Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Review: Doritos 3D Crunch Chili Cheese Nacho

After many years in snack purgatory, 3D Doritos have returned, with a Spicy Ranch version hitting store shelves alongside this one, bringing some extra spice to the familiar hollow triangular snack that was last seen in a Nacho Cheesier flavor. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 30, 2020 at 02:08PM

Review: Doritos 3D Crunch Spicy Ranch

The three-dimensional version of Doritos was a fan favorite years ago, and like many fan favorite snacks, it got discontinued. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 30, 2020 at 01:38PM

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Review: Tailfins

These snacks looked like an obvious Goldfish knockoff, but it also appeared that they did Goldfish one better, with three fish shapes instead of one — and far more interesting shapes, at that. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 29, 2020 at 05:27PM

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review: Reese's Snack Cake

The two snack cakes were both shapes like bars, with flat surfaces and right angles all around, fully chocolate on the outside. ...

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by December 23, 2020 at 11:08AM

Friday, December 18, 2020

Review: Pea Crackers Kimchi Jjigae

The spiral snacks in this bag of Pea Crackers had looked mostly like the other flavors and promised Kimchi Jjigae flavor, representing not just the first snack we've reviewed with that flavor, but the first word I've ever seen that had the letter J repeated twice to start the word. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 18, 2020 at 05:05PM

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Review: Betty Crocker Star Wars The Mandalorian Fruit Flavored Snacks

I'm a Star Wars fan, but I haven't seen any episodes of The Mandalorian -- yet I've still been unable to escape the hype around Baby Yoda. ...

from Snack Reviews
by December 17, 2020 at 06:20AM

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

How Cap’n Crunch Gave the World the iPhone and the Surprisingly Heated Debate Over Whether He’s Really a Captain

Anyone who has seen Mad Men knows that the 1960s in America were a time of unmitigated consumerism. Advertising was largely unregulated—a fact that continues to influence certain industries. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the cereal aisle. Several mainstays of the canonically fuzzy cereal multiverse have their origins in the Wild West period of children’s marketing: Lucky the Leprechaun, Toucan Sam, and, of course, the infamous, mouth-mutilating Cap’n Crunch. While he may seem like any other innocent mascot, Cap’n Horatio Magellan Crunch is a man of mystery and intrigue. He has been subject to U.S. naval investigation, helped give the world the iPhone, and his dog may be implicated for manslaughter.

Interestingly enough, Cap’n Crunch was also around before the cereal that bears his name was even finished, with flavorist Pamela Low still working on the product while Quaker Oats was already done with the marketing side. As to that flavor, Low, who by the way was also involved with the development of Almond Joy and Mounds, as well as the Heath bar, states she was attempting to come up with that ineffable quality known as “want more-ishness” with this particular product. Towards this end, she tried to mimic something close to a brown sugar, butter and rice concoction her grandmother used to make her as a child. Once she had the flavor nailed, the product was launched and the world got the Cap’n, and really sore gums.

As for the Cap’n, one might assume that a great deal of research went into designing the saccharine sailor’s uniform, but they would be incorrect. The U.S. Navy follows a strict code defining how uniforms are to reflect rank. The most readily apparent way for the general public to identify a captain would be the number of stripes displayed on an individual’s sleeve. Per regulation, captains wear four stripes, commanders three, lieutenants two, and ensigns one, with additional thinner stripes for grades between. This is where the question of Mr. Crunch’s proper rank becomes uncertain. Over the years, he has variously appeared with anywhere from one to three stripes. Even when apparently serving as Ensign Crunch, however, he has continued to erroneously make use of the title Cap’n.

The idea that the S.S. Guppy may be helmed by a spokescharacter of fabricated credentials caused enough of an uproar among the fan base that the question was posed to the United States Navy. In a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty explained that “our personnel records do not show a ‘Cap’n Crunch’ who currently serves or has served in the Navy.” More ominously, Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello told the Wall Street Journal that, “We have notified NCIS.”

Such flagrant disregard for regulations would carry serious implications. There are different laws for civilians and military personnel, so the outcome would depend on whether or not Mr. Crunch is actually employed as a member of the armed forces, which might be the case if he were, say, operating under a pseudonym. According to Article 106 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, disciplinary action for impersonating an officer can include court martial, fines, and imprisonment. For civilians, the issue is a bit soggier.

A number of laws have been written (and rewritten) in an attempt to clarify what comprises a criminal act of impersonation. One of the most recent is the 2013 Stolen Valor Act, which targets those attempting to gain tangible benefits through falsely claiming certain honors. Unfortunately for anyone eager to prosecute Mr. Crunch, that law is written around a list of medals and other specific recognitions (such as the Medal of Honor), none of which have appeared on the milky mariner’s outfit. At most, Cap’n Crunch might be tried under 18 U.S. Code § 912, which would see him serving at least three years in prison. Alternatively, his outfit’s general resemblance to that of high-ranking naval officers could be argued under 10 U.S. Code § 771, which makes it illegal to wear “a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps.”

The Cap’n and Quaker both responded to the public outcry by noting that he does not claim to be a “captain,” but rather a “Cap’n.” The company then made the argument that “We don’t feel [the fourth stripe is] necessary—the Cap’n is after all a Cap’n, as he mans the S.S. Guppy… And it’s the crunch, not the clothes, that make the man!”

