While out grocery shopping about a week ago, I couldn't help noticing an interesting phenomenon that had all but taken over every aisle of the supermarket. Spongebob...he was everywhere. At first, I thought it was just another small promotional craze -- something that struck here and there, never really making it's mark. Wrong. From the Hall of Soups to the breakfast section, the freezer aisle to all of those blasted neon-colored yogurts, Spongebob Squarepants had absolutely saturated the store with no less than a dozen edible tie-ins meant to delight kids and make Nickelodeon even richer. If you've been living off pizza and stale packages of Saltines over the past month or so, you're not going to believe what's out there...

Pop Tarts! Cereal! Popsicles! Fruit Snacks! More! More More More More MORE! I'm not kidding when I say that Spongebob was everywhere I looked. Just when I thought I'd seen every possible situation come to fruition where Spongebob was made to be edible -- BAM, there he was with his own line of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Suddenly, it became clear to me that nobody doing a "full run" at the grocery store could possibly leave without buying at least one Spongebob-related food item, save for the few lost souls who manage to survive only on lemons, pumpernickel bread and detergent. I suppose this method is admirable for its success rate -- what better way to get people to buy Spongebob crap than giving them positively no other choice?

I guess it sucks if you hate the show, but I'm down with this. I can't get enough of the episode where Spongebob and the squirrel resist the temptation to perform karate. It's even better when every commercial break features a "Kids Bop" ad. Michelle Branch's songs sound even better when the Reaper dusts off Cree Summer to sing 'em. I just hope this doesn't make me the world's second youngest pedophile. (there Joe, I finally gave you that shout out)

Anyway, I was pretty taken will all of this, and wasn't sure how to handle my excitement. It's easy for compulsive folks to go a little nuts with this kinda stuff. Realizing that it'd be sort of interesting to try to use a receipt for Spongebob Squarepants Pop Tarts as a tax write-off come next year, I put aside my reservations and bought every Spongebob-related snack in sight. In the years I've spent doing X-Entertainment, there's been several instances of very embarrassing trips to the cash register. This was probably the worst of 'em all. Bordering on a quarter of a century old, there I was...reading about Oprah in The Enquirer while an old lady scanned my 42,000 boxes of Spongebob food. I did this all for you. All I ask in return is that you write my initials on your ass and moon me. Here's what I found...

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One of the reasons the Spongebob blitz is so noticeable? That damned yellow face. Nearly all of the promotions simply take a standard box size and stamp his big yellow head over it -- from a distance, all you see are these strange, bright, cubic aliens staring a hole through your forehead. "Spongebob Squarepants Cereal" is a good example of this. It's just impossible to walk by that box without giving it a glance. Factor in that there's over a hundred of these boxes staring at you, and everything gets multiplied and intensified to the point where I'm surprised I didn't pull a Rod Serling Special and morph into Spongebob right then and there.

Anyway, the cereal was on sale for just two bucks, so at least it wasn't another case of a foodstuff that already exists from ten different companies getting a 500% price hike just because someone had the good sense to print beloved cartoon characters on the packaging. Spongebob's fat head shines on the boxfront, while the usual gamut of silly games and puzzles graces the other side. You can even cut around Spongey's head for "more nautical nonsense" inside the box. I've yet to do this, but smart money's on a bunch of Sally Seashell jokes and doodles of cartoon starfish running towards outhouses.

I guess the best thing to compare Spongebob Squarepants Cereal with is "Cap'n Crunch," though the typically throat-crunching rocks seem to have been a bit softened up. Thank God. The corn nuggets are supposed to represent jellyfish -- the popular brunt of sports events and cooking experiments in Spongebob's home of Bikini Bottom. Keeping with cereal's time honored tradition of not looking anything like what the box says it is, the jellyfish appear much more like baseball gloves or edible embodiments of that "talk to the hand" phrase that was all the rage a few years ago. Only you're not talking to the hand. You're eating it.

Marshmallows round out the madness, of course -- we've got 'em shaped like Spongebob, Patrick (a pink starfish) and Spongey's pineapple house. It's a big bowl full of PG-rated fun, and to be totally honest, it really doesn't taste too bad. I wouldn't call it a reason to get up an hour earlier in the morning, but it's certainly no proprietor of making kids afraid of the most important meal of the day. What the Hell am I talking about?

Overall, I'd say that the cereal itself is pretty forgettable, but today's kids are going to remember that stupid yellow box well into their fifties. You just don't forget a box as bright and assaulting as this. Go ahead, try to forget it. See? You still remembered.

Next up, "Spongebob Squarepants Popsicles," made by -- you guessed it -- Popsicle! These are kinda interesting -- the familiar push-pop style has been consistently present for years, but the last time I've actually had it at home was waaaaay back when Fred was just beginning a generations-spanning sensation known as the "Flintstones Push-Pop." Seems that Fred's passed the reigns over to Spongebob. I can think of a few dozen cartoon characters who must be feeling pretty mightily overlooked right about now. Each box contains six "pop ups," much like every page of this website. I mean really now.

Reading the flavor description was sort of a bittersweet victory for me. I nearly died from delight when I read that whole "strawberry and lemonade" bit, but then they went and ruined it with the word that equates to the bad finale of an otherwise great movie, "sherbet." Gnos, gnos, not dee sherbet. Why couldn't this have been plain ol' strawberry and lemonade ice? Why risk alienating those who stubbornly refuse to accept sherbet as "good?" I know it's not bad. I realize that it's actually pretty good. It's the principal of the thing, and that stupid, stupid name. "Sherbet." Blech.

But hey, this is Spongebob. He wouldn't stamp his face on it if it wasn't a veritable taste treat. Notice I didn't say "couldn't." The guy chose not to. Now go ahead. Applaud like you're supposed to.

Tossing aside my reservations about the word and the general stigma, I tried the sherbet. Really good stuff. It's like cloud nine came down, swooped you up, and flew you into a second cloud made entirely of artificial fruit flavors. I'm pretty sure this was how the Popsicle company worded the press release. As you lick away at the strawberry sector, an inner core of lemonade begins to beam through. By the time you're halfway finished, mystical Spongebob-related shapes form at the tip of the lemonade. It might be a starfish, it might be a pineapple. It might be something else entirely, since I checked the whole box and all of the edible symbols looked like Egyptian party masks. But then everything does, right?

I also noticed an official Spongebob Squarepants ice cream brand, I believe from Breyers. I would've picked it up for the sake of being a completist, but it looked like a plain old regular flavor with no added junk or wild colors. They just put a small picture of Spongey on the box and called it a day. They said "this is a day." Plus it cost like ten bucks or something. I wonder if Dylan will pick Brenda or Kelly.

See? We're going in pretty deep with this shit -- it's not just the usual crapfood that gets raped and pillaged for the sake of a crossover. "Spongebob Cheez-It Crackers" are baked to perfection and made with real cheese, but more importantly, they're all shaped to look like condensed Spongebob bodies. I couldn't believe that they put the effort in, but after inspecting the pile of orange imps, it was confirmed that there's actually several different versions of Spongebob etched on. Some look only mildly insane, others were full-effort open-mouth demon versions. The latter Spongebob tasted better, even if I knew it was impossible.

This next picture is absolutely gigantic and the stuff of nightmares. I'd say I wanted to warn you first, but this was just an excuse to keep up my "two paragraphs under each picture" rule. I'm playing by the rules. Spongebob is a good influence.

Good lord, it's a box of "Spongebob Pop Tarts." Again, I reiterate the importance of the blazing yellow face-box. Consumers will not be able to resist that box, and I'm not just talking about consumers who get trampled into submission by their tagalong six-year-olds. Single old ladies will pick up that box. Truckers at the all-night 7-11 will pick up that box. Whether the strange cosmic pull of a Spongebob-styled box will be enough to bring about purchases...that I don't know. But they will pick it up. Their fate is in their hands. Keep in mind, the other side of the box is all Spongebob, with no obstructing view of Pop Tarts. It's like the dude's really right there in front of you.

I've seen a bunch of these limited edition cross-brandin' Pop Tarts recently, and it seems like they're always the ones forced to be guinea pigs for some really oddball, completely indescribable flavors. Click here to see "The Cat In The Hat Pop Tarts" from about two months ago -- I'm sure kids ate it up, but it looks God awful. Will Spongebob pass the test? We'll see, but if the "Wild Bubble-Berry" flavor mention is any indication, NO.

Make them, Spongebob. Make them just right. Cook like you've never cooked before. If we truly are what we eat, this is the only way you can be yourself.

He looks happy, and I gotta tell you -- I usually hate Pop Tarts or anything resembling Pop Tarts with a passion, but these were pretty tasty. Maybe I'm just blinded by love for everything Spongebob. Maybe I'm just blinded by the damn box.

The filling is just regular strawberry, a Pop Tart staple. The icing is Bubble-Berry. It tastes like nothing I've experienced before. It even seems to change flavors midway through each bite, like some rogue Wonka experiment gone so terribly wrong that it goes all the way around and becomes terribly right again. It's a whole lot nicer to believe that than admit that it's just blueberry icing with Spongebob-themed candy sprinkles drizzled on. I want it to be special.

Holy shit, I didn't notice that thing about me potentially winning 5,000 dollars instantly while taking the picture. Be right freakin' back!

I lost. Here we have "Spongebob Squarepants Fruit Snacks," made with real fruit from Na - Bissss - Coh! Mmm. With each packet of gooey snacks containing 25% of your daily vitamin C, they're a health-conscious treasure in a box featuring a color scheme so hideous and unpalatable that I'd be shocked if more than six people buy the things. Orange and blue? We're not selling Trapper Keepers here.

You get ten pouches, which is good, as if I remember correctly, few kids eat any less than three pouches in a sitting. You don't get enough red ones unless you blast your way through at least three. With ten pouches, kids had ammunition for three rounds, and still had a packet leftover to help soothe the withdrawal syndrome.

Characters include Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward. Oddly, Spongebob seems rather short-packed. Must be a rare chaser. They probably sell them at comic shops.

I've got one last item to show you. I'm not sure if I've saved the best for last, though. If only those Pop Tarts weren't so darned cool with their bubble-berries and excuses to bust out the toaster. Get ready for pasta. Prepare yourself for cheese. But get ready and prepare yourself at the same time, because those two gladiators joust as one. It's "Spongebob Macaroni & Cheese!"

Kraft really switched out their former ideals over the years, because it's becoming almost impossible to find any kind of regular mac & cheese. If it's not character-shaped pasta pieces, it's noodles that turn green and explode into confetti as they're boiled. It's a competitive market and everything needs a gimmick, but mac & cheese is way too dairy milky to get by while looking like guts.

Spongebob is merely the latest in a long line of cartoon revamps -- this particular supermarket was still trying to peddle a Pokemon version from a few years back. Spongey won out against Polywhirl. Polywhirl is old hat.

Pasta shapes include everyone previously mentioned, plus "Gary," Spongebob's pet snail. I can't believe they threw Gary in there. Kraft really, really loves us.

It's been a while since I've made mac & cheese, and as this was formerly the only thing I cooked, I had a lot of fun doing it again. Getting the pot out, pouring the water, boiling the water, throwing the pasta in, draining the water, adding the packet of cheese dust, adding some milk, stirring until my arm felt like I was trying to jerk off on coke, getting a bowl, finding a clean fork, remembering that I prefer a spoon... This was so much fun!

When finished, I looked at my bowl full of cheesified Spongebobs and remembered something...

I'm really bad at making macaroni and cheese. Though I'm excellent at making macaroni and cheese soup al dente.

Oh Spongebob, you and your wacky foods have taught me so much about myself. This was such an adventure. Do you have Spaghettios too?

Dial 1.800.878.4764 to order "Kids Bop" Volume 5.

-- Matt (2/03/04)