This Golf Accessory is a Ripoff, but it Kind of Works, So Far

I’ve owned or tested a number of pushcarts, and so far the one I’ve liked best and would recommend for most golfers is the Clicgear 3.5+. It’s a substantial piece of machinery, yet it folds down into a reasonably compact unit, which I have no trouble fitting into the trunk of my car as long as there’s nothing much in my trunk other than my golf bag and my pushcart.

The Clicgear does have an annoying design flaw, though—as you can sort of see in the  first and third golf carts in the photo above: some bags sit so low on the cart that they come very close to the front wheel, and even scrape. The reason is that each cart’s bag rest, a padded metal loop, doesn’t stick out far enough and is at least an inch too close to the wheel. Clicgear has acknowledged that this can be an issue for “tour and large size golf bags,” but it actually affects small bags, too. I’ve got a lightweight Sun Mountain carry bag, and after about a year the wheel began to rub. I dealt with the problem at first by resting the bottom of the bag not on the bag rest but on the little folding arms above it, which are meant to secure the bag to the cart, but when I did that the bag wouldn’t stay put. More recently, I gave up and spent ten bucks for Clicgear’s solution: a “booster clip” that clamps onto the bag rest and is supposed to add an inch of clearance.

At least part of the issue with Sun Mountain and similar carry bags is that their bases are beveled, to accommodate the lever that pops out the legs, and the Clicgear bag rest doesn’t extend far enough past the bevel: it’s too short to engage the actual bottom of the bag.

I hate the idea of spending ten dollars on a piece of plastic that must have cost a millionth of a cent to manufacture and that wouldn’t be necessary if Clicgear had ever bothered to correct its own design flaw. (The bag rest has been the same since the beginning, in models 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 3.5+.) And even the booster clip is poorly designed, since it has a rounded front that reduces its effective thickness for bags like mine. A much better solution would have been to redesign and replace the bag rest itself. But the clip does lift my bag just high enough that it no longer scraps—for now. We’ll check back in a year.

 

What’s in My Bag: An Old Curmudgeon

Nat Ehrlich, a reader in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a retired university professor whose main academic interests are human-performance psychology and statistics. He took up golf in 1961, and he was the golf coach at the University of Michigan-Flint in 1971 and 1972. He’s 76 years old now, and although he hasn’t shot his age he’s come close. He’s a regular at Radrick Farms, the University of Michigan’s golf course and one of Pete Dye’s earliest designs:

Looking down on the green at the par-5 fifth hole at Radrick Farms Golf Club.
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com

He’s also an old curmudgeon. Recently, he sent me a photograph of his golf bag, which is totally from opposite land by comparison with mine:

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He wrote:

“During most of this season, I used modern equipment — TaylorMade SLDR, Ping 4-wood, Titleist hybrids (19 and 21 degrees), and Callaway Big Berthas — but I shot my best round of the year (age +3) after switching back to the Hogan Apex PCs and the Citation driver and 3-wood. And that was with 35 putts. The Hogans have no offset and zero bounce, except for the two sand wedges. That makes them easier to aim (no offset) and better at slicing through the rough. And I have no problem hitting the driver from a decent lie in the fairway. Here are two pictures that show why my bag is full of ancient equipment:”

“As you can see, the ball looks bigger in close proximity to a smaller clubhead. That signals the brain that it’s an easier target to hit. Also, the smaller clubhead is a signal to the brain to be more accurate. No learning required. Of course, the degree to which one misses the 1/16th-inch sweet spot, which is the same for all clubs, gives you more feedback with the smaller head, and that makes you swing more accurately.

(He’s right about the “sweet spot” being the same size on all clubs—it’s a spot—although modern, perimeter-weighted clubs yield better results when you miss it.)

Back to Ehrlich:

“More accurately doesn’t mean much more slowly, though. Yes, I get about 4 mph more from the 45.5-inch driver shaft than the 42.5-inch shaft on the old Citation, but my percentage of fairways hit drops from 75-80 per cent to about 45-50 per cent. And 4 mph translates into about 10 yards, whereas I lose 20 yards hitting from the rough vs. the fairway. And, of course, I don’t need to tee the ball way up or way forward. As for club fitting — don’t make me laugh! When I play every round off a perfectly level mat. . . . not even then.”

