Where a kid can be a kid
October 25, 2019 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Once they got away from doing the portrait figures, they started mass-producing steel frames and created the characters out of wood, foam and cloth, along with the mechanics. These were basically the same simple robot built over and over again, and they’d be stamped out and redressed for each character. They were called the “Ottoman” robots because it was basically like reupholstering an ottoman, but they served their purpose.
That… went in a different direction than I anticipated
posted by Ahmad Khani at 10:17 PM on October 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

So many memories. In my recollection, the kids were allowed to crawl under the stage into spaces that no adult could comfortably get to them. I remember it really feeling like it was for just the kids. I also remember thinking that tokens were hidden in the ball pits and spending an inordinate amount of time looking for them. I guess this is what happens when you and your friends mostly have winter birthdays in the Northeast.

Man, I know it is only from 6 years ago, but that Cee Lo video feels like it's from a completely different era at this point.
posted by montag2k at 11:06 PM on October 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

My abiding memory of Chuck E Cheese isn't from my childhood (although I went plenty of times as a kid), it's from my own kids. Primarily it's of watching them crawling through those big plastic tubes and thinking, "Man, we are going home after this and burn those clothes."
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:17 PM on October 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

Look at that Confederate flag waving in time with the California Republic and Union US flags at 0:35 in the linked video, just a regular ol' part of your average patriotic animatronic children's show!
posted by Theiform at 11:36 PM on October 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

My nephew loved this place when he was around 8. I hated it, but he had fun. He wanted me to go into the ball pit with him once, all I could think was that there isn't enough Purell in the world to get me in there.

I loved that they color tagged each child with their parent. The food was utterly foul, but they somehow had a beer license. Fortunately, there was a pizza shop next door and I could smuggle in a meatball hero, watch him have fun, and wonder how they clean the overhead tubes.
posted by Marky at 1:35 AM on October 26, 2019

When I took my kids to Disneyland and saw the Tiki Room, I felt that that could be the solution — a mechanical, computer-operated entertainment system.
Interestingly, the original concept for The Enchanted Tiki Room was... a restaurant with animatronic entertainment. Eventually Walt scrapped the restaurant part in favor of a more elaborate theater-style show.
They were crap, and we were great, that’s what we believed. We were rivals. We don’t want to buy them out, we want to kill them! If they’re going to go out of business, let them go out of business. Don’t prop them up. Kill the rat! Let me plunge the sword through Chuck E. Cheese’s heart!
And bring me the head of Ronald McDonald!

The one time we went to Chuck E. Cheese was on the Big Florida Road Trip when we were staying with my aunt and uncle, who had a daughter five years younger than me. I was never any good at arcade games or video games in general, and the pizza was terrible, so the whole experience was kind of lost on me.

I remember the robot show had a lion Elvis impersonator. But you couldn't really understand the show because the ambient noise was so loud. On the way to the bathroom, I peeked through the the window in the door to an empty, closed off dining room, and saw that the band in that room still came on periodically and played to a deserted, darkened house.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:46 AM on October 26, 2019 [15 favorites]

Interesting Decoder Ring episode on the same topic. Some real characters involved.

Reminds me of the terrifying old photos of Easter Bunny costumes and how neotenous cuteness is a fairly new invention. Look at old teddy bears etc. It took us a long time to work out 'cute'. Wonder if anyone has done a history on the development of a non threatening cute aesthetic.

(Just did a quick google scholar and found an interesting read on the development of cuteness in postwar Japan and Sanrio etc, but that's not exactly what I was thinking.)

and youtube tell me that Konrad Lorenz might good a place to start.
posted by Telf at 3:00 AM on October 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

posted by doctornemo at 3:18 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have two memories:

1) In Dallas, we had a knock off version of Chuck E Cheese, a Texas themed version called Pistol Pete's. It was the same thing only it was cowboys and Indians. I am unsure if it was there first or there after.

2) our family really loved their veggie pizza. It was always made fresh and something about the one near us was just magic. We went there long after my sis and I had aged out of the gambling portion of playtime. And we kept going for the veggie pizza.
posted by Fizz at 4:07 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

This episode of Willa Paskin's Decoder Ring podcast is all about Chuck E. Cheese and the attendant animatronic wars. Mandatory listening even if you don't think you care about the place.
posted by How the runs scored at 4:58 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

So I said to myself, “I got it! They have Mickey Mouse, I can do Chuck E. Cheese, it’s sounds the same, see? Mick-ey-Mouse, Chuck-E.-Cheese.” So that’s where I got it from. And Nolan had a rat costume in his office, so it worked out.
So it appears the real story is, "Why did Nolan have a rat costume in his office?"
posted by mikelieman at 5:34 AM on October 26, 2019 [8 favorites]

Hey, if you can think of a better way to promote Peter Pack Rat, I'm listening.
posted by box at 5:51 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

> but they somehow had a beer license

Easily the savviest part of the business. If you do absolutely nothing to make the parents want to stay, they'll never bring their kids either.
posted by ardgedee at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

As they get older, they do the same thing as humans. When you’re born, you’re cute as hell, but as you get older, you just get creepier and creepier.

