It’s A Douglas Adams Universe. We Just Live In It.

The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

-Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

drink1drink2If you’ve encountered one of these machines you’ve probably discovered that no matter what you select it comes out tasting vaguely like everything else it also dispenses. Never before has anyone thought to combine lemonade with Coke, Vanilla Coke, Cherry Coke, green tea, Powerade, Sprite, at least four flavors of Fanta, orange juice, and assorted other beverages, and if you’ve tasted the result you know why.

It’s a classic example of good idea/bad design. Some engineer came up with a brilliant idea to collapse a standard drink dispenser into the same space as a standard vending machine, saving restaurants approximately six square inches, but didn’t think that something as simple as an intermittent squirt of water to clean the nozzle would be necessary.

Coming up next: how the ancient myth of Sisyphus anticipated Windows 8.

19 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    I’m happy to think that it’s a Christopher Waldrop universe and we all live in it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Aw, shucks. I’m just passing through and trying to make the surroundings a little more interesting.

      Reply
  2. TwerlaP

    At my old neighborhood, I would occasionally bring the tweens to the convenience store for slushies. They had a setup of like 12 or 16 flavors. The kids always would make a mix of cherry/root beer/pineapple. They’d all taste, scream how bad it was, dump it out and start over. Good times.
    And. I hate to mention Microsoft, cuz they represent all that’s bad with the huge evil software companies. But, I’ve been playing with Windows 10, for a couple days. And compared with 8, it’s remarkably good. (Climbs off soapbox)

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Why did my friends and I never get to mix our own slushies? I feel so deprived now. We just considered ourselves really tough if we got the blue raspberry slushy which was eye-wateringly sour. That was at camp. Now that I think about it the guy behind the counter would have mixed all the flavors if I’d asked him to.
      Also I’m glad to hear Windows 10 is pretty good, but make sure you check the privacy settings. Its defaults are set to steal a lot of information you may not want going out.

      Reply
  3. kdcol

    I remember ordering what we kids would call a “suicide” from the concession stand at whatever sporting event. The “suicide” consisted of combining multiple sodas into one cup. We thought we were so cool. ?? I can’t even imagine if those all-in-one machines were around back then. I imagine the adults would never even be able to get a shot at the dispenser with all us kids playing around with the endless drink combinations. Oh my. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      When I was a kid a “suicide” was known as Sprite or 7Up and Coke (it may have been Pepsi, but this was the South, so if it was brown and carbonated it was “Coke”) mixed. That was it. Not very daring, but then that was all we had–7Up and Coke, and it was dispensed by the same women who worked in the cafeteria.
      One time when I was four or five my friends and I were in daycare and found a drink machine in the church basement where we were being kept. The stuff that came out was badly mixed and pretty awful but we had a great time drinking it until we got caught. Or rather one kid got caught going back for more. The rest of us didn’t say anything, and the women watching us didn’t notice all the cups on the playground.

      Reply
  4. Chuck Baudelaire

    The Machine! Precocious Daughter and I love The Machine! Peach Sprite is her favorite concoction, while I favor Raspberry Vanilla Coke Zero. I’m not going to let you harsh my buzz about the flavors, even though yeah, now that you say that, it’s just everything coming out of one nozzle. Huh.

    Drummer Boy is extremely leery of The Machine. He just gets plain Coke. But I’m working on him.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You make The Machine sound appealing, but my wife has very sensitive tastes. She doesn’t have to see The Machine or know that I’ve used one. She’ll take a sip of her drink and say, “This is out of one of those machines, isn’t it?”
      Personally I don’t really care that much, and, heck, I’ll drink almost anything. Almost.

      Reply
  5. Margot

    Huh. I must not get out enough because I’ve never seen one of those machines before. But tea is my beverage of choice anyway–English Breakfast, not that awful sweet tea they serve here in the South (I’m just north of you in Kentucky these days).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      They’re becoming increasingly common in fast food places, so if you haven’t seen one yet you will soon. English Breakfast is great for getting going, but I prefer Earl Grey throughout the day. At least in the winter. In the summer I will drink iced tea, but only unsweetened. For some reason the places that have these machines still keep the iced tea–sweet and unsweet–in big urns next to the straws and lids. Go figure.

      Reply
  6. Shawna

    I can feel vomit rising in my throat just thinking about my kids’ flavor combos… I hardly take them into public anymore. Good read, and, weird coincidence, someone *just* mentioned Douglas Adams to me this morning and I was like, “Dougie Houser, who??” But, now I realize I am an idiot because Hitchhiker’s Guide was awesome.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Well the mishearing is understandable, and Neil Patrick Harris is still alive and all over the place. You know what’s a great way to get your kids to stop making crazy flavor combos? Make them drink the whole thing. That’ll fix ’em.

      Reply
  7. Gina W.

    Oh lord, I cringe a little when I see those machines because my son LOVES them. If I let him he would stand there for an hour and try every single possible combination that is available. As soon as the line forms behind us I always make him stop and just make a choice. But I agree that the flavors are always a little bit off. My sons pallette must not be sophisticated enough to notice a difference. Also because he doesn’t get to drink soda that much….

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It must be lack of experience because I thought kids’ palates would be more sensitive, being so comparatively new. I’d be tempted to ask him what he’d mixed up and if it was good.

      Reply
  8. Spoken Like A True Nut

    Confession #1: In high school we used to mix the most unholy combinations of fountain sodas, deliberately, at every available opportunity. And actually enjoyed them. We referred to them as swamp water.

    Confession #2: I still make swamp water whenever a fast food restaurant is foolish enough to hand me an empty soda cup and trust me with their machine. And I still enjoy it. My super secret winning combination is to fill the cup half full with root beer, top it up with equal parts Sprite and Orange Crush, and finish with a splash of Mountain Dew. Mmm, tastes like teenage nostalgia.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Confession is good for the soda.

      And the important thing is you do drink the unholy combinations you make. It’s not like the kids I knew in grade school who would take their plastic tray of school food and combine it all into one giant unspeakable mess of “meat”-loaf, peas, chocolate milk, colored gelatin with a dollop of mayonnaise and sliced almonds, and pasteurized processed cheese substitute. And then we’d get the inevitable lecture about how there were people in Africa who’d love to have that, and I’d think, no, they’re staying in Africa to avoid it.

      Reply
      1. Margot

        Christ, Christopher! While that was an extremely entertaining response, I’ve just finished eating breakfast and now fear it will be coming back up shortly.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          I hope it’s managed to stay down. If not I’m sure I can dredge up some other even more entertaining memories from my schoolboy days that’ll bring up breakfast and maybe even the remnants of last night’s dinner.

          Reply
          1. Margot

            That would be awesome. But, just so you know I’ll be fasting for the rest of the day for…umm…religious reasons.

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