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Four Loko, Joose, and Sparks: An abridged history of caffeinated alcohol

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Remembrances of Four Loko — the super-caffeinated, alcoholic energy drink available in every convenience store for a narrow window of time before FDA intervention at the end of the aughts — are their own genre of internet content.

It is, if there is such a thing, the internet’s beverage, even years after the demise of its original formula. “If you can remember your Four Loko experiences, it wasn’t a Four Loko experience,” comedian Kady Ruth recently tweeted, in response to a question from comedian Akilah Hughes, asking for stories about the drink’s golden age. “Why tell, when you can show a photo series?” dancer and YouTuber Ava Gordy replied, attaching an image of herself surrounded by Four Loko cans and wearing a gas mask. Photos from Four Loko’s golden days are scattered around on Tumblr and Imgur, captured with the high-flash, red-eyed weirdness of disposable cameras and early iPhones.

In an oral history of Four Loko, published on Grub Street last summer, the team of Ohio State buddies who created it explained how the product went from a small production run in 2005 to a splashy New York City debut in 2009 to over $100 million in revenue in 2010. In short: They made the cans tall and they gave them a neon camouflage print to make them stand out. Plus they raised the alcohol level as high as they legally could for a malt beverage.

2010 sounds like such a long time ago that I was honestly surprised when one of the Gawker pieces about the moment mentioned the fact that Obama was president. I wasn’t old enough to drink or permitted to have more than one other person in my car at the time, but even I feel a bubbly sort of weakness in my chest reading a blog post about the founder of Ron Jon Surf Shops getting arrested for driving under the influence of Four Loko or a blog post about Chuck Schumer comparing Four Loko to “a plague” devastating the country .

Four Loko was beloved, and it is beloved in death. But why? What’s so great about caffeinated sugar-water full of booze, in a can, retailing for $2.50, other than the obvious? The drink is infamous, and maybe an important cultural moment, but it’s not unique. There were also micro-eras for nearly identical drinks Sparks and Joose, and the vodka Red Bull got almost two decades. In fact, there’s a long history of people trying to showily ruin their nights or their lives with disgusting combinations of chemicals dreamt up for some business purpose that doesn’t especially concern them. Caffeine and alcohol shouldn’t mix, but they have always mixed.


“People are always looking for a way to get high,” William Rorabaug, a historian at the University of Washington tells me. “Throughout history. It seems to be part of the human condition.”

The last super-boozy generation was the baby boomers, he explains, but their children got into a health kick — yoga, meditation, bicycles, running — mostly because they saw a lot of bad stuff happen to their parents and older siblings as a result of alcohol, and because they preferred marijuana. Mothers Against Drunk Driving got big in the 1980s, and heavy alcohol consumption dipped throughout the 1990s. It didn’t rise again until about 2003, he says, when “very sweet mixed drinks” that went down easy and would fuck you up with sugar and alcohol at the time became more popular.

Philip Dobard, vice president of the National Food and Beverage Foundation, explains to me that the drinking age was lower when he was a teenager, which was in the 1970s, and that he really liked drinking Long Island Iced Teas. Though they’ve been rebranded as premium cocktails in recent years, Long Island Iced Teas used to be Diet Coke and the leftover dregs of various well spirits. “It was the vodka Red Bull of its day,” he reminisces. “It was high alcohol, not particularly high caffeine, but caffeine. It was a test of one’s humanity. A test of one’s mortality. You’re young and healthy and you’re not familiar with loss. Injuries, when they occur, quickly heal.”

A current CDC fact sheet about mixing caffeine and alcohol states that it makes drinkers feel too alert (when they should feel sleepy and want to stop drinking or at least sit down and not risk “alcohol-attributable harms”). It also points out that “caffeine has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver … (it does not ‘sober you up’) or reduce impairment due to alcohol consumption,” and some studies have found people who mix caffeine and alcohol are three times more likely to leave a bar while still heavily intoxicated and four time more likely to attempt to drive home.

But caffeinated alcohol and the type of high it provides is communal, Dobard notes. It’s almost charming, to want to strip yourself of inhibitions in the presence of people you like. “I don’t think that impulse is new,” Dobard adds. “I think the commercial forces are new.”

