25 Wacky Trading Cards From the '80s and '90s

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

While most people associate the concept of trading cards with sports and their most famous players—even non-baseball fans are dimly aware of the value of a “mint” card of a legendary slugger—the cardboard treatment isn’t just reserved for major league endeavors. It turns out that you can make anything into a fun trading card, from musicians to toys to actual wars, and the popular wax packs of the '80s and '90s delivered on that in a big way.

The wax pack format gave the buyer more than just cards—most sets included the standard trading cards, a collectable sticker (sometimes a standalone and sometimes part of a larger picture), and a piece of bubble gum. And, yes, if you find an unopened wax pack and crack that baby open, most sticks of gum have retained their shape—though you probably wouldn’t want to pop them into your mouth. While not all of our picks here are true wax packs, they’re all just a bit too weird to believe ever existed (and still do!).

1. The Blair Witch Project

Amazon

While the 1999 horror film was one of the first big screen features to utilize the web for viral marketing (remember when people thought it was actually a true story?), The Blair Witch Project took a surprisingly traditional marketing route when it came to its 72-piece trading card set. Issued by Topps, the foil-wrapped cards were unexpectedly arty, creepy, and haunting – but they also relied on the lure of “randomly inserted” special foil cards to keep buyers snatching them up left and right. Nevermind the nightmares.

2. Yo! MTV Raps

Coroflot

Though it’s hard to imagine earning street cred from a pack of cards, the 1991 Yo! MTV Raps sort of gave that to its buyers—after all, name another set of cards that could provide you with details about Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, KRS-One, and even Young Black Teenagers. Each card included fun facts about popular acts, perfect for impressing your music snob friends. Quick! What’s Big Boi’s real name?

3. Saved By the Bell

Etsy

Of course Saved By the Bell got its own trading card set (even Saved By the Bell: The College Years got one!), because what could be more hip than a fully numbered set of snazzy promo pics of your favorite television show stars? Though the Saved By the Bell cards didn’t come with gum or a lock of Zack’s hair, they were highly collectible and fun to trade. Here, take my Slater.

4. 21 Jump Street

Etsy

A number of wax packs featured hand-drawn original art on their wrappers, and while that’s certainly a creative way to go, the results were sometimes questionable. Take Topps’ 1987 set of cards for television’s smash hit 21 Jump Street—who is that on the wrapper? Is it star Johnny Depp, or is it a weird amalgamation of Depp and Richard Greico? We will never know, but at least there’s some gum inside for you to chew while you mull it over.

5. ALF

Time Passages Nostalgia

It’s weird enough to remember ALF as just a popular television show—a popular television show about a foul-mouthed alien who unhinges his adopted human family thanks to both his hijinks and his constant attempts to eat neighborhood cats—but it’s even stranger to remember that Topps gave the show a two-series trading card run back in the '80s. Like any good wax pack, the Topps card included stickers to form full puzzles. Each pack also included one “bouillabaseball player” card, featuring one of Gordon Shumway’s favorite players.

6. Saturday Night Live


Erin McCarthy

Bad news, guys, the Saturday Night Live trading cards from 1992 are not funny. Sure, they may be funny in retrospect—or, at least, the skits and characters they try to portray may be funny in retrospect—but they are really just a big, vintage slice of the lackluster. Tucked right in next to your cool Wayne’s World cards, you’re likely to find a random black and white still of Jane Curtin doing … some role … you can’t quite remember.

7. Desert Storm

Desert Storm Cards

Wait, trading cards for a war? It sure seems a bit, well, strange, but back in the 1960s, there was even a trading card set for “The Men of the Green Berets.” There have also been card runs for World War II and Vietnam. That doesn’t sound very stealth, does it? Here’s hoping no potential combatants ever pick up their own set of the Desert Storm cards, because they’ll soon learn what a Tomahawk missile looks like in flight or what a “carpet bombing” is.

8. The X-Files

Imgur

The truth is out there and it’s also totally on one of the many trading card packs issued for the enduring Fox television classic. The “super premium” sets included character cards and creepy scenes from the actual show, a nice double dose of the fun and the informative (just like the show itself!).

9. New Kids on the Block

Etsy

It doesn’t matter who your favorite Kid on said Block was, if you were an NKOTB fan, you had a pack or two of Topps very classy trading card sets. The wax packs featured glossy concert pics, nifty stills (just imagine the fashion), and a sticker to boot. The backs of the cards also included everything you’d want to know about the Kids – like favorite color and full name. What is Donnie Wahlberg’s middle initial? Turn to the cards, kid.

