It is time to talk about gum. None of this Trident crap. That ain’t gum. Dentyne isn’t either. The gum we’re going to be talking about would never, ever be recommended by four out of five dentists surveyed. Our gum does not come in sticks, because if you really think about it, gum that comes in sticks is gum for wussies. The gum we’re going to be talking about here is hard core. It has flavor crystals and stuff to make you froth at the mouth and makes you cry and makes your eyes pop out. It has more sugar than sugar itself. If Doublemint is one or two social glasses of wine at a cocktail party, Mouth Blaster is a keg hurled through Grandma’s sliding glass door.
In matters grave as these, a little historical context may be necessary. As is the case with most things of questionable value and taste but undeniable coolness, we can blame the emergence of these novelty gums on the ’70s. Freshen Up and Chewels, your favorite liquid-center chewing comestibles, were spawn of the Travolta Era, as were Fruit Stripe, Gatorgum, Bubblicious, and Hubba Bubba. Razzles—are they candy or are they gum?—were born around then, too. And just as Reagan was stepping into office, Tiny Size Chicklets were enjoying their commercial peak.
Then the ’80s came and the candy changed with the times. Nothing was soft and springy and gushy anymore. Chewels and waterbeds just weren’t cool. The candy de mode was hard and rocky. Spree was introduced. Then Nerds, then Runts. The gum scene was embroiled in a disastrous downward spiral, except maybe for the new surreal Bazooka comics. (“Bazooka Joe travels back in time to meet Nietzsche. Nietzsche: Only the will to power of the superman can ultimately shake free the shackles of the slave morality of the bourgeois Christian state. Joe: I don’t know about all that, Freddy, but these cheeseburgers are awful!!”)
But now it’s the ’90s and damned if the foremost defining element of the whole decade so far hasn’t been the reintroduction of wacky gumballs. There’s been a lot of ado in this ariticle so far, but rest assured that there will be none further as we embark on The First Annual Herald Guide to Obscure Five-cent Gumballs Manufactured by Marginal, kind of Sketchy Candy Companies, most of them Based in China.
Mouth Blasters (★★★★★): Absolutely positively the best gumballs around, available exclusively where life begins…Store 24. Taste: Not really that sour, just flavorful to the point where you can feel it in your scalp. The Mouth Blaster engineers attribute this to the flavor crystals inside. Not hollow, but still the same price as the rest. Best flavors: Green apple and cherry. Be careful not to confuse cherry with strawberry, which is a lighter red and markedly inferior. Drawbacks: They’ve had the same Mouth Blaster container at Store 24 since last spring, so the gumballs are getting a little hard. Encourage them to reorder when you go in. Wrapper art: A green kid barfing up a mushroom cloud.
Crybaby (★★★★): The best of the straight-out sour gumballs. Harder to find these days. Taste: Stronger than Eye Poppers, even though they’re smaller. The fresher and colder they are, the more sour they are. Best flavors: Green apple, of course; lemon is the most sour but not necessarily the best; grape is kind of lame. Drawbacks: You can literally feel the double punch of sugar and hyperamplified citric acid wearing down your enamel and numbing your tastebuds. Also, negative points for the spin-offs—the Sweet-tartesque Crybaby Tears just aren’t sour at all. Wrapper art: A kid with puckered lips, sucked-in cheeks, and watering eyes.
Eye Poppers (★★★): Servicible, generic sour gum. The Ford Escort of the five-cent gum scene. Available at the Co-op, though, which is a plus. Taste: Entrance-level sour for the beginner. Tastes like regular flavor Double Bubble to veterans. Best flavors: Orange. Drawbacks: No green apple; the lime is a disappointing surprise. Wrapper art: A kid with his eyes popping out of his skull, tongue wagging, and sweat shooting all over the place.
Mad Dog Frothing Gum (★★): Kind of like Zots, except it’s gum. You get mired in froth and your own saliva pretty quickly, though, which makes it a decent gum for pranks but kind of annoying otherwise. Taste: The selling point here is the froth; the gum itself is just in plain old supermarket gumball machine flavors. Best flavors: N/A Drawbacks: Exceedingly irritating and dehydrating. Wrapper Art: A rabid bulldog.
Tongue Splashers (★): Expressly manufactured to stain your tongue, which in elementary school was the one way your mom knew you had Gobstoppers before dinner. Don’t taste like anything, and worse, they don’t even always paint your tongue anyway. Taste: Blech. Best flavors: Not a one. Drawbacks: So sad—they’re not even a good prank. Wrapper art: Don’t remember, but let’s just assume that it’s a kid with his freshly dyed tongue hanging out.