Just Hand Over The Thin Mints And No One Will Get Hurt (Girl Scout Cookies)
We chew our way through the history of America's yearly calorie indulgence.

Yes, it’s finally here; that time of year when we grab our wallets and write out large checks in order to fulfill the demands of our families as well as support our national economy. But enough about tax season; let’s talk about Girl Scout cookies.

Mistletoe, Rudy, and Coconut Dream ripoffs

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The Girl Scouts of America first had the idea to sell cookies in order to ruin the diets of every living American back in 1917, when cookies were probably made out of sawdust and hope.[/x_pullquote]The Girl Scouts of America first had the idea to sell cookies in order to ruin the diets of every living American back in 1917, when cookies were probably made out of sawdust and hope. They were first sold by the interestingly named “Mistletoe Troop” in Oklahoma, who I’ll assume did not meet in the same room as the “Spin The Bottle” Boy Scouts. These cookies were not yet the familiar, calorie-bombed versions we love to binge-eat behind our spouse’s backs today, as the girls had to make their own cookies. The 1922 issue of the Girl Scout magazine “American Girl” was the first to feature an article on using cookie sales as a troop fundraiser, as well as a somewhat racy feature on why heartthrob Rudy Valentino was not only the cat’s pajama’s but just plain the duckiest. It wasn’t until 1936 that the national Girl Scout organization began using commercial bakeries, such as Keebler, to manufacture their cookies, although their elves complained bitterly that the Scout’s “Caramel deLites” were just a ripoff of their own Coconut Dreams cookie. Some 125 troops launched cookie sales that year, which consisted of a large task force of Peanut Butter Patties proceeding up the middle of the main battle line, with 20 elite tactical troops waving boxes of Thin Mints attacking from both sides, producing a pincer effect which essentially brought America to it’s gluttonous knees.

Mrs. Brubaker’s Motivational Enhancement Therapy

As incentives to sell, Girl Scouts are offered prizes such as coupons, stuffed animals, recognition, and the promise that they will not have to sell any more Girl Scout cookies for at least a year. Girls can also choose to earn money for their troop in order to pay for such things as uniforms because Mrs. Brubaker used the troop dues to support her yearly “Motivational Enhancement Therapy” in Vegas again. Each regional council sets the price for their cookies, which has led to some controversy as illegal cookie syndicates have sprung up between neighboring towns, with rival gangs of minivan-driving moms making midnight runs of Peanut Butter Patties to sell to cutthroat cookie brokers for a profit. This has the added benefit of teaching the girls the vital position of graft in our society. Today, Girl Scout Cookies are a $700 million empire, with sales of over 200 million cookie boxes a year, enough for every man, woman and child in the United States to contract Type 2 diabetes in a week.

Girl Scout Cookie facts

  • Until recently, the record for most cookies ever sold was set by Elisabeth Brinton, who sold 18,000 boxes in a single season while garnering 122 walks and only 23 strikeouts. She even sold cookies to then-President Ronald Reagan, who immediately made her Secretary of Commerce.
  • In 1943, Girl Scouts collected fat in cans in order to aid the war effort. Ironically, today it is the cookie customers who collect fat in their cans.
  • The most popular cookie variety is the Thin Mint (25% of overall cookie sales), which is used as currency in some Indonesian countries.
  • There is an (unsanctioned) variety of marijuana called “Girl Scout Cookies”, which can be grown only with the tears of a Brownie who didn’t get her merit badge in horticulture.
  • “Golden Yangles”, “Kookaburras”, “Golden Nut Clusters”, and “Van’Chos” are not slang terms for diseases the Army warns you about in their training films, but some of the many types of cookies which are no longer made.

So the next time you’re thinking about dieting, you silly overweight American, just remember that extra box of Thin Mints you hid under the fish sticks in the deep freeze when your spouse wasn’t looking. Remember, we’re here to help.

I Don’t Ever Not Care If I Don’t Never Not Get Back (Cracker Jack)
Stick around for a doolalley of a column on America's oldest snack.