As to that uniform, it very closely resembles the uniform worn by George Dewey- the only person in U.S. history to attain the rank of Admiral of the Navy. That same interest in maritime history is perhaps why Cap’n Crunch’s arch nemesis is a pirate named Jean LaFoote, based on a real-life Frenchman named Jean Lafitte, who among other things in his life was a smuggler, spy, pirate, and, interestingly enough, critical to the U.S.’ success in the war of 1812, when he used his not so little smuggling fleet to aid Andrew Jackson and co. during the Battle of New Orleans. The price for that help was full pardons for himself and his men, though he would later continue his nefarious ways with great success anyway.

In any event, shortly after the inception of Cap’n Crunch, audiences were introduced to his canine first mate, Sea Dog, and a crew of children who ostensibly serve aboard the S.S. Guppy in a labor arrangement that is, at best, questionable. Team Crunch was forever at odds with the villainous Jean LaFoote who was forever trying to steal the Guppy’s store of Cap’n Crunch. The sugary breakfast treat, that is, not the Cap’n himself—LaFoote expressed little interest in kidnapping. The barefoot brigand would eventually receive his own line of cereal in 1973 called Cinnamon Crunch.

Things changed dramatically for the pirate in June 25th, 2012, when LaFoote live tweeted a caper that went horribly awry. The buccaneer somehow managed to take control of the S.S. Guppy only to realize that he did not know how to steer the ship. Sea Dog then took hold of his leg. Six minutes later, fearing for his life and already apparently injured by the dog’s attack, LaFoote tweeted that he was going to jump overboard. As of 2020- a full eight years later- this is still the last tweet sent by LaFoote and it remains unclear whether or not the swashbuckler still lives.

Curiously, Jean LaFoote was not the only pirate to stem from Cap’n Crunch’s legacy, and two others who took up the mantle are now household names the world over.

As to those others, for much of breakfast cereal history it was common to find a prize inside certain boxes in order to appeal to children, not unlike why McDonald’s includes toys in their happy meals- kids will come for the cheap toy, regardless of whether they actually liked the food product. One such prize was offered by Cap’n Crunch in the 1960s: a seemingly innocuous whistle. Styled after naval bo’sun whistles used to transmit orders on a sea vessel, the plastic instrument happened to be able to produce a tone at exactly 2600 hertz. This is important because AT&T phone systems functioned on a series of tones that indicated which line was to perform a given action. Producing the right tone at the right time gave one control over part of the system, such as the ability to make free long-distance calls.

The culture that grew around learning to manipulate this infrastructure became known as “phreaking.” One of the most important phreakers was John Draper, who was not coincidentally aliased “Captain Crunch”, thanks to the aforementioned whistle. Moving beyond whistles and instruments, Draper, along with several others, ultimately constructed what came to be known as “blue boxes”- devices capable of emitting the various tones necessary to take advantage of AT&T phone lines in various ways.

Phreaking was arguably the beginning of what would later develop into the computer hacking subculture. Among the members of this burgeoning group were two young men who were inspired by John “Cap’n Crunch” Draper, sought him out, and learned his whistling ways. Of course, these two took it a step further when one of them realized that they could monetize the concept.

Their names were, of course, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, who created their first business together making these blue boxes, which were incredibly valuable not just for prank and free calls, but also to criminals the world over thanks to the fact that the free calls could be made in such a way as to be incredibly difficult to trace.

As Jobs explained, you could use the device to call “from a payphone and go to White Plains, New York, take a satellite to Europe, take a cable to Turkey, come back to L.A…. You can go around the world 3 or 4 times and call the payphone next door and shout in the phone and it would be about 30 seconds and it would come out the other phone.”

As to their initial exposure, Jobs explained in a 1995 interview,

“We were so fascinated by them (blue boxes) that Woz and I figured out how to build one. We built the best one in the world; the first digital blue box in the world.  We would give them to our friends and use them ourselves.  And you know, you rapidly run out of people you want to call.  But it was the magic that two teenagers could build this box for $100 worth of parts and control 100’s of billions of dollars of infrastructure in the entire telephone network in the whole world…

Experiences like that taught us the power of ideas.  The power of understanding that if you could build this box, you could control 100’s of billions of dollars around the world, that’s a powerful thing.“

Of course, the two stopped making the boxes after they were nearly caught by the police.  Incidentally, the aforementioned Draper wasn’t so lucky and served a five year jail sentence, though briefly worked at Apple before being given the boot as most everybody at Apple couldn’t stand Draper except, according to Wozniak, Wozniak himself.

In any event, despite giving up on the venture, Woz and Jobs reportedly made about $6000 selling the blue boxes and Wozniak claims he once was able to prank call the Pope, posing as Henry Kissinger.  The Pope unfortunately was sleeping at the time, so he wasn’t able to talk to him directly.

Summing up their first business venture, Jobs stated in the aforementioned 1995 interview, “If we wouldn’t have made blue boxes, there would have been no Apple.”

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

  • When Steve Jobs briefly worked for Atari, he was given the task of trying to reduce the number of chips in the arcade game Breakout as much as possible. The task was a bit over his head, but as he’d done before and would go on to do throughout his life, he demonstrated great business savvy and ability to exploit other people for his own gain by giving the job to his much more technically skilled friend, Wozniak.  He offered Wozniak 50% of his earnings from Atari for taking the job.  Wozniak then did it, reducing the number of chips by an astounding 50, meaning the total earnings for the job were $5000 ($100 per chip removed was Atari’s offer).  They then paid Jobs the agreed upon $5000.  Jobs proceeded to give Wozniak $350, stating that Atari had decided to only pay Jobs $700 for the job.  Ten years later, when Wozniak learned of this, he wasn’t upset, but said even if Jobs had told him at the time, he’d have been happy to have given Jobs the lion’s share of the earnings even though Woz did all the work, as he knew Jobs needed money at that time and he was a friend.  This would set a trend in their relationship, though, Woz doing the work and Jobs taking the credit and the lion’s share of the money. As Wozniak said, “Steve didn’t ever code. He wasn’t an engineer and he didn’t do any original design…”  Another friend of Jobs’, Daniel Kottke, said, “Between Woz and Jobs, Woz was the innovator, the inventor. Steve Jobs was the marketing person.”  But, to be fair, Jobs was one hell of a marketer and without him, Woz probably would have just had a nice career working at HP his whole life.  Jobs even had to work at prying Woz away from HP even as their company grew, simply because Woz loved working there.
Expand for References