How to Keep Your Golf Bag Dry in the Rain

My part of the country is now more than a year into one of its longest droughts ever. Gary, our terrific superintendent, has done a remarkable job of keeping our course in great condition, but you can tell that we need rain. Here’s what the creek that feeds our irrigation pond looks like:

Here’s what the same creek looked like exactly three years ago, when we had the opposite problem:

The ideal, of course, would be something in between. Anyway, on a recent Sunday we finally got a semi-decent amount of rain, and I was able to test my new Rain Tek bag-and-pushcart cover:

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It’s easy to put on —you don’t need to remove your bag from your pushcart to do it — and it has zippered openings that let you reach through to the pockets in your bag. The top is stiffened with foam and has a handle, so it’s easy to open and close:

When you play in the rain, it’s impossible to keep almost any of your stuff from becoming at least slightly wet, but using a bag cover shortens the post-round drying time considerably.

Do the Rules of Golf Violate the Rules of Golf?

Not long ago, I played in an inter-club tournament on a nine-hole course in the northern part of my state. The club has two features I like a lot (in addition to the course): a curling club next door, and my favorite kind of driving range:

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On one hole during the tournament, I lipped out a par putt, leaving a tap-in for bogey. I tapped it, but it didn’t go in. The head of my putter looks like this:

I had struck the ball with what I guess would be considered the putter’s “toe,” and the wingy thing made it squirt off at a weird angle, and I ended up with a double bogey. I told my pro later that, at least, I knew I’d never make THAT mistake again, but he said that, based on his own experience, I was probably safe for only about five years.

Later, I got to wondering: was my stupid muffed tap-in even legal? And that made me think of Bill Collins, a reader in Scotland, who has written to me several times to complain about what he believes to be a serious inconsistency in the Rules of Golf. Bill is eighty years old. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Mary, and he plays two or three times a week, all year long, at Silverknowes Golf Club, which has swell views of the Firth of Forth and beyond:

“I served an apprenticeship in a shipyard in Leith on the River Forth and have been in engineering most of my working life,” he told me in an email. “For the last 15 years of my career, I was offered a position in quality control, because of my engineering background, and was quite happy to put down my tools. I picked up a lot of information on specifications and their importance in maintaining procedures. That is why I can’t get Rule 4 and Rule 14 out of my head. They are not compatible.” Here’s another look at Silverknowes:

Collins’s concerns first arose during the 1996 Open, at Royal Lytham & St. Annes (won by Tom Lehman). “During the tournament, it was indicated by a well-known golfer and what I took to be a representative of the R&A that one could strike a ball with the face, back, heel or toe of a putter. I phoned the R&A and the BBC reps at the Lytham course, and I managed to reach the R&A desk. My message was accepted by a lady, but I received no reply from the BBC, and no reply from the R&A.”

His question was prompted by what was then part of Rule 4.1, governing the form and make of clubs (the text now appears in Appendix II)—”The clubhead shall have only one striking face, except that a putter may have two such faces if their characteristics are the same, and they are opposite each other”—and what seemed to him to be a conflict between those requirements and Rule 14.1: “The ball must be fairly struck at with the head of the club and must not be pushed, scraped or spooned.” Collins continued, “Over the past 20 years, I have allowed the above to take over large amounts of my time trying to convince people. From reading magazines and listening to comments, I know there are lots of golfers who agree with me. What convinces me even more is the lack of response to my enquiries. I have been informed by the R&A, but not convinced, that one may strike a ball with the face, back, heel or toe of a putter.”

If a putter may have only two striking faces, why are you allowed to strike a ball with a third? Furthermore, Collins wrote, “Take a moment on the green, if you have a Ping-type putter—and, if not, borrow one—and scoop up the ball. Just before you flick it up into your hand, look at the ball nestling in the back of the putter. What do you see? You see a ball resting between two striking faces. Nice way to pitch. Is it legal? Rule 14.1 says yes; Rule 4.1/Appendix II says no.”

On the other hand, pondering the Rules of Golf can send your brain into a tailspin. I once saw someone — Chi-Chi Rodriguez?—successfully extract an embedded ball from the wall of a bunker by fiercely striking the sand just below the ball with the toe of his putter, as though he were swinging an ax. In effect, he used the putter head as wedge, compressing the sand and causing the ball to squirt onto the green. Cool shot! But should it be legal? For that matter, is the ball “fairly struck at” in ANY bunker shot, since when you play the shot what you are actually striking at is sand?

