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The 50-Year History of Lucky Charms, in 65 Marbits

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It all began with a bowl of Cheerios and a couple of circus peanuts. Those were the base ingredients that John Holahan, vice president of General Mills, opted to experiment with when he and his team were given six months to create a new brand of cereal that would be a hit with kids.

Holahan’s research took him to the grocery store, which is where the oat cereal-plus-sugar combo occurred to him. It may not seem like a revolutionary recipe by today’s breakfast cereal standards, but it was back then: Lucky Charms became the first marshmallow cereal.

As the true breakfast of champions celebrates its 50th birthday, we’re looking back at all the marshmallow bits—“marbits” to the initiated—that have appeared in boxes of Lucky Charms over the years.

1. – 4. GREEN CLOVERS, PINK HEARTS, ORANGE STARS, AND YELLOW MOONS

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Lucky Charms’ original lineup of four marbits didn’t change for more than a decade, though the cereal itself did. When the brand fell short of its original sales expectations, the solution seemed simple: more sugar. In 1967, the oat bits got a sugar coating, and sales quickly improved.

5. BLUE DIAMONDS

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In 1975, General Mills decided to add a fifth marbit—a blue diamond—to the lineup. It was removed 20 years later.

6. PURPLE HORSESHOES

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Many of Lucky Charms’ marbits are defined by the powers they offer to the brand’s mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun. The purple horseshoe, which was added in 1983, gives Lucky the power to speed things up.

7. – 8. SWIRLED CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

The colors got all mixed up—literally—in 1984, when a factory mishap led to several batches of swirled marbits. In 1986, they introduced a swirled whale, who turned out to be no heavyweight when it came to sales; he was quickly discontinued. The penchant for swirls continued into the new millennium when swirled marshmallow charms made a comeback in 2009.

9. RED BALLOONS

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When Lucky the Leprechaun celebrated his 25th anniversary in 1989, he was feted with a red balloon marbit, which remains in the permanent lineup.

10. – 11. HOLIDAY CHARMS

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Lucky Charms’ 1989 holiday edition was simple enough: all red and green marbits in various holiday-themed shapes.

12. GREEN TREES

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Lucky Charms took an eco-friendly approach to a limited-edition box in 1991: Eat enough of their new green tree marshmallows, mail in a couple of UPCs, and get your very own live tree.

13. RAINBOWS

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The pink, yellow, and blue rainbow marbits that made their debut in 1992 supposedly gave Lucky the power of teleportation.

14. POTS OF GOLD

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A pot of gold is the goal of every leprechaun, and Lucky finally got his—a yellow and orange combo piece—in 1994.

15. BLUE MOONS

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We can’t say definitively whether blue moon marbits do indeed give Lucky the power of invisibility, but their arrival—in 1995—caused the yellow moon marbits to disappear.

16. GREEN HATS

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In 1996, a light green hat emblazoned with a dark green clover replaced the plain old green clover (one of the brand’s original four marbits). The green clover was gone, but it wasn’t forgotten; it made a comeback in 2004.

17. – 22. OLYMPIC MARSHMALLOWS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In conjunction with the 1996 Summer Games, Lucky Charms launched an Olympic Edition of the cereal, which featured six new marbits: red, white and blue stars; a gold medallion with a yellow star in the center; a red, white, and blue rainbow; and a yellow and green torch.

23. – 26. TWISTED MARBITS

In 1997, four classic shapes—moons, balloons, horseshoes, and hearts—got dual color makeovers.

27. PINK HOT AIR BALLOONS

Pink hot air balloons also made their first appearance in 1997.

28. SHOOTING STARS.

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

After more than 30 years of dutiful deliciousness, another Lucky Charms original—the orange star—was retired in 1998. It was replaced by a fancier orange shooting star, which is easy to distinguish because of the white trail it leaves behind. Double shooting stars made a brief appearance in 2005.

29. – 36. TRIP AROUND THE WORLD MARBITS

In 1998, Lucky Charms took a Trip Around the World with a special edition box that paid tribute to some of the world’s great landmarks with eight new shapes: Gold Pyramids, Blue Eiffel Towers, Orange Golden Gate Bridges, Purple Liberty Bells, Green and Yellow Torches, Pink and White Leaning Towers of Pisa, Red and White Big Ben Clocks, and Green and White Alps.

