Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War

In the 1980s, two restaurant chains duked it out to become the preeminent robot pizza arcade.

A slice of pepperoni pizza.
Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin, Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

In the late 1970s, a new and unusual concept for a restaurant chain emerged in California—video games plus bad pizza plus animatronic characters. The result was Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, an immensely popular chain with a pizza rat for a mascot. But the strangeness only starts there. Decoder Ring dives into the formation of Chuck E. Cheese’s and its rival, ShowBiz Pizza Place; the conflict between the two; and the odd personalities of the mechanical animatronics that inhabited both stores and are still beloved by a select group of adults to this very day.

Decoder Ring talks to the founder and former employees of Chuck E. Cheese’s, the creator of ShowBiz Pizza’s Rock-afire Explosion, and a man who loves one Chuck E. Cheese’s character in particular, to bring you the story of the Pizza Wars.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

• Jared Sanchez/The King’s YouTube page
• Jared’s parody video and song for the Decoder Ring live show on Youtube
• Aaron Fechter/the Rock-afire Explosion’s YouTube page
• The King singing “Love Me Tender
• Early TV advertisement for the Chuck E. Cheese’s characters
• Rock-afire Explosion performances from 1995
• Instructional video explaining “Concept Unification
• Jared and The King performing “Robots Are Good
• The Rock-afire Explosion performing “Hips Don’t Lie

Email: decoderring@slate.com
Twitter: @willapaskin

This episode was written by Willa Paskin and was edited and produced by Benjamin Frisch.