How Well Do You Know the Gnarly ’80s?

Torrance Grey

Image: Izusek / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

It was the era of Reagan and Thatcher, of Cabbage Patch Kids and Care Bears, of Britpop and New Wave music. We're talking, of course, about the 1980s. Many people look back on this decade as light-hearted (and neon-colored) fun, fun, fun ... but, of course, it wasn't all fun and games. Fears of nuclear war hung over the entire world, as the United States and the Soviet Union both stockpiled weapons, in pursuit of a "winnable" nuclear war. In Russia, the dream of domestic nuclear energy turned sour with the Chernobyl reactor meltdown. And, in 1981, a new infectious disease reared its terrifying head: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS for short. 

Yikes! Did the 80s have *anything* going for them? Of course they did. After a short recession, the American economy boomed under the direction of President Ronald Reagan. This decade also gave us some of our brightest-shining sports stars, like Bo Jackson, Joe Montana, and Jerry Rice. Then there were the unforgettable television shows, as "jiggle sitcoms" gave way to serious-minded dramas like L.A. Law and Hill Street Blues. 

Whether you're old enough to have lived through the 1980s, or you're in love with their retro culture, we've got a quiz for you on all things Reagan-era. Pour yourself a New Coke and try it now!

One of these was NOT a fashion trend of the '80s. It was ... ?

There were several trends in denim in the 1980s, including acid wash and "stonewash," and the reintroduced Levis 501. But cuts were either skinny or straight-leg. Bootcuts didn't become popular until the late 1990s, lasting through the 2000s.

The song "Come on Eileen" was the product of which one-hit wonder?

If you listen closely, you'll hear that one of the lyrics is "And you'll hum this tune forever." Truer words were never sung! Though Dexy's Midnight Runners never had another big hit, "Come on Eileen" gets airplay to this day.

What year did Ronald Reagan take office?

If you said 1980, sorry — that's when Reagan was elected, but he took office in January 1981, just as Donald Trump was elected in 2016 but didn't take office until 2017. Reagan served two terms and left office in January 1989.

Who was England's prime minister in the 1980s?

Margaret Thatcher was England's first female prime minister. However, she said that she was prouder of being the first prime minister with a science background (she held a degree in chemistry) than of being the first woman. Hurray STEM, we suppose!

Which soft-drink maker reformulated its flagship product, to almost universal dislike?

We're referring to the mid-'80s experiment known as "New Coke." Coke had been losing sales to Pepsi, which was sweeter, so Coca-Cola rolled out a sweeter formula of their signature drink. Bad idea! It turned out that the success of Pepsi notwithstanding, people who drank Coke liked the original, less sweet formula. Coke scrambled to re-release "Coca-Cola Classic."

Which American city hosted the 1984 Summer Olympics?

Unfortunately, more than a dozen Eastern-bloc countries boycotted the summer Games in 1984, in retaliation for the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Games in Moscow. Perhaps aided by the absence of Soviet-bloc athletes, American track and field star Carl Lewis shone, winning four gold medals.

The hit "I Want to Know What Love Is" was released by which supergroup in 1984?

A bit syrupy for some tastes, Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" nonetheless remains one of their best-known songs, borrowed by more than one filmmaker. For a sample of their more typical sound, try "Juke-Box Hero" or "Hot Blooded."

Who anchored the CBS Evening News for the entirety of the 1980s?

Dan Rather warmed the anchor's chair for 24 years, a tenure unlikely to be repeated in the 21st century. From the birth of American TV through the end of the 20th century, the goal was to have a reassuring, statesman-like presence on the evening news for years on end (see also Brokaw and Jennings). Now, news personalities want to move on to new opportunities after a few years, and studio executives make regular changes to boost ratings.

Lace hair accessories were all the rage in the early '80s. Who made them popular?

Madonna is a chameleon, changing her look every five years or so. But most of us first knew her as the Material Girl, who wore white-lace hair ties and big hoop earrings.

