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11 Cool Facts About Dippin’ Dots

Sweets-lovers have been dipping in to the ice cream of the future since 1988. It’s tasty (candy bar crunch? Yes please!), educational (this is what happens when you play with liquid nitrogen, kids!) and, er, well-rounded. Read on to learn more.

1. YOU HAVE SCIENCE TO THANK FOR THIS FUN DESSERT.

In 1987, Curt Jones was just a microbiologist researching how to quick-freeze yogurt bacteria to use in animal feed. Within a year, he had created his confection by flash freezing ice cream mix in liquid nitrogen. (At negative 320 degrees, the liquid gas is cold enough to instantly freeze anything that is added to it.) "I grew up on a farm and used to make homemade ice cream a lot," he has said. "Working on the yogurt bacteria, I found the little beads fun to play with. Then a month or two later, I was making ice cream with a neighbor and decided it would be better if we could freeze it faster, like we were doing with the yogurt."

2. THE COMPANY'S FIRST PLANT WAS A GARAGE.

Jones first began crafting his invention in 1988 inside his parents’ Grand Chain, Illinois garage. Two years later he moved production to a manufacturing facility in Paducah, Kentucky.

3. THEY'VE COME A LONG WAY SINCE VANILLA.

Among the brand’s 30 flavors: candy bar crunch, cotton candy and kettle corn! The most popular? Cookies ‘n Cream.

4. YOU CAN BUY IT AT STADIUMS, MALLS, AMUSEMENT PARKS—AND IN ASIA!

Dippin’ Dots is sold in 14 countries, including Honduras and Luxembourg. Japan was the company’s first international licensee in 1995.

5. NO, IT'S NOT THE ICE CREAM ASTRONAUTS EAT.

Space travelers’ ice cream is freeze-dried and will not melt. Dippin’ Dots is flash frozen and can still dissolve if not stored at the proper temperature (which, by the way, is negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit).

6. CAN'T CHOOSE YOUR FAVORITE FLAVOR? THERE'S A QUIZ FOR THAT.

The Dippin' Dots personality test asks thought-provoking questions such as “What would you do if you saw your crush at the mall with someone else?” and “You get $50 for your birthday. What do you do with it?” Apparently, more than half of the quiz-taking population are Strawberry.

7. THE COMPANY HOLDS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

On July 4, 2014 in Nashville, Tenn., Dippin’ Dots nabbed the trophy for most ice cream cups prepared by a team of five in three minutes (473!). Country singer Ashley Monroe even pitched in for the contest!

8. THE COMPANY (UNSUCCESSFULLY) SUED A COMPETITOR.

In 1996, Dippin’ Dots sued fellow cryogenic ice cream brand Mini Melts for infringement. Nine years of litigation later, the company lost its fight when it was ruled it hadn’t acquired its patent properly.

9. THEN, THEY ALMOST WENT BANKRUPT.

When Dippin’ Dots filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2011, Jones insisted, “We’re going to keep making Dippin’ Dots, so nobody needs to worry.” He was right. A year later Oklahoma businessman Scott Fischer purchased the company for $12.7 million.

10. THEY DO GOOD.

In 2007, the company held a celebrity grand slam paddle jam (i.e. a giant table tennis tournament) to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

11. AND THEY'VE GOT A SENSE OF HUMOR.

On April 1, 2015, the company posted a story on its site about their new “giant-sized Dippin’ Dot option—The Jumbo Dot!” Sadly, the oversize confection—touted as the perfect treat for graduation parties and weddings—was an April Fools' Day joke. Further proof of their sense of humor? This commercial.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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