I’ve been eating on this big bag of SweeTarts since just after Halloween of 2017, and even though they’ve been my favorite candy my entire life I’m only just now about halfway through. Maybe I’m more responsible than I used to be, or maybe it’s because I’m always out of town. Maybe it’s because they don’t mix too well with the bourbon and Red Rock Ginger Ale I have to drink every night to stay sane and fall asleep, or maybe it’s because my teeth start to hurt if I eat them too many nights in a row. For whatever reason I still have a lot of SweeTarts left in this old bag that I bought for 80% off at a Walgreens the November before last.
At this rate I might not hit the bottom of this old bag until my beautiful newborn baby boy Dustin dresses up for his first Halloween next year. The good thing about having a baby in November is that if you think ahead you can get them a costume for their first Halloween and save, like, 70 or 80% on it. So if you see an adorable little baby Roman Reigns wheeling through your subdivision next year, don’t be afraid: my Dustin’s not going to Superman punch you. Not unless you’re dressed like Brock Lesnar.
I’ve liked SweeTarts my entire life. I’m normally a big fan of chocolate, but when it comes to prepackaged, factory-made candy, I’ve always preferred sugary sweets, and nothing’s sweeter or sugarier than SweeTarts. I’ve never turned down any kind of SweeTart before—not the classic tubes you could buy with pieces about as big as a nickel, not the giant chewy ones that came four to a pack and could rip a crown out of your mouth, and not even the giant regular ones that you had to break up into tiny pieces before trying to eat. My favorite, though, has always been movie theater SweeTarts. They’re hard to find now, for some reason—none of the theaters around me have had them in years. I was a little hesitant to bring my sweet baby Dustin into a world like that, to be honest—a world without movie theater SweeTarts. I can handle my own generation being the first to have a lower standard of living than its parents, but I feel terrible thinking about my son having to make it through this life without the best candy money can buy. Sometimes I can find boxes of movie theater SweeTarts for a dollar at the dollar store, which is like a 75% savings from what the theaters usually charge for them. But the dollar store near my house that always had them in stock had to shut down after business got too soft last summer and now I can’t find them anywhere. When I go to the movies now I usually don’t eat anything, or, even worse, I’ll eat some Sour Patch Kids.
When I was a kid SweeTarts were made by a company called Sunmark. There was a smiling cartoon sun on every roll, and every time I’d pop that first one into my mouth I’d look at that sun and smile back at him. He let me know everything was going to be fine, both at the time, now that I had my SweeTarts in my system, and in the future, in that upcoming world of harmony where humanity would continue to grow and love together as one, and where the disappearance of movie theater SweeTarts seemed impossible. Now SweeTarts are made by the Willy Wonka company, which doesn’t really have anything to do with the book or movie other than sharing a name. Wonka used to have its own SweeTart-style candy back in the day called Tart ‘n’ Tinys. They’d give me that same sweet and sour burst of sugar in my mouth, but because each candy was about the size of two pieces of rice stuck together I’d have to shovel handfuls in at a time to really get that rush of pleasure I was always chasing from SweeTarts.
Today Wonka uses the SweeTarts name for all kinds of candies that have nothing to do with Jeff Sousa’s simple bit of magic. If you ask me I don’t think they’re being the most effective steward of the best candy God ever gave to us. If I ran the Wonka company SweeTarts would still be in every movie theater in America, and nobody would ever have to wonder what in the hell a “SweeTart Rope” is. Just thinking about this gets me all ornery.
Okay, I just ate a few SweeTarts and feel better now. That warm haze is spreading throughout my body, blurring my vision and tingling in my hands and toes. Through the fog I can hear Dustin crying in the baby’s room, but he’s a good boy, and he loves his daddy, and he can wait. You can’t hurry a SweeTart rush—you have to let it pass through you like a storm cloud, a storm cloud that makes you have to pee a lot and makes your skin get kind of dark in your neck and armpits.
There are four kinds of SweeTarts in this old bag of Halloween candy I bought over a year ago. Some are better than others. I hope you don’t mind me talking about them.