Pamela Low

Bob Reinhart

Jay Ward

Mr. Breakfast on the Cap’n

Naval history

U.S. Navy ranks

Navy spokesperson on Crunch controversy

NCIS to investigate Crunch

Death of Jean LaFoote

Cap’n responds to criticism

Impersonating an officer

Stolen valor

Part of a uniform still illegal

Cereal mascot eye contact with children

Jean LaFoote’s Cinnamon Crunch

Jean Lafitte

The Art of the Advertising Character

Crunch Whistles and hackers

The post How Cap’n Crunch Gave the World the iPhone and the Surprisingly Heated Debate Over Whether He’s Really a Captain appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Jared Miracle - December 02, 2020 at 05:48PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

That Time Colonel Sanders Tried to Kill the Competition by Literally Trying to Murder the Manager of the Competition

Born September 9, 1890 in Henryville, Indiana, Harland Sanders’ wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon. His father passed away when he was six and his mother had to work several jobs to make ends meet. Because of this, he was tasked with looking after his two younger siblings and taking care of the home, which is where his passion and skill at cooking first began.

From here, needing to help provide for the family, he entered the workforce at the age of ten as a farmhand making two dollars (about $60 today) per month. At 15, he was working on a streetcar, taking fares and making change. When he was 16, he went looking for adventure and forged documents saying he was of age to enter the Army. He ultimately served for three months in Cuba before being honorably discharged.

After this, he made his way to Alabama and over the next twenty plus years worked at variety of jobs including railroad worker, insurance salesmen, country lawyer, Ohio River steamboat ferry operator, a tire salesman, fireman, and secretary to the Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Indiana. At the end of this, for six years he was the operator of a gas station- his longest tenured job- before it was closed due to the Great Depression…

And so it was that in 1930, at the age of 40, broke, and having already failed several times in the workforce, he made his way to Corbin, Kentucky where the Shell Oil Company agreed to allow him and his family to live at a recently built gas station if he would help run it.

This brings us to the story of the hour- that time the Colonel got in a gun fight with a rival gas station worker resulting in the death of one of those involved.

So what happened? It all started with an advertising sign.

You see, the manager at the neighboring Standard Oil gas station, Matt Stewart, decided one day to paint over a nearby Shell advertising sign. This resulted in Sanders re-painting the sign… only to see Stewart paint over it again- this time in plain site of Sanders and two Shell district managers who were meeting with the Colonel at the time.

It was on.

As anyone would do upon witnessing such a dastardly deed, the trio grabbed their guns and headed out to confront Stewart.

A heated argument ensued with guns on both sides being pulled and the whole thing devolving into a firefight in which Sanders successfully shot Stewart, but not before one of the Shell managers, Robert Gibson, was himself shot and killed.

Luckily for Sanders and all of us who enjoy KFC, however, as Stewart had shot at the trio first, Sanders would get off scot-free. It was self-defense, you see… Despite, you know, the trio being the ones to approach the lone Stewart packing their guns.

And so it was that Stewart went to jail for murdering Gibson. His sentence was 18 years, but he died two years in, killed by a deputy sheriff, with rumors swirling that the sheriff had been paid by Gibson’s family to off Stewart, though the sheriff wasn’t charged with any crime here.

Moving back to the gas station, from here, Sanders ultimately got the bright idea of feeding the many motorists who would stop for gas and ask for recommendations on a good place to eat nearby.  He started by serving them in his own dining room, but then expanded to opening a cafe. With this going well, he bought out the motel across the street and turned it into a 142-seat restaurant.

By 1935 business was booming and the governor of Kentucky, Ruby Laffon, officially bestowed Harland Sanders the title of “Colonel” “in recognition of his contributions to the state’s cuisine.” He would be commonly called “Colonel Sanders” from that point forward.

If you’re wondering, the honor of Kentucky Colonel began in 1813 and it started as a military role. After the War of 1812, Charles S. Todd was named a Kentucky Colonel so he would continue serve as a military liaison for the governor. By the late 19th century, it was more of a symbolic honor given to those chosen to “stand guard” at state functions and social events.  And if you’re further wondering why “colonel” is pronounced “kernel”, well, you’re going to have to wait for the Bonus Facts later because right now we’re going back to the story of the most famous Kentucky Colonel.

You might think after receiving this honor and with business booming it would be easy street for the new Colonel here, but instead Sanders would soon have major trouble keeping his business afloat. To begin with, a fire in 1939 burned down the entire restaurant, but he rebuilt it. A year later, along with a new motor court, Sanders Court and Cafe was back on its feet and selling chicken like gangbusters to travelers making their way on US 25 – a major north/south route in America.

Unfortunately for him, in the early 1950s, a junction on route 25 was relocated, significantly reducing traffic by his restaurant, causing his business to go down the tubes. The final nail in the coffin was when the route of the new Interstate 70 was announced and it did not swing by Sanders Court and Café either, but rather routed everyone about 7 miles away.

