The Quick 10: 10 Details about Doughnuts

Since it's National Doughnut Day, we thought we would rerun this doughy delight from March. Now go get yourself some fried, cakey goodness!!

I stumbled upon the Dunkin' Donuts "Create Dunkin's Next Donut" contest last week and have had doughnuts on the brain ever since. Anyone who follows the Q10 regularly knows that if I'm obsessed with something, I do my best to make you obsessed with it too. So if you go out and down a couple of Krispy Kremes after this, don't feel bad - it's totally my fault. And no, I'm not getting paid to reference this contest... we don't even have Dunkin' Donuts here (sadly). The doughnut I created, by the way, was a sour cream dough with lime-flavored sugar. I think it would be delightful.

1. Adolph Levitt invented the doughnut machine in 1920. Before that, doughnuts were made one by one in a frying pan. His machine dropped dough rings into fat, browned them, flipped them and cooled them. He called it the Wonderful Almost Human Automatic Donut Machine. It took him and an engineer 12 tries to perfect, but once he did, they sold like hotcakes - er, doughnuts - and the industry hasn't been the same since.

dunker2. There is a National Dunking Association and it used to be a big deal. Actress Mae Murray is said to have started the whole dunking craze when she accidentally dropped her doughnut into her coffee and raved about the results. It just goes to show you that things haven't really changed in the past 80 years - a celebrity does something and it sweeps the nation. Card-carrying (seriously... there were membership cards) celebrity members of the National Dunking Association included Johnny Carson, Zero Mostel, Pearl Buck, Martha Graham and Red Skelton. Jimmy Durante even ran for president of the association.
3. Economists have said the size of the hole in the doughnut directly mirrors the state of the economy. The bigger the hole, the worse the economy is. Makes sense, really - means bakers can use less dough per doughnut and charge the same price.

4. But why does the doughnut have a hole? I mean, not all of them do, but when you think of a doughnut the first thing that usually comes to mind is the type that looks like a circle with a hole in the middle. So why that and not just a solid round of dough? Well, there are a lot of different stories. This is the one that probably goes around the most often, though: Sea captain Hanson Crockett Gregory was eating a small cake while steering his ship in 1847. The ship was suddenly caught in a freak storm and the captain quickly shoved his cake down onto a spoke of the ship's wheel so he would have both hands free for steering. Once the storm was over, he realized how convenient the hole in the middle of the cake was and ordered more just like it from the cook. Gregory himself said that he and his crew were having problems digesting the greasy cakes when he realized that cutting a hole in the middle might solve the problem. He later said the hole was the best part of the doughnuts, and told the reporter he was talking to, "You'd think so if you had ever tasted the doughnuts we used to eat."

randys5. The Chock Full O' Nuts Whole Wheat Donut is, according to aficionados, the Holy Grail of doughnuts. Chock Full O' Nuts was a chain of lunch counters (later resulting in the coffee of the same name) that apparently had amazing doughnuts. There are still Chock Full O' Nuts joints in the New York area, and from their website, it would appear that the whole wheat doughnut is still on the menu. So what gives? Why do so many people wax nostalgic about this doughnut? Did the recipe change? Or is it just harder to find these days? If you can fill us in on the Chock Full O' Nuts Whole Wheat Donut mystery, please do.
6. Stella Young was the original Doughnut Girl of WWI. They served trays of the fried rounds to hungry soldiers who would line up outside of the Salvation Army tents to get a little taste of deliciousness. In fact, some say that's where the term "doughboys" came from, but like the story of the doughnut hold, there are a few stories circulating on the origins of that term. Although there were lots of Doughnut Girls (AKA Sallies), Stella was the one on the cover of the sheet music for the song "My Doughnut Girl." Stella once narrowly escaped death when a bit of shrapnel hit her doughnut pan and missed her. She saved the shrapnel.

7. Washington Irving of Sleepy Hollow legend may have coined the term "doughnut." The earliest reference anyone can find of that exact word is in a short story of his dated 1808, except he was probably talking about what we call the doughnut holes today.

8. "Doughnut" is the original spelling, but "donut" has become accepted as the shortened form. Kinda like "Drive-thru" vs. "Drive through." I prefer "doughnut" myself, but "donut" goes back so far I might as well accept it: the first reference comes from The Los Angeles Times in 1929.

9. My post is a bit premature, because National Doughnut Day in the U.S. is the first Friday of June every year. Um, consider that marked down in my calendar. In pen.

10. Renee Zellweger said she ate 20 doughnuts a day in order to go from a size six to a size 14 in just three months so she could portray Bridget Jones. I wonder if she means mini-doughnuts... surely 20 full-sized doughnuts a day would have you gaining several sizes faster than three months, since doughnuts can be up to 25% fat (they absorb a lot of the fat they are fried in because they are so porous). But that's not going to stop me from eating them.

And hey - tell me about Randy's Donuts. I'm visiting L.A. over Memorial Day weekend and am curious as to whether it's worth a stop or not. Otherwise, let's discuss your favorite doughnut in the comments. For me, it's hard to top a fresh cinnamon and sugar - still warm and full of melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Mmm... [insert Homer drooling noise here]

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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