N Candy AA II: Round of 64, Flight 1
October 18, 2010

At long last, we've got the second half of the N Candy AA: The Non-Chocolate Edition!

Since our Indian Summer continued out here in California and we got a welt of plus-90° days last week, Halloween has been the last thing I wanted to think about. Why, in my day, Halloween was so cold, you had a big fight with your parents about wearing your winter coat over your costume! If you were smart, you incorporated the predictable cold into your costume and avoided the fight, but left you quite limited. Like, the year I was obsessed with becoming an Egyptologist because I read The Egypt Game until the cover fell off? Yeah, it's not fun trying to be Cleopatra in October. Nor is arguing with my mother that wearing a white turtleneck under my carefully draped toga is tragically inauthentic.

Here, it's the opposite. Parents are trying to get kids away from wearing too many layers and expiring with heat exhaustion smack in the middle of a pile of popcorn balls. Well, I guess that's global warming for you. (Or, you know, the difference between California and Minnesota. Ahem.)

California stores clearly don't give a fig about the heat turning me into a Halloween Grinch, as evidenced by the massive sacks of candies piled on every free space available at Target and Safeway, so let's get to this.

Confused? Hungry? Searching for answers? Look no further. Bracket is here, voting is now.

1 Pez vs. 16 root beer barrels. The root beer barrel is that rare candy that actually tastes like the "real food" it's named for or designed after. …Well, barrels taste more like Dr Pepper to me, actually, but that's still closer than most. It's a solid entry for a hard candy, seldom my favorite genre, but Pez will trounce it, because the barrel does not have a clever dispenser with myriad varieties. Pez candy itself is meh -- except the lemony ones, but even those are only meh-plus -- but it doesn't matter.

8 Sugar Daddy/Babies; Slo-Poke vs. 9 Mike & Ike. According to Wikipedia, Mike & Ike "is a brand of fruit-flavored jelly beans." In a million years, I would not have used the term "jelly beans" to describe them, because traditionally, the human jaw is able to make a dent in a jelly bean in under 20 minutes. This is not the case for either Mike or Ike, usually one of the last candies left in the trick-or-treat bag, and once chewed, the flavor doesn't make the effort worthwhile. The Sugar family is just as perilous to your dental health, but much more delicious. The creepy mail-order-bride branding is problematic (and the Slo-Poke looks like baby poo on a stick…and is named "Slo-Poke," hew), but if you like your Milk Duds sans chocolate coating, the Sugar Baby fills a necessary hole. (Hew.) We may have ranked the rhyming candy too high; it won't win.

5 Pixy Stix vs. 12 Starlight Mints. You have to admire the efficiency of the Pixy Stick. It doesn't pretend it's a fruit; it doesn't have a shape of any kind. It's just a tube of solid sugar, sometimes with dye thrown in. The Starlight Mint, meanwhile, has a classic shape and color scheme; it looks crisp and refreshing. And at times, it is, if you get one that hasn't been sitting on a shelf in a forgotten Woolworth's (or in a dusty-rimed dish in your elderly aunt's parlor…same diff, really) since the Truman presidency. [...which might also be the last time anyone ever described a room in their house as being "the parlor." --Keckler] The rest of the time, it's…a mint, better than some but adequate at best. Pixy Stix ain't that great either, but 1) they get the job done faster, and 2) Ally Sheedy assured their immortality in The Breakfast Club. Stix FTW.