He’s right. The vodka Red Bull was invented in the late ’90s by none other than … Red Bull, which chased athletes in ski towns and the rave scene on the West Coast by giving cases of free energy drinks to bartenders, even paying them thousands of dollars to put it on the menu. The first mainstream alcohol and fortified caffeine beverage was an industry plant.

As Haley Hamilton noted in MEL’s recent oral history of the vodka Red Bull, combining alcohol with caffeine has a two-part effect: “The alcohol can dull the effects of the caffeine (boring), or more problematically, the caffeine can dull the effects of the alcohol, meaning you can drink way more than you normally would without feeling super-hammered.” Dobard is not personally familiar with Four Loko, but sympathizes with the plight of a generation that just wants to get as drunk as everyone else got to.

“There’s nothing inherently illicit about combining caffeine and alcohol,” Dobard points out, adding that coffee liqueurs and coffee-based cocktails have been around for hundreds of years, commonly used as post-dinner digestifs. “The problem occurs when there’s so much of one or the other and it’s so available that it becomes easily and widely abused as a substance. That’s typically when government agencies step in and recognize it as a public health risk.”

(In 2010, the New York Times offered the following, very funny, very ahistoric thought on the demand for Four Loko: “It has long vexed club-hoppers and partygoers: how do you stay awake while drinking alcohol late into the night? For years, alcohol and soda sufficed.” Imagine if we’d just cool-mom-blind-eyed everyone for choosing to drink gas station cocktails instead of doing cocaine!)


Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan commented on the persecution of Four Loko in 2010, writing that it was part of a “full-blown scapegoating operation,” and pointing out the obvious: “Isn’t the real issue here that kids are stupid?”

That’s a fair question. Budweiser’s alcohol-and-caffeine drink BE was a hit in the United States in the early- to mid-aughts but flopped immediately when tested overseas in 2006. Caffeinated alcohol is a distinctly American flavor of stupid. We do it over and over.

A can of Joose, which is 23.5 ounces, contains approximately 380 calories. (Compared to modern Four Loko, which is 660). While both had 12 percent alcohol by volume and were fortified with caffeine, Joose had a few differentiating features, beyond the fact it was 40 cents cheaper and covered in skulls.

Sparks actually preceded both, and MillerCoors voluntarily removed the caffeine in 2008, before Four Loko even hit its stride. In the two years between its $215 million acquisition from the McKenzie River Corporation and this quiet surrender, Sparks had a 90 percent share of the “alcopop” market, which meant that, with its death, Four Loko was primed to become an easy hit.

Today, even in the midst of the “wellness” boom, young people still post exuberantly about knocking back cans of Four Loko and making bad decisions, even though the caffeine has been removed and the current drink is no more dangerous than a wine cooler. In June 2016, long after Four Loko had been rereleased sans caffeine, the strange college journalism platform Odyssey Online published a guide to matching Four Loko flavors with your personality. “Gold Loko is a VERY IMPORTANT new flavor,” the possibly underage author wrote. “The people who drink these LOVE to live on the edge. They aren’t afraid of the challenge (of the added 2 percent alcohol volume).”

But it’s not special. None of it is special. I was a straitlaced high school soccer player during the Four Loko years, but I do remember, with a warm sort of disgust, the acrid taste of college ingenuity — tequila and blue Gatorade, whiskey and strawberry-kiwi Snapple, etc. There was no reason we couldn’t have chosen slightly less revolting combinations, except for the fact that it was kind of romantic not to. In 20 years, are you going to post throwback pics of a rum and Coke? It’s not shorthand for anything, and you would probably drink one now.


In November 2010, one of Four Loko’s creators, Chris Hunter, defended the drink vehemently to Fast Company, arguing that it had the same amount of caffeine as a Starbucks coffee, less alcohol than most craft beers, less seductive packaging than a Bud Light Lime, and that dozens of other alcoholic beverages were available in the same 24-ounce cans. Asked about a widely publicized incident at Washington State University in which nine college students ended up hospitalized, with Four Loko cited throughout the police report, Hunter got even more defensive, telling reporter Austin Carr, “The police report showed there was supposedly illegal drugs at the party. That was mentioned about 14 times in the police report. There were multiple mentions of hard liquor, but there were only a few, maybe 2 to 3, mentions of Four Loko. It’s really unfair to say our drink was the cause of this.”