10. Barbie

Etsy

Not every trading card set can be both very cool and very informative, but Mattel’s run of Barbie cards back in 1990 managed to straddle that line with nothing but style. Reminiscent of sports trading cards, each of the 300 available in the set featured a special Barbie doll on the front (including plenty of vintage options) and a bevy of fun facts on the back to feed the obsession of even the most hardcore Barbie fan. The doll maker has done a few other rounds of cards, but the 1991 run is unquestionably the most classic (and classy!).

11. Gremlins 2

Amazon

While the first film is clearly the far superior pick when it comes to movie-watching, the trading cards for the Gremlins sequel are surprisingly far better than the originals. After all, they are the only set to feature multiple cards centering on a scene that sees film critic Leonard Maltin getting overcome by angry mogwai. A must-have for any movie fan.

12. Tron

BlogSpot

Even a high-tech film like Tron can translate to the trading card medium—especially when some of the wax packs came with snazzy lightcycle stickers to paste all over your stuff. Even better? The cards include tips for winning the Tron video game, so maybe now is the time to pull out your old amusements and get cracking. You can finally win!

13. Garbage Pail Kids

I Miss the Old School

It’s impossible to talk about the trading card craze of the '80s and '90s without mentioning the multiple runs of Garbage Pail Kids cards, a Cabbage Patch Kids send-up that got its start as a trading card set. These things were everywhere, and whole boxes of them are still available online, at thrift shops, and around flea markets. If you’re a child of the '80s or '90s whose favorite form of humor is “gross-out,” the odds are high that the kids o’ the pails helped get you there.

14. Back to the Future II

Etsy

Is there a more classic wax pack than a Back to Future II wax pack? It has it all—the cards, the sticker, the bubble gum, all wrapped up in a handy package that assures you that you’re buying a “hit movie!” branded item. The series featured scenes from the movie, snappy lines, and even nifty numbering to keep them straight. (Don’t underestimate the power of numbered cards in a film about the complications of time travel.)

15. Jurassic Park

eBay

Any proven fan of the best cinema of the nineties still remembers Jurassic Park with tremendous fondness, and Topps’ multiple card sets reflect that perfectly. No, really, there’s some actual reflection here—at least when it comes to the random “action hologram” cards that popped in some sets. While not everyone got them, the wax packs still came with plenty of movie scenes, character cards, and behind-the-scenes peeks to feed a dino-sized hunger.

16. Cyndi Lauper

Tumblr

We may never know exactly why Cyndi Lauper got her own 33-card set of trading pieces back in 1985, but they sure as shooting exist for public consumption, and they’ve got the colors to prove it. These things are bright, though you wouldn’t know it from their understated pink, black, and white packages. Inside was a nice surprise for fans—beyond just gum and cards, there were three stickers. Fun indeed!

17. Indiana Jones

eBay

There are a shocking number of Indiana Jones trading card sets out there, but the first run from Topps is still the best. It’s a classic wax pack—hand-drawn package, gum, stickers, cards—and that’s nothing to sniff at (or whip at, really). Packed with movie scenes and character cards, what more could you ask for? Fine, you could always round out your collection with some Raiders and Temple of Doom cards, if that sort of thing fills up your cup.

18. Howard the Duck

Etsy

Howard the Duck may now be remembered as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, but its wax pack proudly proclaims that the cards inside are from a “new hit movie!” Sure, you weirdo little duck, that’s just fine. Enjoy the lie. (You can also enjoy the standard movie cards, sticker, and gum, though we don’t recommend trying to blow bubbles with a beak.)

19. Creature Feature

Collection DX

The Creature Feature collection may be best known for its 1973 run, but the movie monsters got a fresh spin in a 1980 set, too. The classic baddies—think Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy, and the Phantom of the Opera—got the big pack treatment with the Topps cards. Each package included one sticker, one piece of bubble gum, and 12 photo cards. It’s okay to scream about this one—even if it’s partially out of terror.

20. E.T.

Live Auction Group

Sadly, these guys did not come packaged with Reese’s Pieces—the wax packs got the standard bubble gum treatment. Crammed with ten cards and one sticker, the E.T. packs held lots of good stuff (a card depicting “Michael’s Farewell” might still make you cry) and plenty of filler (such as the card showing a confused E.T. standing around open-mouthed, punched up by the caption “Stranded!”). Brilliant stuff, really, but a must-own for any Spielberg fan. Reach out and touch them.