4 Pop Rocks vs. 13 Boston Baked Beans. Everyone remembers, and delights in the frisson of danger surrounding, the urban legend about Mikey from the Life commercials eating Pop Rocks and then he drank a Coke and died OMG. No one remembers what they taste like. I snagged a grape pack from the deli to refresh my memory, and you know, once the sizzling dies down, it's a decent candy -- densely flavored, but not too fake-tasting. I kind of want to try it as an ice-cream topping. Not that anyone cares about the taste; the Pop Rock is a cultural icon. The Boston Baked Bean is much more anonymous (did you remember that it's basically a peanut M&M, but with no chocolate layer?), which is too bad, because I'd use those as an ice-cream topping, too. But without the mythologized death of a child actor to hitch its wagon too, BBB's star probably burns out in the first round. [Also, who in their right mind names a candy after something that sounds like a pot of overcooked vegetables and expects kids to buy it with their limited pocket money? --Keckler]

6 candy jewelry vs. 11 "pillow" mints. We apologize for the catch-all-ness of the candy jewelry entry, but we didn't think each individual candy accessory could do well on its own -- the bracelets and necklaces are basically Smarties, and while the Ring Pop does a nice little side business as a whimsical marriage-proposal prop, it's a just a lollipop, a plasticky-tasting one that gets your knuckle all mungy to boot. Together, though, they make a formidable foe…although just about any foe could probably beat pillow mints, the perfectly textured after-dinner confections found at diner cash registers. The pillow mint is delicious and…well, pillowy; it has also become the hotel bedspread of candies, notorious for carrying all the germs diner patrons fail to wash off their hands in the bathroom. [I loved how pillow mints, or as we called them "after dinner mints," melted in your mouth to milky nothingness, which sounds so so hew, but was so so good. In fact, they were so beloved that we turned a blind eye to what could have possibly made a candy dish full of the mints melt into a solid mass at my grandparents house and instead kept hacking away at Mt. Pillow Mint, happy with whatever soft, chalky shards we chipped off. --Keckler] Pillow mints do come pre-wrapped, though, allowing you to enjoy a cushiony snack without fear of infection -- and the sound of candy-necklace "beads" getting crunched is pretty gross. I'm calling it for the six seed, but I'm not sure I like it.

3 Tic-Tacs vs. 14 Chick-o-Stick. Or, as I like to think of it, "the design triumph vs. the brand-confusion disaster." I recently spent ten full minutes trying to convince 6-year-old J. Rock that a Chick-o-Stick is not in fact a candy with chicken in it; Atkinson's, which makes Chick-o-Sticks, unhelpfully produces a bite-sized version they call a "nugget," a fact that only seemed to bolster J. Rock's case despite the packaging of recent years no longer featuring the cowboy-hat-wearing rooster (…seriously). It's a peanut stick with a candy coating, topped with coconut, and it's one of those polarizing confections that some people adore.

But it's no Tic-Tac. The Tic-Tac is crafted brilliantly: teeny; looks like a pill, which children like because it lets them feel grown up; starts out candy-flavored, then morphs into a potent mint; comes with a clever carrying case (see also: Sucrets); contains one and one half calories, a neat number deftly exploited by the Tic-Tac marketing team (I like to think they called themselves "Tac-Tac." You know -- "tactical"? No? I'll let myself out).

You can use them as stocking-stuffers. You can play poker with them. And the orange ones still rule. Tic-Tacs by a mile.

7 candy cigarettes vs. 10 Nerds. I kind of can't believe anyone still makes candy cigarettes. Doesn't it seem like some parental council would have driven these out of existence for "glamorizing" smoking by now? Never mind that they taste like powdered Hai Karate. (The gum version is just as bad; baseball-card gum is Jacques Torres by comparison.) Still, the childhood associations they carry for some of us may carry them to victory over Nerds, though Nerds offer superior taste in non-fizzy-Pop-Rock form and also come in a nifty two-fer box that lets you mix flavors.

2 Mary Janes vs. 15 Bottle Caps. My friend Gunz gave me a handful of Bottle Caps the other day, and the cola flavor in particular is better than I'd remembered. That isn't saying much, however, and I LOVE Mary Janes. The peanut-butter taste isn't very peanut-buttery, really, and not many candies combine a weird glassy surface, an even weirder cakey texture, and a near-unparalleled ability to coax out the most reluctant fillings. The Mary Jane is another one of those polarizing candies; I'm betting enough people dwell on the same pole I do that it gets through to the next round, but we'll see.

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