Last Thursday, my brothers and I took an overnight train from Northern California to Northern Oregon as part of an every-other-year reunion. The trip, which would take eleven hours if you drove from San Jose to Portland instead, took twice that long on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. But the meals come with the ride and everyone gets a bed and a hot shower, so it’s a cozy way to watch the world go by. In hindsight, for all the time sitting and staring out the window, we could’ve been stacking M&M’s. Just five of the colorful candies one atop the other would’ve landed my brothers and me in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Buy a bag of plain M&M’s (you’ll have zero chance with the peanut variety), count out five, and let the stacking commence. You’ll get to a tower of two quickly. You’ll get three one atop the other with time and patience. But that’s the proverbial end of the line, my friends. You won’t make it to four. If you did, you’d join the two co-holders of the former world record. Last January, Will Cutbill, a twenty-something British engineer, pushed the record to a stack of five.
The history of M&M’s suggests it’s only appropriate a Brit broke the stacking record. M&M’s were copied (and somehow uniquely patented) from British-made Smarties, the first candy where a hard-shelled coating protected the chocolate inside from melting. Here’s another interesting M&M’s factoid. The first “M” is for Forrest Mars, Sr., the founder of the Mars candy company. The second “M”? Bruce Murrie, the son of the president of Hershey’s Chocolate. No, the companies didn’t join forces to create M&M’s. During the wartime years of the 1940’s Hershey had a monopoly on rationed chocolate so Mars was forced to use them as their supplier. Today, M&M’s have evolved to a “fully Mars” product.
It’s safe to say Will Cutbill wouldn’t have broken the M&M’s stacking record without the pandemic. He was in the middle of the UK’s third lockdown earlier this year when he pondered a lifelong dream of getting into the Guinness book. He also had a bag of M&M’s in his hand at the time. Practice led to more practice, and as you’ll see in the video here, the record-breaking moment came as a happy, unexpected surprise.
Maybe you’re thinking what I’m thinking. Why can’t one of us become a world record holder as well? As I type, I’m munching on Triscuit wheat crackers. I just built a stack of five on my desk. What if I went to the store and bought several more boxes, then stacked all those crackers to the ceiling of my double-height living room? Wouldn’t I and my Triscuits join the Guinness book as well?
Not so fast, record-setting wannabes. As you should expect, Guinness has a tried-and-true process, not only to establish world records but to decide if they’re worth pursuing. You must submit a formal application (even if attempting to break an existing world record). Your attempt must be deemed ethical (ex. no killing of animals). Your attempt mustn’t be harmful to the participant (ex. excessive consumption of alcohol). Your record must be deemed environmentally friendly. Finally, Guinness must approve the process by which your record will be adjudicated (which in Cutbill’s case included a video instead of an in-person judge). Oh, and unless you’re willing to contribute several thousand dollars to speed things up, plan on a year or more to complete the process.
Now you know why the Guinness book hasn’t grown to a ridiculous number of pages and entries. The content is regularly reviewed against cultural, societal, and environmental standards. Records even slightly in question are removed. For example, Guinness used to list the “largest fish on record” of a given species. Then people started overfeeding fish just to break the record. Guinness realized this kind of manipulation was not only cruel but potentially a source of litigation, so they removed the entries.
This quick dive into the pool of Guinness World Records has me thinking my brothers and I made the right choice in not challenging the M&M’s stacking record. We’d be better off drinking a Guinness than breaking one of their world records (yes, the beer and the book come from the same family). Besides, how would we stack five M&M’s on a rocking, rolling passenger train anyway? Nope, not interested in breaking world records today. But if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to stacking my Triscuits now.