processed trivia roundup

Rounding up the trivial, featuring shapes, cheeses, cheese foods, enigmas of the mysterious, rogue mercenary teams, and false memory…

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1. We learned about the hot dog recall and the nacho cheese botulism outbreak. James L. Kraft got the first patent for processed cheese in 1916; the cheese was sliced, whisked, pasteurized, and emulsified, making it more resistant to spoiling, and thanks to the emulsifiers, it didn’t congeal then separate when it melted. It was a good time to crack the cheese code, since the US was about to enter the war, and the company made a mint supplying the Army. Kraft, predicting the future of globalization, wrote to his employees: “After we are gone there will be Kraft salesmen trekking the veldt of Africa, braving the snows of Siberia and battling the superstitions of Mongolia—all earnestly striving to increase sales, which by that time will be far in excess of a hundred million.” Natural cheese manufacturers, who got the short end of the economic stick, lobbied the government to force Kraft to label the product as “embalmed cheese” (no joke). That didn’t take, but they were forced to call it processed cheese.

Kraft Singles date to 1949. In 1992 the FTC forced the company to halt its ad campaign focusing on the amount of milk in each slice, which was deemed misleading. Cheez Whiz dates to 1952. Sometime around 2001, the formula was changed to reduce the amount of cheese in it. One of the original developers said that the original version  “went well at night with crackers and a little martini. It went down very, very nicely, if you wanted to be civilized.” The new version, he said, tasted like “axle grease.” Nothing is sacred.

Easy Cheese—a soft processed cheese mucilage extruded through a flexible nozzle—dates to 1965. Originally called Snack Mate and sold with the slogan “instant cheese for instant parties,” the name was changed in 1984. Besides being the apex of making convenience foods as far removed as possible from the foods they’re convenience-ing, thus forcing the consumer to confront and even participate in this disconnect, paying a crushing, alienating psychic cost for any savings in time and money, Easy Cheese relies on some pretty fun physics.

The cheese food product is essentially an oil-water emulsion that exhibits “pseudoplastic” behaviors while being extruded, as governed by the Herschel-Bulkley model. As a non-Newtonian fluid, Easy Cheese acts as a liquid when shear forces are applied to it—that is, while being extruded—and as a solid when the forces are removed. It returns quickly to a high viscosity state, and holds its shape after being expelled, thanks to “weak transient networks formed by the conglomerate cheese mass” and the “protein concentration within the cheese matrix.”

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2. The three types of triangles are right, isosceles, and scalene; the fourth type is BERMUDA. The concept of the Bermuda Triangle as some kind of mysterious sinkhole in which planes, ships, and people vanish without a trace dates back to around 1950. Theories abound about the supposed causes of these supposed disappearances, including magnetic anomalies or localized extreme weather; my favorite is that giant methane bubbles loosed by displacement of the continental shelves float to the surface, pop, temporarily decrease water density, and cause ships to sink. Not sure how that explains the planes, but that’s not my job. (For what it’s worth: most disappearances are easily explainable, and the frequency of accidents and mishaps in the triangle is no different than anywhere else).

Among the notable people to hypothesize about the ominous nature of the triangle was Ivan Sanderson, a naturalist and the man who invented the term “cryptozoology” whilst writing on similar topics. Sanderson claimed the Bermuda Triangle was just one of 12 “vile vortices” arranged in a pattern across the world, all of which were the source of mysterious disappearances due to strange magnetic and/or gravitational anomalies.

vile vortices

His other works were even better. His book Abominable Snowmen was first published in 1961, and is a definitive history of giant hairy ape legends and research, including chapter titles like “Sundry Objectionable Facts” and “Further Sasquatchery.” In Invisible Residents, Sanderson develops a theory about a race of advanced aliens that lives on the ocean floor, or possibly beneath it. The book is subtitled “The Reality of Underwater UFOs,” which makes me uncertain of the semantic status of the “F” in that acronym.

