The Zinger Zapper
When you have Zingers around, there's no escaping, The Zinger Zapper.
I had two passions when I was a kid: the characters of the Peanuts Universe and sugar in all its forms, whether it was candy, soda, or baked goods. If it could give you cavities, I was all in.
For years, Peanuts were linked with the cakes from Dolly Madison, and commercials for them seemed to air more frequently towards the end of the year. So, from Halloween through the New Year, thanks to the influence of television, I constantly pestered my mother to buy me some of my favorite treats: Zingers.
Zingers, now owned and sold by Hostess Brands under the Hostess Dolly Madison label, were originally made by Dolly Madison before the company was acquired by Hostess. Though not as widely recognized as Hostess, Dolly Madison snacks gained fame through their enduring partnership with characters from Charles M. Schulz's beloved Peanuts comic strip.
During the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the iconic faces of Charlie Brown and his friends adorned Dolly Madison packaging and television commercials, especially during the Peanuts animated specials broadcasted on CBS – a cherished memory from my own childhood.
The Dolly Madison brand was briefly discontinued, but in 2018, Hostess Brands reintroduced its "classic" Dolly Madison brand for distribution in vending machines. While the products were mostly the same as those available under the Hostess label, it was heartening to see those Dolly Madison cakes back in circulation.
As I mentioned, among the delightful Dolly Madison offerings, my all-time favorite has been the Zinger. These elongated cakes, available in chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry flavors, are a true delight for the senses. The chocolate and vanilla Zingers feature a generous layer of icing atop a creamy non-dairy filling, while the raspberry variant skips the icing and instead offers a tantalizing blend of shaved coconut and raspberry-flavored syrup.
I'll happily indulge in any Zinger variety, but my fondness for them is not solely because of their deliciousness. Instead, it has everything to do with Snoopy. There was a series of commercials for Zingers featuring Peanuts characters, with Snoopy taking on the role of the mysterious "Zinger Zapper."
Who is the Zinger Zapper? Nobody seemed to know, even though it was unmistakably Snoopy in disguise. This bit of silliness amused me greatly. Growing up with Peanuts, I knew Snoopy was capable of almost magical things, but this was the first time I saw him use his speed and disguise for mischief. Yet, I understood why he did it.
Snoopy was me. He was all of us as kids. Yes, we could be well-behaved, but sugary foods had a strange effect on us. When tantalizingly close, we lost all self-control and needed to have it. Our dark side, our own Zinger Zapper, emerged, and only that sweet sugar could put him back in his cage.
The Zinger Zapper appeared on boxes and in advertisements. Design-wise, he seemed to have two distinct "looks." Both featured Snoopy in a trench coat and hat, with the main difference being what covered his face. In commercials, he wore a mask, but on the box and some merchandise, he wore sunglasses. I preferred the mask; the sunglasses version made him look more like a detective or secret agent Snoopy, while the mask gave him the appearance of a real thief.
Here is the detective/secret agent version that appear on boxes.
In a scan by Greg Koenig, these two versions are displayed side by side on a set of sticker premiums they offered. These stickers made me laugh; they suggested that, in addition to loving Zingers, the Zinger Zapper led a rich life. Since we knew it was just Snoopy in disguise, these stickers implied that occasionally, while living his normal life, Snoopy wore the Zapper getup. Brilliant!
Lately, I've become obsessed with the Zinger Zapper again. So much so that I've been doodling him. I'm not much of an artist, but here's the drawing I'm most satisfied with.
I have two commercials from the early 80s that show the Zinger Zapper in action. In the first one, a couple of the Peanuts gang have gathered to try to figure out who the Zinger Zapper is. Lucy, acting like a detective, switches off the lights, and Snoopy swiftly zaps away the Zingers she left on the plate. Snoopy is in great form here; his cackle is contagious.
The second commercial features Lucy at her "Zingers Squad" booth. Charlie Brown complains that all his Zingers keep getting zapped. Lucy doesn't believe him until it happens to her. This one has a cute ending, with the Dolly Madison mascot scolding Snoopy as he tries to sneak a Zinger.
In both Peanuts and snack food history, the Zinger Zapper is a minor footnote. That's a shame. Snoopy as this character is delightful, and the trope of a character obsessed with a product to the point of stealing it is rich with potential. I was at the store last week and spotted a box of Zingers. Just seeing them there made me smile. Even after all these years, even though the relationship between Hostess and Peanuts might be long over, I can still picture and hear the Zinger Zapper. So mind your Zingers, people, because you never know when the Zapper is going to nab those scrumptious cakes.
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