The same month, his company reached a voluntary agreement with the New York State Liquor Authority to stop shipping Four Loko into the state and the US Food and Drug Administration issued a public warning about caffeine as an “unsafe additive” to alcoholic beverages, as well as private letters to four different manufacturers — including Four Loko’s Phusion Projects — that stated, “[The] FDA is not aware of any publicly available data to establish affirmatively safe conditions of use for caffeine added directly to alcoholic beverages and packaged in a combined form.”

The FDA’s letter was sent to Charge Beverages Corporation (which made drinks called Core High Gravity HG Green and Core High Gravity HG Orange), New Century Brewing Company (which made the fortified beer Moonshot), and United Brands, which made Joose.

Jonathan Howland, a community health researcher at Boston University, told Science Daily just after the ban on Four Loko, “Although several manufacturers of caffeinated beer have withdrawn their products from the market, there is no sign that young people have decreased the practice of combining alcohol and energy drinks.”

There have been other gross party beverages meant to recapture the thrill of alcoholic energy drinks without drawing the same unwanted attention. Whipped Lightning, a combination of sugar, heavy cream, grain alcohol, and artificial flavoring had a brief heyday. Forty-proof chocolate milk did not quite. The super-cheap bottled sangria brand Capriccio had a moment, which the company leaned into, saying, “Believe the hype!” MEL’s Miles Klee recently sampled every flavor of a Mark Cuban-endorsed juice-box wine cooler called BeatBox, which has hideous, brightly-colored marketing materials and a low price point, but concluded that its 11.1 percent alcohol content wasn’t really enough for anything other than an “unremarkable, if quietly pleasant weekend.”

In fact, even the FDA seems to be over the whole incident. When asked whether it would involve itself in the rise of alcohol-infused cold brew — such as those offered by California-based Cafe Agave or the forthcoming offering from Skyy Vodka, announced March 15 — a spokesperson said the agency only considers products on a case-by-case basis, when action seems called for, and would have to get back to me.

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20 People Share Secrets From Their Jobs and Now We Can’t Sleep Well

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Almost every job has its own secrets and nuances that very few people know. The people of different professions shared secrets from their jobs on Reddit and on Twitter and some of their stories may seriously change the way you see the world.

We at Bright Side, of course, don’t have any secrets like these, but as it turns out, not all other professions are as transparent as they seem to be.

  • Truck driver: 9 out of 10 truck drivers travel with a smartphone on their windshield watching a TV-series. Stay away from big trucks.
  • Disney World employee: There are secret tunnels underneath both Epcot and the Magic Kingdom (and probably other parks too) that enable the cast members to travel across the park pretty quickly and easily.

Comment from a park-goer: My father suffered a heart attack while visiting Epcot. I have never witnessed a faster medical response with professionals appearing from seemingly nowhere with just as fast transport through underground tunnels. It was a lifesaver. He was transported to a Disney hospital where he received great care after an emergency surgery and our stay was extended by 3 weeks.

  • IT support people: (help desks, computer repair shops, Geek Squad, etc.) are mostly just better at Googling than you are.
  • Employee at a flour factory: Wheat flour is not actually white. We use chlorine to make it look more attractive. This also increases the gluten level in flour, and this is why people are more gluten-sensitive today.
  • Rescue team member: When you are a young lifeguard, you always have a radio with you 24/7. And you always listen to what happens in the city. If you are going, for example, to a birthday party in your own car and then you hear there is a fire on a nearby street, you turn the car and drive there! (I have my own gear in the car). @Moscow_Spasatel
  • Olive oil factory employee: We had only one kind of oil but we put it in 27 different containers and sold it at different prices. Some of them were labeled as imported, some were called the highest quality oil. But it was the same oil in every single bottle.
  • IT-service engineer: When someone is fixing your computer, they also often look through the data on your hard drive searching for something funny or embarrassing. So, before you give your computer to an IT service, clear your browser history, and copy all the important data to an external drive.
  • Candle factory: Paraffin candles are dangerous and poisonous. Because I know what we added in there (even to the candles that say “100% paraffin”), I will never ever use candles again. If you need to use them for some reason, buy candles made of bee’s wax without any scents.
  • Sommelier: Wine isn’t vegan. It’s not even vegetarian in some cases. The filtering (refining) process uses egg whites, and sometimes isinglass (fish parts).