And so it was that at the age of 62, the Colonel sold his restaurant and motor court, barely making enough to pay off his debts, and hit the road with his pressure cooker, hoping to convince others to use his recipes in their restaurants in exchange for a small commission.

His general method here was to go to a restaurant, cook his chicken, including demonstrating how to use the pressure cooker. If the owner liked what he made, he’d then try to convince them to let him make the chicken for customers.

Incidentally during this tour is when he first met a young Dave Thomas, future founder of the Wendy’s franchise who would eventually play an integral role in saving KFC when it was going down the tubes, before himself founding Wendys- more on this in the Bonus Facts in a bit.

Going back to the Colonel, sleeping in his car and broke again, he finally got one Pete Harmon, owner of the Do Drop Inn in Salt Lake City, Utah decided to make a deal to license his recipe and chicken making method.

With a handshake agreement in 1952, Salt Lake City became the first city with a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.

Within 7 years of this, Sanders had made over 200 such deals in the US and Canada.

Colonel Sanders was finally a permanent success and at the age of 74 in 1964 he decided to take it easy, selling the company for $2 million (about $16 million today) plus a salary of $40,000 per year (about $300,000 today) for the rest of his life in exchange for his staying on as the spokesman and the face of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Unfortunately for him, as so often happens when a founder of a company sells or involves outside investors, he was quickly at odds with the board running KFC over their changing of recipes, often to save money. He particularly hated their so-called “Original Recipe” chicken, which he called “fried doughball stuck on some chicken”. He also didn’t care for the changes to the gravy recipe, noting, “My God, that gravy is horrible. They buy tap water for 15 to 20 cents a thousand gallons and then they mix it with flour and starch and end up with pure wallpaper paste.”

Company executives responded publicly stating, “Let’s face it, the Colonel’s gravy was fantastic but you had to be a Rhodes Scholar to cook it.”

This eventually culminated in him trying to separate himself from KFC by starting a new chicken restaurant. When KFC interfered with his new business, he sued them for $122 million. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court with Sanders getting $1 million and allowed to continue to operate his new restaurant, which is still around today, called Claudia Sanders Dinner House, located in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Despite his issues with management, he spent the rest of his life traveling, talking chicken, and giving surprise inspections to KFC franchise locations, until the day he died at age of 90 in 1980.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Before we get into Dave Thomas’ fascinating story, let’s talk about why “Colonel” is pronounced “kernel” shall we?

“Colonel” ultimately derives from the Latin “columna,” meaning “pillar.” This gave rise to the Old Italian “compagna colonnella,” meaning “little-column company.”  This, in turn, gave us the rank of “colonnello” -the leader of a column.

Other nations adopted this ranking giving us the Middle French “Coronel.” This was pronounced pretty much like it looks at first, then later slurred down to “Kernel” by the English, but using the same spelling.

However, starting with the French around the 1540s, the spelling was changed back closer to the Italian spelling, which gave us “Colonel” in French.

Within a few decades, the English also followed suit and by the mid-seventeenth century, “colonel” was the most common way to spell the word in English. At that time, the common pronunciation was mixed between the older “kernel” and the new “colonel,” with the former winning out in the end, despite the way it’s spelled.

Moving on from there, as alluded to, the founder of Wendy’s, Dave Thomas, actually once saved KFC and used it as his launching point to creating his own franchise, which today has almost 7000 locations. So how’d he do this?

Much like the Colonel, Thomas entered the work force quite young, first working at a Knoxville restaurant at the young age of 12 years old, from which he was eventually fired due to a misunderstanding with his boss about a vacation.

At 15, he worked part time at the Hobby House Restaurant in Ft. Wayne when his adoptive father and step-family (Thomas never met or knew who his biological parents were as his mother gave him up as a baby owing to the Great Depression) decided to move. Feeling ready to strike it out on his own, he decided to drop out of high school and stay in Ft. Wayne.  He then moved into the YMCA and started working full time at the Hobby House.

While dropping out of high school to work at a restaurant most decidedly wouldn’t work out for most in terms of long term fame and fortune, it was through his job at the Hobby House Restaurant that Sanders would meet none other than Colonel Sanders himself, who later became Thomas’ mentor.

Many years later, after a stint in the Korean war as a cook in the army for which he volunteered, in 1962, Thomas used the money he earned there to invest in and was placed in a managerial position over four of Colonel Sanders’ KFC’s that were failing.   He saw that one of the problems with KFC, and all fast food restaurants of the day, is that their menus were much too complicated.

He thus worked with Colonel Sanders to drastically simplify the menus at KFC, focusing on a few, select, signature meals.

It worked.

And soon business was booming and other fast food chains and restaurants quickly adopted the same approach, which is still common to this day. Not the last fast-food restaurant staple that Thomas would be responsible for, as we’ll get into momentarily.

But before that, we should also point out that Thomas was also the one who introduced the KFC trademark sign featuring a revolving red-striped bucket of chicken.

In any event, after he had turned these failing KFC restaurants around, he then sold his stake in them back to Colonel Sanders for a significant profit over what he originally paid, receiving $1.5 million in the sale (about $12 million today).

Rather than kicking back on a beach somewhere with a few scantily clad ladies and some margaritas for the rest of his life, Thomas instead took this money and ultimately opened the first “Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers” on November 15, 1969.

If you’re wondering here, the restaurant was named after his fourth child, Melinda Lou Thomas, who was nicknamed “Wendy” as in her formative years she pronounced her own name, Melinda, as “Wenda”.