21. Return to Oz

eBay

Hopefully the terror of this bizarre Wizard of Oz follow-up has finally worn off, and now you can actually enjoy having a pack or two of these cards in your presence. Wait, no, no, still too soon. Pumpkinheaded nightmares ahoy, visions of “wheelers” dancing in our heads, and a strong desire to get back to Kansas—all our warning signs that you might be checking out one of these wax packs right now. Run.

22. Beetlejuice

eBay

The beloved Beetlejuice spawned its own wacky animated series that, in turn, spawned an adorably strange set of trading cards. While the packs didn’t provide many actual trading cards—five per pack—they did come with one very impressive glow-in-the-dark sticker. It’s the perfect thing to affix to your copy of the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased”!

23. Nintendo Game Pack

Sydelexia

What a racket! The five-card packs—three scratch-off game pieces and two stickers—were aimed at both people who had Nintendos (they included gameplay tips) and people who didn’t (why would you be in need of a scratcher to play Mario if you had a system at home?). Sure, it sounds brilliant in theory (at least for the team at Nintendo), but what were buyers to do with the scratched off cards once they were, well, scratched off? Those things only had one life.

24. Dune

Etsy

The 1984 Dune big screen adaptation may have been a bit of a bust, but the associated Fleer cards are still very cool pieces of movie memorabilia. No matter how modern the film itself tried to be, these wax packs are nothing short of a perfectly classic example of the standard set—ten cards, one sticker, one piece of gum. Revolutionary.

25. Pac-Man

eBay

Though the 1980 run of Pac-Man trading cards is guilty of some of the worst wax pack crimes—rub-off games, too few cards, a reliance on knowing the source material—it is ultimately saved by one key element. Cute stickers. Really cute stickers. Little munching Pac-Men, scary ghosts, funny lines—and you get two per pack. Worth it.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Cyber Monday has arrived, and with it comes some amazing deals. This sale is the one to watch if you are looking to get low prices on the latest Echo Dot, Fire Tablet, video games, Instant Pots, or 4K TVs. Even if you already took advantage of sales during Black Friday or Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday still has plenty to offer, especially on Amazon. We've compiled some the best deals out there on tech, computers, and kitchen appliances so you don't have to waste your time browsing.

Computers and tablets

Amazon

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet 64GB; $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet 64GB; $84 (save $35)

- HP Pavilion x360 14 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop; $646 (save $114)

- HP Pavilion Desktop, 10th Gen Intel Core i3-10100 Processor; $469 (save $81)

- Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop; $973 (save $177)

Headphones and speakers

Beats/Amazon

- Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones; $200 (save $100)

- Sony Bluetooth Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones; $278 (save $72)

- JBL LIVE Wireless Headphones; $100 (save $30)

- JBL Charge 4 - Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $120 (save $10)

- Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker II; $79 (save $50)

- Powerbeats Pro Wireless Earphones; $200 (save $50)

Video Games

Sony

- Watch Dogs Legion; $30 (save $30)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

- The Last of Us Part II; $30 (save $30)

TECH, GADGETS, AND TVS

Samsung/Amazon

- Amazon Fire TV Stick; $30 (save $20)

- Echo Show 8; $65 (save $65)

- Nixplay Digital Picture Frame; $115 (save $65)

- eufy Smart Doorbell; $90 (save $30)

- Samsung 75-Inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $898 (save $300)

home and Kitchen

Ninja/Amazon

- T-fal 17-Piece Cookware Set; $124 (save $56)

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Curved Round Chef's Oven; $180 (save $136)

- Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 Convection Toaster Oven; $195 (save $105)

- Roborock E4 Robot Vacuum Cleaner; $189 (save $111)

- Instant Pot Max Pressure Cooker 9 in 1; $80 (save $120)

- Shark IZ362H Cordless Anti-Allergen Lightweight Stick Vacuum; $170 (save $110)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

11 Fascinating Facts About Mark Twain

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mark Twain is widely considered the author of the first great American novel—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but his rollicking tales aren’t the only legacy he left behind. His poignant quotes and witticisms have been told and retold (sometimes erroneously) over the last century and a half, and his volume of work speaks for itself. Over the course of his legendary career, Twain—real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens—wrote more than a dozen novels plus countless short stories and essays and still found time to invent new products, hang out with famous scientists, and look after a house full of cats.

