Candy-Crunching the Numbers

If you sift through your kids’ trick-or-treat bags today, you may be in for a surprise. When it comes to Halloween candy, we Americans are a fickle bunch. “Best” and “Worst” lists kick into high gear this time of year – with fierce debate – and the results are likely reflected in what gets handed out at the front door. Would you agree – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are hands-down America’s most popular Halloween candy?  By the same analytics, would you agree Circus Peanuts are the worst?  Do you even know what Circus Peanuts are?

CandyStore.com recently assembled the candy list of lists – the current bests and worsts. Check out the details in their blog post here (and buy some candy while you’re at it).  CandyStore combed the Web for best/worst candy lists from a dozen publications, then mixed in the opinions of 40,000 of their own shoppers. How they sifted all that data into a single list is a worthy advertisement for Excel.  Here are the results:

BEST Halloween Candy
10. Hershey Bars
9. Skittles
8. Sour Patch Kids
7. Butterfinger
6. Nerds
5. M&M’s
4. Kit-Kat
3. Twix
2. Snickers
1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

WORST Halloween Candy
10. Mary Jane
9. Good & Plenty
8. Licorice
7. Smarties
6. Tootsie Rolls
5. Peanut Butter Kisses
4. NECCO Wafers
3. Wax Coke Bottles
2. Candy Corn
1. Circus Peanuts

Some comments (er, opinions) about the BEST list.  I can’t argue with Reese’s in the #1 spot, since I adore peanut-butter-and-chocolate, and a Reese’s cup is a convenient size somewhere between “full-size” and “fun-size” for the trick-or-treat bag.  Reese’s also happen to have an orange wrapper, so no adjustment needed for Halloween. The top five on the BEST list are solid choices, though I wonder where Snickers has the edge over Milky Way, Mars, or Almond Joy.  Three of the remaining five reflect candies joining the party well after I was a kid.  To this day, I’ve never had a “Sour Patch Kid”.

The WORST list is a little more interesting.  I’m surprised some of these earned a spot (even on a “worst” list), considering they were popular way back in the 1960’s.  But Smarties, Wax Coke Bottles, and Candy Corn bring a smile to my face, as each of them screams “Halloween” to me.  They seem to appear in October, then disappear for the next eleven months.  Wax Coke Bottles were the thought-we-were-cool 2-in-1 candy.  Bite off the bottle top for the drink, then put the wax in your mouth for a chewing-gum sensation.  In hindsight, ewwwww.

Candy corn, no surprise, is a polarizing confection.  You either love the little kernels or you simply can’t stand them.  They’re essentially corn syrup + sugar doused with a little food coloring.  Jelly Bean Candy Company has been making candy corn for over a century and sells hundreds of thousands of pounds of kernels each year, most in October.  Yet candy corn almost snagged the top spot on the WORST list.  Go figure.

On the other hand, Circus Peanuts deserve the WORST trophy.  I’m old enough to remember enjoying a real bag of peanuts at the circus, so why go and “candi-fy” my memory?  CP’s are peanut-shaped orange marshmallows (orange I suppose, because brown would not be an appetizing look for marshmallows).  Remarkably, CP’s have been around as long as candy corn, and you can still find them on your supermarket shelves.  Careful – some of those bags may have been manufactured in the late 1800’s.

Here’s another angle on the BEST list.  CandyStore took their analysis one step further and figured out, based on purchases August through October, which candy is most popular by state.  The methodology is not quite as scientific but the results are amusing.  You’ll find most of the BEST list represented, but you’ll also find a few head-scratchers.  Kentucky’s “favorite candy” is Swedish Fish.  Montana and Oklahoma prefer Double Bubble Gum.  West Virginians prefer Blow Pops.  As for my own state of Colorado?  Twix.  I can live with that.

CandyStore may take pride in its BEST/WORST lists, but let’s all just agree to disagree, shall we?  IMHO, licorice (of any kind) belongs nowhere near a WORST list – and that includes Good & Plenty, while 3 Musketeers is embarrassingly absent from the BEST list.  Not a fan of chocolate-covered, fluffy, whipped nougat?  Pick one up sometime and reconsider.  3 Musketeers almost feels lighter-than-air, a clever ruse to offset the guilt as I add one to my shopping cart.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article,”Americans are Divided – About Candy Corn”.

Sugar Cured

Coke. Zero. Sugar. Three little words; one new drink. In a nod to those who eschew sugar (and detest calories), Coca-Cola proudly offers its latest beverage. Coke was the original, of course. Coke Zero was the low-cal offering for men (Diet Coke was perceived as a “women’s” drink). And now the soda junkie may opt for Coke Zero Sugar, with the claim of original taste but no calories and no sugar.  For my money, let’s hope the sugared varieties still have a shelf life.  Otherwise my cure for headaches just went out the window.

Coke cures headaches?  Well, why not?  Those of us who experience the recurrent forehead fevers will jump on just about any bandwagon to chase away the relentless pain, and a Coke seems relatively harmless compared to the more potent options out there.  But truth be told, a can of Coke is only half the solution.  Chase the Real Thing with a Snickers bar and you have the coup de grace of headache cures. The combined overdose of caffeine, sugar, salt, and protein packs a punch more powerful than half a bottle of Excedrin tablets.

When I was a kid, headaches were my constant companion.  I could sense the pain unfolding well before it up and knocked on my forehead door.  In full bloom, my headaches could only be cured by retreating to a dark, quiet room and sleeping them off.  But try falling asleep when someone’s rapping a hammer against your brain.  The mental/physical anguish of the battle surely coined the phrase “toss-and-turn”.

My mother and my doctor (seemingly one and the same) drew frustratingly repetitive conclusions.  My headaches were not strong enough or persistent enough to prescribe migraine medication.  My headaches were likely brought on by “not enough of this or “too much of that.  Not enough sleep or not enough water.  Too much sun or too much sugar.  Too much sugar?  And now I’m promoting a headache cure with sugar as an essential ingredient?  Sorry Mom – it works.

At one point in my life my headaches were so bad I believed I could generate one by merely thinking about them.  My mother used to say, “don’t get too excited; you might get a headache”.  Ironically, her good intentions were dashed by the very mention of what she was trying to get me to avoid.  But the conjuring really did happen – on more than one occasion.  Think about a headache = get a headache.

Headaches are attributed – at least in part – to dilated blood vessels.  (Dilated blood vessels are attributed to way too many conditions to list here.)  The brain’s response to dilation is to summon a pain companion; a vehicle to announce, “something’s wrong”.  You see, for all its intelligence the brain lacks its own pain receptors, so it seeks another part of the body to act as its surrogate.  Enter: the headache.  Fascinating perhaps, but no fun for the recipient.  There were times I would’ve traded all of my worldly possessions (which admittedly didn’t amount to much) in exchange for the removal of headache pain.  On that note, I don’t want to even think about how a migraine headache feels (after all, I might get one).

Forty-five million Americans suffer from some form of headaches.  Thankfully, I’m no longer a member of that vast club.  Whether from corrective eye surgery I had as a teenager or better control of the “not enough of” or “too much of”, the pots-and-pans forehead pain endured as a kid simply doesn’t visit anymore.  I’m very thankful for that.  I’d like to think I’ve done my time with those miserable toss-and-turn episodes.  But as a former Boy Scout, I know it’s wise to be prepared.  If my brain gets into a “for old time’s sake” mood, I’ll have a can of Coke and a Snickers bar at the ready.