  • Movie theater: A large bag of popcorn that costs the customer $5.99 (at the time) cost the movie theatre 6 cents to produce, including the butter, the kernels, the bag, the power used by the popper and the time it took the concession employee to fill up the bag and give it to the customer.
  • Internet services: Most “subscription services” will raise their prices over time because they expect you to just live with it. This applies to phone bills, cable packages, internet service, insurance plans… Call up, politely complain about the price. Skip the canned “well the price has gone up because inflation/rising costs/age/end of promotion” and continue to politely say it’s too much, your budget can’t handle all your outgoings and you may need to drop the service. Either you are speaking to someone who can reduce the price, or they can put you through to a person authorized to reduce the price.
  • Mechanic: If you want to go on vacation and you don’t know where to leave your car, get it to a mechanic. Many people do this. It’s ridiculously cheap and you can be away for a month! It is much more expensive to use parking lots. @Neformatws
  • Pharmacist: I’ve worked at several factories that manufacture medications. And the rules were the same everywhere: if you dropped pills on the floor, just put them back into the bottle. So, maybe your medications are not as clean as you think.
  • Librarian: The amount of toilet paper, random items, and bills used as bookmarks that are left in returned library books is unbelievable!
  • Doctor: We spend so much time to be good at what we do, that we know almost nothing about other things.

Is there something about your job that is kept secret?

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The spring equinox is Wednesday, March 20: 7 things to know about the first day of spring.

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The vernal equinox is upon us: On Wednesday, March 20, both the Northern and Southern hemispheres will experience an equal amount of daylight. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it marks the beginning of spring, with daylight hours continuing to lengthen until the summer solstice in June. For those south of the equator, it’s the beginning of autumn.

Technically speaking, the equinox occurs when the sun is directly in line with the equator. This will happen at 5:58 pm Eastern time on Wednesday. (A few hours later, at 9:43 pm, you can look out for the “supermoon”, the last one until 2020.)

Below is a short scientific guide to the most equal night of the year.

1) Why do we have an equinox?

The equinox, the seasons, and the changing length of daylight hours throughout the year are all due to one fact: The Earth spins on a tilted axis.

The tilt — possibly caused by a massive object hitting Earth billions of years ago — means that for half the year, the North Pole is pointed toward the sun (as in the picture below). For the other half of the year, the South Pole gets more light. It’s what gives us seasons.


NASA

Here’s a time-lapse demonstration of the phenomenon shot over the course of a whole year from space. In the video, you can see how the line separating day from night swings back and forth from the poles during the year.



NASA/Meteosat/Robert Simmon

And here’s yet another cool way to visualize the seasons. In 2013, a resident of Alberta, Canada, took this pinhole camera photograph of the sun’s path throughout the year and shared it with the astronomy website EarthSky. You can see the dramatic change in the arc of the sun from December to June.

This is a 6 month pinhole photo taken from solstice to solstice, in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. We are one of the sunniest cities in Canada, and this shows it nicely.

Posted by Ian Hennes on Saturday, December 21, 2013

(You can easily make a similar image at home. All you need is a can, photo paper, some tape, and a pin. Instructions here.)

2) How many hours of daylight will I get Wednesday?

Equinox literally means “equal night.” And during the equinox, most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

But not every place will experience the exact same amount of daylight. For instance, on Wednesday, Fairbanks, Alaska, will see 12 hours and 15 minutes of daylight. Key West, Florida, will see 12 hours and six minutes. The differences are due to how the sunlight gets refracted (bent) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere at different latitudes.

That daylight is longer than 12 hours on the equinox is also due to how we commonly measure the length of a day: from the first hint of the sun peeking over the horizon in the morning to the very last glimpse of it before it falls below the horizon in the evening. Because the sun takes some time to rise and set, it adds some extra daylight minutes.

Check out TimeAndDate.com to see how many hours of sunlight you’ll get during the equinox.

3) Over the course of the entire year, does every spot on Earth get an equal number of daylight hours?

In the summer months, the northernmost latitudes get a lot of daylight. Above the Arctic Circle, during the summer, there’s 24 hours of daylight. In the winter, the Arctic Circle is plunged into constant darkness.