On the beach of Clearwater, Florida, in 1948, a resident found huge three-toed tracks, more than a foot long and nearly a foot wide. They came up out of the water, walked for two miles with long strides, then re-entered the water. The tracks kept appearing; residents began referring to the beast as “Old Three Toes.” Eventually Sanderson went down to take a look. After months of investigation, he concluded that the tracks had been made by a 15-foot tall penguin, clearly a relict animal, an evolutionary dead end stranded out of its habitat. What else could it be, he said—engineers estimated that 1000 pounds of force would be required to make impressions that deep. Sanderson died in 1973, and it wasn’t until 1988 that “Florida man” Tony Signorini came forward to admit his hoax. He’d crafted a pair of 30-pound metal feet. The 15 foot penguin was never found.

The gargantuan beast of Clearwater, honest and true

3. Some notes on the A-team, reprinted from a prior roundup: Speaking of breaking people out of mental institutions, The A-Team ran for 5 seasons and 98 episodes, premiering after the Super Bowl in 1983 and lasting until 1987. The show’s iconic opening narration best describes it:

Here’s the thing: the “crime they didn’t commit” thing is some bullshit. The backstory, finally revealed in season 4, is that the A-Team were special ops in Vietnam and had been ordered to rob the bank of Hanoi. In that old spy-genre cliche, their commanding officer was murdered and HQ burned, leaving no record of their orders. So they are court-martialed, escape from the aforementioned maximum security stockade to the aforementioned LA underground, and live as mercenaries. OK, but they actually did commit the crime. The A-Team were war criminals. I feel so lied to.

Going by memory, the bulk of each episode is taken up by some combination of a) breaking Murdock out of a mental hospital, 2) tricking Mr. T into drinking a glass of drugged milk to get him onto a plane, d) suave conman Templeton “Face” Peck spitting game, often successfully, at the only woman on that week’s show, or 5) developing an elaborate costume for Hannibal. I was never clear on how Murdock can be in a government mental institution while the entire team is lamming from…the government.

Hannibal in costume

One of the more interesting critical takes on The A-Team is that it represents the culmination of normalizing the Vietnam War in American culture. Following critical, trenchant works like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, The A-Team is unambiguous jingoistic wish-fulfillment: the brash, irascible good guys heroically fighting against murky, bureaucratic authority figures and winning the day. The violence is sanitized (actual death and serious injury are rare, despite the show’s predilection for gun play and car crashes), and so is the morality (and so is Murdock’s severe mental illness, for that matter). Incidentally, that review is from Mary Harron, who would go on to direct American Psycho, which is of note inasmuch as it uses incredibly unsanitized violence to satirize the normalization of greed and amorality in the very Reagan’s America where the A-Team operates.

Best A-Team episode titles: Mexican Slayride (wonderfully, this was the pilot), The Maltese Cow, Say it with Bullets, Chopping Spree, Lease with an Option to Die, Bullets and Bikinis, The Rabbit who ate Las Vegas, and Mission of Peace.

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4. So we learned the show was called Sex and the City, not sex IN the city. The and/in confusion is an oft-cited example of the Mandela effect, in which people have a sort of collective false memory about some past event—such as, for example, the vast numbers of people who remember Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s. Examples of these conflicting memories about: was it the Berenstein Bears or the Berenstain Bears? Fruit Loops or Froot Loops? Oscar Mayer or Oscar Meyer? Was there a movie with Sinbad as a genie called Shazam, which was distinct from a movie with Shaq as a genie called Kazaam? Did the Monopoly guy have a monocle?

There’s an entire internet subculture devoted to it, and the theory du jour is that these collective eidolons happen because timelines from different dimensions/universes intersect and merge. So you might have grown up on a timeline where it was the berenstAin bears, but that has now merged with the timeline where it was berenstEin bears, making you feel like a lunatic for remembering something that didn’t exist.

The internet connects us all: vast stockpiles of information at our fingertips, instant communication, that app that identifies bird songs. It also manages an alchemical transmutation of a mundane realization—”Weird, I thought it was the berenstAin bears. Huh”—into a cosmic philosophy of omni-universal mindfucks (everyone trust me on this, I’m a brain scientist: memory is fallible and reconstructive. Don’t trust it as far as you can throw it). Luckily no such confusion exists about my thriving segway tours business:


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