Who was Ronald Reagan's running mate and vice president?

Also known as "Bush 41," George Herbert Walker Bush was a World War II hero who was shot down over the Pacific, and later head of the CIA. He succeeded Reagan in office in 1989.

Who did the Democrats nominate to run against Bush in 1988?

Michael Dukakis was a brainy, soft-spoken governor from Massachusetts. Probably the single most destructive thing to happen to his campaign was a photo op in an M1 Abrams tank, in which the scrawny Dukakis, wearing an oversized helmet, looked more like a boy playing soldier than a future commander-in-chief.

The early '80s saw a boom in what previously largely-unknown hair product?

In the '50s, '60s and '70s, if you wanted to keep your hair in place, you had one option: hairspray. (Aqua Net, mentioned above, was a good extra-strength choice). But when mousse moved from the salon out onto store shelves, it opened the door for styling gel, and eventually the confusing array of products we can choose from today.

Which "Star Wars" movie was released in 1983?

"Return of the Jedi" was the conclusion to the first, or "middle" trilogy of the "Star Wars" franchise. It featured the final showdown between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and then the dying redemption of Anakin Skywalker, aka Vader. (Don't @ us about spoilers: You've had 36 years to get around to watching this film.)

Which early-'80s fashion movement was inspired by the private schools of the East Coast?

The name, of course, is derived from "prep school," itself a shortening of "preparatory school." Preppy fashion relies heavily on khakis with collared polo shirts for guys and twinsets, loafers and soft pastels for girls. Practical utility bags and "boat shoes" are popular for all genders.

Which TV show gave us the "Who Shot J.R.?" mystery?

The other three shows listed above merely followed in the wake of the cultural powerhouse that was "Dallas." The show's chief bad guy, J.R. Ewing, was shot at the end of the third season. While the smart money was on his long-suffering wife Sue Ellen, it was Sue Ellen's sister Kristin who pulled the trigger.

The reigning quarterback of 1980s football was San Francisco's Joe ______.

So beloved was Joe Montana in northern California that when he was traded to Kansas City in the early 90s, the San Francisco Chronicle announced it in a giant, time-of-war headline that overshadowed the main news story in the rest of America. Which was, um, the Koresh compound in Waco going up in flames.

Toward the end of the 1980s, who had become America's TV Dad?

Oh, how times have changed! But back in the '80s, Bill Cosby presided over the well-adjusted, loving Huxtable clan on "The Cosby Show." He parlayed his fame into a moral bully pulpit in which he lectured young black men to step up and be responsible husbands and fathers. And then ... well, you know.

The briefly ubiquitous slang word "tubular" came from the world of ...

A surfer's holy grail is a wave so big it curls over on itself, forming a tube. So "tubular" means "awesome." This term didn't have a lot of staying power, probably because compared to "rad" or "cool," few people really understood what it meant. Besides which, it just sounded silly.

The German hit "99 Luftballons" was about what political issue?

Singer Nena recorded the hit called "99 Red Balloons" in its English translation. In both German and English, it tells the story of how a flight of 99 balloons accidentally triggers a war (maybe nuclear, though this is never explicitly stated) between superpowers.

In 1982, Britain went to war to reclaim what small holding in the Western hemisphere?

The Falklands are a small island group off the coast of Argentina, which calls them the Malvinas. The successful reclamation of the Falklands was a high point in the career of Margaret Thatcher, the sometimes-unpopular prime minister.

Whose late-night show featured the wildly popular "Top Ten List"?

While Johnny Carson, host of "The Tonight Show," will always be a legend, in the '80s all the cool kids stayed up to watch "Late Night" with David Letterman. Letterman's secret to success? He made fun of the late-night format, acknowledging when jokes bombed, showing cue cards on screen, and doing a "Top Ten List" every night in which, notably, the number-one item usually wasn't the funniest joke. This was groundbreaking stuff for the time.

What was Pac-Man?

