5 Weird Questions With Surprisingly Interesting Answers
Ever had a weird, dumb question pop into your head for no reason? You know there's an answer out there somewhere, but it's not so important that you have to drop what you're doing and research it right goddamn now. Well, I'm one of those weirdos who has to have these questions answered right goddamn now, or they will gnaw at my brain until it catches on fire from eat-friction. Unfortunately, I get those all the time. Fortunately, I can at least weave them into my career and educate the world in a way they never asked for in the process. For example ...
Why Is The McFlurry Machine Always Broken?
A little over half of my attempts to get a McFlurry have been denied. If the McDonald's employee had squeezed my love handles and made pig sounds, then this wouldn't be such a mystery. But instead they give an explanation that perfectly tows the line between useless and substantive, forcing me to give up and screech away from the drive-thru in a huff. They say the McFlurry machine is "down." The damn thing breaks more often than a former child actor with a heroin addiction. I guess McFlurry machines are planks of balsa wood barely held together by the faint hope of being able to actually dispense a McFlurry one day. They're piles of substandard materials and glue and dreams.
Turns out McFlurry machines aren't so much poorly built hunks of shit as they are filthy, disgusting vats of bacteria which require daily cleanings so vigorous and time-consuming that it probably isn't even worth keeping them on the menu. We should've known that coming into this, though. Of course the machine that distributes the tastiest things in the world would be literal swamps.
Every day, the machines have to go through a four-hour heat-cleaning cycle that's broken down into 11 parts. The process involves, among many other steps, "combining a sanitizing mix with warm water, removing and rinsing seven parts, brushing clean two fixed parts for 60 seconds and wiping down the machine with a sanitized towel." When your entire business is based around "We get you your food before you're even done saying your order," this is definitely a McFlurry wrench in the Value Meal gears.
They have to strip the entire machine down to its atoms, scrub each nucleus with a fine sasquatch-hair brush, then jigsaw puzzle that shit back together like a soldier reassembling a rifle to rebuild a device nearly as deadly. The cleaning process is usually triggered during off-peak hours, or whenever the drive-thru employee sees me pull in.
But none of this is to say that McFlurry machines aren't poorly built hunks of shit, because they are. One McDonald's franchise consultant conducted a study which showed that there's a 25 percent chance that if a McDonald's isn't serving ice cream or ice-cream-related menu items, it's because the machines just stopped working like they're also getting paid minimum wage.
There is some good news: McDonald's has heard the complaints, and they're finally going to replace the old, busted-ass McFlurry machines with ones that don't come with self-destruct buttons.
Can Insects Get Fat?
I've seen mosquitoes get fat off my blood and then had it turn into a crime scene when my delicious juices exploded everywhere with a smack. I can see their asses get plump with every gulp. But that's not the mosquito technically getting "fat" -- it's the equivalent of having a distended belly after a big meal. But are there flies out there having trouble dragging their saggy bug tits and double chins around after munching on discarded pastries? Are there ants feeling shame as they look at their expanding thorax in the mirror after eating a dropped French fry? Where are the fat insects? Can they even get fat?
Depends on the insect.
Diamondback moth caterpillars can alter their metabolism over generations to adjust to high-carb diets, turning their bodies into fat-burning furnaces. If a dragonfly is infected with a certain type of parasite, it'll start storing more fat around the muscles they use to fly. Struggling to fly means they can't defend themselves using their deadly "bumping enemies with their eyes" attack. Researchers also found that fat male dragonflies have less dragonfly sex, just in case you were super-duper curious about that.
And I was wrong, mosquitoes can get fat. They suck blood when they need protein to produce eggs. They normally eat plant nectar. One scientist / bored suburban nine-year-old hand-fed mosquitoes 'til half their dry weight was made up of fat. And then he made them dance.
The weight gain on some insects is hidden by their tough chitin exoskeletons. The fatter they get, the more their insides squeeze up against their own outsides. Imagine you get so fat that your pants don't fit anymore, but you can't take them off. You're forever stuck feeling like the Hulk's ten-foot-around thighs squeezed into Bruce Banners' size-32 jeans.
Do The Blind Need Ad Blockers?
At first, you'd think that blind people wouldn't use ad blockers, because they don't see the ads in the first place. But it turns out they have the exact opposite problem. If you saw the rough drafts of my columns, you could tell which ones I've run through text-to-speech software by counting the lack of egregious grammatical errors. Hearing my writing out loud lets me catch those errors, because if I just try to proofread them, I become word-blind. Sometimes I'll copy the text off the preview page set up to look exactly like the text on the page you're reading now, ads and all. I'll inelegantly CRTL+A the whole thing and have the software read all the whales and seals that get caught in the fishing net of my highlight. So in the middle of my own writing, I'll hear about "17 Actors You Didn't Know Were Loaves of Wheat Bread -- #8 Will Get A Rise Out of You" or "She Had No Idea Why Men Kept Cheering Her On (Her Vagina Was Out)."
