New Year's Resolution: get more done...with chocolate?

A New Year's Good Housekeeping Magazine tip:

“Feed your brain more chocolate. Break into a bar of chocolate, then take over the world. A nip of it boosts your short-term productivity by 12%, according to a study in the Journal of Labor Economics. 'Chocolate makes people happier, and happy people may be less distracted by worry, so they get more done,' theorizes lead researcher Andrew Oswald, Ph.D, professor of economics and behavioral science at the university of Warwick in England."

Of course, chocolate probably isn't the only thing that makes you happier and more productive. But I'm always inclined to believe the science that shows off the benefits of chocolate!

Good Housekeeping, Jan 2017, Pg 94

Sparkling Sugar Crystal Ornaments

With two weeks to go before Christmas, you've got just enough time to make your own sugar crystal ornaments. Here's how!
  1. Make a few ornament shapes out of fuzzy pipe cleaners.
  2. Make sugar crystal solution by adding 4 cups sugar to 2 cups water, and boiling until the solution is clear.
  3. Pour the solution into a quart jar or small glass jars.
  4. Lay a pencil over the jar(s). Use string or twist ties to hang the ornaments from the pencil. The ornaments should not be touching each other, or the sides of the jar.
  5. Wait two weeks, or until crystals form.
  6. Remove the ornaments, dip in water to rinse, hang dry, and admire!
For more instructions and explanations, see my article, "Grow Sugar-crystal Ornaments," in the December 2016 issue of Highlights.

Candy Cane Silhouettes

Candy experiments with cousins led to a new discovery: although candy canes don't float, some emit bubbles that do.

 See the red candy cane shapes with bubble outlines? The candy canes are still at the bottom of the dish, but the bubbles have floated to the surface, still in candy cane outline.

Stormy day, big library crowds!

The Everett librarian and I thought that the rainstorm outside would keep the kids home. I thought we'd be lucky if we had 5. Instead, our 24-max Hands On Candy Presentation ended up with 30 kids! With well-behaved kids, and helpful parents, we were still able to get through all the activities.

Our program today had 15 adults (thank goodness!) and 30 kids (yay! …The kids had fun and we were very happy to have so many parents helping out with the experiments…Loralee was very organized and efficient and was able to keep chaos from breaking out even with a very crowded room. Some of the science we learned was about acids, colors, endothermic reactions, air pressure, and how much sugar is hidden in everyday foods besides candy. Some of the kids were very impressed and grossed out which is always fun… Thank you for another fun program.

Apple Jack experiments

Candy Experiment: Apple Jack marshmallows, usually as hard and crunchy as Styrofoam, turn soft and mushy if left in the cupboard for a year. They're hygroscopic, absorbing water from the atmosphere!

Also discovered as a result of scientific testing: 3-year-olds eat them. Even when the Apple Jacks are a year old.

Americans thinking about added sugar

Americans might be starting to actually cut down on added sugar. At least 58% of poll respondents in spring of 2016 said they’d tried to limit sugar in their diets in the past 30 days. When you’re trying to cut down on added sugar, look at sodas, yogurt, kid snacks, “nutrition” bars, cereal, and other places where sugar can hide--not just candy!

“Newsbites” April 2016, pg 1, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter

Lucky Charms, Sugar, and the General Mills Journey

General Mills is on an exciting journey to be responsible and give back.

Apparently, "That's why Lucky Charms Has... 10 g of sugar per serving."

Written in the finest marketing speech, this sounds like bragging. But it's not. Since a serving size is only 27 grams, this cereal is 37% sugar.

That's like eating eight nickel-wide Smartie candies.

A Candy Experiments potion to celebrate Harry Potter

Candy Experiments potion from the Harry Potter book release signing party

Watch this purple potion turn blue, then bubbling purple, then bubbling pink! Is it magic...or science?

To make the potion yourself:
  1. Pour purple cabbage indicator into cup.*
  2. Add baking soda to turn it blue.
  3. Add a Warhead to make the potion bubble and start turning purple again.
  4. Add Pixy Stix powder to turn the potion pink and bubbly.
Purple cabbage juice is an acid-base indicator. Add something basic, like baking soda, and it turns blue. Neutralize the baking soda with an acidic Warhead, and it starts turning purple again, while the acid reacts with the baking soda to make bubbles. Acidic Pixy Stix complete the potion by turning the indicator pink.

Happy Harry Potter Day!

* Make cabbage indicator by letting chopped red cabbage sit in water for an hour, or boiling it for more color. Strain and refrigerate.

Tricky lollipop math

You might be able to eat just one-half of a lollipop, or one-fourth. But if you were given this giant lollipop, could you eat just one ninth?

Giant lollipop weighing 141.7 g or 5 oz

You'd have to, if you wanted to stick to just one serving.

Label reads: serving size 1/9 piece (15 g)

And if you did, you'd be getting 15.7 g, which rounds up to 16, not the 15 promised on the label. Hmm...


Black circles appear and join together on this foggy film. Raindrops?  No, they're water drops that have condensed from steam onto plastic wrap. As they draw together, surface tension joins the droplets in sudden bursts, producing bigger and bigger droplets, appearing suddenly as new dark circles.