Cracker Jack is a uniquely American snack surprisingly made from neither crackers nor jacks, but molasses-flavored popcorn and peanuts. It was invented in the late 19th century (Official Motto: “Anyone Want To Buy A Bunch Of Buggy Whips Cheap?”) by Frederick William Rueckheim, a Chicago popcorn vendor who developed the now closely-guarded secret method of keeping molasses-coated popcorn kernels from clumping together by [redacted by Frito Lay company], and that’s how babies are made. Fritz, as he was called, produced the first batch of his new confection in 1896, and trademarked the “Cracker Jack” name later that year. The name was taken after an unusually excited customer, after tasting it, proclaimed “that’s a crackerjack!”, which, not to drive you all doolally and take the gilt off the gingerbread, but at the time meant it was the cat’s meow of a dressed to the nine’s bee’s knees sitting in the catbird seat, by a long chalk. The name stuck like a hot glob of molasses on a doolally, and Cracker Jack began selling like hotcakes, albeit hotcakes made from peanuts and molasses-coated popcorn using the super-secret method of [redacted by Frito Lay company], and that’s how we beat the Nazis in the Big War. Fritz quickly registered the Cracker Jack name, along with the slogan “The More You Eat The More You Want,” which it obviously did not steal from the National School Lunch Association.

Save your sous for your grammatical hissy fit

Cracker Jack’s long association with the game of baseball began in 1908 when songwriting team Jack “No, Not The Cracker Kind” Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer wrote the song “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” containing the line “Ev’ry sou, Katie blew,” which even the hipsters and doolallies of the time didn’t get. But it also featured the line “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back,” which is now traditionally sung during a baseball game’s “Seventh Inning Stretch,” assuring that generations of stuffy ex-English teachers would throw a grammatical hissy fit because of its use of a double-negative. Nevertheless, the song has unmistakably cemented Cracker Jack and baseball together like a hot glob of molasses on a bee’s knee, and it is still as common a sight at ballparks across America as that drunk guy and his loud friends who always sit behind you at every game.

Hippo Vaughn and the Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs

One of the hallmarks of Cracker Jack that separate it from it’s rival candy-coated popcorn products such as Fiddle Faddle, Poppycock, Screaming Yellow Zonkers or Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs is not only that it surprisingly has the least ridiculous-sounding name, but its inclusion of a “prize” inside, although all you apparently have to do to “win” the prize is to be able to eat candy-coated popcorn and peanuts. Prizes were placed in boxes starting in 1912 and originally were called a “Toy Surprise,” because anyone discovering the “toy surprise” was “surprised” to find a baseball card was called a “toy.” However, if you happen to be an approximately 105-year-old boy with a 1915 Cracker Jack “Hippo Vaughn” card in mint condition, you could sell it for $15,000, provided you hadn’t already died from a mirth-induced heart attack from laughing at the name “Hippo.” Longtime fans of Cracker Jack have lamented the quality of the recent prizes, however, which have been reduced to stickers, paper puzzles and lame jokes that would make even Bazooka Joe cringe.

So next time you’re at the ballpark, remember to remember past remembrances by remembering to get some Cracker Jack, and enjoy the sweet caramel goodness of Fritz Rueckheim’s famous recipe made by [redacted by Frito Lay company] and then the robots will come to destroy us.

Photo Credit: JeepersMedia cc

Tree Sap, Science, and Bazooka Joe’s Real Name (Chewing Gum)
We ruminate on (but don't swallow) the history of our most favorite inedible hydrocarbon polymer.

Chewing gum is a soft, flavored confectionery designed for maximum adherence to minivan carpets. It is also used for freshening breath, blowing bubbles, popping bubbles in order to annoy coworkers, and for reminding smokers that their doctor was right: nicotine is really addictive.

