With a final project due in 14 hours, it was serious crunch time. Since I knew I was looking at an all-nighter, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some caffeine sources. I was amazed at the variety of energy drinks available, and the multiplicity of strange claims they offered and ingredients they contained. “What’s the difference between Panax Ginseng and Siberian ginseng?” I wondered. “Do bee pollen and gingko biloba really sharpen my mind and revitalize my body? And what the fuck is glucaronolactone?”
Someone needed to get to the bottom of all of this, wading through the sea of unsubstantiated claims and separating fact from hype. Someone needed to demystify these strange concoctions by explaining the difference between D-Ribose, L-Carnitine, Taurine, and Inositol.
|I am way too lazy to be that person. Instead, with Jen’s assistance, I conducted a comparative taste test. We sampled six different energy drinks and rated their tastes on a ten-point scale. Since I’m inclined the believe that the effects of the peculiar dietary supplements these drinks contain are largely psychosomatic, we also rated the drinks on “Design,” a category that included both the look of the can and the extent to which we were “convinced” of the drink’s effectiveness based on its pseudoscientific pronouncements.|
Here are the results of our evaluation. Ratings range from 1 (terrible) to 10 (excellent).
|The product: Hansen’s Energy (Original Formula)
The pitch: Catch the Wave! Hansen’s energy supplement is specially formulated with the amino acid Taurine, Panax Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, key B vitamins, glucose, and other ingredients, which are intended to provide a positive energy boost.
Mild lemon flavor, not overly sweet, and no aftertaste.
Uninspired writing on can caused Dan to quip, “at least it’s not a negative energy boost.”
“Catch the wave, my ass,” Jen insightfully added.
Rating: Taste 10, Design 1
|The product: High Potency Energy Venom With Instant Bite
The pitch: Taurine, MatÃ©, and energy vitamins
Sweet and lemony like Citra, but with a viciously bitter aftertaste.
Rating: Taste 7, Design 3
|The product: Amp Energy Drink from Mountain Dew
The pitch: With MDX5! Turn up your energy with Amp. Only Amp has MDX5: taurine, ginseng, B-vitamins, guarana, and maltodextrin, a complex carb. All in a great tasting citrus fusion. For energy that lasts.
Contact: www.ampenergy.com 1-800-433-2652
Thick, gooey consistency, like a melted Slurpee or fermented Mountain Dew syrup. Make-believe “chemical compound” named MDX5 (which presumably stands for Mountain Dew X 5 ) failed to impress us.
Rating: Taste 4, Design 8
|The product: Arizona Extreme Energy Shot
The pitch: Maximum Performance Blend Energy Drink “Bottle Rocket”
Nasty nasty shit. Bitter honey-lemon flavor and powdery texture. “Like dissolved Alka-Seltzer,” Jen remarked.
Leaves an unpleasant goo on teeth. Gratuitous plastic top is difficult to remove and lends phallic appearance to can.
Rating: Taste 1, Design 7
|The product: SoBe Adrenaline Rush
The pitch: Maximum Energy Supplement. Get it up. Keep it up. Any questions?
Contact: www.sobeadrenalinerush.com 1-800-588-0548
Smells strange, but has an appealing citrus taste similar to Orangina. Difficult to imagine a non-sexual interpretation of unusual slogan on can.
Rating: Taste 9, Design 2
|The product: Red Bull Energy Drink
The pitch: With Taurine. Vitalizes body and mind.
Red Bull Energy Drink:
Â· Improves performance, especially during times of increased stress or strain.
Â· Increases endurance.
Â· Increases concentration and improves reaction speed.
Â· Stimulates the metabolism.
Curiously tangy cherry flavor, somewhat reminiscent of cough syrup. “I don’t like it,” Jen says immediately. Dan is somewhat more enthusiastic: “like medicine, but tastier.”
Rating: Taste 3, Design 9
If you want a drink that tastes good, go with Hansen’s Energy Drink or SoBe Adrenaline Rush. Or just drink a cup of coffee with milk and sugar and you’ll probably get the same effect.
Some of the cans were labeled with amusing warnings:
- Suggested use: up to four (4) cans per day. Not recommended for children, pregnant women, or people sensitive to caffeine.
- These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
|The caption “NOT GENUINE UNLESS SIGNED” on the Energy Shot can made no sense, since the signature was machine-printed on the can right along with the caption.|
|When we had finished our taste comparison, I mixed all of the remaining energy drink liquid together into a mixture I called “Maximum Potency Extreme Venom High Adrenaline Red Amped Energy Bull Rush Rocket Shot with Instant Bite.” It wasn’t too bad..|
I felt really jittery and weird at the end. Too much glucoronolactone, I suppose.
|But what the hell, I made one more.Â Check out the new:|
I got this e-mail from my mom today:
Sent: Monday, December 03, 2001 6:37 PM
Subject: your mom reads the NYTHi Dan,
If someone asked me what I first thought would get you a story in the New York Times, I probably wouldn’t have guessed this.Â But then, I also wouldn’t have guessed that it would occur in your first semester of graduate school either.
So, do you get extra credit for your Human-Computer interfaces class for this site?
Ah well.Â I have made a personal resolution that the next time I make the Times, it will involve significantly fewer pictures of dildos.
My ECG research collaborators and I have been receiving numerous letters about our work recently.Â My favorite letter came from a woman who took offense at the idea of sexual robotics:
Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2001 5:05 PM
Subject: erotic computation
Don’t you have anything better to do with your time than try to create sex robots named Veronica? There is already an overabundance of lame sexist shit in this world without the hopes of adding to it in the form of robotic playthings. Maybe you don’t see the obvious misogynistic intent with your work, but I sure as hell do. A little FYI, Sarah: Women already feel sexually worthless due to fake representations in the media. They really don’t need some big-titted suck dick robot as competition.Yours Truly,
To me this letter was amusing on two levels.Â First, it was funny that Carmel didn’t realize the whole thing was a hoax.Â Second, while I used fairly formal and scientific language on the ECG web page, Carmel went right into talking about “big-titted suck dick robots.”
Sara, being the diplomat that she is, wrote Carmel back with a very polite apology, explaining that the ECG also had plans to make male sex androids.Â I told Sara that it would have been funnier had she replied with, “actually, our suck dick robots have average sized tits.”
“Yeah,” Sara replied, “if you look at the pictures on the page, that’s actually true.Â And really, this Carmel woman must not be very impressive if she’s worried about robotic competition.”
Dennis and I were discussing Carmel’s letter, and I told him that I didn’t agree with Carmel’s viewpoint.Â “Actually,” I said, “I think that female sex robots might be empowering to women.”
“Well, sure,” Dennis agreed, “they wouldn’t have to suck dick anymore.”
“No, but it goes beyond that,” I continued.Â “See, if men had these sex robots to constantly fulfill their raw sexual urges, they might eventually find something missing, and turn to human women for love and companionship.Â So there would be more meaningful relationships, instead of dysfunctional ones that only last because of the sex.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Dennis.Â “Maybe you should change the name of your research group to the ‘Big-Titted Suck Dick Robots Group.’Â It does have a nice ring to it.”