The POGs are coming

August 08, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

They're round, inexpensive and have an unusual name. But Christopher and Jason Orem of Columbia have flipped for POGs.

For the unacquainted, POGs are silver dollar-size milk bottle caps that children play with, collect or trade. Usually two to six players stack the same number of the cardboard caps face-up in a pile and use a heavier cap -- called a slammer or kinni -- to pummel the stack. The player with the most flipped-over caps wins.

"I play almost every day for half an hour or hour," 11-year-old Jason says. "They're just different and fun. They're something you can trade and something that not everybody has. That's why I like it." Since July 4, the Orem boys have collected 78 POGs, which cost as little as 10 cents each or up to $2 for a pack of five caps and a slammer.

They've already become a hit in Hawaii and Southern California, and the East Coast is about to go POG wild, too, predicts John Hall, owner of Patowmack Toys in The Mall at Columbia.

"It's coming," Mr. Hall says. "I think this fall you'll see a big explosion."

He's received three shipments of POGs merchandise in two months and plans to sponsor a POG tournament in January.

"It's getting bigger and bigger, which is good," says Mr. Hall, a toy salesman for 22 years. "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life. The problem I'm having is finding more POGs. It's so new to the East Coast."

Despite the flurry of interest in Columbia, some area toy store managers say they've never heard of the game. And a couple of the managers at stores that sell the milk caps say POGs are no big deal.

Teresa Young, department head at Toys "R" Us in Catonsville, says her store still has about 100 packs of another brand of sports milk caps called Tonx, which arrived earlier this year.

"At first they were selling a little bit," she says. "But now they're just sitting. They're marked down [at $1.48] and they're still sitting."

POGs originated in Hawaii during the 1920s, when children saved milk bottle and juice caps from the Haleakala Dairy, which also made passion fruit-orange-guava drinks, hence POG. The Depression-era game died when cardboard milk containers replaced glass bottles.

But in 1991, Blossom Galbiso, a Hawaiian schoolteacher, revived the game she played as a child when she introduced POGs to her students.

After an 18-month high tide, the wave crossed the Pacific, making a big splash in California, says Alan F. Rypinski, president and CEO of the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based World POG Federation, which bought the POG trademark from the Haleakala Dairy in 1993.

Two billion POGs have been sold or given away in Hawaii since 1991, and about 250 million have been gobbled up in the continental United States, says Mr. Rypinski, who is also founder of the company that produces Armor All car protectant. (No exact sales figures were available.)

Now they're in Mexico and Canada, and there are pockets of interest along the East Coast.

It's "growing like a weed every day," he says. "This is an international phenomenon for children.

"We sure don't think it's a fad," says Mr. Rypinski, whose company sponsors POG tournaments.

Often compared to marbles, POGs are popular because they are inexpensive, easy to play and collectible like baseball trading cards, says Mr. Rypinski. The glossy milk caps feature skulls, cartoon characters, company logos, athletes and more.

Youngsters want alternatives to the solitary computer and video games, Mr. Rypinski says. "It's the old-fashioned game of the future."

Julie Proctor of Ellicott City grew up playing POGs in Puunene, Maui.

"We never had money," she says. "This was like free play, like hopscotch -- all we needed was chalk."

Now, her children, Maile, 10, and Billy, 12, play POGs and have 1,457 of the caps. Their POGs feature Charles Barkley, Elvis, the Haleakala Dairy logo and several named after Hurricane Iniki, which are valued at $30 each.

"I'm surprised they play with them," Mrs. Proctor says. "They have everything. When we were growing up, we didn't have Nintendo and Sega. We had to play the free stuff."

Says Maile: "You can play by yourself, and I like playing games by myself. If I travel and stuff and don't want to bring a board game, I can stick a couple in my pocket."

"The way they look, they can make money," says Keyon Ford, 14, of East Baltimore. "I would trade them."

Eleven-year-old John Olson of Columbia says his favorite milk cap shows a green dinosaur with red sun shades swallowing Barney. "I loved Barney," it says.

At Patowmack Toys, collectors can buy a starter kit that includes a notebook binder with plastic sleeves for $21.99. Outside the toy store, a sign reads: "Columbia is going POG wild. Be the first to get your POGs right here at Patowmack Toys."

After reading the sign last month, Karen Olson asked about POGs and bought several for her son's 11th birthday sleep-over party.

"The kids at the party found it to be different," Mrs. Olson says. "I heard 'pang pang' at 2 o'clock in the morning."

While slamming POGs with his brother, Thomas Olson, 12, says: "It's a good way to relieve stress. I pretend POGs are my brother."

Mrs. Proctor says the game is clean fun, but "it's just a fad like the trolls. Every year, it's something else."

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