Among the innovations Thomas would soon introduce at his restaurants were, among other things, being the first to successfully implement a drive through pickup in a restaurant, which is of course, now used by pretty much all fast food restaurants.

Wendy’s was also the first to successfully create a “fast food” style restaurant that didn’t pre-cook its food nor used pre-made frozen items.  He credits his ability to do this with knowledge gained in cooking for over 2000 soldiers daily while in the army.

Upon his death in 2002 of cancer, there were over 6000 Wendy’s restaurants across the world, and today, there are close to 7000, some of which are actually still owned and run by the original Wendy (Melinda Thomas) herself, along with her three sisters.

And incidentally, realizing that his later success as a high school dropout might convince other teenagers it was ok to quit school, in the early 1990s at the age of 61, Thomas became a student at Coconut Creek High School, ultimately earning his G.E.D. Along the way, he was voted by his classmates as “most likely to succeed.” Nailed it.

The post That Time Colonel Sanders Tried to Kill the Competition by Literally Trying to Murder the Manager of the Competition appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Daven Hiskey - December 02, 2020 at 05:39PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Winning the Battle of Britain with Miss Shilling’s Orifice

In the pantheon of iconic aircraft, perhaps none is more revered than the Supermarine Spitfire. Considered one of the most beautiful fighters ever designed, along with its stablemate the Hawker Hurricane the Spitfire has become emblematic of  Britain’s determined resistance against Nazi Germany in the early days of the Second World War. Yet despite its legendary reputation, the Spitfire was far from a perfect machine. Its narrow landing gear made landings precarious, its widely-spaced wing-mounted guns reduced its concentration of firepower, and at higher speeds its elegant elliptical wings had a tendency of flexing, often leading to fatal crashes. But the Spitfire’s greatest achilles heel lay in a component almost as celebrated as the aircraft itself: its Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

Whenever the Spitfire executed a negative-G maneuver, such as entering a dive or flying inverted, the engine would suddenly lose power, cut out, or stall altogether – a potentially lethal occurrence in a dogfight. Indeed, German fighter pilots quickly learned to exploit this weakness, and when attacked by British fighters would suddenly pitch down, causing the pursuing Spitfire or Hurricane to lose power and giving the German pilot enough time to escape or come up from behind.

The issue lay with the Merlin’s SU carburetor, which was a standard float-type originally developed for automobile engines. Carburetors regulate the mixture of fuel and air reaching the engine; in the SU type, a piston exposed on one side to the air inlet manifold is linked to a jet and needle valve connected to the fuel supply system. When the throttle is opened, more air is drawn into the engine and the air velocity in the manifold increases. This in turn lowers the pressure in the manifold, drawing the piston down and opening the needle valve, allowing more fuel to enter the airstream. The fuel supply is thus matched to the engine’s demand for air. Before reaching the jet and needle valve, the fuel first passes through a float chamber, in which a float linked to an inlet valve keeps the fuel at a constant level – and thus a constant pressure. While this works perfectly well in an automobile or civil aircraft which stays more or less level, exposure to negative Gs causes the float tank to flood and deliver an overly-rich fuel-air mixture to the engine, decreasing its power. The Spitfire’s opponent, the Messerschmitt Bf-109, did not suffer from this fault as its Daimler-Benz DB-605 engine was fuel-injected.

With Britain fighting for its life, the race was on to find a solution. Rolls-Royce attempted to develop an improved carburetor, but Fighter Command could not afford to send any of its aircraft or their engines back to the factory to be modified. In the end, a solution was found by one Beatrice Shilling, an engineer working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. Miss Shilling’s fix was simplicity itself: a small thimble-shaped flow restrictor fitted to the float tank inlet valve, which allowed just enough fuel to flow through it to supply the engine at full power while also preventing the float tank from flooding under negative Gs. And as a bonus, it could quickly be fitted to aircraft in the field. Simplified to a plain steel washer, the restrictor was quickly fitted to all of Fighter Command’s aircraft by RAE teams – often lead by Miss Schilling herself. While officially known as the “RAE Restrictor”, appreciative RAF pilots soon dubbed the device “Miss Shilling’s Orifice.”

While countless factors contributed to Britain’s victory against the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1940, Miss Schilling’s elegant solution to the Merlin’s cut-off problem doubtless played a significant role by allowing the Spitfire to tangle toe-to-toe with the Bf-109. Of course, Miss Shilling’s Orifice was only ever intended as stopgap solution, and eventually all Merlin-equipped fighters were fitted with new Bendix pressure carburetors which did not rely on gravity to operate.

As for Beatrice Shilling, she would go on to a long, productive career at the RAE, working on such projects as the Blue Streak ballistic missile and measuring aircraft braking distances on wet runways until retiring in 1969 at the age of 60. Her personal life was no less eventful; an avid motorcycle racer,  in the 1930s she set numerous records with her modified Norton M30, becoming one of only three women to win the British Motorcycle Racing Club’s Gold Star for completing a lap of Brooklands racing circuit at 160 km/hr. Indeed, it is sometimes reported that she refused to marry her husband, bomber pilot George Naylor, until he himself accomplished the same feat. After the war, she raced cars at Goodwood circuit until shortly before her retirement from the RAE. She died in 1990 at the age of 81.

