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Things only adults notice in SpongeBob SquarePants

Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants celebrated its 20th birthday in 2019, a huge milestone for the kiddie network's flagship cartoon. The show was a hit right out of the gate, and in the years that followed, it evolved into a full blown media franchise, spawning video games, successful feature films, and even a Broadway musical. SpongeBob's face and distinctive laugh are known across the world today, but how exactly has an animated series about a walking, talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea lasted for so long?

SpongeBob SquarePants became a global phenomenon because its offbeat sense of humor appeals to children and grown-ups in equal measure. Young viewers get hooked on the eye-popping animation and memorable characters ... but they're blissfully unaware of the odd, adult-orientated joke flying over their heads. The show's late creator, Stephen Hillenburg, once revealed that he pitched an episode in which SpongeBob and Patrick learn a swear word, but the idea was shot down by execs. He got a lot smarter after that, hiding blatant innuendos and grown-up gags in plain sight. Here are some of the all-time best jokes that only adults noticed in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Balloon Squidward isn't made of balloons at all

The opening scene of the season seven episode "The Play's the Thing" contains a visual gag that sexually active adults just couldn't miss. The plot revolves around Squidward, who decides to put his play (entitled Squidward: Strokes of Genius) on at the Krusty Krab after famous producer Buddy Barracuda rejects it. He holds auditions for a number of roles, but everyone skips when they learn that there's zero payment involved. SpongeBob, being the only one left, gets all the available parts, but before we get to any of that, Balloon Squidward makes his one and only appearance.

At the beginning of the episode, a mailman enters the Krusty Krab to deliver Squidward's rejection letter and finds that he isn't at his post. A panicked SpongeBob does what any loyal sponge would do — he quickly makes a fake Squidward out of balloons in an effort to fool the mailman and cover his colleague's back. Well, to the untrained eye, they're balloons, at least. To older viewers, SpongeBob is quite clearly blowing up condoms. We don't want to think about why he happened to have so many on his person.

How does SpongeBob spend his evenings?

Have you ever wondered what SpongeBob gets up to after his pet snail Gary is all tucked up in his bed of newspapers at night? We found out in the season two episode "Your Shoe's Untied," in which SpongeBob realizes that he's forgotten how to tie his shoelaces. However, the episode kicks off with a gag that numerous adult viewers can likely relate to, even if they wouldn't like to admit it.

In the opening scene, Gary walks (or slides) in on his owner watching some adult entertainment on TV. At least, that's what the show is implying. A transfixed SpongeBob is actually looking at a frilly orange sea anemone dancing around, but when Gary approaches out of nowhere, he reacts as though he's been caught watching a late-night dirty movie. The panicked sponge quickly flicks over to a football game and swears to his snail that he was just looking for the sports channel.

That time Patrick misheard a particular word

The season one episode "Texas" revolves around the brilliantly named Sandy Cheeks, a scientist squirrel with a Southern accent who lives among SpongeBob and friends, courtesy of a diving suit. Sandy is usually a pretty upbeat character, but Bikini Bottom is quite different from Texas. And naturally, she takes offense when SpongeBob and Patrick poke fun at her home state ("Don't you dare take the name of Texas in vain!") in an episode that's all about being homesick. 

But after finding out that Sandy is considering leaving Bikini Bottom and returning to the surface, Patrick comes up with a brilliant idea. "Let's get some Texas, and bring it down here!" he says, and SpongeBob is all for it, replying with, "That's it! Patrick, your genius is showing!" The big pink starfish appears to mishear SpongeBob, quickly covering his crotch. "Where?" he replies nervously. As far as the kids are concerned, that's just Patrick being silly old Patrick, but we all know that he heard a "p" instead of a "g."

SpongeBob SquarePants gets R-rated

Bikini Bottom's most popular fast food restaurant, the Krusty Krab, is well-known for its signature burger, the Krabby Patty. Rival restaurateur Plankton has tried to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula on numerous occasions in the hopes that it will increase customers at the Chum Bucket (speaking of subtle jokes aimed at adults, ever noticed how the "h" in the Chum Bucket sign is the only lowercase letter?), but he's always unsuccessful. Mr. Krabs is usually super protective of his patties, but in the season seven episode "Krusty Dogs," he decides to branch out with wieners.

Before long, the name of the restaurant has been changed to the Krusty Dogs, much to the dismay of Squidward, who's being made to wear a humiliating wiener costume (the word "wiener" is said a lot in this particular episode). When the grumpy green octopus and SpongeBob start conspiring to get the item off the menu, the former comes out with a line that no doubt went over the heads of child viewers. As Squidward puts it, he wants them to come up with a plan that "will make this wiener thing blow up in Mr. Krabs' face."