Three non-conforming putters, from the Rules of Golf.

I haven’t done full justice to Collins’s argument, but I’m afraid that if I do I’ll spend the next 20 years brooding about it, too. If you want to pursue this with Collins himself, get in touch with me the way he did, through the link below, and if you don’t seem too much like a nut I’ll forward your email to him. Curling season is almost here, and that means we’ll soon have lots of time for idle cogitation. Now, about the out-of-bounds rule. . . .

Oh, I Know What It’s Like to be Abandoned by Nike Golf

Nike’s announcement that it’s getting out of the golf club business was nothing new to me. Six of the clubs in my bag—a 16-degree Sumo Squared driver and six Sumo Squared hybrids—are clubs that Nike stopped selling years ago:
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Two of those six clubs are among the greatest ever made. The most magical is the highest-lofted club in the group, the 34-degree 7-hybrid. I bought mine at the urging of my friend Tony, and, as he promised, I hit it longer, higher, straighter, and more consistently well than my 7-iron, which I’d had custom-fitted in Arizona a couple of years before. Not long after that, Tony and I played a round with a visiting friend of his, and we used our magical clubs on a 150-yard par 3. We both hit high draws to within six feet of the hole, and the friend said, “Gee, you guys could play on the LPGA Tour.” He meant to be devastating, but I’ve adopted his remark as a swing thought. And I carry four other Sumo Squared hybrids, too, even though they all go pretty much the same distance.

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The other magical club in my bag the 16-degree driver, which Nike called the Sweet 16 and I call Baby Driver. I carry a regular driver, too, but Baby Driver is indispensable in certain critical situations: long par 3s, short par 4s, and tight holes of all lengths on which a hooked or sliced drive would be lethal. It’s basically a strongish 4-wood, but with a head that’s too big to slide under a teed ball—a consideration for those of us who occasionally make less than perfect contact. I sometimes hit it from the fairway, too.

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I once asked a Nike rep whether the company didn’t have a few old Sumo Squared clubs stashed away somewhere, maybe in a storeroom or on a shelf in a closet or under a table in the employee cafeteria. I was thinking that I’d offer to buy the lot, to keep on hand as spares, but he said Nike hadn’t saved anything—not even a few heads. He also claimed, preposterously, that the company had never sold a 34-degree hybrid—denying the existence of one of the greatest golf clubs of all time! No wonder they’re calling it quits.

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For Father’s Day: How About a $135 Golf Glove?

I hate Father’s Day, for reasons I won’t enumerate. (If you’re curious, go here.) So it makes sense to me that people who insist on celebrating it should have to pay up. That’s just one reason you might want to start dropping hints that the one gift you’re really interested in this year is a $135 golf glove:

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Mine was given to me not by my children—who know they aren’t allowed even to mention Father’s Day—but by Pat Morrell, the founder of FitzGerald Morrell, a company sells custom-made leather gloves for a variety of activities, among them golf. “Just ask yourself how many golf gloves you’ve had to buy at the pro shop because your old pseudo-leather glove tore in the thumb or became brittle and flaky in the palm or in between your fingers,” he has explained. “You can buy custom clubs, custom balls, custom shirts, pants and shoes… but you can’t buy custom golf gloves. Until now.” Here’s Morrell himself, wearing some of his (non-golf) products:

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Morrell sent me a sizing kit, including a hand diagram, a measuring tape, and a pencil:

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After I’d traced my hand, kindergarten-style, I used an enclosed postage-paid envelop to send everything off to a shop in England—which looks pretty much exactly the way you’d guess it would:

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There, various craftsmen used various old-looking tools to create a glove to my precise specifications:

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They also added the monogram of the Sunday Morning Group, recognized the world over as a symbol of quality and trust. I’ve now used my $135 golf glove exclusively for a couple of months (except when it was raining), including a dozen rounds on a recent golf trip to Ireland:

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Gradually, it has acquired a fine patina, like a beloved fielder’s mitt. It has also fully conformed to my anatomy—so much so that, if I ever lose my left hand in an industrial accident, the glove could serve as a mold for a replacement:

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I’ve identified just a few drawbacks. One is that, if you want to be sure all your friends understand that you are wearing a $135 golf glove, you have to refer to it as “my $135 golf glove.” Another is that the leather is so substantial that the glove is not pleasant to wear when the temperature and relative humidity are high. A third is that, if you are accustomed to losing your golf glove two or three times a round, you have to constantly watch your back:

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I’ve taken to wearing it while I’m putting—like Nicklaus—to reduce my opportunities for losing it, and so far, with occasional help from friends, I’ve been successful. I’ve also been able to tidy up the trunk of my car. It used to look like this:

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It now looks like this:

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Why, it paid for itself right there.