On a final note, many sources refer to Shilling by the nickname ‘Tilly’, but this moniker is unlikely to have ever been used in her presence. ‘Tilly’ being military slang for a utility truck, the name was likely intended as a dig at Shilling’s supposedly plain appearance – a cruel jab at a woman who did so much to save Britain in her darkest hour.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

A commonly touted fact on the interwebs is that one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood in the 1940s, none other than Hedy Lamarr herself, helped invent the wireless technology we all known and love today.  But is this actually true? Well, not exactly, but the non-sensationalized facts of the matter are no less fascinating, involving Hollywood, the World War II Axis Powers, remote control technology, and, yes, actress Hedy Lamarr.

To begin with, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, better known as “Hedy Lamarr”, once really did patent a “Secret Communication System”, meant to foil the Axis during WWII. It was specifically designed to be used as a remote control system to securely guide torpedoes while getting around the problem of jamming.  Her idea at its core was really part of the larger concept of “frequency-hopping”, with her device developed with composer George Antheil.

Long forgotten until relatively recently, when it was re-discovered by researchers in 1997, the methods used in her invention were far ahead of their time, with the principles behind it paving the way for wide spectrum communication technology we enjoy today in Bluetooth and other wireless technologies.

More specifically, during WWII, the National Inventors’ Council was formed to recruit Americans to pitch in with ideas to foil the Axis Powers. Technological inventions aimed at breaking encoded communications and encryption were especially sought.

Lamarr submitted an idea for a radio-controlled torpedo. As mentioned, Hedy’s idea, in collaboration with the Avant garde musician George Antheil who had previously experimented with automated control of musical instruments, used “frequency hopping”, wherein transmitter and receiver communicated via a channel that constantly changed frequencies, making it difficult to detect and jam.

The idea of the torpedo communication system was to utilize a piano roll like punch tape to create signals within 88 different frequencies (emulating the keys of a piano) of the radio spectrum, in a sequence shared only by the torpedo’s receiver and the transmitter on the ship.

As laid out in her and Antheil George’s patent (US2292387):

“Briefly, our system as adapted for radio control of a. remote craft, employs a pair of synchronous records, one at the transmitting station and one at the receiving station, which change the tuning of the transmitting and receiving apparatus from time to time, so that without knowledge of the records an enemy would be unable to determine at what frequency a controlling impulse would be sent…. in our system such a record would permit the use of 88 different carrier frequencies, from one to another of which both the transmitting and receiving station would be changed at intervals. Furthermore, records of the type described can be made of substantial length and may be driven slow or fast. This makes it possible for a. pair of records, one at the transmitting station and one at the receiving station, to run for a length of time ample for the remote control of a device such as a torpedo.

The two records may be synchronized by driving them with accurately calibrated constant speed spring motors, such as are employed for driving clocks and chronometers. However, it is also within the scope of our invention to periodically correct the position of the record at the receiving station by transmitting synchronous impulses from the transmitting station…”

By thus rapidly hopping from one frequency to the next, the enemy monitoring the radio waves had no hope to intercept and jam the signal, allowing the torpedo to continue to be controlled throughout its journey towards an enemy ship.  Previous to this, a problem existed in that the guidance signal could be detected and jammed, allowing the enemy ship to simply move out of the way of the previously remotely controlled torpedo.

Lamarr and George presented this technology to the National Inventors Council in 1940.  But wouldn’t you know it, the military brass chose to ignore the brilliant idea from the beautiful actress and the avant-garde experimental composer, even though it would have proved extremely useful and quite practical, using existing technologies of the day, rather than needing expensive new technologies to be developed to make it work.

Her design for a “Secret Communication System” using frequency hopping was patented, filed, and forgotten for a time, though later the U.S. military would use this same idea during the Cuban missile crisis. And of course, today this same idea is used all over the place in various wireless technologies.

Eventually, Lamarr’s was given credit for her idea in 1997 when the Electronic Frontier Foundation awarded her with a “Pioneer Award”, and she also received the prestigious Bronze BULBIE Gnass Lifetime Achievement Award, given “to outstanding individuals whose lifetime achievements in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields significantly contributed to society…” Incidentally, she was the first woman to win that latter “Academy Award of inventors”.

One year later, in 1998, Wi-LAN Inc. purchased a 49% stake in Lamarr’s patent in exchange for some undisclosed amount of company stock, which despite our sincerest efforts we were unable to find how much she got from the swap.

Now, at this point you might be wondering where the actress got the idea and munitions expertise to create such a thing? Hedy Lamarr was born 1913 in Vienna. Her movie debut, at the age of 18, was Gustav Machaty’s Extase (Ecstacy), a 1931 film which is notorious even today for its nudity and a very convincing female orgasm scene.

Shortly after making that film, she attempted to free herself of a domineering husband, Friedrich Mandl, who was a wealthy Austrian munitions dealer she had married at the age of 19. Like a fabled princess, she was all but captive in her castle home in Austria, Schloss Schwarzenau.

Hedy’s husband presided over numerous meetings with leaders of the military industry and, despite both he and his wife having Jewish ancestry, hobnobbed at dinner parties with the likes of Hitler and Mussolini.

Partially as he liked to keep an eye on her, she often accompanied her husband to many conferences and business meetings with various engineers and scientists who specialized in weaponry. It is during this period that Hedy is thought to have augmented her skill with mathematics with valuable information about weapons systems, particularly being privy to technologies her husband’s company and others were trying to develop to use to detect and jam communications systems used by enemy military powers.

To escape her oppressive and ultra-controlling husband, along with her virtual prison in his castle, according to her autobiography, Ecstacy and Me, in 1937, she drugged a maid that looked something like her, then disguised herself as the maid, and managed to leave the castle and flee the country under her stolen identity.

