Shortly after moving to a northern suburb of New York City in 1965, my new schoolmates asked me to choose a side in a classic rivalry. The Mets vs. Yankees could wait until later (I chose the Mets), they wanted to know if I preferred Quisp or Quake, because breakfast cereals were much more important to five-year-olds than baseball teams.
If you aren’t old enough to remember the cereal wars, this commercial will provide you with the necessary background:
The ad was animated by Jay Ward, the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and used many of the same voice actors. More ads followed, each promoting the rivalry between the two cereals, which eventually culminated in asking viewers to vote for their favorite. Quisp won the vote, and Quake was discontinued, a pattern I had already seen with my baseball choice: despite a “miracle” season in 1969, the Mets soon wound up in the basement.
The irony of having to choose was evident to any child who had tried both cereals. I made Mom buy a box of each – calling it research – before settling on Quake, but not before realizing that both cereals tasted the same, with only minor shape-releated textural differences distinguishing one from the other. I had another suspicion about the taste, which I confirmed by eating a bowl of Cap’n Crunch: they were all the same cereal, just extruded into different shapes. (Three bowls of sugared corn cereal in one sitting? I call it research, you might call it college breakfast. Or dinner.)
Quisp soon followed Quake into oblivion in the late ’70s, but would be brought back each succeeding decade until it was revived on a wave of hipster nostalgia in 2001, when it became available via mail order from the Quaker web site. It even had a new comercial, animated by John Kricfalusi of Ren and Stimpy fame:
I had heard that Quisp could also be found in Super Target stores, but was still shocked to see it in an end cap at my local Stop & Shop last week. I had to buy a box, just to see if it was the Quisp I remembered. (He Who Will Not Be Ignored was also curious about the “retro cereal.”) I had a bowl for breakfast:
The “saucers” seemed much smaller than I remembered. Was it just an issue of scale, where everything looks bigger to a little kid? Nope, the shape is smaller – have a look at the size at the 35 second mark in this comercial:
But it tasted the same, and, in the interest of thorough research, I once again compared it to Cap’n Crunch (just a small handful, my metabolism can no longer handle large quantities of processed corn sugar) and came up with the same result.
I’ll finish the box, but don’t anticipate buying any more, not when I can get the same flavor hit from a cereal that won’t be subject to the fickle whims of new consumers. Also, I’ve finally perfected the proper consumption method, described in detail by Neal Stephenson in Cryptonimicon:
World-class cereal-eating is a dance of fine compromises. The giant heaping bowl of sodden cereal, awash in milk, is the mark of the novice. Ideally one wants the bone-dry cereal nuggets and the cryogenic milk to enter the mouth with minimal contact and for the entire reaction between them to take place in the mouth. … The next-best thing is to work in small increments, putting only a small amount…in your bowl at a time and eating it all up before it becomes a pit of loathsome slime, which takes about thirty seconds in the case of Cap’n Crunch.
Quisp may be hip, but the Cap’n abides.