The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, March 7, 1995                 TAG: 9503070454
                                             LENGTH: Long  :  186 lines


WHO WOULDA thought kids would fall for a game called Passion Orange Guava?

Well, they have, and even though Hampton Roads kids fell about two or three years after West Coast kids, they're, well, passionate about it.

Kids call it pogs. Adults - and newspaper writers - had better call it milkcaps, or the legal mind behind POG (trademark) will write you a letter. In deference to that lawyer, let's just note right here that we know the difference, but we can't change what kids call the game.

Pogs. OK, milkcaps. It's not a new game, it's just in revival, with a more colorful twist. What kids of the 1920s and '30s remember as a game played with actual paper caps off moo juice has become a cash cow for about 26 companies that reel out paper discs stamped with dinosaurs, sports logos, skulls and crossbones, Disney characters, ``stars'' of the O.J. Simpson trial, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Jesus' crucifixion, to mention just a few. These little paper discs, about the size of a half-dollar, are bringing in millions of dollars, mostly in the shape of dimes and quarters plunked down by kids ages 6 to 14.

The game has few rules, which is one of the aspects that enchants kids and frustrates adults. The gist is this: each player stacks up the same number of caps, usually two to 10. Each takes turns hurling a heavier disc, called a slammer, onto the top of the stack. The player keeps any caps that flip over. Sometimes the whole stack flips. Sometimes no caps flip. The player with the most caps at the end of the game wins.

J.R. Broadbent, 14, squared off against Steven Hansen, 13, one day after school on the cement walk in front of Midge Peppers' house. It was 40 degrees. They weren't wearing coats. They played in grim silence for a while, neither gaining an advantage.

``Let's go inside, man. This thing's too addictive,'' Hansen urged. ``We're gonna end up dying before we win any. It's just as easy to flip 'em on carpet.''

``Carpet's cheating, though,'' Broadbent chastised.

They went inside. Three other groups of kids were playing there.

A couple years ago, Peppers learned about the game during a visit to Hawaii. She introduced neighborhood kids to it and started selling a few from her Kempsville home.

She displays a sheet of six caps decorated with Wyland's whale paintings. The artist autographed it for her while he was painting the parking garage mural in downtown Norfolk.

``This set is worth $100 now in Hawaii,'' she said.


Broadbent and Hansen were stacking caps for another game.

``Put in that Tropical Storm,'' Hansen urged, pointing at a cap with an airplane on it.

``Yeah, right,'' Broadbent jeered. ``It's worth three bucks.''

Three bucks for a paper circle?

``You could stack 20 each or two each,'' Hansen explained.

``But most people don't want to stack that much because you lose money when you lose pogs,'' Broadbent added.

Money in milkcaps? You bet.

The game traces its roots back to 13th century Japan. Immigrants carried variations of a game called ``menko'' to Hawaii in the 1800s. It had a sort of sandlot charm, kids playing a game similar to marbles with discarded milk bottle caps.

Then, in 1970, the Haleakala Dairy started marketing Passion Orange Guava juice, with the initials P-O-G on the bottle cap. A school teacher began using the caps to reward her kids, kids began to covet them, and local businesses realized they could capitalize.

Caps began to carry more than the words ``pasteurized'' and ``bottled by.'' Kids like pictures. A couple of enterprising businessmen from California bought the rights to the name POG from the dairy and started the World Pog Federation, from whence they market ``official'' products. Other companies, reduced to calling their milkcaps Pogz, Krome Kaps and other variations, have taken the whole matter to court.

Kids keep calling 'em all pogs.

``There is a bit of confusion in the industry, but there's no confusion among the kids. The kids play pogs,'' said Anne Edwards, president of the Milkcap Marketplace in London Bridge Shopping Center, which opened Feb. 1.

Edwards carries playing pogs and collectible pogs. Playing pogs are your basic, garden-variety paper discs, with a colorful picture on one side and nothing on the back. But adults started marketing fancier caps, called prisms and foils and holograms, with pictures that glitter and sparkle and twitch. They market numbered sets of caps and urge kids to ``collect 'em all!'' Fast-food restaurants give away caps as promotions, and kids carry them in protective plastic ``lava tubes'' or special plastic notebook pages.

Slammers come in brass, acrylic, laser-engraved wood, plastic, you name it. Homemade slammers are made by stretching a balloon around something circular and taping it down.

``Hey, I paid $4.50 for this,'' Broadbent protested as his metal ``Eliminator'' slammer failed to flip any caps.

