Alpha Bits: A Cereal for the Newspaper Age

Cereal Philanderer is a weekly feature in which Jason Sheehan talks about cereal more than he probably should.

Cereal du Jour: Alpha Bits, an analog cereal for our digital age.

History: There are two separate histories for Alpha Bits, the ancient and the modern.

The ancient history goes something like this: In 1958 Post Cereals man Thomas M. Quigley got it in his head that, what with the sudden profusion of sugary, frosted breakfast cereals out there based on cartoon characters and lovable, furry mascots, what the children of America were truly hungering for was one based on typewriters.

I mean, who didn't love typewriters, right? They were all big and clunky and clackety and had bells and could be used for doing exciting things like filling out life-insurance forms and writing angry Letters to the Editor. And what kid doesn't love that!

What's more, Quigley knew from kids. He had seven of his own, and (apparently) every single one was just waiting for him to come home each night from the cereal mines so they could beg him to have his bosses produce some kind of font-specific, typewriter-based cereal.

So that's what Quigley did. And, lo and behold, Alpha Bits was a success. Alpha Bits had its own cartoon show. It had a series of commercials done by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. For a while, it had a mascot, the Alpha Bits Wizard, who would magically appear in childrens' kitchens while they were trying to eat breakfast and grant them wishes (most of which, I imagine, were for the creepy old man with the beard to get the fuck out of their kitchen before he touched them inappropriately).

Alpha Bits was a continuous fixture in grocery stores all across the land from 1958 right up until 2006, when, suddenly and mysteriously, it disappeared. The prevailing theory as to its sudden absence was simple: It was 2006 and kids didn't know what typewriters were any more.

Which brings us to the modern history, wherein Alpha Bits made a sudden and abortive comeback in 2008 as a limited-edition healthy cereal featuring "0% Sugar." Because yeah, that's just how you want to bring the people back to your crumbling cereal empire. Take away their sugar . . .

When this plan unsurprisingly failed, Post Cereals pulled a McRib with Alpha Bits, going back to their original full-sugar formulation and releasing shipments of it rarely and (apparently) completely at random to grocery stores across the nation. Alpha Bits is now the Brigadoon of breakfast cereals, just suddenly appearing out of nowhere one day and then vanishing again just as quickly. If you want it, it will never be there. But then one day you'll be at the grocery store just going on about your regular business, buying rubber gloves, Cheetos, some patio furniture, and a tube of KY, and suddenly you'll see it--a few boxes just sitting there on the shelves, taunting you. And even if you buy every single box, you know it won't be enough to last you until the next time the cereal fairies come . . .

It can also be purchased from the Post Cereals website, but that kinda takes all the fun out of it, don't you think?

The Box: Prominently features the alphabet. Because, really, what's sexier than the alphabet?

The Product: Alpha Bits is, as the name suggests, cereal made in the shape of letters, frosted with sugar. But as anyone who grew up eating the stuff will tell you, the Post Cereals company is apparently run by aliens, because the alphabet represented inside the box contains characters that exist in no written human language and way too many P's and X's for any normal tongue. In order to spell even the simplest messages to your friends and loved ones, you need to purchase many boxes of the cereal. And if you're trying to say something more complicated (like transcribing the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling's "The Young British Soldier" or attempting to spell a divorce decree all in cereal bits), you're going to need mountains of the stuff.

As for its taste? It's corn cereal bits frosted in sugar, so it tastes exactly like 50% of all the other breakfast cereals on the market.

Best Feature: The ethereal quality of its current sales strategy, plus the ability to spell naughty words to last night's date if she's still there for breakfast.

Worst Feature: Never there when you want it. Somewhat anachronistic in the Internet Age. Not enough vowels.

Interesting Fact: The font used in the creation of Alpha Bits is American Typewriter Bold.

Is It Better or Worse Than Apple Jacks?: Worse. Alpha Bits is a good cereal, but just doesn't rise to the level of deliciousness that Apple Jacks does. And even though the only thing you can spell with Apple Jacks is "Ooooooo," it's still the way I prefer to start my day.

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