Though it will come as no surprise to those that know me, those of you that do not know me should know that I consider myself to be something of a nerd.
And so here I am, writing a piece about Halloween candy, and the obvious conclusion to draw is that I’ll be dedicating this space to the tart, two-flavored Wonka treat that goes by that description. Would you be wrong? Yes. While Nerds are delicious (and, I have it on good authority, nutritious), they are also, unfortunately, reminiscent of kitty litter, and, when dropped, as I did accidentally one Halloween in 4th grade, they form an motley constellation of unappetizing neon nuggets all across the kitchen floor.
No, there will be no crying over spilt Nerds here. My choice, instead, is the thinking man’s candy, the brain food packed in an orderly tube of tablets known in the U.S. as Smarties. Manufactured by Ce De Candy, Smarties were dozen or more pastel discs—their color was oddly reminiscent of both an Easter Bunny and a fancy sheet of flecked résumé paper—stacked into a striped log, and wrapped with a sheet of red-tipped cellophane. To finish, the wrapper was stamped with a circusy slab serif bearing the product’s name.
The Smarties package of my youth was an exercise in minimalism. Its graphic interest, the stripes of color, came directly from the different flavors inside. Its structural integrity came from stacking the tablets atop one another and twisting them tight. It’s as if Ce De Candy channeled Hideyuki Oka’s classic “How to Wrap Five Eggs” when they concocted the package. Today’s Smarties differ in one unfortunate respect: they depict the package on the package itself. Maybe it’s a symptom of our meta-obsessed times, or maybe it’s a fear of pure abstraction, but this minor graphic revision leaves the prospective Smarties consumer feeling a bit of the Dröste Effect with a dash of Cluckin’ Chicken thrown in for good measure.
Like its chocolate cousin M&Ms and unlike a Snickers bar, Smarties are meant to be munched in multiple bites. Though I knew kids who would gleefully consume the entire strip in a single mouthful, I always considered this approach “unsmart.” Better still was to savor each tablet or pop them like pills, or Tic Tacs. And, like Tic Tacs’ minty blast, the sour sizzle of Smarties was part of the treat. The candy’s British trade name, Fizzers, reflects this tasty fact. There was always a delicious frisson of excitement that came with leaving one on your tongue for awhile. The flavor of a Flintstones vitamin, but with none of the redeeming nutrients. Smarties were an unregulated drug, one no adult could take from us. Digging through my plastic pumpkin basket after a long night of Trick-or-Treating, I would set the chocolate aside, pluck out the Smarties, and gleefully eat them first.
Rob Giampietro is a designer, writer and teacher who has a filing cabinet on the internet called Lined & Unlined.