WAYSNACK MACHINE: Wonka Bars, Oompas, and Xploder Chocolate Bar

A thread of nostalgia connects many of my interests and tastes, so it’s not surprising that candy from my childhood tops the list of snacks I miss. I loved candy that combined great taste with an element of fun, and nothing delivered both quite like the Wonka brand.

In the early 2000s, I–an elementary school student, candy fiend, and voracious reader–was infatuated with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. By the time I had read the book for the tenth time, the Nestlé-owned Wonka brand had released several new treats that brought me closer to Dahl’s world of chocolate rivers, color-changing caramels, and candy eggs that hatch sugar birds.

(Side note: A chocolate lover and historian, Dahl would have liked The Impulsive Buy. Each year, Cadbury’s sent Dahl and his boarding school classmates boxes of chocolate, which the students tested and reviewed for the company — an experience that inspired Dahl to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)

Wonka Bars were my favorite because they had a certain presence that captured the imagination. At 2.5 ounces, the bars were larger than your average grocery store checkout find, wrapped in gold foil and covered in a royal purple sleeve that featured an image of Willy Wonka’s whimsical purple top hat. Every time I held one, I experienced the tiniest of thrills, wondering if a golden ticket lay inside.

Even though I wasn’t as lucky as Charlie Bucket, I was never disappointed. The bars consisted of incredibly smooth and creamy milk chocolate with bits of graham cracker for added taste and texture. I loved them, and because the bars were not widely available in my area, finding one always felt like a successful treasure hunt until they were discontinued in 2010.

Much shorter lived were two of my other favorites from the Wonka line: Oompas and the Xploder chocolate bar. Oompas, chewy fruit-flavored candies, tasted similar to Skittles, but were more brightly colored and at least triple the size.

The Xploder–although smaller and less creamy than the Wonka bar–was exciting. As its fireworks-inspired wrapper hinted, the bar featured unflavored popping candy that crackled in your mouth as the chocolate began to melt.

I hold out hope that one of these products will return. Although Ferrero’s recent acquisition of Nestle’s American brands casts uncertainty on the future of the Wonka line, Netflix’s plans for two animated series inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory create possibilities for promotional tie-in products.

Although I hold similar nostalgic fondness for Wonka mainstays like Laffy Taffy and Everlasting Gobstoppers, they are a little boring compared to the products I miss. When I remember the magical inventions presented in Roald Dahl’s novel, I can’t help but wonder if the Wonka line ever fully reached its creative confectionary potential.


Doritos 3Ds 1

Waysnack Machine is a series that looks back at discontinued products.

You may think you’ve had Doritos 3D’s recently –- you know the ones; thick, triangular, kinda look like a tiny maze? They’re officially called Doritos Jacked 3D, and they’re not your grandma’s 3D Doritos. In this case, I am your grandma, because I am old, and I remember the original Doritos 3D’s.

Also, a quick Internet check seems to indicate that Doritos Jacked 3D have ceased to be on store shelves. So we have, yet again, been relegated to a 2D Dorito life.

But this post is about the OG Doritos 3D’s. Imagine, if you will, a literal 3D Dorito – like a puffed-up, fully-enclosed Bugle, but significantly thinner. These babies looked like they could actually float.

They only lasted from the late 90s to the early aughts, but I remember them quite well for several reasons. First off, the idea of a sort of popped, puffy Dorito sounds (and looks) cool, but there was a strange disconnect between putting something with such a large surface area in your mouth, and then crunching down and finding only…air. I’m surprised I never chipped a tooth chomping down too aggressively on Doritos 3D’s. They didn’t have as strong a Nacho Cheese flavoring as regular Doritos, which to me was quite disappointing.

Second, given their fragility, buying a bag of these was buying a bag of shattered dreams. And chips. Luckily, Doritos found a way around that by introducing a fun plastic canister for them to safely reside in. Actually, I have no idea if the canister was created for Doritos 3D’s, but it’s the only time I got one.

You could also use the cap as a little serving cup. Not a big deal now, but cool as heck when you’re a dumb kid. Plus, you could reuse the can to store things, and all those things would then smell like cheese dust! So many of my trinkets smelled like cheese dust.

By the way, Doritos 3D’s do still exist, in one place – Mexico. They seem to be always available for purchase on eBay if you think a shipped bag of popped chips is going to arrive intact.

Oh, and if all this isn’t enough, Doritos 3D’s got a commercial starring Ali Landry (who got her start in another Doritos commercial) and a young Sean Hayes, getting up to some chip-related hijinks in a laundromat. There’s no way Doritos 3D’s would have withstood the impact of hitting a dryer door. Just sayin’.

There are many “popped” products these days, but there’s nothing quite like Doritos 3D’s currently on shelves. I prefer the Doritos 3D’s of my memories, but those weird little pillows seem like something that could make a good comeback.

WAYSNACK MACHINE: Pop Secret Pop Qwiz Popcorn

Pop Secret Pop Qwiz

Waysnack Machine is a series that looks back at discontinued products.

I’ve always loved popcorn. One of my favorite childhood memories is my dad making it in a pan, pouring the kernels out from one of those big plastic canisters of good ol’ Orville Redenbacher.

I’d stand there in the kitchen, waiting for the first pop, then listening to the following explosion of kernels, until we got down to that three-second count that meant it was ready. Then he would melt some butter in the already-hot pan and pour it over the bowl, adding generous amounts of salt.

There was one point, however, where I took ownership of my own popcorn destiny. That sentence has a really inflated sense of self-importance, but what I’m getting at is that in 1991, Pop Qwiz came out, and ten-year-old me was more than ready for it.

