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What Do the Ms on M&M's Stand For?

In the early 1900s, Forrest Mars, Sr., the son of Chicago candy maker and Snickers bar creator Franklin Clarence Mars, worked his way through Europe learning the ins and outs of the candy business. He worked for Nestle. He worked for Tobler. He started his own little factory in England. He sold some of his father’s brands. Most importantly, he found inspiration. According to confectionery lore, Mars was in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and noticed treats frequently placed in soldiers’ rations. They were chocolate pellets coated with a hard candy shell that kept them from melting (these might have been, or been inspired by, the “chocolate beans” made by Rowntrees of York, England since 1882).

Upon his return to the U.S. in 1940, Mars sought out another son of a famed candy man to put his own spin on the Spanish candies.

Bruce Murrie’s partnership in the new venture was essential to the candy’s success during World War II. His father was William Murrie, president of the Hershey Company, which meant Bruce and Mars had access to Hershey’s sugar and chocolate stores at a time when the ingredients were in short supply. It also guaranteed customers - Hershey had struck a deal with the Army in 1937 to provide chocolate for U.S. soldiers’ ration packs.

The partners Mars and Murrie dubbed their new candy with their initials, and M&M’s soon found their way around the world with U.S. servicemen (along with the 4-ounce, 600-calorie “Ration D” Hershey chocolate bar). The story didn’t end sweetly for Murrie, though. When chocolate rationing ended after the war, Mars bought out Murrie's 20% interest in the product and went on to become one of Hershey’s biggest competitors.

Leaving Their Mark

Even with their partnership dissolved, Mars and Murrie’s initials stuck as the candy’s name and, in 1950, was even printed on it. Today, the Ms are applied to M&M's in a process that Mars Inc. describes as “akin to offset printing.” Blank M&M's sit on a special conveyor belt that has a dimple for each candy to sit in, and roll through a machine where vegetable dye is transferred from a press to a rubber etch roller that gently prints the M on each piece.

The printer can stamp some 2.5 million M&M's an hour. Some candies make it off the line M-less, but Mars doesn’t consider these rejects. Minor variations in the shapes of M&M's, especially the peanut ones, make uniform stamping difficult, and the machine is set up to let some blanks slip through rather than mark every one and break some candy shells in the process.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
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In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

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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What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
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Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

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