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What a Bad Idea Tastes Like

As each country has its own laws, ways of driving, celebrities, and accents, each also has its own chip flavors. In the US, we've got our Sour Cream & Onion, our BBQ, our Salt & Vinegar. And here in the UK, one chip-maker "“ or rather, crisp-maker "“ is hoping that Crispy Duck & Hoisin could be topping the list of Britons' favorite flavors some time soon. Or maybe it'll be Chilli & Chocolate. Or possibly even Cajun Squirrel.

Walkers Crisps, a subsidiary of Frito-Lay and therefore Pepsico (you may notice the similarity in logos between Walkers and Lays), already markets such time-honored flavors as Smoky Bacon, Steak & Onion, Roast Chicken, Prawn Cocktail, Pickled Onion, Marmite, Tomato Ketchup, and Worcester Sauce. But in recent years, and despite the global recession, which normally drives people to low-cost, high-fat food, the cheap crisps market is on the wane. It seems that the market for "healthier" crisps (read: fancier and more expensive) has been growing at a rate of 14 percent annually, muscling out the greasier crisps of their share of the snack pie.

walker-cajun.jpgIn an effort to inject a bit of life into the cheap crisp market, Walkers appealed to the public: Give us your whacky, out-there crisp ideas, they said, and we'll make them happen. Ideas were submitted by people from across Britain, judged by Walkers's panel of experts, and ultimately whittled down to these six finalists: Onion Bhaji, Cajun Squirrel, Builder's Breakfast, Chilli & Chocolate, Fish & Chips, and Crispy Duck & Hoisin. It makes you wonder what the judges rejected.

Of course, I had to try them. All of them. And yes, it was embarrassing to be an American purchasing six packets of crisps in one go from the grocery store, but in the name of journalism, I pressed on.

What follows is an account of what happened next.

Builder's Breakfast: The bag of Builder's Breakfast features a picture of an English breakfast arranged in a little builder's face: A smiley sausage for a mouth, fried eggs for eyes, a tomato nose, bacon ears, and a little swirl of ketchup for hair. That could give some indication of what the crisps tasted like, but then again, in the great tradition of chip flavors bearing no resemblance to what they're supposed to be, it might not. You could just discern a bit of egginess and a bit of tomato tang, but the rest was a bit of a blur. My husband liked them; I wasn't entirely sure what I was eating. But it was a good start to the Tour de Crisp, we both agreed "“ it could only go down hill from here.

Cajun Squirrel: This was my husband's reaction to the Cajun Squirrel: "Pleasant aroma," he says, opening the bag emblazoned with a fluffy grey squirrel peering wistfully from behind a picket fence. Chomp, chomp. His face slowly rearranges itself into a mask of horror. "What is that? I don't like it!"

To clarify, the crisp tastes a bit like a BBQ chip, with an extra bit of something "“ could that be the squirrel? Sure, Walkers promised that no squirrels were harmed in the making of this crisp, but something died in that bag.

onion-y.jpgOnion Bhaji: Oniony. Indiany. Not bad. They seem like something I could definitely get into after a night of drinking, and with gusto, sort of a poor man's late night curry. What I do object to, however, is the illustration on the packaging: A figure in what is intended to be Indian dress with an onion for a head is standing next to a plate of what look like deep-fried Tribbles. These Tribbles look vaguely menacing and the posture of the onion man is difficult to understand "“ is he afraid of the Tribbles? Is he embracing the Tribbles? Is he proud of them? It's a mystery.

Crispy Duck & Hoisin: I had to Google "hoisin" and discovered that it is a sort of sweet soy sauce typically spiced with red pepper. This could be good, however, this particular offering tastes neither of duck nor what I would assume hoisin sauce to taste like, but instead tastes of a perfumed armpit.

Fish & Chips: Fish and chips is a dish absolutely pioneered by the British. A slab of battered cod or some sort of other suitable white fish, a side of fries, and maybe a little mushy peas to accompany the whole mess, and you've got yourself a very fine meal, or at the least, an excellent coating to the stomach in preparation for a night of drinking.

But what you do not have is a crisp flavor. These crisps smell like getting punched in the face with a fish; they taste like grease, or, as my husband claimed, "It takes like when they make the fries in the fish oil."

Chilli & Chocolate: This, our final flavor, tastes like a dusting of Swiss Miss hot chocolate mix on a bad idea. It's not exactly spicy, not exactly chocolatey. The less said about this the better.

***
On the whole, Builder's Breakfast and Onion Bhaji emerged victorious from our very scientific taste test, although I would hasten to mention that all of the flavors uniformly tasted of the inside of a gas station convenience store. Eating them made me feel dirty. But don't just take my word for it: Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker also tried the new flavors and came up with far more clever and colorful ways of describing their badness.

The contest lasts until May 1, at which point Walkers will announce which of these will become part of the regular line up. Anyone out there who's tried these crisps want to weigh in? Any other weird chip flavors that you've tasted?

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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iStock

Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Space
More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor
 NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA/JPL-Caltech

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.
WIYN OBSERVATORY/RALF KOTULLA

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

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