Only adults will notice the bit about the Tickler

In the season four episode "Karate Island," Sandy comes face to face with a character that makes kids and grown-ups laugh for very different reasons. She becomes suspicious when SpongeBob gets a message in the mail informing him that he's been crowned King of Karate, despite never having practiced it. So Sandy decides to accompany him to his coronation on the titular island, which, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, isn't what it appears to be. SpongeBob is captured by Master Udon (voiced by the late Pat Morita of The Karate Kid fame, to whom the episode is dedicated), who informs him that he's actually on Condo Island and can't leave until he buys a timeshare.

Luckily for SpongeBob, Sandy knows how to handle herself in a fight. The episode has several nods to adult martial arts movies, especially to Bruce Lee's epic fight scenes. The Four Floors of Fear are clearly inspired by the pagoda from unfinished movie Game of Death, while Sandy's yellow jumpsuit is reminiscent of the one worn by Lee and later by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. But the most grown-up thing about this episode is the Tickler. Sandy's first opponent is a French fish who tickles people with hands on sticks. That's funny for younger viewers, sure, but what they don't know is that a French tickler is actually a ribbed condom.

What's underneath SpongeBob's square pants?

It's Free Day at Bikini Bottom Zoo in the season two episode "The Smoking Peanut," and SpongeBob can't wait to see Clamu the giant oyster put on a show. He and Patrick arrive at Oyster Stadium on a high, but the wind gets taken out of their sails when they discover that Clamu is asleep. Not wanting their day to be ruined, SpongeBob throws a peanut at the giant creature, who wakes up, attacks the zookeepers, and begins crying so loud that she can be heard on the surface. It turns out she's upset because Mr. Krabs took the whole Free Day thing too seriously and stole her pearl, but before that big reveal, a distraught SpongeBob blames himself for Clamu's distress.

At first, he keeps his guilt to himself, which leads to a hilarious back and forth with Sandy. The Texas squirrel tells SpongeBob that there will be no "jiggery pokery" if she gets her hands on the culprit, which makes him nervous. "Sorry, Sandy, I have to, um ... um ... go get my hair cut," he says, excusing himself. Her reply is priceless: "SpongeBob doesn't have hair ... or does he?" The horrified look on her face makes it clear that she's pondering whether SpongeBob has hair on the parts of his body hidden under those square pants.

Things get uncomfortable with Mystery's coin slot

SpongeBob gets a new pet in "My Pretty Seahorse," a season three episode that contains one very adult joke. Spring has arrived in Bikini Bottom, and SpongeBob can't wait to get in his garden. He decides to plant some hypoallergenic flowers so Squidward can enjoy them, but every time he turns his back, someone eats them. The offender is a wild seahorse, who SpongeBob tames and names Mystery. The pair become the best of friends, playing piggy back and shopping for silly hats together, but something unspeakable happens to Mystery when SpongeBob rides her to work.

When hapless surfer fish Scooter sees Mystery tied up outside the Krusty Krab, he mistakes her for something else. "Hey, look, Mr. Krabs put in a kiddie ride," he tells his friend, Wobbles, who encourages him to try it out. He wants to, but there's just one problem. "I can't find the coin slot," Scooter complains. He manages to put that coin somewhere (mercifully, it happens off-screen), and Mystery clearly isn't impressed. She kicks Scooter, who lands dozens of feet away with a huge explosion. Maybe next time he'll think before he inserts his coin into the first slot he finds.

The time Mr. Krabs went on a panty raid

Mr. Krabs isn't a 1950s frat boy, so he really has no business going on a panty raid, but that's exactly what the owner of the Krusty Krab does in the season three episode "Mid-Life Crustacean." As the title of the episode hints, Mr. Krabs is starting to get a little anxious about getting older. He wakes up listening to a radio station called K-OLD, struggles to swallow his daily pill, and gets overtaken by a much younger fish on his way to work. He's pretty down by the time he arrives at his burger joint, which doesn't go unnoticed by SpongeBob.

Being a good employee, SpongeBob enlists Patrick's help, and the two take Mr. Krabs out so he can feel young again. Sadly, he isn't feeling it. The hapless pair only succeed in annoying Mr. Krabs, who's about to go home when Patrick tells him that he'll miss the panty raid if he does. "We're panty professionals," Patrick tells the skeptical crustacean as they climb through a window and sneak over to a dresser. "You've finally come through for me boys," Mr. Krabs yells as he holds a pair of bloomers aloft ... and that's when his mother walks in. The fact that SpongeBob tells Mr. Krabs that they "score here all the time" as they break into his mother's house makes this even creepier.

