One chip away from genius
April 6, 2018
by Ivan Raconteur

A former colleague recently posted on social media his observations concerning the relative cheesiness (photo included) of two versions of a uniform potato and wheat-based stackable snack chip.

He noted one version had natural and artificial flavors, while the other had “the same great taste with no artificial flavor.”

My former colleague, who described himself as a connoisseur of this brand of snack chip, expressed a preference for the artificially-flavored version, which he stated was “cheesier.”

He wondered, however, if the other might be a healthier choice.

I might have viewed his observations with a more critical eye, had I not experienced this sort of scientific inquiry in the past.

Years ago, my old pal Skippy embarked on a similar voyage of discovery.

It started when Skippy and Mingo and I were sitting in Skippy’s garage enjoying some refreshing adult beverages as we worked up motivation to tackle some project or other.

Mingo had picked up a bag of potato chips on his way to the meeting, which we were sampling along with the beverages.

“I wonder,” Skippy mused, scrutinizing one of the chips in question, “what the difference is between a wavy chip and a ripple chip.”

Mingo and I found ourselves unable to supply the answer. We speculated that perhaps wavy chips had a greater amplitude and wavelength, but lower frequency, but we had no scientific basis for our hypothesis.

This might easily have been the end of the discussion, but Skippy had an inquiring mind.

The next time he summoned us to his garage, we found he had set out an assortment of bags of potato chips on his workbench. It looked like he had gone to the store and procured every type of chip he could find with ripples, ridges, or waves.

He had also assembled some fancy-looking measuring equipment that we learned he had borrowed from a friend.

Skippy put on a white lab coat we had never seen before, and produced a clipboard and some graph paper.

He then set forth the scope of the factors he proposed to measure. His first objective was to determine the difference between waves and ripples. His secondary objectives were to determine the relative flavor-carrying capacity of each (based on the theory that surface area affects ability to retain cheese powder or other adjuncts), and the tensile strength of each design, which of course is an important consideration when evaluating dip-supporting characteristics.

Skippy began his experiment, with Mingo and I serving as lab assistants and offering our observations as we sampled the products being measured.

We soon learned that, as far as potato chips are concerned, there are no universal standards for the terms “wavy” or “ripple.” They appear to be used arbitrarily by the marketing departments of the manufacturers.

We also discovered a factor we had not previously considered. There were notable differences in the thickness of the chips themselves, which affected a chip’s ability to support a payload of dip.

Skippy stayed busy with his pencil, making copious notes on his graph paper. He might have been on the verge of some important scientific discoveries. Unfortunately, his work was derailed by the one clear conclusion that it produced. That was the fact that scientific research is a thirsty business.

Sampling all those chips left Skippy feeling parched, and he broke out the refreshing adult beverages to quench his thirst.

Although this stimulated the theoretical side of the discussion and led to some thoughtful speculation, it also tended to erode the scientific precision from the experiment. Skippy soon began forgetting to make his notes, and his insistence on accuracy began to fade.

Before long, Skippy was assessing various combinations of different types of chips, sampling wavy and ripple chips together, but without any sort of structure to his work.

Skippy never did publish his research on the wave properties of potato chips. Like many other inspired ideas, it led to some entertaining discussion, but no practical application.

Perhaps this is the difference between the masses and those people who achieve greatness.

I suspect a lot of people have interesting ideas. But it is the rare ability to actually do something with the ideas that sets some individuals apart.

It has been noted that inspiration is only a small part of genius or success.

I still think old Skippy may have been just one chip away from a breakthrough.

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