What isn't that big a deal for me must be a nightmare for the blind. Text-to-speech programs are one of the tools blind people use to peruse the internet. But what happens when there's an ad? Does the program indiscriminately read everything, ads included? Can it distinguish between an ad and article text? Nope. They read everything. Here's a video of a vision-impaired woman demoing a screen reader program called JAWS:
Not everyone with a vision impairment likes the reader's voice to be speaking in tongues while dancing with venomous snakes. But even at normal speeds, reading The New York Times can be a pain in the ass:
Auto-playing videos are also a problem. You try listing to one voice at Formula One speeds and have a loud video cut in without shitting your pants. Sighted people can ignore the text of an ad, to the point where it might as well not even be there at all. But the visually impaired have to sit through it all, even random web trash like "Sign Up / Log in" and "Join Our Mailing List."
So it makes sense that the guy who created AdBlock has blind people thanking him for making their internet surfing experience less cacophonous.
Why Are Donut Boxes In Movies Always Pink?
I'm always disappointed that I haven't eaten donuts out of a bright pink box like in every movie and show that I've ever seen a box of donuts in. I just assumed the box was a generic Hollywood prop that was used all the time, like those fake newspapers or bottles of Heisler Beer, the favorite beer of every TV character. Some stingy producer who blew the last of his production expenses on a tall nonfat latte with a caramel drizzle enema didn't want to pay Dunkin' Donuts the licensing fee to show their logo on an empty box of donuts. He used a pink box once, it did its job of portraying the role of a tough-as-nails but big-hearted donut box, and every producer in history followed suit.
Pink donut boxes are a regional trend in Southern California, the birth canal from which most movies and shows slide, and they wouldn't exist if not for the Khmer Rouge, the regime responsible for orchestrating the Cambodian genocide in the mid-1970s. Oh. Oh my. I thought it was just going to be a "They showed up once in Godfather Part II and people just liked how they looked" kind of thing. That is ... umm ... oh my.
When the Khmer Rouge was exterminating everyone in sight, Cambodians hauled ass out of there. Many made Los Angeles their new home, where they opened donut shops, of all things. One of them was named Ted Ngoy. He was an immigrant, an astoundingly good businessman, and a gambling addict who lost a bunch of his donut stores in bad bets. And holy shit, did he own a lot of donut shops. He had shops all over Los Angeles County, each staffed with fellow Cambodian immigrants.
Before Ted, donuts in LA came in standard white, no-frills boxes. When he decided to save some money without getting skimping on ingredients, he asked his supplier, Westco, if they had cheaper boxes. They had a bunch of cheap pink card stock lying around that could perfectly house a dozen donuts. Word of how cheap the bright pink boxes were quickly spread from one Cambodian-owned donut shop to another throughout LA, and then into Texas and Arizona.
So whenever a film production needed their characters to be from New York but they're filming in LA, to hold a box of donuts, Prop Masters would hand actors the bright pink boxes Ted popularized, not realizing New Yorkers don't eat donuts from pink boxes. They have to wrestle them away from big rats off of taxi cab floors, because everything's tougher in New Yaw'k.
How Do Movies And Shows Get Newborn Babies For Delivery Scenes?
There's a very specific shriveled and red newborn baby look. Wailing infant chic, if you will. When a woman in a movie gives birth and the kid doesn't look like a dried chili, you know it's a one-month-old unconvincingly playing a one-second-old. But how does getting a newborn on screen even happen? What parents are going directly from the hospital to set? "I know that we just had this thing, like, 30 minutes ago, but could someone make it a star real quick?"
Putting newborns in entertainment is surreal. The baby has to be no younger than 15 days old to be in a movie. That's when doctors say babies have developed enough to not be floppy lumps of flesh that can fall apart at any second. If that authentic newborn look is absolutely required, they'll use twins or triplets, which aren't just useful because child labor laws in Californian only allow a baby onset for four hours and to only work for 20 minutes at a time. Twins and triplets are often born premature, which keeps them looking like newborns even after the 15-day barrier. Filming with premature babies is illegal in California, but it's cool in 18 other states.
Parents, I know you've just experienced the trauma of wondering if your babes will survive their stint in incubators, but if by the grace of God they survive, they can be movie stars before their fontanelles fully harden. Ka-ching. That's the sound of your preemie payday.
In the movie Knocked Up, they wanted to film a real woman giving birth to a real baby during the delivery scene, but legally couldn't for the best reason for anything I've ever heard: Since the baby would be in the process of being born at the time of filming, it wouldn't be a member of the Screen Actors Guild. People can't get their SAG cards in utero. Not to mention it violates the "must be at least 15 days old" rule.
And then there's the matter of all that vaginal slime newborns are coated in during birthing scenes, which I'm sure has a more delicate, technical name, but "vaginal slime" is more colorful, so I'm going with that. I imagined it would be a special goop whipped up by visual effects masters in a fit of creative inspiration, like chefs in a kitchen going with the flow to create an exemplary new dish. It's not. Vaginal slime is sometimes a combination of grape jelly and cream cheese. Instead of going to makeup, they hand the baby over to the craft services people so that they can prepare the baby like a bagel.
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