11 Things You Didn't Know About Chip Engineering


Surprisingly elegant engineering and rigorous testing goes into the production of chips. Not the micro kind that are running your computer but the potato, corn, and tortilla kind whose crumbs are all over your keyboard. Here are 11 things you might not know about America's favorite snack.

1. Supercomputers keep your Pringles pristine.

You're probably wondering about the double-curved shape of a Pringles chip, and what its technical mathematical name is. Wonder no longer. Your average, unsullied Pringle is a hyperbolic paraboloid; its equation is (x^2)/(a^2) - (y^2)/(b^2) = z/c. Here's where things get interesting, though (as if hyperbolic paraboloids weren't interesting enough). Proctor & Gamble doesn't just shove a bunch of Pringles in a can and call it a day. Rather, they use supercomputers to keep conditions just right to make sure the chips make it from their factory to your house unmolested.

2. The FDA took issue with Pringles being called "chips."

So Pringles' competitors were none to happy with their new canister-borne competition, and went to the Food and Drug Administration with a complaint. Pringles, they argued, aren't technically "chips" of anything; they're freakish mathematical abominations! (I'm paraphrasing.) The FDA concurred, and mandated that if Pringles wanted to use the c-word, they were to refer to themselves as "potato chips made from dried potatoes."

3. The Doritos Locos taco required the reinvention of the chip.

So it's 3 a.m. and you've been reading the Bible and now you've got the munchies bad, man, and, like, dude, Taco Bell! You're probably going to order a Doritos Locos taco. I say "probably" because since their introduction, 450 million such tacos have been sold. Now you're probably thinking, well yeah, what an obvious idea. Sprinkle Doritos dust on a taco shell and you're in business.

Not so fast. Engineering the Doritos Locos required Taco Bell to basically reinvent the taco. Really. Chip engineers encountered three nearly insurmountable problems while pursuing their tasty new idea. First, unflavored taco shells and unflavored Doritos chips taste nothing alike. So when the seasoning was first applied to the taco shells, everyone realized that they were actually pretty gross. Scientists were thus forced to reconsider the taco shell formula. (Taco shells have a formula.)

What's more, you can't apply the Doritos seasoning to a taco shell the same way you do for a Doritos tortilla. Your average Dorito is a triangle (here I am excluding their extreme 3-D varieties). Your average taco shell is round and curved. Whereas the tumbling process for one will naturally apply zesty seasonings very evenly, the same process for a taco will result in a half-bland shell with a chewed-bubble-gum-sized glob of seasoning on one end. Not cool. (Though possibly cool ranch.) So the process had to be reconsidered. Which led to the third major problem.

See, when you get a bag of Doritos, you've got mostly big, crunchy chips, but you also have a lot of broken ones down at the bottom that you end up funneling into your mouth during that last satisfying go at the bag before feeling awful about your terrible diet and how it's affecting your health and relationships. (Or maybe that's just me.) The point is the tumbling barrels used to apply the seasoning to Doritos don't have to be good; they just have to be good enough. But that doesn't work for taco shells. Every taco shell must maintain its structural integrity from A to Z; from manufacturing, tumbling (the seasoning is basically applied in machines like giant clothes dryers), shipping to Taco Bells, taco assembly, insertion in the bag, and finally, to your kitchen table, or on the floor next to your Xbox controller and bottle of whiskey.

So Taco Bell had to reinvent everything, and seasonings are applied evenly to the new, re-engineered, chemically compatible tacos in what amounts to a sealed nacho cheese gas chamber.

4. It's not sunlight that makes Sun Chips so delectable.

Actually, to get just the right amount of zest, Sun Chips use something with a little more kick than mere sunlight. They use pork enzymes. For flavor. 

5. Doritos were invented at Disneyland

At Casa de Fritos in Disneyland (I swear I'm not making any of this up), extra tortillas were cut up, lightly fried, seasoned, and served. The resulting snack was popular. When a Frito-Lay executive discovered the goodie, he quickly had the papers drawn up and soon brought to the general public this Disney-born triangular gateway to heaven.

(Want a bonus bit of Disney trivia completely unrelated to chips? Richard Nixon's infamous "I am not a crook" press conference was held on November 17, 1973 at Walt Disney World.)

6. Sun Chips earned the ire of America for being too noisy.

Nobody complains about the pork enzymes, but everybody hated the biodegradable packaging first used by Sun Chips in 2010. The problem was that, to hell with the environment, the bags were just too damn noisy. They were eventually redesigned and replaced. (The bags. Not the Americans.)

7. Ketchup flavored chips are a thing.

I first encountered ketchup-flavored chips in Afghanistan, where they were imported from United Arab Emirates. Apparently I've been living in a box, because they're reportedly also very popular in Canada, which is reason enough, if you ask me, to send in John Candy and Rhea Perlman

8. Fritos and Cheetos are brothers

When he invented Fritos, you would think Elmer Doolin would have been satisfied with achieving immortality. But he was just getting started. Years later, he went on to invent Cheetos.

9. The word "Funyuns" was the silver medal.

After inventing a new onion-flavored snack, Frito-Lay wanted to call them OnYums. Alas, that Oscar Wilde-like play on words was already taken. Jim Albright, a professor at University of North Texas, came up with the next best thing: "Funyuns." 

10. Technically, “nachos” needs an apostrophe.

It's weird to think that nachos even needed to be invented. Chips, cheese, jalapeños—there was a time when people had no idea that such ingredients could be combined, let alone form the core of the single greatest culinary endeavor since the doughnut. In 1943, the head waiter at a border town restaurant in Mexico found himself having to improvise a dish for a group of Army wives who showed up after closing. Using the few remaining ingredients in the kitchen, Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya served up "Nacho's special."

11. Space aliens might know what Doritos are.

In 2008, as part of some inexplicable marketing effort, Frito-Lay targeted a 30-second commercial at a potentially inhabited solar system 42 light years away. When the aliens finally come and destroy us, it's because we deserve it.

Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
20 States With the Highest Rates of Skin Cancer

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing. Floridians get to soak up the sun year-round, but that exposure to harmful UV rays also comes with consequences. Prevention magazine reported that Florida has the highest rate of skin cancer in the U.S., according to a survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS).

BCBS surveyed 9 million of its insured members who had been diagnosed with skin cancer between 2014 and 2016 and found that Florida had the highest rate of skin cancer at 7.1 percent. People living in eastern states tend to be more prone to skin cancer, and diagnoses are more common among women.

Here are the 20 states with the highest rates of skin cancer:

1. Florida: 7.1 percent
2. Washington, D.C.: 5.8 percent
3. Connecticut: 5.6 percent
4. Maryland: 5.3 percent
5. Rhode Island: 5.3 percent
6. Vermont: 5.3 percent
7. North Carolina: 5.2 percent
8. New York: 5 percent
9. Massachusetts: 5 percent
10. Colorado: 5 percent
11. Arizona: 5 percent
12. Virginia: 5 percent
13. Delaware: 4.8 percent
14. Kentucky: 4.7 percent
15. Alabama: 4.7 percent
16. New Jersey: 4.7 percent
17. Georgia: 4.7 percent
18. West Virginia: 4.5 percent
19. Tennessee: 4.5 percent
20. South Carolina: 4.4 percent

It may come as a surprise that sunny California doesn’t make the top 20, and Hawaii is the state with the lowest rate of skin cancer at 1.8 percent. Prevention magazine explains that this could be due to the large population of senior citizens in Florida and the fact that the risk of melanoma, a rare but deadly type of skin cancer, increases with age. People living in regions with higher altitudes also face a greater risk of skin cancer due to the thinner atmosphere and greater exposure to UV radiation, which explains why Colorado is in the top 10.

The good news is that the technology used to detect skin cancer is improving, and researchers hope that AI can soon be incorporated into more skin cancer screenings. To reduce your risk, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen when you know you’ll be spending time outside, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours. 

[h/t Prevention]


More from mental floss studios