37. – 44. RUDOLPH AND FRIENDS.

Photo courtesy General Mills History

In 1999, another limited-edition box—Winter Lucky Charms—introduced eight new marbits to the world: Red and White Candy Canes; Blue Icicles; Purple Ice Skates; Green Trees; Brown and Red Rudolphs; Yellow Stockings; White and Gray Snowmen; and Orange Mittens.

45. MAN IN THE MOON

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In 1999, General Mills introduced a limited edition Man in the Moon marbit.

46. RACECARS

Marshmallow racecars zoomed onto the breakfast table in 1999.

47. SPARKLING RAINBOWS

Multi-colored sugar was the shimmery element in the Sparkling Rainbows cereal that was sold between 1999 and 2000.

48. – 54. WINTER LUCKY CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

In 2001, the cold weather brought seven more new holiday-themed marbits: Christmas trees; snowmen; ornaments; candy canes; wreaths; presents; and stockings.

55. CRYSTAL BALLS

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Between 2001 and 2006, two different versions of a Crystal Ball marbit were introduced. In both cases, adding milk to the bowl revealed something about the future. In 2001, it was the whereabouts of Lucky’s hideout. In 2006, just ask your cereal a question and it would answer: ?, Y, or N.

56. – 57. MAGICAL STARS AND HIDDEN KEYS

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The Crystal Ball trick worked with Magical Stars, too: add milk to your bowl of cereal and a star would appear in the middle of the orange moon marbits. The same technique was used again in 2003 and 2005 for special Hidden Key marbits.

58. CHOCOLATE CHARMS

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It took more than 40 years, but Lucky Charms changed its cereal recipe for the first time in 2005, when it introduced Chocolate Lucky Charms.

59. BERRY CHARMS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

Chocolate Lucky Charms proved so popular that the company tweaked the recipe yet again in 2006 when it introduced Berry Lucky Charms.

60. – 63. SPOOKY MARBITS

Photo courtesy Mr. Breakfast

Lucky Charms took a turn toward the macabre in 2006 when a Halloween-themed edition unveiled four new marbits: Brown Bats; Blue Ghosts; Green and Pink Cauldrons; and Yellow Spell Books.

64. YELLOW HOURGLASSES

Photo courtesy Modern Male Homemaker

In June 2008, a Yellow Hourglass—which helps Lucky control time—became General Mills’ first new permanent marbit to be added to the lineup in more than a decade.

65. 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Photo courtesy Lucky Charms / Facebook

Attention Target shoppers: In honor of Lucky Charms’ 50th anniversary, you can currently purchase a retro-inspired limited edition box, which is full of green clovers. We have it on good authority (if you consider mentalfloss.com Editor-in-Chief Jason English good authority) that “even the milk turns green. Like magic.”

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Paw Enforcement: A History of McGruff the Crime Dog
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Jack Keil, executive creative director of the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency, was stuck in a Kansas City airport at three in the morning when he started thinking about Smokey Bear. Smokey was the furred face of forest fire prevention, an amiable creature who cautioned against the hazards of unattended campfires or errant cigarette butts. Everyone, it seemed, knew Smokey and heeded his words.

In 1979, Keil’s agency had been tasked with coming up with a campaign for the recently-instituted National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization looking to educate the public about crime prevention. If Keil could create a Smokey for their mission, he figured he would have a hit. He considered an elephant who could stamp out crime, or a rabbit who was hopping mad about illegal activity.

A dog seemed to fit. Dogs bit things, and the NCPC was looking to take a bite out of crime. Keil sketched a dog reminiscent of Snoopy with a Keystone Cop-style hat.

Back at the agency, people loved the idea but hated the dog. In a week’s time, the cartoon animal would morph into McGruff, the world-weary detective who has raised awareness about everything from kidnapping to drug abuse. While he no longer looked like Snoopy, he was about to become just as famous.

In 1979, the public service advertising nonprofit the Ad Council held a meeting to discuss American paranoia. Crime was a hot button issue, with sensational reports about drugs, home invasions, and murders taking up the covers of major media outlets like Newsweek and TIME. Surveys reported that citizens were concerned about crime rates and neighborhood safety. Respondents felt helpless to do anything, since more law enforcement meant increased taxes.