``It doesn't even work that good, either,'' Hansen responded.

The real beauty of pogs is that it's cheap, it's social, it's equalizing and it gets kids away from the TV and Nintendo, Edwards said.

``One of the real attractions about this is it's simple,'' she said. ``You can play it with your grandmother, you can play it with your neighbor, you can play it with your sister.

``Some of the neatest kids come in here - they're not jocks or the most beautiful - and they are so excited that they are cool. It's wonderful.''

Some school systems do not agree. A few have banned the game, saying it distracts from school work and smacks of gambling.

Edwards said her parents bought some caps for the child next door, then bought some for themselves so she wouldn't have to play alone.

Edwards sells packs of basic caps 15 for $1. Foil-wrapped ``collector'' sets of five caps cost from $1.25 for Power Rangers to $2.50 for the fantasy hero collection from the World Pog Federation.

Edwards has bins of loose caps where kids can select their own, from 20 to 50 cents apiece. Disney's Lion King goes for 25 cents apiece.

``One Nintendo game costs $60,'' Edwards remarked. ``Relative to what parents have been paying for children's entertainment, this is a bargain.''

Linda Hartman came through the shop door, looking for Valentine presents for her sons, ages 7 and 9. ``I don't know anything about these,'' she told Edwards. ``What is it that they all want to have?''

Edwards trotted out her top sellers: skulls and gross stuff. Hartman recoiled.

``The more you object to this, the more they're gonna want it,'' Edwards noted. ``There's the ever popular skull and crossbones. The poison 8 ball and skeleton routine is by far the most popular.''

Hartman had never heard of milkcaps until her children came home with some about two weeks earlier. ``Now it's every time you turn around `I want some pogs, I want some pogs,' '' she said.

Laura Miller came in the door right behind her.

``I just learned about it this weekend,'' she told Edwards. ``My son came home and said a kid was selling them for 10 cents apiece. Do you have baseball pogs in there?''

No, not with the strike on. Football instead?

``Well, we're Giants fans,'' Miller said. ``I'll take these two Giants.''

She selected a metal hologram slammer, then decided to buy some Valentine pogs for the girls next door. ``I like the little bear,'' Miller said, poking through the stack. ``Oh, look, a stick horse.''

She declined the poison 8 ball.

Edwards carries the collectible sets, from Disney to Civil War notables to tropical fish. She prefers to watch kids select their own garden-variety playing pogs from the big bins.

``They take a lot of time. They have to weigh the pros and cons of each one of these,'' she said, running her hand through the bin.

Really collectible milkcaps have the name of a dairy on top, a pull tab and a staple. Kids prefer the newer ones, and the manufacturers are happy to oblige.

Collectibles are fine, Edwards said, but adults started that, and they could ruin the game for kids. ``Kids get so they don't want to play the game because they ruin their collection,'' she said. ``I don't think we want to turn any bunch of 6- to 16-year-olds into a bunch of hoarders and collectors.''

Longevity? She shrugged. ``How long it will be popular, who knows? Probably a couple of years.''

Broadbent and Hansen have both collectibles and playing pogs. Last time they counted, each had around 200.

``I played it and then I quit,'' Broadbent said. ``Now it's back in style, so I'm playing again.'' ILLUSTRATION: JOSEPH JOHN KOTLOWSKI/Staff color photos

Jacob Gunter, 12, watches pogs fly after being hit with a slammer.

The object is to win pogs by flipping them over.

Nathan Atkin, 13, left, shows off to friend David Ekberg, 12, some

of the pogs he designed and sells at Milk Cap Marketplace.

Laura Edwards, 7, left, won a trophy by out-slamming 28 other

participants in a pogs tournament in Virginia Beach. Mark Hartman,

7, gets a hug from his dad after competing.



SLAMMER - A heavy disc that is thrown to flip milkcaps over.

SHREDDER - A slammer with a sawtooth edge.

FOIL - A milkcap with a metallic decoration.

PRISM - A milkcap with a whorled decoration that gives a 3-D


LAVA TUBE - Plastic cylinder from 2 inches to 6 feet long in

which milkcaps are carried.

POISON - An variation of the game in which milkcaps marked

``poison'' are either good or bad, depending on who makes up the



Each player contributes an equal number of milkcaps, which are

stacked face down. Players take turns throwing slammers onto the

stack. Each player keeps the caps that he/she flips face up. The

player with the most caps at the end of the game wins.

by CNB