Tree sap vs. Manilkara zapota van Royen

[x_pullquote type=”right”]The first gum chewers voluntarily put into their faces the same thing that sticks to our hands for a week after putting up a Christmas tree.[/x_pullquote]Varieties of substances have been chewed for enjoyment by humans for centuries: ancient man chewed aromatic twigs from trees, ancient woman then chewed ancient man for chewing twigs when he should have been hunting wild animals they could chew for food, while the wild animals in turn chewed ancient woman while ancient man was out not hunting them, completing the great, masticating circle of life. Then, somewhere around the mid 1860s, American John Bacon “Yes, That’s My Real Middle Name” Curtis and his exemplary 19th-century beard created and sold the first commercial chewing gum, which he named “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum”, an appropriate name considering IT WAS MADE FROM TREE SAP. Yes, the first gum chewers voluntarily put into their faces the same thing that sticks to our hands for a week after putting up a Christmas tree. Around that same time chicle, a rubbery tree sap made from the sapodilla tree, a member of the family Sapotaceae, known botanically as Manilkara zapota van Royen (syns. M. achras Fosb., M.) blah blah science was brought to the US by Mexican President General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de “Long Name” Lebrón. President Long Name gave the gummy sap to his former secretary Thomas Adams (not the Thomas Adams who was the Lord Mayor of London, or the son of U.S. President John Adams, or the Commander-in-Chief of India, or the English organist and composer, or the English bookseller and publisher, or the English Nottingham lace manufacturer and philanthropist, etc.). Adams first intended to use the substance as a replacement for rubber tires, but after realizing no one wanted to drive around on thin, pink wheels that popped every two feet and stuck all over your fenders, he naturally switched to using chicle to manufacture gum. He marketed this first product in 1871 as “Adams New York Chewing Gum” because the name “Most Boring Gum Name In The Universe” was already taken by the aforementioned “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum”, and soon gums such as Chiclets and Black Jack dominated the market.

The dawn of Dubble Bubble, plus: more science

The first successful gum designed specifically for blowing bubbles (previous test versions had caused hideous disfigurement) was invented by Walter Diemer for the Fleer company in 1928 (Official Motto: “Thanks a Lot For Warning Us About The Stock Market Crash, History”). Called “Dubble Bubble“, it was an immediate hit among school children because it deliberately misspelled “double” and their teachers couldn’t do a thing about it. The 1930s and 40s saw the replacement of chicle with synthetic substances; primarily hydrocarbon polymers such as styrene-butadiene rubber, isobutylene, isoprene copolymer, paraffin wax, blah blah more science. Although flavors and gimmicks, such as dental industry-mandated sugarless gum or bacon gumballs, have been added over the years, modern chewing gum has changed little since its inception, except for the parts about it coming from tree sap and tasting like tree sap and smelling like tree sap and sticking to your face like tree sap and also not being pink.

Chewing gum facts

    • The world’s oldest piece of chewing gum is over 9,000 years old. And, yes, it tastes horrible.
    • Chewing gum while cutting onions can keep you from crying. Conversely, chewing onions while cutting gum causes those around you to laugh uncontrollably.
    • If bubble gum gets stuck in your hair, congratulations! You’re not bald. You can remove it by rubbing the stuck gum with peanut butter. To remove the peanut butter, sprinkle cornstarch on the area and let stand for 15 minutes. To remove the cornstarch, dab it with chewing gum.
    • The largest bubble ever blown was 23 inches in diameter by Susan Williams of Fresno, California, who is still presumed to be floating somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
    • One of bubble gum’s most famous icons is Bazooka Joe, who, curiously, is actually armed with a Smith and Wesson Model 460V Revolver and whose real name was “Alphonse LeCribbage”.
    • The Topps card company began packing gum in their baseball card sets in order to teach kids about the dangers of chewing pink cardboard.
    • A common myth is that if you swallow chewing gum a watermelon will grow in your stomach. This, of course, is not true; watermelon’s grow in your pancreas. Swallowed gum is processed normally through the digestive system, where it is excreted and used to make circus peanuts.
Photo Credit: patrick_damiano cc

Come See The Best Thing Since Itself (The Bread Slicing Machine)
Taking a whack at history's most important invention (next to the cigarette umbrella).

In the pantheon of history there exists a singular crowning achievement, a kairotic moment if you will, or even if you won’t; a truly pivotal event in the unfolding saga that is this flowering enigma called mankind, so signaled by an invention exhibiting the pinnacle of American know-how, which has since proved to be the benchmark of and ultimate standard by which the greatness of all other things prior to the existence of the item in question is to be measured. Therefore, in order to justify that last amazingly protracted sentence, we’re going to spend some time learning about the bread slicing machine.