Her Hollywood career was launched before she even arrived in the United States, when she met MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer in Europe. At that time, he convinced her to change her name to Hedy Lamarr (with the “Lamarr” in homage to famed silent film star Barbara La Marr) in order to distance herself from the Ecstasy stigma that had followed her since the film.  She soon had a distinguished career playing alongside a who’s who of great actors such as Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.

As noted, in the end, Hedy’s unrealized contribution to World War II and wireless technology lay dormant for many years. She didn’t invent wireless itself, as you’ll often read, but she did patent an idea with huge potential. The technology in her “Secret Communication System” patent was broad enough to have wide application and its brilliant use of frequency hopping at its core is essential to many wireless technologies we have today; so technically the industry couldn’t proceed without applying this idea of hers in certain technologies, which first occurred in the public sector in the late 1950s when Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) was being developed and her invention was re-discovered during a patent search.

Expand for References

Spencer, Michael,  Miss Shilling’s Orifice: Simple Solutions to Technical Issues Can Make All The Difference, The Sir Richard Williams Foundation, September 15, 2017

Heald, Henrietta, Don’t Mention Miss Shilling’s Orifice, Unbound, March 8, 2017

Miss Shilling’s Orifice, Oppo, February 22, 2016,

Beatrice Shilling – Engineer and Battle of Britain Heroine, University of Manchester, September 18, 2015–engineer-and-battle-of-britain-heroine/

Reese, Peter, Beatrice ‘Tilly’ Shilling: Celebrated Aeronautical and Motorcycle Engineer, The History Press,

The post Winning the Battle of Britain with Miss Shilling’s Orifice appeared first on Today I Found Out.

from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 02, 2020 at 05:33PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

The Bizarre Market for Old Battleship Steel

On February 27, 1942, a strike force of British, Australian, American, and Dutch ships clashed with an Imperial Japanese Navy Cruiser squadron off the coast of Sumatra. The engagement, known as the Battle of the Java Sea, was a decisive victory for the Japanese, resulting in the loss of 2,300 Allied sailors and 5 ships, including the light cruiser HMS Exeter. 65 years after the battle, a team of exploration divers re-discovered the wreck sitting in 200 feet of water 90 miles north-west of Bawean Island. But when another team surveyed the wreck site 10 years later, they made a shocking discovery: the wreck had completely vanished, leaving only a 500-foot-long depression in the seabed. The disappearance was not the work of supernatural forces but of Indonesian illegal salvagers, who armed with nothing more than small boats and air compressors had managed to strip away the nearly 10,000 ton hull in less than a decade. While warships contain huge quantities of bronze, brass, copper, and other non-ferrous metals that can fetch high prices on the scrap market, the complete disappearance of Exeter’s entire hull was baffling, leading some to speculate that it had been harvested for the little-known but highly lucrative market for low-background steel. But was it really and how did this bizarre demand for battleship steel come to be?

To begin with, low-background metals are those which emit no ionizing radiation, and the term generally refers to metal produced prior to July 16, 1945. On that day at 5:29 AM, the world’s first atomic bomb, codenamed Trinity, was detonated near Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert. This event changed the world forever – not only militarily and politically, but chemically, releasing into the atmosphere dozens of radioactive isotopes that had never before existed in nature, such as Plutonium 239, Strontium-90, Caesium-137, and Technetium-99. Over the next 35 years, the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China would conduct over a thousand atmospheric nuclear tests, spreading huge quantities of these isotopes over every corner of the globe. And as the standard Bessemer Process for making steel involves blowing atmospheric air through molten iron, these isotopes also found their way into nearly every piece of steel produced after 1945.

For most applications this contamination is not a problem, as the radiation emitted by regular steel is far below regular background levels. But for certain pieces of highly-sensitive scientific equipment, even this low-level radiation can generate unacceptable interference. One example of such equipment are Whole-Body Counting Rooms, devices used in hospitals and nuclear power plants to measure the amount of radioactive material a person’s body has absorbed. To prevent background radiation from interfering with measurements, such rooms must be encased in thick metal shielding, but because of the aforementioned radioisotope contamination only steel produced prior to 1945 can be used. From the 1950s through the 1980s, when most of these rooms were constructed, the cheapest and most readily-available source of low-background steel was from decommissioned warships built prior to 1945. For example, hull plates from USS Indiana, commissioned in 1942 and scrapped in 1962, were used to build ‘steel rooms’ for whole-body counters at the Illinois VA Hospital and the Utah Medical Center.  Even shipwrecks have been salvaged for their low-background steel, most notably the remains of the WWI German High Seas Fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1919.  In 1974, hull plates from the SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm were used to build a whole-body counter room at a Scottish hospital, and it is rumoured that steel from the SMS Markgraf was used in radiation detectors on Explorer 1, America’s first satellite, and the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes, making it the only battleship to make it into space. However, NASA has never been able to confirm this.

Another commonly-sought low-background metal is lead, which is not only susceptible to contamination by atmospheric radionuclides but can also be naturally contaminated with the radioactive isotope Lead-210. In the 1980s, electronics manufacturers discovered that stray radioactive emissions from regular lead were affecting the manufacture of microchips. In order to obtain sufficiently low-background lead, the manufacturers proceeded to dismantle 400-year-old medieval stained glass windows and swap out the old lead for new. More recently in 2010, the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Rome needed shielding for its Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events, or CUORE, an experiment for detecting ghostly subatomic particles called neutrinos. Wanting only the most inert shielding, the Institute obtained permission from the National Archeological Museum in Cagliari to melt down 270 lead ingots from an ancient Roman shipwreck that sank off the coast of Sardinia almost 2,000 years ago. Experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have used lead pipes pulled up from Boston’s old plumbing system while Duke University and the University of Chicago has used lead ballast from the 300-year old Spanish Galleon San Ignacio. Unsurprisingly, given the extreme rarity of these sources low-background lead can command premium prices, with ingots from the San Ignacio selling for $33 USD per kilogram – nearly twelve times the market price for regular lead. And not all low-background lead that shows up on the market has such clear provenance, raising concerns that some of it may have been illegally salvaged from archaeologically priceless shipwrecks.    

