I connect odd snacks with stain lab commercials; one stain combined with another to create a new stain obliterated by the detergent. With snacks, the obliteration is common sense that often turns out good, but mostly icky. Hello, “booger” Jelly Belly. There has to be a snack science lab somewhere with experiments on snacks we know and love. Perhaps in an abandoned nuclear bunker, scientists create evil Oreo flavors. Cackling laughter emanates during the Lay’s flavor creation contest. Smells snake out of windows like samples during Costco Happy Hour.
Those snack scientists must dream of naming the often-sinister snack creations they’re assigned. Chips combined with Jell-o. Gum mixed with cookies. Diabolical concoctions worthy of Mary Shelley, if she dreamed in single serve chip metaphors. Mostly rejected — but occasionally a stroke of snack brilliance or madness. They toil in their subterranean lab like trapped fortune cookie writers with only a brainstorming whiteboard and Expo markers for brief creative highs.
Around Easter when all autumnal snack products are created from rejected black jelly beans, they make a whiteboard list worthy of the Halloween holiday.
Pumpkin spice. Orange. Dust. Aliens. Leaves. Snack. Corn. Balls. Chips. Balls. Balls. Balls.
Scientist #3 loves saying “balls”. The other scientists put up with him because of his “special” brownies and freakishly, lovely Victorian script. He also created a break room ball pit for them from snack ball rejects. Scientist #1 loves pumpkin spice; even her hair is pumpkin spice-colored. Her pumpkin spice snack seniority level means she invented the concept but receives no royalties and has cursed the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte forever.
Huddled over smashed pumpkins and corn chips, the snack scientists wait for lightning to strike. And then. One. Ball. Drops. After months of experiments, a styrofoam-textured, slightly orange-hued snack ball drops from the magical snack Rube Goldberg track. Scientist #1 examines the ball for viability.
Pumpkin spice. Check.
Corn chip dog paw smell. Check.
Styrofoam feel. Check.
Gluten free. Check.
Monster DNA. Check.
Shaped like a monstrous ball. Check.
Perfect for Halloween party balls. Check.
She puts it in her mouth.
Tastes like Starbucks anything. Check.
Feels like styrofoam peanuts. Check.
Mildly addictive. Check.
Crunchy enough to make sounds but not break teeth. Check.
Faintly corn, faintly cinnamon stick. Check.
The scientists gather as she spits the ball into the snack experiment bucket. They can’t tell if her grimace means yes or no. They never see the success or failure of their snack creations, but sometimes find their experimental snacks in a Big Lots clearance bin. They cheer when she indicates a single pumpkin spice corn ball will be sent to the marketing department.
The marketing scientist creates the Herr’s Pumpkin Spice Flavored Snack Balls packaging. An homage to fall. Leaves. Cinnamon sticks. Cloves. And balls. Balls. Balls. Lots of balls. It is the perfect zen of pumpkin spice and balls; ready for wine o’clock thirty book clubs AND for Monday Night Football. A snack-focused photograph on the bag making the snack-size pumpkin balls half the size of the pumpkin image.
As I stare at the packaging in an interstate Cracker Barrel snack graveyard, I’m suddenly frightened of choking on giant balls that look more asteroid, than snack.
As a consumer, I must do my duty and taste test the pumpkin spice balls, a scientific memorial to these brave men and women who are only allowed out on the solstice holidays. I’m also SWH (shopping while hungry) and anything looks good. The taste of corn and pumpkin and scientific ingenuity fills my mouth. I wipe my hands on my shirt to test for Cheetos-level residue. Nothing.
Will I buy these Frankensteinian snacks again? I think one giant bite of crunchy and sweet corn balls may be enough. As I leave the land of impulse-buy rocking chairs and Oak Ridge Boy CDs, I imagine the snack scientists jumping in their Herr’s snack ball pit to relax before they move to Hostess Christmas Cupcakes. On the whiteboard, Scientist #1 erases all but the last word remnants of … The Herr Project and Scientist #3 rocks in the lab corner, whispering balls.
Amy Barnes has words at a variety of sites including McSweeney’s, Robot Butt, Weekly Humorist, College Humor and Botnik Studios. She reads submissions as a member of the Taco Bell Quarterly Day Crew. You can find her on Twitter at @amygcb and hiding from her teenagers in the laundry room.