Decades before Fortnite, the hottest thing in video games was Pac-Man, a stand-up arcade game where you guided an animated cheese wheel through a Habitrail, eating electronic bread crumbs and avoiding adorable monsters. At least, that's how we remember it.

In which year was the economic recession at its worst?

The recession didn't just affect the United States; it was worldwide, as all future recessions are predicted to be, the result of globalization. Fortunately, the economy would recover and be booming by the mid-1980s.

The dark comedy "Heathers" introduced which who to the world?

Both of these actors had been in movies previously, but the jaw-droppingly anti-social comedy "Heathers" really put the world on notice. It's unclear whether a movie like "Heathers," which plays the deaths of several students for laughs, could be produced in today's climate, especially in light of school shootings.

The 1980s were a great decade for toys. Which of these '80s offerings was most likely to get thrown up against a wall in frustration?

Most toys of this era were cute, or cuddly, or easy to use. Then there was the Rubik's Cube, the puzzle that obsessed, annoyed and ultimately infuriated the world. You'll still see these nowadays, in speed-solving competitions.

Which company made a memorable Super Bowl commercial based on Orwell's "1984"?

The commercial, introducing the Macintosh computer, was based on George Orwell's dystopian novel. In it, a young female marathon runner throws a sledgehammer through a screen projecting the face of "Big Brother," halting the flow of propaganda. The "1984" commercial is considered one of the best of all time.

Posh Blair and street-smart Jo were at each other's throats at it on which TV show?

"The Facts of Life" was set in a boarding school where four "very different" girls were coming of age. Ever notice how TV shows always depend on groups of "very different" personalities? Just once, we'd like to see a show about "five people who are basically the exact same person." Oh, wait — that's "Real Housewives."

Which of these "Steves" was the likable star of "Police Academy" and "Three Men and a Baby"?

Steve Guttenberg was everywhere in the '80s: "Cocoon," the "Police Academy" movies, and the "Three Men" movies. Then he dropped out of view. Our theory: He stopped moisturizing his face. laid low, and reinvented himself as Steve Buscemi. (Well, have you ever seen a picture of the two of them together?)

In 1983, the most successful TV drama to date aired its finale. What was it?

"M*A*S*H" was a show about the Vietnam War, disguised as a show about the Korean Conflict (during which it was, technically, set). It made a star of Alan Alda, who went on to work on classics like "The West Wing."

Which Michael Jackson video featured an elaborate "zombie" storyline?

"Thriller" was the name of both the 1984 album and the single. To this day, people recreate the zombie-shuffling "Thriller" dance; you can see some of the larger, more ambitious efforts on YouTube.

Three of these designers were huge in the 1980s. Which one, though, was not?

Wang, best known for wedding dresses, became truly popular in the 2000s. Prior to that, the designers above all made their mark on fashion: Klein and Armani with what's known as "sportswear," and Betsey Johnson with colorful, sexy clothes for women.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown took place in which republic of the USSR?

The Chernobyl nuclear plant was located in the town of Pripyat. In April 1986, one of its reactors suffered a catastrophic power surge that caused an explosion, then a fire. The town of Pripyat and surrounding areas were evacuated, creating an "exclusion zone" that survives to this day.

In 1989, which of these historic barricades came down?

Of course, the answer is the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Germany. Its dismantling was part of the general fall of what was known as the "Iron Curtain," and preceded the breakup of the USSR itself.

The short-lived '80s car known as the DeLorean made a high-profile cameo in what movie?

This is the movie that gave us the deathless line, "You made a time machine? Out of a DELOREAN?" Yup, Christopher Lloyd was the mad scientist, and Michael J. Fox the plucky teen who took it back to the 1950s to change his entire life for the better.

In 1983, a barracks bombing in which city killed 220 U.S. Marines?

Accounts of the bombing focus on the Marines, but French paratroopers housed in the same barracks were also killed, as a concessions vendor and the wife and children of a janitor. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. All the troops were there to keep peace between Muslims and Christians in the multi-ethnic city.

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