Which brings us back to the question: was HMS Exeter salvaged for low-background steel? More than likely the answer is no, as the demand for low-background steel has actually all but dried up in recent years. In 1963, the US, USSR, and Great Britain signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, banning all atmospheric nuclear tests. Though France and China continued atmospheric testing until 1980, since then radionuclide contamination in the atmosphere has fallen to only 1/30th of 1963 levels. Steelmaking has also largely turned away from the Bessemer Process in favour of the Basic Oxygen Process, which uses uncontaminated pure oxygen instead of atmospheric air. Advances in electronics have also allowed scientific apparatus to compensate for stray radioactive emissions, meaning that for all but the most sensitive instruments like neutrino detectors, low-background steel is no longer necessary. In all likelihood, then, HMS Exeter was cut apart for ordinary scrap steel.

However, the radioactive contamination of the atmosphere has had at least one positive effect. By studying the isotopic composition of wine, forensic chemists are able to tell whether a certain bottle was produced after 1945, allowing for the identification of counterfeit vintages. Thus proving that every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of battleships and steel, it turns out the slinky- yes the once popular toy- graced the world with its presence thanks to battleships. How?

In 1943, Richard James, a marine engineer in a Philadelphia shipyard, was working at his desk, developing a special meter designed to monitor the horsepower output on naval battleships.  This meter required the use of special springs in order to stabilize the instrument in rough seas.  At a certain point, James accidentally knocked a length of one of the springs he was working with off his desk.   To his amazement, the spring fell from its position on the desk, then “walked” from that point to a stack of books, and eventually on to the floor where it coiled back up.

Richard rushed home and told his wife about what happened and said, “I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension, I could make it walk.”.  He went on to tell her he thought he could make a child’s toy out of it.

After some time, Richard made a few prototypes, which he let children in his neighborhood play with in order to gauge the response, which ended up being overwhelmingly positive.  His wife, Betty, then searched for a name for this new toy. After searching through the dictionary for hours, she finally settled on “Slinky”, meaning “sinuous and slender” and had previously been used mainly as an adjective to describe women or clothing.

With a $500 loan (about $7,000 today) to pay a company to manufacture a small quantity of Slinkies, in 1945, Richard and Betty made an attempt to sell the toy in a retail outlet store in Philadelphia. The retail store agreed to put 400 Slinkies on display for the upcoming Christmas shoppers. After a few days and no sales, Richard began to fear the worst.   He decided to go down to the store and display what the toy could do.  His wife Betty agreed to meet up with him later that night.   When she arrived, she saw a line of customers purchasing every last slinky. All 400 Slinkies sold in 90 minutes.

That said, while sales quickly surged, by the late 1950s, things weren’t so rosey. Finally, in 1960, Richard James left his struggling company, which was deeply in debt, and moved to Bolivia where he became a missionary.  When Betty refused to go with him, he told her she could have the company and he didn’t care what she did with it.  Betty then took over management and proved to be a much better business person than her ex-husband. The company expanded greatly under her leadership and to date has sold over 300 million Slinkies.

For her contributions in making the Slinky one of the all time best selling toys in the world, Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001.  She died in 2008, at the age of 90.  Her ex-husband, Richard James, died just 14 years after moving to Bolivia, in 1974.

Expand for References

Baddeley, Bob, Low Background Steel – So Hot Right Now, Hackaday, March 27, 2017

Oelbaum, Jed, The Worldwide Scavenger Hunt for Vintage, Low-Radiation Metals,, May 10, 1028

Andrews, Robin George, Why the Search for Dark Matter Depends on Ancient Shipwrecks, The Atlantic, October 25, 2019

McIntyre, Joanne, Disappearing Warships: Scavengers Raid War Graves for ‘Low Background’ Steel, Stainless Steel World,

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from Today I Found Out
by Gilles Messier - December 02, 2020 at 05:28PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Fascinating Origins of Everyday Things (Part 4)

In this episode of The Brain Food Show, we are start out with an appetizer looking at how chopsticks came to be and why they became so popular in certain parts of the world vs things like spoons and forks.

Next up we have a brief message from our sponsor… Ourselves! Go check out our new-ish channel Highlight History, an upcoming re-launch / re-think of Fact Quickie, a new upcoming one in Ancient Marvels,  and Simon’s latest attempt to host all YouTube channels- Side Projects.

Next up, in the main course, we look at who exactly invented the spoon, knife, and fork, how they became popularized and the surprising amount of time it took for two of the three to become a staple of dinner tables the world over.

As for the desert for today, we discuss who actually invented the Fortune Cookie, which pretty much everyone always gets wrong. And, spoiler: no, it wasn’t the Chinese nor Americans.

On another note, if you could do us a huge favor and rate and review this show in whatever podcasting platform you’re using (including hopefully giving us some feedback related to the new format), we would be extremely grateful. Thanks!

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from Today I Found Out
by Daven Hiskey - December 01, 2020 at 02:33PM
Article provided by the producers of one of our Favorite YouTube Channels!