Taffy and the Near Failure of 1950s Baseball Cards

Baseball card designer Sy Berger almost failed at his first baseball card venture because he chose the wrong candy to market.

Berger was hired to design cards to sell gum. His first cards, for characters like Hopalong Cassidy, were successful, but his first baseball cards were a dismal failure. Why? Because those 1951 baseball cards were packaged with a piece of taffy. Disaster. The taffy "picked up the flavor of the cards' varnish," one article read. Berger himself remembered, " 'You wouldn't dare put that taffy near your mouth.'"* The next year he used gum in the pack instead, and the pop-culture phenomenon of baseball card collecting was born.

Why did the taffy absorb the flavor of the varnish? Perhaps because taffy is hygroscopic, absorbing water from the atmosphere around it. The gum was clearly a better choice.

*"Sy Berger: The salesman who reinvented the baseball card." <i>The Week</i>, December 26, 2014.

Break-Away Bunny causes Easter chaos

They've fought trans fats, added sugars, artificial dye, and labeling malpractice. Now health advisory groups have found a new target: Break-Away Bunny.

Here's the problem: Break-Away Bunny is creased for easy breakage, but the pieces are different sizes. Try serving that to children!

"It's sold as break-apart candy as if that's a good thing," says Consumer Nutrition Advisory Protector Group President Michael B. Morish. "But if the breaks aren't equal, it just makes matters worse. Children start fighting about portion size, which can result in depression, higher blood pressure, and occasional black eyes."

Parents agree that Break-Away Bunny breaks families apart. "My kids fought over their Bunny for two hours," said one dissatisfied mom. "We had to smash it with a hammer and spoon the pieces onto a kitchen scale before they agreed they had equal servings."

Morish is also considering suing the company about labeling practices. "A serving size is listed as 43 grams, but you can only eat a single serving if you combine the ears and the tail," he points out.  "Otherwise, customers have no way to know how big a serving is. This could cause health problems for customers who depend on labeling for their consumption decisions." And why, he continues, "does a product with six pieces only list three servings?"

On the other hand, math teachers like using Break-Away Bunny as a classroom aid. "I asked my students to figure out what size of a group could have equal servings, and how big they would be," said one teacher, who asked to remain anonymous. "They were at it so long I watched a whole movie on my phone.  Of course they never solved it."

Despite the protests of math teachers, Morish plans to continue his crusade. "The public has a right to accurate labels and accurate portion sizes," he decrees. "Break-Away Bunny is going down."

Happy April First!

News Flash: Chocolate Cheerios contain "Real Chocolate!"

These "Chocolate Cheerios" brag that they're made with "Real Cocoa."
The question: how could you possibly have chocolate without cocoa? (Unless you mean white chocolate, which many chocolate lovers claim isn't chocolate at all.)
That's like bragging that zucchini bread contains zucchinis.
(Of course, in this world of avocado-free "guacamole spread" and fruit-free "Fruit snacks," maybe you have to be obvious.

More research on sugar sodas

When I started experimenting with candy and paying attention to sugar content in food and drinks, I saw that candy wasn't nearly as big a culprit for sugar consumption as soda. Here's yet more evidence of soda's effects on health.

Health officials around the world have warned that drinking soda or other sugar beverages is harmful.
A 2015 study* ties sweet drinks to an estimated 184,000 adult deaths each year, including 25,000 in the US alone, 133,000 from diabetes, 45,000 from cardiovascular disease, and 6450 from cancer. Another study** reported in 2015 shows that drinking just one sugar soda a day increases the risk for type 2 diabetes, even if the drinker is not obese. Researchers estimated that if Americans broke their sugary drink habits, 2 million new cases of diabetes could be prevented over the next 5 years.

quoted in the week July 17, 2015

**published by a team at the University of Cambridge that analyzed 17 studies
quoted in The Week August 14, 2015

(I've been getting caught up on my reading.)

Picture book "The Denim Jungle" Captures Children's Imagination

A new picture book invites parents everywhere to get down to kid level, and look at the world their children see. In "The Denim Jungle," a child explores a forest of blue-jeaned grown-up legs, as ordinary objects magically become exciting. Angela Taylor Hylland's easy verse feels like natural conversation, quite an accomplishment for a debut author.

This fun little book reminded me how important is the way our children see the world. It's when I stop to notice the way my children see the world that I really connect with them, and with the wonder of parenting. It's also led me into this crazy career.

After all, it was my four-year-old daughter's question, "Mommy, what would happen if I put these Nerds in water?" that launched Candy Experiments. More recently, when Highlights Magazine contacted me to request that I write an activity, I started floating wrapped candy bars in a bowl of water. My seven-year-old daughter came along, saw what I was doing, and jumped in with her own ideas. Soon she was inventing ways to sink my candy bars, which might someday end up in another article.

I loved reading "The Denim Jungle," and the reminder to connect with the way my children see the world. Good things happen when I do!

Visit to learn more about the book and the author. 

Set candy on fire to see energy in action

This video by Bearded Science Guy shows how much energy there is in our candy. More calories=more flames!