Cereal du Jour: Crazy Cow, favorite cereal of unrepentant fat kids, obsessive Star Wars fans, creepy 40-year-old weirdos who still live in their parents' basement, and neurodegenerative disease researchers.
History: Here's the problem with being a cereal developer: There are only so many grains out there. There are only so many shapes they can be formed into. There are only so many flavors that the American public finds palatable for breakfast (which is why we don't have Foie Gras Flakes or Durian-Os), and only so many ways to disguise the pounds of sugar you're using to get the kids hooked. Yes, there are nearly limitless product and character tie-ins on which to base your derivative sugared rice-puff cereal, but these all have a shelf-life (is anyone out there still craving Cabbage Patch Kids cereal?). And no matter how many marshmallows you add or what kind of free shit you include in the box, eventually you're going to run up against the wall. Eventually you'll run out of new ways to jam wheat and corn and sugar and decoder rings down the throats of the children of America.
This is why Crazy Cow was an interesting aberration in cereal-making history. Because it existed (briefly) as an attempt not to improve the cereal part of cereal, but the milk. Genius, right?
Here's how it worked: The wicked cereal wizards at General Mills (who obviously spent the '70s in a total LSD haze) invented a cereal that was nothing more than your standard multigrain cereal pellet. Didn't have any weird colors. No mouth-ulcerating flavors. Then they coated that breakfast pellet in "an excipient of a drink mix," according to the cereal historians at Wikipedia. Don't know what "excipient" means? That's OK. An excipient is an inactive substance used as a carrier for an active ingredient. In the case of Crazy Cow, it was a powdered chemical formula which, when exposed to milk, turned it into either a strawberry(ish) or chocolate(oid) liquid beverage.
No, it didn't turn it into strawberry or chocolate milk. That would presume that there were actually some strawberries or cocoa involved in the chemical makeup of the coating. And there wasn't.
Basically, what this stuff did was turn milk pink or brown and give it a vaguely fruity or chocolaty taste. It even said so on the box. In surprisingly big letters. ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED was written almost as large as the promotional copy. Way to go, truth in advertising!
The Box: The first release of Crazy Cow cereal (circa 1971) featured a truly crazy cow, wearing sneakers and a propeller beanie, staring out madly from behind a bowl of cereal with the crossed eyes which nearly always denote severe psychological impairment in cartoon characters. Unfortunately, this cow was later replaced (as shown by the accompanying illustration, courtesy of Planet Q) by a somewhat saner-looking cow who was merely crazy for cereal, as opposed to being fundamentally emotionally unhinged. And that was a total pussy move on the part of General Mills. If anything, they should've made the cow even crazier. Like by giving him a chainsaw and making him fight a sack of wolverines.
The Product: Here is where I fail you. I never got the chance to try Crazy Cow cereal. But seriously? If I really want chocolate milk for breakfast, I'll just pour it straight over my Apple Jacks, thanks.
Best Feature: Innovation.
Worst Feature: Not enough innovation, apparently. Crazy Cow went off the market sometime in the 1980s.
Interesting Pop Culture Tie-In: Crazy Cow managed to pick up a lucrative Star Wars promotional hook in the 1970s, to become the only cereal to offer Star Wars trading cards (remember those?) that were different than any you could buy in stores. These cards are apparently crazy-rare and worth a small fortune today.
Is It Better or Worse Than Apple Jacks?: Worse. I know, I know . . . I shouldn't be able to pass judgment after admitting to never having eaten the product in question, but come on . . . The big draw of Crazy Cow was the fact that it turned milk into something other than milk. And as has already been well established in this column, one of the things that makes Apple Jacks so awesome (one of the many things . . . ) is that, in addition to being delicious, it turns milk into something that tastes like drinking a unicorn's tears.
And no cow on earth can do that. No matter how crazy.