1. Mark Twain is a nautical reference.

Like many of history’s literary greats, Mark Twain (né Samuel Langhorne Clemens) decided to assume an alias early on in his writing career. He tried out a few different names—Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and, more plainly, Josh—before settling on Mark Twain, which means two fathoms (12 feet) deep in boating jargon. He got the idea while working as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River—a job he held for four years until the Civil War broke out in 1861, putting a halt to commerce. (However, another popular theory holds that he earned the nickname in a bar. According to reports in a couple of 19th-century newspapers, he’d walk into a pub and call out “mark twain!,” prompting the bartender to take a piece of chalk and make two marks on a wall for twain—two—drinks. Twain denied this version of events, though.)

2. In addition to being a steamboat pilot, Mark Twain also worked as a miner.

Shortly after his stint on The Big Muddy, Twain headed west with his brother to avoid having to fight in the war. He took up work as a miner in Virginia City, Nevada, but the job wasn't for him. (He described it as "hard and long and dismal.") Fortunately for Twain, he didn’t have to work there long. In 1862, he was offered his first writing job for Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, where he covered crime, politics, mining, and culture.

3. A story Mark Twain heard in a bar led to his “big break.”

Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress), Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1864, Twain headed to Calaveras County, California in hopes of striking gold as a prospector (he didn’t). However, it was during his time here that he heard the bartender of the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp share an incredulous story about a frog-jumping contest. Twain recounted the tale in his own words in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. It was published in 1865 in The New York Saturday Press and went on to receive national acclaim.

4. It took Mark Twain seven years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Twain started writing the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, but he wasn’t too pleased with his progress. After writing about 400 pages, he told a friend he liked it "only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn" the manuscript. He put the project on the back burner for several years and finally finished it in 1883 following a burst of inspiration.

5. Mark Twain invented a board game.

While Twain was putting off writing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he was busy working on a game he dubbed Memory Builder. It was originally supposed to be an outdoor game to help his children learn about England’s monarchs, but he ended up turning it into a board game to improve its chances of selling. However, after two years of work, it was still too convoluted to be marketable and required a vast knowledge of historical facts and dates. That didn’t stop him from patenting the game, though.

6. Mark Twain created "improved" scrapbooks and suspenders.

Memory Builder wasn't Twain's only invention; he also patented two other products. One was inspired by his love of scrapbooking, while the other came about from his hatred of suspenders. He designed a self-adhesive scrapbook that works like an envelope, which netted him about $50,000 in profits. His “improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” also ended up being useful, but for an entirely different purpose than Twain originally intended. According to The Atlantic, “This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that."

7. Thomas Edison filmed Twain at home.

Only one video of Twain exists, and it was shot by none other than his close friend Thomas Edison. The footage was captured in 1909—one year before the author died—at Twain’s estate in Redding, Connecticut. He’s seen sporting a light-colored suit and his usual walrus mustache, and one scene shows him with his daughters, Clara and Jean. On a separate occasion that same year, Edison recorded Twain as he read stories into a phonograph, but those audio clips were destroyed in a fire. No other recording of Twain’s voice exists.

8. Mark Twain did wear white suits, but not as often as you might think.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

When you think of Mark Twain, you probably picture him in an all-white suit with a cigar or pipe hanging from his lips. It’s true that he was photographed in a white suit on several occasions, but he didn’t start this habit until later in life. According to The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, “In December 1906, he wore a white suit while appearing before a congressional committee regarding copyright. He did this for dramatic emphasis. Several times after that he wore white out of season for effect.” He also refused to trade his white clothes for “shapeless and degrading black ones” in the winter, no matter how cold it got. So take that, people who subscribe to the “no white after Labor Day” rule.

9. At one point, Mark Twain had 19 cats.

Twain really, really liked cats—so much so that he had 19 of them at one time. And if he was traveling, he would “rent” cats to keep him company. In fact, he had a much higher opinion of felines than humans, remarking, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” He also had a talent for coming up with some great cat names; Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal, Pestilence, Bambino, and Satan were just a few of the kitties in his brood.

10. Mark Twain probably didn’t say that thing you think he said.

Twain is one of the most misquoted authors in history. According to one quote wrongfully attributed to him, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” What Twain actually said was, “[He] was endowed with a stupidity which by the least little stretch would go around the globe four times and tie.” There are many, many examples of these.

11. Mark Twain accurately predicted when he would die.

When he was born on November 30, 1835, Halley’s Comet was visible from Earth. It appears roughly every 75 years, and Twain predicted he would die the next time it graced the sky. As he put it in 1909, “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh, I am looking forward to that.” He ended up passing away at his Connecticut home on April 21, 1910, one day after Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky once again.

This story has been updated for 2020.