Sliced Kleen Maids and albino clown suits

[x_pullquote type=”right”] By 1930 Wonder Bread, the now-familiar baking company with the bags patterned after the suit of an albino clown, perfected the machine.[/x_pullquote]What the world was like before the invention of the bread slicing machine in 1928 we can only imagine, so we will: vast swaths of the country, flush with the promises of the burgeoning industrial revolution, ready to push forward in progress and improvement, yet shackled with the onerous task of having to slice their own bread every day. The psychological weight of the reminder that mankind was being ridiculed daily by uncut loaves of baked wheat may have been what pushed itinerant Iowa jeweler Otto Frederick Rohwedder to break the bread slicing barrier once and for all, or he may have just really wanted to make a little money. The bread slicing machine he invented was first used by the Chillicothe Baking Company in Chillicothe, Missouri in mid-1928 (Official Motto: “Wait; it’s going to be called ‘The Depression’? Well, okay.”) which was marketed their product as “Wrapped Sliced Kleen Maid Bread”, a name which for me conjures up a picture not so much of fresh, neatly cut bread but a torture movie plot featuring a domestic servant convention held in the ruins of a haunted bakery. By 1930 Wonder Bread, the now-familiar baking company with the bags patterned after the suit of an albino clown, perfected the machine and began to promote it as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” In the annals of baking history, if bakers keep annals, the slicing machine was a boon, assuming bakers also have boons, as they were now able to tout this new feature as the latest time saver in food, at least until someone invented that cheese you can spray directly into your mouth.

The greatest thing since…

Strangely, even more famous than this machine’s ability to mechanically segment a common baked good has been the phrase “The best thing since sliced bread.” After all, no one goes around saying “the best thing since those plastic nubbins on the end of your shoelaces that keep them from fraying“, or “the best thing since the spring-loaded pooper-scooper“, so why is the bread slicer held in such high esteem? One theory is that tired ad executives from 1968 who were working on a bakery account built a time machine in order to go back in history, plant the slogan, then return to their own time, where the phrase would now have become so popular they could claim it and knock off work for a three-cocktail lunch, but since this theory is one I just made up now it has not seen a lot of acceptance. Regardless, the phrase began to grow in popularity around the 50’s, and soon it became a catch phrase amongst mid-century Americans, who now had many things to call “great things”, such as the motorized surfboard or the cigarette umbrella. Cagey philosophers decided to get in on the action and began to posit complex metaphysical theories, such as “Is the bread sliced, or is it, through entropy, merely attempting to return to its prior temporal state of atomic disunity?”, upon which they were given a $200,000 grant to study wheat migration in Kansas. Other countries have since come up with similar phrases, with varying degrees of success. For example:

  • Germany: “The loaf! All hope of its prior mewling existence has been severed… and it is good.”
  • France: “There is nothing better than for the bread to be sliced, for it then means that the wine is not far behind.”
  • Mexico: “Give us your bread or we will slice you.”
  • China: “The People have determined things have always been perfectly good whether the bread has been sliced or not.”
  • Canada: [sound of someone hacking away at frozen bread] “I’m so hungry!”
  • North Korea: “Slicing the bread was such a great idea! I’m glad we thought of it first!”
  • Russia: “Bread? What bread?”

As for Otto, the original inventor, he commented in 1930 that “We are continuing our experimental and developmental work confident in the belief that the real possibilities of Sliced Bread have scarcely been scratched,” which leads me to believe that somewhere, maybe in a secret baking installation a mile underground somewhere in Nebraska, top-secret bread-slicing experiments involving nuclear fusion and mutant wheat are being conducted, in hopes of finally finding the answer to who actually eats those pieces on the ends of the loaf. So, hail, bread slicing machine, for your tireless machinations over the years have kept our wrists happy, our arms fit and ready to do our daily work, as we find our daily bread cut and waiting for us to burn in our toasters because we forgot about it because the coffee pot started to leak again.