Why would a kid know or care about a very specific brand of popcorn? Well, Pop Secret (the maker of Pop Qwiz) went apeshit bonkers with their marketing. The commercial for Pop Qwiz had D-rate Zach Morris wearing a jacket I swear I owned, zany music, and a bunch of kids trying to win the “qwiz” (ugh) by guessing which color would “pop up next.”

You see, the gimmick behind Pop Qwiz was that it came in small, different-colored bags, but the color of the popcorn inside the bag didn’t necessarily match the color outside. That’s right, it was popcorn that came in neon-bright colors! Red, green, blue, yellow, purple, and…orange? I think orange was the sixth color. Obviously, yellow was the dud, since buttered popcorn already came in that color. I always considered green to be the win, as it seemed to be the most vibrant of the bunch.

Pop Secret Pop Qwiz 2

In addition to the color guessing, there was also a bunch of puzzles and activities on the box. The popcorn equivalent of a breakfast cereal box. Between that and the commercials, who could resist?

It’s a shame the popcorn tasted like flavorless styrofoam and the bag held little more than a handful of popcorn. I’m not sure when Pop Qwiz was discontinued, because my interest soon waned, despite the novelty of colored popcorn. I guess I was just spoiled by my dad’s buttery, salty approach to making popcorn (and the copious amounts I received).

Mystery flavors have made a comeback recently, so I could see Pop Qwiz becoming popular once more. If they did bring it back, they’d better work on taste and portions, though, because novelty wears off quickly.

WAYSNACK MACHINE: Freshen-Up Gum and Soda Liquid Center Gum

Freshen Up Gum

Why are children obsessed with gum? This is purely anecdotal evidence, but as a kid I was always chewing gum, and pretty much every child around me was the same way. I’m not exaggerating; unless I was eating something, I was chewing gum, and sometimes I even tried to do both at the same time. Did you know chocolate makes gum dissolve? I found that out personally, and it is profoundly gross.

I even did that thing where I would “save” my gum overnight, usually by sticking it against the wall since I didn’t have a fancy headboard like every kid who does this in the movies. Why? Couldn’t I just get a fresh piece in the morning? You were weird, child me.

Freshen Up Gum 3

One of my fondest gum memories is Freshen-Up. It came in four flavors – Bubble Gum, Spearmint, Peppermint, and Cinnamon – and when you bit into them, a gel-like/liquid center with the same (but more intense) flavor would squirt into your mouth, which is much more fun than I make it sound.

CC Amurol AW Root Beer liquid center bubble gum pack wrapper 1983

Image via Collecting Candy.

I loved cinnamon Freshen-Up until I found an even more fun version of this concept – soda-flavored squirty gum! My fondest memory is of the A&W Root Beer variety; when you chomped down on it, what amounted to a melted root beer barrel was squirted into your mouth in the most delightful way. I also remember there being a Dr. Pepper variety, and the Internet tells me there were also 7-Up, Cherry 7-Up, RC Cola and even Slush Puppy (?!) flavors.

I never knew it had a brand name, but apparently the manufacturer was Amurol, the folks who brought you Big League Chew, Bubble Tape, and possibly every other novelty gum you’ve ever seen.

I thought Freshen-Up was long gone, but apparently it’s been available on Amazon as late as 2015. I have no idea how long the soda varieties lasted, but they have a distinct 80s feel to them.

I’d love to have the opportunity to bite into a liquid-center soda gum again, but I doubt I would take up the habit. Much like the flavor of the gum stuck to my wall, my desire for gum has all but faded away.

WAYSNACK MACHINE: Planters Cheez Balls

Planters Cheez Balls

I already spend far more time than is mentally healthy talking about discontinued snack food, and this is the one I grumble about the most, usually to my cats because they’re the only ones who will listen at this point. I’m talkin’ about my beautiful, beautiful Planters Cheez Balls.

Packaged in that yellow-lettering-on-blue-background canister that is still used today, Cheez Balls took Mr. Peanut’s cashew can and ramped it up to a size that could store a whole battalion of green Army men.

They were roughly the size of a shooter marble and delightfully crunch yet airy, so much so that you could cram your maw full of them and they’d almost instantly disintegrate into a wonderful cheesy paste.

I remember that my dad initially bought them for my brother, but once I tried them I ate the entire canister, which presumably resulted in me getting an Indian burn. That’s a terribly insensitive name for it, but that’s what it was called.

After that incident we had to have TWO canisters of Cheez Balls in the house at all times, each labeled with our names. Such is the way of sibling life; I’m sure many of you can relate.

Planters Cheez Balls 2

The Internet tells me Planters Cheez Balls were discontinued in 2006, but I feel I stopped seeing them on shelves well before then. I refuse to believe I lived in a world where I did my own grocery shopping and I never bought myself a dozen cans.

“Why don’t you just eat Cheetos Puffs?”

Nobody asks me, because they’re all tired of me talking about it. To them I say that, while Puffs are okay, they’re not the same consistency or the same flavor, plus they lack that poppable sphere form. Planters made a unique product.

The closest thing I’ve found these days is The Snack Artist (a Safeway brand) Cheese Balls, which come in a barrel so large it’s embarrassing to take up to the checkout stand, even by my standards. They’re a bit more dense and the cheese is a little different, but they’re probably your closest bet.

There was a change.org petition to bring them back, and it came just 180 shy of reaching its 1,000 goal. I hope one day to see those big, beautiful blue canisters back on shelves.