It's my birthday today and I was reading this article with fond memories of past birthdays spent at Showbiz Pizza, but this line here hits a little close to home.

(Still on Team Billy-Bob. The rat has always been creepy.)
posted by Ann Telope at 6:50 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

A few weeks ago were were in Indianapolis for a wedding and there was a Dave & Buster's across the street from the hotel. It had been 20 years since I was in a D&B, and at least that long since I was in a Chuck E Cheese. I remembered D&B being much more video game focused, much more marketed to adults. Maybe my memory is off but this one was basically a Chuck E Cheese with bar food instead of pizza, and was full of kids at 10 PM on a Friday night. We spent $40 on games pretty quickly.

And somebody keyed FU into my car door in the parking lot. So it ended up being a really expensive evening.
posted by COD at 6:53 AM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

So it ended up being a really expensive evening.

I had one of those at ChuckCheese. I had just had my '81 Cougar painted, and parked in the lot in front of the CC. When I came out, I found that some asswipe had slammed his pickup truck door into my car, hard enough to dent it, then left. Didn't improve my feelings about the place.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:30 AM on October 26, 2019

Chuck E. Cheese's existence remains a secret as far as Ocschwar 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 are concerned. There's a children's play house not far from us. $10 per kid per entry (bulk discounts for regulars). No electronic noises. No food. Just two floors full of play structures and toys for all ages, and so many soft toys the noises stay damped. There's a dimply lit quiet room for autistic kids but the play areas are nice enough that I've never seen any autistic kids use the quiet room at all.

The first parent to tell my kids about Chuck E. Cheese will learn that his own children have bagpipes with their names embroidered on them. Literally.
posted by ocschwar at 7:55 AM on October 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

So it appears the real story is, "Why did Nolan have a rat costume in his office?"

Nolan probably went to a lot of union protests.

I don't disagree that Chuck E. Cheeses are way, way grosser than other children's indoor play areas, but WHY do they seem that way? Like, the ballpit doesn't gross me out at other places.

I spent the years we lived near a Chuck E. Cheese desperately praying my children never found out about it or got invited to a party at one, because drunk adults were constantly getting in fistfights at it, and occasionally exchanging gunfire in the parking lot. Like I go to some shady-ass bars, but none nearly as shady as a Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday afternoon.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2019 [11 favorites]

I used to take my kid to Chuck E. Cheese pretty often, the one near us didn't seem too scuzzy. They'd already given up on the animatronics and there was no ball pit, though there was a Habitrail. The thing that struck me as weird about it, compared to the video arcades I remember going to as a kid, was that there were maybe three games you could actually play and the rest were basically slot machines for winning tickets. I started to wonder if they are owned by a casino company and there to get kids used to gambling - the look and feel of the games was very close to a Las Vegas casino floor. My kid never got into collecting tickets though, we had a lot of killer air hockey games there.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:26 AM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

And I just now from this article learned of the existence of "Pizza and Pipes", pizza places structured around pipe organs. If those still existed anywhere near us, I would never have been able to tear my pipe-organ-obsessed kid away. He'd probably be working at one by now.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

Ticket games are known in the business as "redemption games" and are a HUGE moneymaker for arcades that operate them. An old standard was to consider a ticket worth a penny so think about those games where you put in $0.50 and got out 10 tickets. Or nothing at all. Then look at that Xbox (MRSP $275) behind the prize counter that needed 50,000 tickets to redeem. At that point you can consider the pizza a loss leader for the arcade.

Yes, they are essentially gambling devices...without all the fussy regulatory laws regarding fair payouts and truly random outcomes. I've written code on some of these games in the past and you were literally allowed to rig the game if it turned out you were giving out too many prizes. And operators could choose the payout percentage. It got so bad that the industry had to come out and promise that these games were just skill-based and weren't going to screw you so bad (wink wink).

I recall a few states that caught on and actually mandated the games be fair...to the point of having code audited by third-party labs just like the slot makers. Iowa and NJ come to mind but that was about it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:35 AM on October 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

In my hometown, a small city in the midwest, we didn't have Chuck or Showbiz, we had Picadilly Circus. We went there once. A robot that moved around the room on a track delivered the pizza to the tables along the track. I /think/ there was some kind of band at the head of the room, but I was a nearsighted little guy and it was far away. It was an expensive experience and we never went back. The place eventually closed while I was still a little kid and ended up as a baptist church.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:06 AM on October 26, 2019

I remember even as a kid being confused why the places you had to go for kids' birthday parties, which I usually hated, had such vile pizza.

I also didn't like sugary drinks, and I remember it being a struggle to get anything but soda in the party rooms, like eventually they'd bring you a little cup of water like a doctor would hand you with a pill?

