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If what's happened in Southern California is any predictor, Utah is about to flip over the newest craze: the Hawaiian milk-cap game.

The simple children's game, which some call the "marbles of the '90s," has launched a billion-dollar industry, trademark battles and controversy over whether it's a form of gambling.Milk-cap tournaments held at toy stores like The Broadway attract dozens of players. Adults are scooping up the colorful cardboard discs and metal or plastic "slammers" as collectibles. Businesses - from banks to restaurants to public transportation divisions - are using milk caps to promote their services.

All that from a teacher's search for a more peaceful way to entertain children at recess.

The mother of POGs

In 1991 Blossom Galbiso, who at the time was a guidance teacher at Waialea Elementary School in Hawaii, was upset about the way some of her students roughhoused during recess. There had to be better activities for the children, she thought.

Then she remembered the milk-cap game she'd played as a child.

In the 1930s, when Hawaiian dairies started home delivery of their products, people began collecting the illustrated cardboard caps used to seal the refillable glass milk bottles. Children used the caps to play a game.

The children would place the caps in a stack, printed side face down, and try to flip the stack over using a "slammer" made of several discs glued together.

"We used to rush to be the first one to meet the milkman to get the covers from the bottles, lick the cream off and add them to our collections," Galbiso said in a telephone interview with the Deseret News.

The milk-cap game resembles a 600-year-old Japanese game called menkos, which Japanese immigrants brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the 1800s, according to Melanie Ching, author of the "The Bottle Cap Map."

The milk-cap game had been all but forgotten until Galbiso revived it.

Galbiso got milk caps from the Haleakala Dairy in Maui and taught her students how to play. One student dubbed the game "POGs," which stands for passion fruit-orange-guava - juices made by the dairy.

The game was a hit. And now, much to Galbiso's amazement, it's leaped to the mainland and is sweeping eastward.

"I'm just delighted," she said. "The people in Waialea School take pride in knowing we had something that is going to spread."

Milk-cap mania

Jim Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of Safeco Plastics Inc. and SPI Kaps in Garden Grove, Calif., calls milk caps the "marbles of the '90s."

"It's huge. I don't think there's a kid who doesn't play it," Mitchell said.

Mitchell's company, which makes its own line of products as well as milk caps for Universal Pogs and about 40 other companies, is producing the discs at the rate of 10,000 an hour, 24 hours a day, six days a week.

"We cannot come near meeting demand," Mitchell said.

Sales of milk caps, slammers, carrying cases and other accessories is expected to hit more than $1 billion in 1994, Mitchell said.

"It just seems to spread like a mudslide. When it comes into an area, it just seems to take over, and that mudslide is heading east," Mitchell said.

Richard Adams, who moved to Farmington from California in March, is helping spread milk-cap mania in the Beehive State.

"Mooove over Nintendo," Adams says.

Adams launched a company, Mainland Milk Caps Inc., to distribute milk caps and game accessories locally. He supplies the game to about 35 sport-card businesses, convenience and video stores and toy shops statewide.

"There are no batteries, no sugar and they're (the kids) not wired to the TV," Adams said in praise of the game. "It's back to basics."

Bob Irsik, manager of Comics Utah in Salt Lake City, says his store started getting requests for milk caps about three months ago; demand really took off in August.

Post & Print in Fruit Heights began carrying milk caps in April, and sales of the discs has been phenomenal ever since, says owner Linda Waltz.

"I not only have the little kids but I have adult collectors coming in," Waltz said. "They've been as interested in this as the kids have been."

The variety of designs on milk caps and the fact that some are produced in limited editions makes them attractive as a collectible, Adams said.

The flip side of milk caps

As is often the case, where there's money there's potentially trouble. The terms "POGs" and "milk caps" are used interchangeably to describe the game and the cardboard discs. But the right to use the word "pogs" generically is currently the focus of a lawsuit in Orange County, Calif.

Universal Pogs Association Inc. is suing the World POG Federation over the federation's claim to have exclusive rights to the word.

Children's fascination with the milk-cap game has also touched off controversy. Some California schools banned the discs or set up rules for their use after some children got too wrapped up in playing the game.

Some naysayers claim the game is a form of gambling because players keep the discs they successfully flip over. That's prompted variations of the game where players accumulate points rather than for keeps.

During their popular reign in Hawaii, however, schools latched on to milk caps as a way to promote school pride and raise money. Many schools devised milk caps that featured their mascots and logos.

Teachers used milk caps to reward students for good behavior and, with specially designed caps, to teach math, geography, history and other subjects, Galbiso said. Hawaiian police officers came up with a line of milk caps to pass out as part of the state's Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program.

"There are a lot more positives than negatives," Galbiso sAid.


Additional Information

All about POGs

How to play: Two or more players put an equal number of milk caps (up to about 10) face down in a stack. The players then take turns trying to flip milk caps in the stack face up by throwing a silver dollar-size metal or plastic "slammer" at the top of the pile.

The game can be played for keeps - with each player keeping the caps that he or she turns over - or for points. The first player to accumulate a certain number of points or caps wins.

What it costs: Individual milk caps cost 25 cents or more a piece. They come in variety of designs and colors, including sparkles and foils. Slammers come in a variety of styles, colors and materials. They range in price from $1.50 for a plastic slammer to $6 for a brass slammer.

Some companies offer packages that come complete with 10 or 12 milk caps, a slammer and a plastic carrying case for around $5.99.

What's hot: Packages of Mighty Morphin Power Ranger milk caps, foil Krome Caps, SPI Kap slammers and game boards, any milk cap with a glittery design.