Jeremy Brooks via Flickr
Jeremy Brooks via Flickr

11 Things You Might Not Know About Jack In The Box

Jeremy Brooks via Flickr
Jeremy Brooks via Flickr

It's a burger joint known for its tacos and irreverent mascot, but Jack in the Box has a lot more snacks and hijinks where that comes from.

1. ITS FOUNDER PIONEERED THE DRIVE-THRU.

Robert O. Peterson opened the first Jack in the Box restaurant in San Diego, Calif. in 1951 by converting one location of his Oscar’s restaurant chain into a new animal altogether: a drive-thru hamburger stand. Having bought the rights to an intercom-based drive-thru setup from another restaurateur, Peterson started expanding this new model, mounting the intercom inside a plastic clown. Today, the company operates over 2200 restaurants (mostly on the West Coast), though the clown-tercoms have long since been replaced with regular speaker setups.

2. BY 1980, THE COMPANY WAS SICK OF CLOWNS, SO IT BLEW THEM UP.

In the late '70s, Jack in the Box decided to shed its circus-like interiors, lose the clowns atop its restaurants and in its drive-thrus, and evolve into something that’d appeal more to adults than children. So, in 1980, the chain kicked off a decade or so of ‘premium fare’-aimed marketing with a commercial in which a group of employees blow up the mascot while a drive-thru customer gives the order to "Waste him!” Later commercials, including one from 1981, continued to echo the idea of explosive changes going on at the restaurants.

3. BUT IN 1994, JACK CAME BACK AND RETURNED THE FAVOR.

The mid-’90s “Jack’s Back” campaign reestablished the mascot (“thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery”) and was meant to help reinvent the company after a major E. coli contamination crisis in 1993, which resulted in several deaths and left the chain near bankruptcy. The campaign’s TV commercials quickly established that the new-and-improved character—now named Jack Box—was indeed back in town, but the use of a remote detonator bomb in the ad drew criticism in the wake of domestic terror attacks along the East Coast.

4. THE NEW JACK STARTED TAKING DOWN HIS HATERS, TOO.

A later commercial, from 1997, shows Mr. Box sparking a violent confrontation with a man who’s been calling the chain “junk in the box.” Jack shows up on his doorstep unannounced and chases the man through his house and into his back yard (with the cameraperson running along behind, Cops-style). He force-feeds the naysayer Jack in the Box fare while pinning him to the ground. “Tasty!” the man declares while a menacing Jack asks, “You’re not just saying that 'cause I could snap your arm like a twig?” The ad was only shown after 10 p.m., and it won an award at an international advertising festival the following year.

5. SINCE THEN, JACK HAS RUN FOR PRESIDENT AND BEEN HIT BY A BUS, AMONG OTHER THINGS.

For a fast food mascot, Jack Box is an extremely developed character—one who, according to the company, may look “a bit like a clown, due to a genetically inherited large white head” (a trait only affecting Box family males) but is nevertheless “a serious businessman.”

Over the course of more than 2200 English- and Spanish-language commercials, we’ve learned that Jack has a wife named Cricket, a son named Jack Jr., and mullet-sporting cousins in Philly. The chain’s "Jack Facts" page also mentions that he is 6'8" (without his hat), was born on May 16, and speaks Mandarin. As a 1996 presidential candidate, Jack reportedly also “beat out Bill Clinton and Bob Dole in a national independent virtual poll.” In 2009, however, the company decided to test his popularity and relevancy, so Jack got hit by a bus. This took him out of commission until an “unprecedented” outcry from fans in the form of thousands of emails and letters convinced the company to keep him on as spokesperson.

6. THE MAN BEHIND “JACK BOX” IS A TOTAL CHARACTER, TOO.

Actor and ad man Richard “Dick” Sittig lends his voice to Jack Box’s big white head, but he has also been nurturing and shaping the character and masterminding Jack commercials since 1995. After pioneering the “Jack’s Back” era with a larger ad firm for two years, Sittig split off and formed his own agency, Secret Weapon Marketing, which since been handling Jack in the Box ads since.

Commercials featuring Jack Box have accounted for huge growth in the company, and have developed a cult following thanks to an “irreverent humor” that especially tickles younger men, the LA Times reflects. Sittig told the paper, "If our target was a 75-year-old woman, we'd be a Hallmark card." As to who Mr. Box really is, Sittig painted an image for Adweek that is part adventurer, part tycoon: “[Being] intimidating is part of Jack's persona—a Trump-ian, or actually a Branson kind of thing. He's a larger-than-life celebrity CEO.”

7. THE COMPANY’S MADE ENOUGH JACK ORNAMENTS FOR 11% OF ALL U.S. CARS.

Since “reigniting the antenna ball craze in 1995 with [the] Classic Jack antenna ball,” Jack in the Box has reportedly sold or given away over 28 million antenna balls—or enough to adorn around 11% of the 253 million cars in the United States—plus “more than 5 million other premiums bearing Jack’s likeness,” such as collectible Pez dispensers.

Jack swag has also included occasional movie promos, like a 1995 line of posters and cups celebrating the release of Star Trek: Generations—the promotion invited customers to “Galaxy-Size” their meals and/or “beam up to bigger fries” for only 39 cents extra.

8. JACK IN THE BOX’S TACOS HAVEN’T CHANGED IN 50 YEARS, BASICALLY.

Are Tacos tax deductible? Because if they are I’m getting quite a big refund. #TaxDay

A photo posted by Jack in the Box (@jackinthebox) on

Undeniably alluring as they are, Jack in the Box’s 2-for-99-cents tacos don't necessarily have a lot in common with the typical fast-food taco. Nevertheless, the chain sells about 400 million of them per year, all without having changed its basic recipe—seasoned meat lump, two triangles of American cheese, some shredded iceberg lettuce, and a little sauce—in around 50 years. The main difference is that today's Jack in the Box taco meat mixture now has some textured vegetable-based proteins in there, too.

9. IN 2004, JACK IN THE BOX TRIED TO GET SIT-DOWN CLASSY WITH “JBX GRILL”...

In recent years, a number of new and established restaurant chains have been trying to cash in on the "fast-casual dining" craze that’s put businesses like Chipotle at the top of the lunch break heap. While McDonald’s, for one, has only recently experimented with “build-a-burger” sit-down restaurants in the past year or so, Jack in the Box was ahead of the trend with its JBX Grill locations—opened on a trial basis in 2004, and featuring cozier chairs, fancier toppings, and even a few fireplaces—though perhaps too much so; sadly, they were scrapped just two years later.

10. ...BUT LATELY, IT’S (PROBABLY) BEEN TARGETING HUNGRY STONERS.

Coming from a born-and-raised California chain, it’s possible that Jack in the Box’s recent ad campaign “featuring vacant, half-baked millennials” was responding to recent legislative and cultural shifts that have made marijuana a lot more accessible to Golden State residents.

Explained in one ad spot, the promotional $6 Munchie Meal is a “boxful of crunchy crave-ables,” appropriate for that window between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. when “things get weird” and containing items that an experimental snacker might concoct (and get really excited about): a grilled cheese sandwich grafted to a burger, a chicken bacon melt with a hashbrown patty wedged in, and so on. In another 2014 commercial, a young woman and a puppet version of Mr. Box, chilling out in bean-bag chairs, discuss the pros and cons of having spoons for hands before Puppet Jack suggests a late-night food run.

The Week reported, however, that the fast food company insists it’s not deliberately targeting pot smokers but rather “folks looking for indulgent treats,” such as “late-night shift workers and millennials who get the munchies at odd hours.” So...stoners, yes?

11. IN ADDITION TO CHEAP MUNCHABLES, IT HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR LARGEST COUPON.

As Guinness notes, the restaurant was awarded the honor this past March for constructing an “eight-story-high voucher measuring an incredible 185.81 m² (2,000 ft²), highlighting a Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) offer on ‘Buttery Jack,’ a quarter-pound burger with garlic herb butter melted on top.” Customers were allowed to ‘redeem’ the coupon by displaying a picture they’d taken of it at checkout.

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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