I longed for a venue that would let a kid be an adult.
posted by smelendez at 10:01 AM on October 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

Happy Birthday Ann Telope!
posted by pipoquinha at 10:13 AM on October 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cf. “‘I listen for your footsteps’,” the man of twists and turns, 03 February 2016
posted by ob1quixote at 12:16 PM on October 26, 2019

So I said to myself, “I got it! They have Mickey Mouse, I can do Chuck E. Cheese, it’s sounds the same, see? Mick-ey-Mouse, Chuck-E.-Cheese.”

I can hear that in Bushnell's voice, having witnessed him excitedly waving around a circuit board, saying: "Bob! This is Bob! Brain On Board! Bob!", I guess he's just a natural at naming things.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:39 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid, I would eat the pizza and play the games, but it was the animatronics that really mattered. That was the reason to go. The twitching between shows thing was brilliant and fascinating.

That was also the reason I begged to stop at the Rocky and Bullwinkle themed mini-golf restaurant every time we drove past on the way to the desert. (Though, in that case the indoor dancing waters were better than the robots.) The Disney stuff - definitely the Tiki Room, but also It's a Small World and the Pirates of the Caribbean were always favorites.

By the time I was a jaded junior high student, we had a local Pistol Pete's, with a regional version of the Rockafire Explosion. As I recall, there was a jukebox console where you could pick from covers of either country music or norteño. Maybe there were other options, but nobody ever played them. They perfectly satisfied my desire for snark and over-the-top cheese in a way that Chuck E. Cheese no longer did.

My take-home message from this article is that there are going to be a glut of used Chuck-E-Cheese robots for sale soon. I really don't have room for such a thing, nor time to restore it and make it dance to Pikotaro. Why would you tempt me with such an idea?

My spouse has learned that the most efficient choice when we happen across a display of antique automata at a museum is just to schedule a time to meet later.
posted by eotvos at 1:55 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

My take-home message from this article is that there are going to be a glut of used Chuck-E-Cheese robots for sale soon.

Maybe the insides, but company policy is to destroy the exteriors. As seen in this tweet.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:08 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

In 1978, Pizza and Pipes was my jam, along with wondering why all the men in San Francisco looked awfully like my dad.
posted by sonascope at 3:10 PM on October 26, 2019

Former Bullwinkle's employee, checking in. That's where I met Bushnell, Woz, Robert Noyce, and Jerry Rice.
posted by humboldt32 at 3:28 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

The amount of confusion between Showbiz Pizza and Chuck E. Cheese that continues to this day is gobsmacking to me. Yes, by the time those of us who grew up with them got to adulthood they were one and the same, but there were a lot of years when they were two, very distinct, chains.

It provokes an odd feeling, even today, when I see them written about as a single entity.
posted by wierdo at 5:10 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Probably Meow Wolf or someone like them can find an entertaining use for a bunch of discarded Chuck E robot armatures without the branded skins.
posted by ovvl at 5:11 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nolan probably went to a lot of union protests.

Heh, when I first moved to NYC and happened upon the huge rat in the back of a pickup truck for the first time during a random stroll, I was so confused. Amongst the various things that popped into my head, I did wonder if it was some sort of animatronic setup, à la a door-to-door Chuck E. Cheese of sorts.....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:16 PM on October 26, 2019

Another obligatory
posted by lester at 8:03 PM on October 26, 2019

One reason my marriage is strong is my husband and I have a birthday party deal. I attend all the kids parties my children are invited to...except the ones at Chuck E Cheese, which he attends. About 90% of all parties are elsewhere, but I still have the better bargain,
posted by warriorqueen at 2:43 PM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I had a birthday party at the local Pizza And Pipes in Seattle, when I was a kid! The thing I remember most was the automated balloon dispenser, that would inflate the balloon of your chosen colour and somehow tie it off for you.

Yeah, the organist was usually some dumpy old man with shoe-polish-dyed-hair playing out of sync to some silent film on the screen above.

I also remember jumping when the animatronic creatures "fidgeted" between sets.

A friend recently found the abstractly gruesome rules on how to disfigure depreciated animatronics put out by the company, so that nobody could fire Chuck up and have him say things they didn't approve of. Seemed a fitting end to the creepy things.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:45 PM on October 27, 2019

Yet another obligatory (probably NSFW, language)
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

drunk adults were constantly getting in fistfights at it, and occasionally exchanging gunfire in the parking lot

I had always thought the laser show at Six Flags Darien Lake clinched the "Most Embarrassing Americana" award, but here Chuck E. Cheese roars in to take the crown.
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:56 PM on October 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

> automated balloon dispenser

Was it by chance a Fanky Malloon?

posted by Rat Spatula at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm reminded of PizzeRizzo, the pizza joint in Disney's Hollywood Studios themed to Rizzo the Rat from the Muppets.

There's a neon sign on top with a picture of the rat and the text "The City's Top Rated Pizza." But the E and D are broken, so when the sign's lit up after dark it looks like "The City's Top Rat Pizza."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:30 AM on October 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

JoeZydeco, I would LOVE to read more about the intersection of arcade ticketing and casino payouts.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:19 AM on October 29, 2019

« Older It seemed impossible for a sheep to become a wolf.   |   Beneath my ghost who sings Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments