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Let’s Read 3-2-1 Contact, January/July 1994!

Once upon a time, in a magical age known as The 80s, Children’s Television Workshop produced a magazine that was written expressly for adolescent computer nerds. It was called Enter. It lasted seventeen issues. The tween computer geek demographic of 1984 was a very niche market, and CTW’s gamble on the magazine unsurprisingly did not pay off. As Enter was folding, CTW was riding high on the success of their science-based magazine for children that tied into their hit educational show of the same name, 3-2-1 Contact, which premiered in 1980. After absorbing Enter in 1985, 3-2-1 Contact began to focus their content more towards current events, technology, and computer science in addition to natural science. It’s safe to say that this magazine was hugely ahead of its time, publishing simple coding projects to the same audience that was reading Zoobooks and Ranger Rick. As the magazine continued to be a reliable staple in school and public libraries around the world, the TV show ended its official run in 1988 and sporadically made classroom-only content until the late 90s. The magazine continued to run until 2001.

Disclosure: I read a lot of magazines as a child who spent the majority of her recesses in the school library. This magazine, for whatever reason, was not one I kept on top of. I also vaguely remember watching segments of the show in class whenever a teacher endeavored to roll the big tv in and show it to us, but it wasn’t something I remember electing to watch on my own. If you had asked 8 year old me what I thought of 3-2-1 Contact the show, I probably would have shrugged and said that the show didn’t have enough cheesy music videos and puppets to keep my attention. Point is, despite being a dorky child of the 90s I lived my life a fair distance from the sphere of 3-2-1 Contact. So, if I get something blatantly wrong in my review or offend a key piece of your childhood, please don’t take it personally.


These magazines were generously sent to me by fellow Avocado q-pa, who included both the “Coolest” and “Hottest” issues from 1994 — so I’m doing both!


My First Pyramid Scheme! Good clean capitalist fun. God, the early 90s were such a weird time for skateboards. Toy companies sold “toy” versions of skateboards in these blinding fluorescent colors and designs, but they were functionally identical to normal skateboards so why wouldn’t you just buy one of those and not look like a total dweeb who’s parents bought them a little kid skateboard?

Bonus points for “Operators can’t answer your questions, but you KIT will” in the fine print. Red flag much?


For 90s kid print media, this magazine is refreshingly uncluttered with unnecessary graphics and fonts and everything else they’d normally cram into kids magazines of the time. The little screamy extreme totally bogus cartoon radical dude at the top, I’m not sure if the magazine gave him a name, but he seems to the extent of the headache-inducing cartoon mascots I was raised to expect.


Very early mo-cap! The “Waldo” motion capture rig seems to be a crucial footnote in the history of motion capture, as it gets a brief mention in a ton of educational texts about the technology. I’m not sure what happened to SimGraphics, but considering that their homepage hasn’t been updated since approximately 2007, I’m assuming that they were eaten up by a larger company at some point.


I remember at the time that distinctly any athlete who was NOT Bo Jackson was immediately ridiculed into the ground if they dared to attempt a career in a different sport. Deion Sanders tried it,  Michael Jordan tried it, I’m sure others tried it too but the only one who dominated in multiple sports was Bo. You can launch a line of shoes, sell undershorts for Hanes, and be in all the shitty cashgrab children’s entertainment you want, but god help you if you want to try your natural athletic gifts in something else.


I like that they didn’t even care about the rest of the kids, they just gave up at Jimmy, Derrick, and Susie.

These must be some sophisticated kids, because if you were a little girl in this period of time you did not wear clothes with major sports logos on them, unless you were tough enough to stand up to a lot of shit.


This not at all creepy science man is happy to show you this frozen human kidney! Could they maybe have photographed him from a less haunted angle, or does the fact that he’s presenting a human organ just make the picture creepy regardless?


It is pretty sad that we still don’t have maglev trains in America.


Croooooooo! I was so happy to see this. Sometimes I wonder if Cro was the product of a fever dream that I had when I was ten, because lemme tell you – this is not a show that has been canonized by the church of millennial nostalgia. This and The Wild West C-O-W boys of Moo Mesa get a similar amount of uncomfortable chuckling and feet shuffling if you try to bring it up to fellow 90s kids. Cro was a weirdass cartoon that took a scientifically absurd premise – a wooly mammoth is flash-frozen into a glacier, Avatar-style, is excavated by scientists tens of thousands of years later and thawed and is not only still alive but somehow is able to communicate fluently with humans. But that’s not even the weird part – every episode crammed in a different lesson on some elementary principle of engineering, presented by these extraordinarily advanced wooly mammoths who apparently went to MIT and were just bursting at the seams to teach Cro the caveboy about the physics of constructing a suspension bridge.

I feel the urge to fill out this survey still.

NAME: Future ex-Mrs. Malcolm
something about bridges?
whichever ones are the least interested in teaching me about engineering
The Electoral College/student loans/Post Malone


They don’t even give you a rundown of who the titular character is. And I don’t remember who almost any of these characters are, yet I remember others not profiled here, so it’s safe to conclude that this bad children’s cartoon had more characters than a damn Tolstoy novel.


Fun activity, if you actually live in a place where the temperature gets below freezing.


They’re unnervingly blase about Antarctica being beachfront property in the future.

Hypertats are still in use of at least 2012, but while they do have a few power outlets they haven’t advanced to the shower stage. They probably will support your Nintendo.


Teaching kids to code simple text games in BASIC as early as 1994 is pretty amazing, and only within the last few years has teaching kids to code started to catch on. But, the chances of having a computer at home in 1994 was iffy, and probably even less likely that your parents were computer savvy enough to own a copy of Basic. And since Apple was the company who gave computers to public schools, without the equivalent of Basic…I feel like a whole generation of kids got a bit screwed here.


Uhh, Max was not Goofy’s nephew. I’m sure they got a lot of shit for that in the reader mail.

EA*Kids was deemed a catastrophic failure, judging by a quick google that attaches “EA Kids” to both “giant bomb” and “abandonware”. It released some terrible games and died a quiet death in 1995.


Because what Peter Pan was missing was the help of Nick the Pencil and Sally Spray Paint?


Dear Contact: you screwed up! Signed, these children. I hope they sent Alice a t-shirt for being on top of the sexism watch.

Going back to what I said earlier about coding, I’d love to know what they were getting at when they say that you can still make games in Basic…if you don’t even have a computer. Maybe they were saying that you could still pretend to be a rocketship running out of fuel, using the old imagination. Pretending? That’s for poor children!


I don’t remember playing this game at all, and yet I think I watched someone play the demo at Toys R Us (how’s that for an outdated sentence?) once, because the music has been playing over and over in my head for the last 25 years.


Moving along six months later…


Kid baseball movies were the hotness in the early 90s, between this and Rookie of the Year and Angels in the Outfield.

“Baseball was made for kids. Just go out and play and have fun!”
“I hate fun.”


You can still visit Pyro Man and Coppelius at Special Collections at NCSU.

Glacier rocks seem like something that an insufferable rich kid with insufferable rich parents would have, like try saying “we only use 10,000 year old ice harvested from our personal glacier in Greenland. It’s pre-civilization, which is the only way that we can be sure it doesn’t have any pollution” and tell me you didn’t hear that coming from the mouth of Gwenyth Paltrow.


That comet was Shoemaker-Levy 9. It was very sciency. Science things happened. Much fireball.

Aquashoes (feet kayaks?) didn’t go anywhere. Can’t imagine why.


That certainly is a lot of totally radical language to describe a pack of trading cards!



I’ve got nothing to quip here. The photographs are nice.


Has anyone ever actually made one of these? Did it work? Did you feel the blessing of the sun god upon you as you raised up your solar-roasted hot dog to the sky in thanks? Did Mother Gaia sigh with pride as your eco-friendly efforts rewarded you with a snack that took you an hour to construct, that you would have otherwise just spent 30 seconds microwaving? Or did your parents just yell at you for making a mess and ruining a perfectly good coat hanger? That’s coming out of your allowance!


Call me spoiled, but I don’t want a Kleenex unless it comes in an elaborately printed cardboard pop-out box that looks like a leopard is vomiting the tissue into my hand.


“Time Team” was a replacement for a segment on the tv show called The Bloodhound Gang (yes, really). The Bloodhound Gang was a group of plucky teens that solved mysteries via SCIENCE! After one of the original Bloodhound Gang cast passed away from AIDS-related cancer in 1988, the tv segment was scrapped and replaced in the magazine with Time Team for a few years. Now I said before that I didn’t read this magazine as a kid, but I imagine that if I did I would probably be really pissed that the Plucky Teens Solving Mysteries feature was replaced with terribly written stories about these two dumbass kids who somehow figured out the secrets of time travel but can barely string together a sentence.



“Amelia Earheart is my role model and my hero and I know everything about her, except for some reason I can’t remember the extremely infamous circumstances in which she disappeared, the legacy of which has outweighed her achievements for the last 60 years.”


So grim.

Curtis Slepian has, unfortunately, gone on to write several more educational books for kids. He is also currently an editor at Time magazine.


What we were promised in 2004: liquid sunglasses, anti-shark belts, personal submarines.

What we actually got in 2004: Facebook, Bluetooth, spyware, the second term of George W. Bush.


As much as I love the shout out to Mario Teaches Typing for nostalgia reasons, I’m also tickled by the innovation of the “sign in” feature.


Fievel’s Playland is still a thing at Universal Orlando, apparently, where I guess children can play along with the classic Fievel themes like separation anxiety, religious persecution, Nazi cats, gambling, drugs, being sold into mouse prostitution, and everything else that I want to forget about the American Tail movies.


Oh god, GEOGRAPHY. My most hated subject that isn’t math!

Uhh let’s see

New Mexico?

I give up. I don’t want the t-shirt that bad. It’s probably a stupid t-shirt anyway. ( — Future FUTURE ex-Mrs. Malcolm, age 10)


Iconic childhood imagery right there. Twizzlers, or “How to Succeed At Feeding Children Pieces of Plastic”.


And that’s it for this week! Thank you for reading. I hope I did justice to the magazine of your childhood. Next week we’ll stay in the kid’s magazine sphere but take it way way back to February 1957 with Junior Scholastic magazine!


(also featuring the scoop on plastic housing for subzero temperatures, 40 years earlier, I DID NOT PLAN THIS)