the 1980s on the biggest football players (and nor do the Scottish teams come with two players to one sticker), but the feel and smell of a packet of stickers can whisk many a 40 or 50-something back to a time where a shiny Liverpool badge, or Kenny Dalglish, had the same currency in the playground as an iPhone.

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