Only adults are going to notice the joke about the soap

The season two episode "Gary Takes a Bath" contains a joke that's been done to death in shows made for adults, but it's not one that regularly pops up in kids TV and for obvious reasons. The episode puts SpongeBob in a position that most pet owners can sympathize with. It's bath time in the pineapple under the sea, but Gary doesn't want to play ball. SpongeBob tries every trick in the book to get his meowing snail into the tub, even offering up a "crisp dollar bill for the next fella to take a bath in this house." That backfires when the avaricious Mr. Krabs shows up and claims the prize.

When all else fails, SpongeBob concocts an elaborate ruse involving an old pirate map that he claims shows the location of a treasure chest hidden in the house. He leads Gary to the bathroom, but the soap-shy snail isn't convinced. "Why, no Gary, this isn't the bathtub, it's treasure," SpongeBob says, holding out two bars of soap. "Look, doubloons. Don't drop 'em!" Most adult viewers would've surely picked up on the fact that SpongeBob just made a joke about prison rape, even without the cheeky wink that he tacks on the end.

The suicidal fish that became a meme

SpongeBob and Patrick are transported to 12th-century Bikini Bottom in the season four episode "Dunces and Dragons," which contains a very grown-up gag that most likely wouldn't get past Nickelodeon execs today. The two buddies are sent back in time following a jousting accident at themed-restaurant Medieval Moments, but before that happens, they encounter a suicidal employee. Upon entering the establishment, SpongeBob and Patrick are greeted by a costumed worker who clearly isn't very satisfied with his job. When the employee fails to speak in Olde English, SpongeBob corrects him, saying, "Excuse me, my good man, I believe thou meant to say, 'Righteth this wayeth.'"

Patrick and SpongeBob run away giggling, but the fish doesn't find it funny. In fact, the incident pushes him to the brink. He puts his spear to his neck, then, with a resigned sigh, changes his mind. "Someday," he says to himself, "but not today." That's pretty dark for a kids' show. Older fans loved it, however, and the moment became a popular meme, used to signify that you're at your wits end about something.

Suicide is, of course, no joke. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

See you next Tuesday, Mrs. Puff

The season two episode "No Free Rides" opens at the Bikini Bottom Boating School, where SpongeBob is trying to earn his license. His optimism doesn't match his ability, however, and the porous protagonist ends up scoring six out of a possible 600 on his test, as he's been heavily penalized for knocking down numerous pedestrians. SpongeBob being SpongeBob, he doesn't let his failure get him down. "Don't worry, I'll be all right, Mrs. Puff," he tells his unimpressed instructor. "Besides, this means that I get to be in your class for a whole 'nother year!" He slams his fist down in determination, doing yet more damage and causing Mrs. Puff to inflate.

There's nothing overly adult about the scene up until this point, but when SpongeBob is about to leave, he says something that no doubt makes grown-up viewers chuckle. "See you next Tuesday," he tells Mrs. Puff. This would obviously go right over the heads of the vast majority of kids in the audience, but it's a well-known backronym for the C-word. How does Mrs. Puff react? She quickly invents some extra credit to get SpongeBob onto the roads and out of her hair. "Thank you, SpongeBob," she says as she ushers him to the door. "Congratulations and have a nice life!"

SpongeBob SquarePants is making jokes about 'that time of the month'

The professional rivalry between Mr. Krabs and Plankton heats up in the season five episode "Spy Buddies," with the former hiring SpongeBob and Patrick to spy on the latter. The owner of the Krusty Krab becomes suspicious when he realizes that his scheming competitor hasn't tried to steal the secret Krabby Patty formula in over a month, and he wants SpongeBob to compile a report on whatever it is that Plankton is inevitably plotting. Naturally, they're terrible spies. In fact, SpongeBob and Patrick follow their target so closely that they accidentally set him on fire with a magnifying glass.

Angry about being spied on, Plankton sends a huge blimp to the Krusty Krab to blast out annoying music, hoping to drive away Mr. Krabs' customers. "Is it dark?" the confused crustacean asks Squidward when the massive red blimp ominously engulfs the Krusty Krab in its shadow. "I think I put off my cataract surgery too long." Squidward lets his boss know what's really happening, and in doing so, he makes a not-so-subtle gag about females. "No, Mr. Krabs, it's that time of the month." Yes, Squidward made a period joke.

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