So does this mean the number of daylight hours — in total, over the course of the year — equal out to places where the seasonal difference is less extreme?

The answer to this question is somewhat surprising: Roughly speaking, everywhere on Earth sees a similar number of daylight hours every year. But the equator actually gets slightly fewer daylight hours than the poles.

As astronomer Tony Flanders explained for Sky & Telescope magazine, sunlight at the poles gets refracted more than sunlight at the equator. That refracting results in the visible disc of the sun being slightly stretched out (think of when the full moon is near the horizon and looks huge — it’s being refracted too). And the refracted, stretched-out sun takes slightly longer to rise and set. Flanders estimated that the equator spends around 50.5 percent of its year in sunlight, while the poles spend between 51.5 and 53 percent of their years in sunlight.

And, of course, this is how much sunlight these areas could potentially receive if the weather were always perfectly clear; it’s not how much sunlight they actually see, nor the strength of the sunlight that hits their ground. “Where are the places on Earth that receive the largest amount of solar radiation?” is a slightly different question, the answer to which can be seen on the chart below.



US Energy Information Administration

4) Can I really only balance an egg on its tip during on the equinox?

Perhaps you were told as a child that on the equinox, it’s easier to balance an egg vertically on a flat surface than on other days of the year.

The practice originated in China as a tradition on the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar in early February. According to the South China Morning Post, “The theory goes that at this time of year the moon and earth are in exactly the right alignment, the celestial bodies generating the perfect balance of forces needed to make it possible.”

This is a myth. The amount of sunlight we get during the day has no power over the gravitational pull of the Earth or our abilities to balance things upon it. You can balance an egg on its end any day of the year (if you’re good at balancing things).


This man is very good at balancing eggs.
AFP/Getty Images

5) Is there an ancient monument that does something cool during the equinox?

During the winter and summer solstices, crowds flock to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom. During the solstices, the sun either rises or sets in line with the layout of the 5,000-year-old-monument. And while some visit Stonehenge for the spring equinox too, the real place to be is in Mexico.

That’s because on the equinox, the pyramid at Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula puts on a wondrous show. Built by the Mayans around 1,000 years ago, the pyramid is designed to cast a shadow on the equinox outlining the body of Kukulkan, a feathered snake god. A serpent-head statue is located at the bottom of the pyramid, and as the sun sets on the day of the equinox, the sunlight and shadow show the body of the serpent joining with the head.

This is easier to see in a video. Check it out below.

6) Are there equinoxes on other planets?

Yes! All the planets in the solar system rotate on a tilted axis and therefore have seasons. Some of these tilts are minor (like Mercury, which is tilted at 2.11 degrees). But others are more like the Earth (tilted at 23.5 degrees) or are even more extreme (Uranus is tilted 98 degrees!).

Below, see a beautiful composite image of Saturn on its equinox captured by the Cassini spacecraft (RIP) in 2009. The gas giant is tilted 27 degrees relative to the sun, and equinoxes on the planet are less frequent than on Earth. Saturn only sees an equinox about once every 15 years (because it takes Saturn 29 years to complete one orbit around the sun).


Cassini Imaging Team/NASA

During Saturn’s equinox, its rings become unusually dark. That’s because these rings are only around 30 feet thick. And when light hits them head on, there’s not much surface area to reflect.

7) I clicked this article accidentally and really just want a mind-blowing picture of the sun


The sun blew out a coronal mass ejection along with part of a solar filament over a three-hour period (February 24, 2015). Some of the strands fell back into the sun.
Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

The image above was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in 2010 to better understand the sun.

This past summer, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will come within 4 million miles of the surface of the sun (much closer than any spacecraft has been before). The goal is to study the sun’s atmosphere, weather, and magnetism and figure out the mystery of why the sun’s corona (its atmosphere) is much hotter than its surface. Still, even several million miles away, the probe will have to withstand temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s essential to understand the sun: It’s nothing to mess with. Brad Plumer wrote for Vox about what happens when the sun erupts and sends space weather our way to wreak havoc on Earth.

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Kitten Doesn’t Understand How Tails Work Yet

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Occurred on March 16, 2019 / Hanoi, Vietnam

Info from Licensor: “This kitten still doesn’t understand why the dog’s tail keeps hitting it in the face.”

View at DailyMotion

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