All About Pizza (and 124,439 Red, Rusty 1992 Datsuns)
We slice up America's favorite food for teenagers and Ninja Turtles.

The word “pizza” was first documented in Gaeta, Italy in 997 AD, where it meant, loosely translated, “inedible cardboard wheel”. It’s origins are hard to determine, as various groups, such as the “Hut” tribe of Kansas and the “Domino” clan of Ypsilanti, all lay claim to it’s invention, if not it’s demise. Almost every civilization with access to bread and hot rocks had some form of ancient pizza, from Mediterranean focaccia bread to a Greek flatbread called plakous, but although similar, each had the common trait of not being called pizza. It wasn’t until the 16th century in Naples, Italy that it was referred to as “pizza”, and was considered primarily a dish for poor people who didn’t want to get out of their recliners to make some food because the game was on in 15 minutes. Early pizzas were actually sweet, and not savory, as indicated by Pellegrino Artusi‘s classic early twentieth century cookbook, La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene (“The Science and Art of Really Great Eats”), which had three recipes for pizza, all of which were sweet, meaning they were always gone by the time you got up to the buffet because that fat guy in the booth next to you beat you to them. What began to make pizza the familiar food it is today was the addition of tomato during the late 18th century. First attempts at this were clumsy, consisting of sticking a whole tomato in the center of the pizza, or wrapping the pizza around the tomato, or just desperately throwing a tomato at the pizza to see if it stuck, but eventually, someone figured out the concept of tomato paste, and everything went pretty smooth from there. Pizza made its way to the United States via Italian immigrants, not all of which necessarily said, “Hey-a! Try this-a new-a Italiano dish-a we brought-a!”, because that is a tired stereotype.

Fun facts

  • Americans eat an estimated 100 acres of pizza each day, or 350 slices per second. Canadians eat an estimated 75.4 hectares of pizza per megajoule or 298.6 slices Celsius.
  • Pizza Expo is the world’s largest pizza-only trade show, where you can catch events such as “Freestyle Acrobatic Dough-Tossing”, “Fumbling For Change In Sub-Zero Weather”, and “How To Egg The House Of The Frat Guys That Never Tip”
  • There are approximately 61,269 pizzerias in the United States, half of which have the name “Original”, “Famous”, or “Ray’s” in them.
  • 62 percent of Americans prefer meat toppings on their pizza. The other 38 percent are suspected to be communists.
  • Russians cover their pizza in “mockba”, a combination of sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon, and onions, which is why you never, ever see Russians kissing each other.
  • It is speculated that basic pizza began in prehistoric times, with bread cooked on hot, flat stones and covered in spoiled yak milk and bits of spiced saber-toothed rat, then delivered to your cave in 15 minutes or it was free.
  • Pizza Hut is the largest purveyor of pizza in the world, with over 12,500 restaurants employing 160,000 workers driving a fleet of 124,439 red, rusty 1992 Datsuns.
  • The world’s largest pizza was created on October 11, 1987. Measuring 140 feet across, it took 3 semi-trailer trucks to deliver to the house of Harold Shankstivers in Lumberton, New Jersey, who stiffed the drivers on the tip.

Wired Goats and Pooping Marsupials (Coffee)
Coffee drinkers of the world, arise! (Unless you're drinking decaf.)

Coffee is a brewed drink that, as you well know, is best made from the gathered excretions of certain Sumatran marsupials. So, we’re going to – wait, you didn’t know that? Well, here’s some more information for you to now know that you possibly didn’t before. (We’ll tell you more about the marsupial excretions, don’t worry.)

