The iconic, cream-filled dessert is as familiar to millions as a nursery rhyme, but its cosmic aura -- not to mention its ingredients -- remains as mythical, if not mystical, as science fiction.
The critical question: Can the squishy yellow snack -- once wrongly rumored to be able to survive for years on a shelf -- survive the impending death of its equally-famous maker, Hostess Brands?
Answer: Probably. Ditto for Ho-Hos. And Ding-Dongs. And perhaps even those pink, coconut-coated Hostess Sno Balls that left millions of hands sticky and mouths tingling. These, after all, are iconic brands whose cultural value far exceeds their slumping sales.
None moreso than Twinkie.
"Twinkies were the rock stars of the 60s," says Barbara Lippert, pop culture guru and columnist for Mediapost.com. "Everyone still delights in the word and thoughts of the golden orbs, but do you know anyone who eats them?"?
Millions used to. Daily. For a generation of Baby Boomers, Twinkies were as much a lunch-box necessity as a Thermos filled with Kool-Aid, a bag of Fritos and a bologna sandwich between two slices of sister brand Wonder Bread.
"What Hostess makes were the major food groups that constituted lunch for millions of kids," says Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University.
That's probably not what James Alexander Dewar, a baker at Continental Baking Company, had in mind back in 1930, when he created the cream-filled snack that he dubbed Twinkie -- supposedly after the "Twinkle Toe Shoes" that were sold at the time.
Never mind that Twinkies were originally made with banana cream. During World War II, bananas were rationed, so the company had to quickly come up with a substitute. The vanilla cream it used, instead, became so popular, that banana flavor never returned.
By the 1950s, Twinkies became a national staple as the brand became a sponsor of the hit Howdy Doody television show.
"The fundamental roots of Baby Boomers was this: We are what we eat. And we ate a lot of Twinkies and Wonder Bread," says Thompson.
But Baby Boomers stopped right there. Concerned about unpronounceable ingredients and preservatives in Twinkies, they didn't pass them along to their kids.
The way registered dietitian Jo Ann Hattner figures it, whoever buys the Twinkie brand will likely try to make it more nutritionally acceptable. She envisions some savvy marketer changing the source of the sugar or lowering the saturated fat, or making the filling organic.
"Call it Twinkie 2.0," she smirks.
But the nutrition instructor at Stanford University says that's silly. "To me, they're iconic," she says. "I don't know how you'd change it into a healthful state without it losing its identity."
Above all, says Thompson, that is what's led to the slow, painful death of the Twinkie.
Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky, Twinkie, Twinkie little star, how we wonder what you are.