A kini, also known as a slammer, is a metal or hard plastic disc about the
size of a half-dollar. Kinis generally sell for $1 to $7. Some of the more expensive kinis have holograms of dinosaurs in the middle.
Steve Rush, 13, of Langhorne, carries in his pocket a brass kini with a three-dimensional baseball glove and bat in the center. Janelle Vansant, 12, of Levittown, sent away for a kini picturing O.J. Simpson.
A pog, as the most-famous brand of bottle caps is called, is similar in shape and size to the old paper caps that topped milk bottles before the introduction of the cardboard milk container in the 1960s. They're decorated on one side with pictures - sparkling skulls and monsters or shiny teddy bears and Disney characters.
The World Pog Federation, based in Costa Mesa, Calif., calls its product ''the old-fashioned game of the future."
According to information provided by the federation, the game originated in the 1920s when a Maui dairy and juice maker sealed its passion fruit-orange- guava drink with cardboard milk caps - hence the acronym pog. Children across Hawaii turned the caps into a game. A Hawaiian schoolteacher pumped new life into the game in 1991, using pogs for classroom activities.
Alan F. Rypinski, the entrepreneur who founded the Armor All Co., bought the juice company in 1993. He set up the World Pog Federation, which sells pog products and licenses pog tournaments, such as the one held at the Oxford Valley Mall.
Pogs are used for playing about 100 different milk-cap games, some of which are reminiscent of jacks, marbles and penny-pitching. In the basic game, kids place a kini on their outstretched index and middle fingers. Then they slam the kini into a stack of 11 caps, trying to overturn them. In a two-person match, each player repeats the action until one player overturns six caps and is declared the winner.
"This is by far the hottest kids' trend to come along in a while," said Howard Henschel, president of Norman Group Inc., owner of Norman's and Giggles stores in the Oxford Valley Mall and sponsor of Sunday's competition. "On a scale of 1 to 10, if Hula Hoop was a 10, this is a 50."
Norman Group's tournament on a snowy afternoon drew about 150 kids who would agree. Lindsey Cole, 11, was one of them. She's been playing pogs since the summer, when her father, wholesaler Jeff Cole, started selling them.
Jeff Cole said he took a chance on pogs after a California manufacturer told him about the game's popularity on the West Coast. He said that initially it took a bit of explaining to retailers, but within months the product was almost selling itself.
"I started in August selling pogs to very few stores, and now I sell them to about 100," Cole said.
Tom and Lisa McIsaac of Levittown decided to cash in on the craze after watching their sons, ages 5 and 10, pound pogs for hours on Christmas. ''Seeing that, we thought maybe this is a toy or a game we could really get into selling," Tom said. The couple has scheduled a grand opening tomorrow for their new milk-cap kiosk in the Neshaminy Mall.
"Everyone plays at my school," said champion James. The Penn Valley Elementary School fourth grader said he just started playing milk caps a few months ago and already has a stack of 420 that he trades and collects.
The craze has captured Steve, who boasts at owning so many caps "I can't count them all." His favorite: the cap depicting the wild, red-headed pog man.
"Computer games get boring," Steve said. "This is a good way of playing with my friends."
Parents tend to go for pogs because they're cheap, they encourage interaction and sharing, and they keep kids from staring bleary-eyed at a television screen.
Bonnie Dettra, of Newtown Township, cheered as her son Mike made his way to the semifinals Sunday. Unlike Mike's computer games, milk caps is a hobby she can relate to. "As a kid I can remember doing something like this," she said. "We used to flip baseball cards. I can remember flipping Elvis cards, too. But that dates me."
Mike likes pogs because they're portable. He travels with kini and caps in pocket. "I play them while I'm waiting for my bus to be called," he said.
The caps are a common thread connecting Mike's Goodnoe Elementary School classmates. And they may turn out to be the insignia of a generation, much like his mother's Elvis cards.