Chuck Taylor high tops and wired goats

[pullquote type=”right”]Most Americans fall into one of two groups, those who love coffee, and those who’ve worked at a Starbucks.[/pullquote]Most Americans fall into one of two groups, those who love coffee, and those who’ve worked at a Starbucks. But considering coffee is a multi-billion dollar industry built on the backs of subway commuters and Apple computer owners, it’s worth taking a look at where this bitter, brown liquid came from. The legend goes, as told by wizened coffee roasters late at night to wide-eyed roaster wannabes wearing Chuck Taylor high tops and wispy goatees, long ago in the Ethiopian highlands, Kaldi the shepherd noticed his goats, after eating berries from a certain tree, behaving energetically and unable to sleep that night. Since half of the goats were studying for midterms, they demanded that poor Kaldi find more of these magic energy berries to help them ace the Trig final, with maybe a little left over for a road trip to Addis Ababa. After reporting his find to the local monastery, the monks there discovered that a drink made from the berries helped them stay awake longer for evening prayers, and sometimes a few extra sessions of bingo. From there, the new drink spread east to Arabia, where it was named qahwah (“Super Energy Foaming Goat Berry Drink”)  and soon eclipsed the previous national drink, oil.

The devil and Pope Clement VIII

Coffee then spread to Italy, where, by the 17th Century (Official Motto: “Um, That Age of Enlightenment Can Kick In Any Day Now”) it had grown so popular that worried opponents began calling it the “bitter invention of Satan”. Satan, who had been actually been perfecting the recipe for Yoo-hoo, was caught off guard and immediately issued a rebuttal. Pope Clement VIII was just about to outlaw the drink when someone pointed out he’d been drinking decaf, whereby he then declared “This devil’s drink is so delicious…we should cheat the devil by baptizing it.” At which point there was the distinct sound of a rim shot followed by polite but subdued applause.

Tailgating and Tea Parties

Coffee reached North America during the Colonial period, where it was initially not as popular as it was in Europe, as alcoholic beverages remained the drink of choice (See: Tailgating, Frat Houses, Congressional Roll Call Votes, etc.). The famous Boston Tea Party in 1773 and the British tea embargo during the War of 1812 (Official Motto: “The One With That Music You Hear During Fourth Of July Fireworks; You Know, With The Cannons”), solidified coffee as America’s preferred hanging-out-after-the-movie-somewhere-drinking-hot-beverages-because-there-was-really-nothing-else-to-do drink.

Don’t forget the marsupial poop coffee

Oh, yes, the marsupial poop coffee. Well, you may have heard of the most expensive coffee in the world, which is carefully harvested by workers at Sumatran coffee plantations utilizing the excretions of the Asian palm civet after it ingests coffee beans. Apparently, these workers wait for this cat-ferret to decide to hit the men’s room and catch up on the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, and from there I don’t even want to think about it. Imagine the kind of factory needed to produce large amounts of this coffee; hidden in a Sumatran jungle somewhere, thousands upon thousands of squeaking marsupials pacing about in dank cages, probably being fed Pancheros carnitas burritos in order to increase their output, hoping that someday the caffeinated version of John Rambo will come to rescue them. Conversely, the world’s least-expensive coffee is made from the eliminations of Skokie, Illinois rats after ingesting the Folgers Country Roast coffee grounds they found in a landfill.

Coffee facts

  • In Yemen, the shards of an ancient coffee mug were found bearing the cuneiform inscription ”I don’t need Google; my wife knows everything.”
  • James Mason registered for the U.S. patent of the coffee percolator on December 26, 1865. He used it to attack the giant squid while playing Captain Nemo in the movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • The practice of adding sugar to coffee is considered to have started in 1715 by French monarch King Louis XIV, who was looking for a new way to really hack off the commoners.
  • Arabica coffee trees can produce up to 12 pounds of coffee per year, depending on climate, soil, and whether the coffee cartels are threatening the tree’s family.
  • In Japan, coffee shops are called Kissaten, which means, “Place to continually work on my first novel”.
  • Australians consume 60% more coffee than tea and 2000% more beer than coffee.
  • Coffee is commercially grown in over 45 countries throughout the world, all of which are required to have, somewhere, at least two Starbucks on opposite corners of each other.
  • Coffee, along with beer, peanut butter, worms on the sidewalk after a heavy rain, and Cinnabon shops in airports, is on the national list of the ten most recognizable odors.
  • There were over 200 coffee shops in Venice in 1763. Over three-quarters of them were Starbucks.
  • Coffee processing companies no longer throw the caffeine away after the decaffeination process; they now give it to children whose parents named them Gunner, Baird, River, Younique, and any name that ends with two”E”s.
Photo credit brokenarts cc