The peanuts and prizes in a package of Cracker Jack get fans nearly as riled up as an umpire's "disputed" call in a tight Mariner game. Here are the weighty issues:...

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The peanuts and prizes in a package of Cracker Jack get fans nearly as riled up as an umpire’s “disputed” call in a tight Mariner game. Here are the weighty issues:

The peanuts

Some Cracker Jack aficionados swear there are fewer peanuts in a CJ box or bag than there used to be. Just how many are there?

Taking the question seriously, we decided to count ’em. We bought three boxes of Cracker Jack from three different supermarkets, laid out the popcorn and peanuts from each box separately on the counter of the Seattle Times Food Department’s test kitchen and started counting. It didn’t take long.

One box had 5 peanuts, another 5-½ and the third box 7 — an average of 5.83 peanuts per box.

“That’s about right,” said Jared Dougherty, a spokesman for Frito-Lay, Cracker Jack’s manufacturer.

He said the company maintains a certain average ratio of peanuts to popcorn, by weight. He would not reveal that ratio but said the number we counted would be in the approved weight range.

“I would say they’ve come down a little bit (in peanut numbers)” since Borden owned Cracker Jack, prior to 1997, said Alex Jaramillo Jr., a dedicated CJ fan, commercial collector of CJ prizes and author of a book on the history of those prizes. The Fontana, Calif., man addedthat the actual average number is “hard to pin down.”

When Borden owned Cracker Jack, the company promised 12 to 15 peanuts per box, said Jaramillo, who once served as Borden’s volunteer Cracker Jack historian.

Before about 1918, the CJ manufacturer of that era promised about 40 peanuts per box, though the actual number was probably more like 25 to 30, Jaramillo said. Though the boxes were larger then, containing nearly twice as much product as current boxes, the peanut/popcorn ratio was higher than now.

So there you have it: If Jaramillo is correct, today’s Cracker Jack boxes do indeed contain a few fewer peanuts than they once did.

The prizes

Search for the prize in today’s bag or box of Cracker Jack and you’ll most likely come up with a little perforated paper envelope. Tear it open and you’ll probably find some sort of folding picture puzzle or optical illusion, perhaps joined by a riddle or two.

A disappointment if you’re hoping for a cute little figurine or a decoder ring. After all, for lots of people the prize is what Cracker Jack is all about.

“They’re little shadows of their former selves,” Jaramillo said of the current crop of prizes — a sentiment voiced by many.

A spokesman for Frito-Lay said some packages do contain other types of prizes, and Jaramillo said he has found little baseball stickers in the larger-size Cracker Jack bags, apparently timed for the new baseball season.

CJ prize collector Jo Richardson, of Yakima, said she doesn’t mind the paper prizes.

“What people don’t realize is they had a lot of paper (prizes) before, too.”

And she said that within the past couple of years there have been other types of prizes, such as a series of plastic animal figures.

Still, it’s the tin toys from the 1930s and ’40s that she especially likes in her collection, which fills a glass-fronted bookcase, 12 drawers in an antique dental-supply case and many loose-leaf notebooks.

The “golden age” of Cracker Jack prizes, said Jaramillo, was the ’20s and ’30s, when you could find prizes made of wood and even porcelain, such as little porcelain dolls. The dolls are particularly rare today “because they were made for children to play with and they would break,” he said.

“Finding one of those early prizes is like finding a jewel,” Jaramillo said.

Judith Blake, Seattle Times staff reporter