To combat public perception, the Ad Council wanted to commit to an advertising campaign that would act as a preventive measure. Crime could not be stopped, but the feeling was that it could be dented with more informed communities. Maybe a clean park would be less inviting to criminals; people might need to be reminded to lock their doors.

What people did not need was a lecture. So the council enlisted Dancer Fitzgerald Sample to organize a campaign that promoted awareness in the most gentle way possible. Keil's colleagues weighed in on his dog idea; someone suggested that the canine be modeled after J. Edgar Hoover, another saw a Superman-esque dog that would fly in to interrupt crime. Sherry Nemmers and Ray Krivascy offered an alternative take: a dog wearing a trench coat and smoking a cigar, modeled in part after Peter Falk’s performance as the rumpled TV detective Columbo.

Keil had designs on getting Falk to voice the animated character, but the actor’s methodical delivery wasn’t suited to 30-second commercials, so Keil did it himself. His scratchy voice lent an authoritarian tone, but wasn't over-the-top.

The agency ran a contest on the back of cereal boxes to name the dog. “Sherlock Bones” was the most common submission, but "McGruff"—which was suggested by a New Orleans police officer—won out.

Armed with a look, a voice, and a name, Nemmers arranged for a series of ads to run in the fall of 1980. In the spots, McGruff was superimposed over scenes of a burglary and children wary of being kidnapped by men in weather-beaten cars. He advised people to call the police if they spotted something suspicious—like strangers taking off with the neighbor’s television or sofa—and to keep their doors locked. He sat at a piano and sang “users are losers” in reference to drug-abusing adolescents. (The cigar had been scrapped.)

Most importantly, the NCPC—which had taken over responsibility for McGruff's message—wanted the ads to have what the industry dubbed “fulfillment.” At the end, McGruff would advise viewers to write to a post office box for a booklet on how to prevent crime in their neck of the woods.

A lot of people did just that. More than 30,000 booklets went out during the first few months the ads aired. McGruff’s laconic presence was beginning to take off.

By 1988, an estimated 99 percent of children ages six to 12 recognized McGruff, putting him in Ronald McDonald territory. He appeared on the ABC series Webster, in parades, and in thousands of personal appearances around the country, typically with a local police officer under the suit. (The appearances were not without danger: Some dogs apparently didn't like McGruff and could get aggressive at the sight of him.)

As McGruff aged into the 1990s, his appearances grew more sporadic. The NCPC began targeting guns and drugs and wasn’t sure the cartoon dog was a good fit, so his appearances were limited to the end of some ad spots. By the 2000s, law enforcement cutbacks meant fewer cops in costume, and a reduced awareness of the crime-fighting canine. When Keil retired, an Iowa cop named Steve Parker took over McGruff's voice duties.

McGruff is still in action today, aiding in the NCPC’s efforts to raise awareness of elder abuse, internet crimes, and identity theft. The organization estimates that more than 4000 McGruffs are in circulation, though at least one of them failed to live up to the mantle. In 2014, a McGruff performer named John Morales pled guilty to possession of more than 1000 marijuana plants and a grenade launcher. He’s serving 16 years in prison.

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Animals
Watch a Panda Caretaker Cuddle With Baby Pandas While Dressed Up Like a Panda
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Some people wear suits to work—but at one Chinese nature reserve, a handful of lucky employees get to wear panda suits.

As Travel + Leisure reports, the People's Daily released a video in July of animal caretakers cuddling with baby pandas at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in China's Sichuan Province. The keepers dress in fuzzy black-and-white costumes—a sartorial choice that's equal parts adorable and imperative to the pandas' future success in the wild.

Researchers raise the pandas in captivity with the goal of eventually releasing them into their natural habitat. But according to The Atlantic, human attachment can hamper the pandas' survival chances, plus it can be stressful for the bears to interact with people. To keep the animals calm while acclimating them to forest life, the caretakers disguise their humanness with costumes, and even mask their smell by smearing the suits with panda urine and feces. Meanwhile, other keepers sometimes conceal themselves by dressing up as trees.

Below, you can watch the camouflaged panda caretakers as they cuddle baby pandas:

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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