I don’t consider these SweeTarts at all. This is basically a pink chunk of Laffy Taffy without the thing that makes Laffy Taffy so great, all those awesome jokes you can tell down in the stockroom the next day. These chews are definitely sweet and sour, but overwhelmingly so—if you’ve ever wondered whether SweeTarts could be too sugary, here’s your answer. They’re hard to chew into, too, with a consistency that’s not as hard as a Now and Later but still harder than it needs to be. And they’re so sticky that tiny strips of the wrapper often cling to them, which is more hassle than you should ever have to get from a candy. Candy’s about feeling good, not getting hassled. If I ran the Wonka company I not only wouldn’t put these fakers in a big bag of SweeTarts, but I wouldn’t let them be called SweeTarts at all. They’re a disgrace to the name. I’ve only eaten a dozen or so in the last year, meaning that old bag of Halloween candy is still full of them.
This is one of two kinds of SweeTarts that this old bag of Halloween candy labels as “original” SweeTarts. They’re not really like any of the SweeTarts I used to eat as a kid, though. They’re considerably smaller, thicker and harder than the regular-sized ones that come in the foil rolls you can buy at convenience stores, and even smaller and thicker than the movie theater ones. They’re not bad, at all—they might not erupt into that delicious dust when you apply the slightest bit of pressure from your teeth, like the movie theater ones, but if you toss half a roll of them into your mouth at one time they pack that satisfying SweeTart jolt. They might look like Smarties, with the classic Smarties-style wrapper twist-tied on both ends, but they taste like SweeTarts, and that makes them way better.
I can’t remember what year Mini Chewy SweeTarts were introduced, but I do remember how much of a revelation they were. Here was an entirely new way of eating SweeTarts, and it was maybe as great as the movie theater boxes that I keep raving about. I’ve always loved the giant chewy SweeTarts, but they were an occasional luxury, something to switch it up from the rolls and movie theater boxes I typically stuck to. When I got older those giant chewy ones became a calculated gamble—if I slipped up and chewed them on the wrong side of my mouth, there was a great chance I’d be going to the dentist the next day to get a crown reattached. Mini Chewy SweeTarts eliminated those fears by reducing those large chewy circles down into tiny balls of sweet and sour bliss. I could fill up a tiny bowl of those and go to town on them seven nights a week and never get tired of it, if it wasn’t for the pain that much sugar would cause my teeth. If this old bag of Halloween candy was nothing but these tiny packets of Mini Chewy SweeTarts and the number one item on this list, it probably would’ve been all gone by last Christmas.
If you know only two things about me, it’s probably these two things: that I love my sweet little angel baby Dustin, born on an unseasonably cold and dry night just five and a half weeks ago; and that I love movie theater SweeTarts even more. The other type of SweeTart labeled as “original” in this old bag of Halloween candy basically is movie theater SweeTarts. Remember those SweeTarts you’d get for Halloween as a kid, the little blue and white paper packets with three SweeTarts all in a row? Remember how you’d tear into that tiny paper packet and shake all three of those SweeTarts straight into your mouth, letting that dust just coat the insides of your mouth? Movie theater SweeTarts were just like that, only instead of a paper packet it was a cardboard box, and instead of three it felt like 300 or so. This old bag of Halloween candy doesn’t have the paper packets anymore, but it does have SweeTarts that are the same size and consistency of the kind you’d find in those old paper packets. They come in a small red and blue plastic sleeve, still three to a pack, and they’re every bit as perfect as I expected them to be. They’ve got the right weight, that tangy sting on my tongue when I bite into them, that almost imperceptible hint of fruit beneath the sweetness and sourness that makes each flavor taste slightly unique. The mouthfeel is childhood summers in the movie theater watching the latest Burt Reynolds movie, or finishing the second half of that box at your aunt’s lake trailer later that afternoon. The mouthfeel is perfect, and the SweeTarts are perfect, and these tiny movie theater style candies in the sleeves labeled SweeTarts Original are one of the few perfect things I’ll be able to leave behind in this world for my tiny young son Dustin. Hopefully he won’t have to buy a big old bag of Halloween candy full of stuff he’d never want to eat just to get a bite of these tiny chunks of Heaven, but I know my boy’s a fighter and if that’s what he has to do then that’s exactly what he will do. These little movie theater SweeTarts are what life’s all about, even when they’re wrapped up in tiny sleeves within an old bag of Halloween candy, and not sitting in a cardboard box behind a concession stand for four bucks a pop. I don’t even want to know what life would be like today if Jeff Sousa hadn’t invented SweeTarts back in 1962, the same year my own father started his first family that we didn’t know about until after he passed. Everything definitely would’ve been different.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s SweeTarts section. He’s on Twitter at @grmartin.