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How Play-Doh Created its New Compound, Play-Doh Plus

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Hasbro

When it was first developed in the 1950s, Play-Doh wasn’t a kids’ toy: It was made to clean wallpaper that had been dirtied by soot from home heating systems. But as cleaner heating systems were developed, the makers of that wallpaper cleaner realized it had another purpose—a toy that kids could mold things out of.  In 1956, they began marketing the stuff, now called Play-Doh, to schools, and kids have been turning it into faux-cheeseburgers and smashing it into carpets in over 90 countries ever since.

This year, the classic Play-Doh compound in its yellow container got a new purple partner: Play-Doh Plus. “Through the years we’ve made some evolutions of the traditional Play-Doh compound to make it a little bit softer and to make the colors brighter,” says Gregory Lombardo, Senior Global Marketing Director for Play-Doh and other brands at Hasbro. “But this is really the first compound with a whole new formula we’ve created that was intended to be used with traditional Play-Doh.”

Play-Doh Plus began when the company was looking for a way to make the treats kids create in its Sweet Shoppe playsets look more realistic. “We were basically looking at, ‘Hey, if we made a cake out of the regular Play-Doh, could we make a softer, lighter, fluffier compound that would be more like the icing and the frosting that you would put on it?’” Lombardo says.

So Play-Doh’s in-house chemistry department set out to do just that. Rather than start from scratch, the chemists took the regular compound—“because there is a particular expertise in the production of it,” Lombardo says—and began to make tweaks to its formula (which is a carefully guarded secret). As the chemistry department rolled out small batches of tweaked compound, they were then sent to the design department, which would play with the substance and assess things like its consistency and stickiness. That feedback would go to the chemists, who continued to play with the new compound. “It was really a back and forth between our chemistry department and our design department to make sure that [the compound was] getting the type of performance it needed without the side effects we didn't want,” Lombardo says.

Developing the new compound took around 18 months. “The chemistry is very fickle,” Lombardo says. “The slightest change can have a drastic effect on the performance of the compound.” And then there was the challenge of producing the bigger batches, which also requires tweaking the formula. “It’s just like when you’re cooking for two versus cooking for a party of 50,” he says. “The taste is a little bit different when you’re making a small batch versus if you’re making a big batch, so there’s tweaks to the formula that are made when we get into production as well.” But despite the tweaked formula and process, the company uses the same machines in Play-Doh Plus’ production line. 

Play-Doh Plus launched with the company’s Sweet Treats line, but is now available in multiple other lines as well. As for the name? Lombardo says the company chose Play-Doh Plus because “it allows you to ‘plus up’ your creations and do things that you’ve never been able to do before. It’s enhanced the overall Play-Doh experience and adds a whole extra layer of creativity.”

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Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
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iStock

Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whisky that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of the water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
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Animals
DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

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