Ideal Sunglasses for Golfers — Including Golfers Who Need Glasses

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My wife got glasses in second grade. On the first day she wore them to school, she looked out the window of her classroom and shouted, “I can see inside that truck!” and a boy sitting next to her, deeply impressed, asked, “Did they give you X ray vision?”

All she had meant was that the vehicles on the street in front of the school no longer looked like fuzzy moving blobs—but that was still a big deal. I had a similar experience when I got my own first glasses, in fifth grade, and discovered that trees had individually discernible leaves.

My father used to say that he liked playing golf in his trifocals because on every shot he could choose from among three balls. For most golfers, though, glasses are problematic. I’m so nearsighted that I have trouble finding my glasses if I’m not wearing them, and until recently that meant that I was out of luck when it came to playing golf in the kinds of cool-looking sunglasses that tour players wear upside down on the back of their hat. But not anymore. A couple of years ago, Rob Tavakoli, an optician and vice president at SportRX, sent me a pair of Nike glasses with photochromic lenses designed specifically for golf. Here I am wearing them while getting a lesson from David Leadbetter:

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Tavakoli also sent me a pair of Oakley sunglasses with lenses optimized for playing golf in low light. Putting them on makes a darkening golf course look brighter, for reasons I don’t exactly understand:

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I immediately moved both pairs into my golf bag. Here’s Tavakoli himself:

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Two of Tavakoli’s specialties are sport-specific glasses and sport-specific glasses for people with strong prescriptions, like me. (SportRX employs a technician who specializes in high corrections—a rarity for companies that sell sports glasses, because getting everything right can be complicated and time-consuming.) Tavakoli is a useful person to consult in such matters, because he really, really, really loves glasses. When he was 12, he fudged an eye test so that his ophthalmologist would write him a prescription he didn’t need, and when he was 17 he developed an obsession with sunglasses which he retains to this day, two decades later.

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Last month, Tavakoli sent me sent me a third pair of golf-optimized sunglasses, and told me that they take advantage of two recent innovations from the optical engineers at Oakley. They’re just like the ones in the photos above and below, but with black frames.

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The first innovation is a technology called Prizm, which Oakley introduced in ski goggles a couple of years ago and in prescription glasses about a year ago. “When Prizm first came out,” Tavakoli told me, “I got emotional every time I tried to talk about it. Oakley has figured out, for each sport, which colors of light need to be highlighted and which need to be muted. So for golf you get this extra contrast, this extra pop, but at the same time the lenses are taking out glare and brightness. To me, it’s almost like they put a computer chip in the glasses.” The level of specificity is remarkable: for baseball, Oakley makes different lenses for infielders and outfielders. Ditto for people who fish in shallow water and people who fish in deep water. Here’s a video explanation:

The second innovation built into my new sunglasses is something Oakley calls True Digital Edge. In the past, making tour-style wraparound sunglasses with more than minimal prescriptions was optically impossible. The reason is that as you increase the correction in a dramatically curved lens you also increase both the amount of distortion and the thickness at the edge. Oakley has solved both those difficulties by, in effect, modifying curved lenses so that they trick your brain into ignoring signals from the periphery. (Your brain is already good at ignoring things, since the images it receives from your eyes arrive upside down and missing a big part of the middle.) My new sunglasses are an Oakley model called Flak 2.0 XL, in the setup that SportRX recommends specifically for golf—the same glasses you see on players like Adam Scott:

IMG_20160321_124236The difference between my glasses and Scott’s (other than the color of the frames) is visible only if you look very closely at the lenses:

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“Those groove lines,” Tavakoli told me, “are basically tricking your eyes and your brain into thinking that the lens is smaller and the frame is bigger—and the result is that you have unbelievable clarity, considering how much wraparound there is and how strong your prescription is. Combine that with Prizm and you’ve got, like, the newest, badassest thing you can get for golf.”

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People inevitably say, Hey, why don’t you just get contact lenses or have LASIK? But not everyone likes contacts, and not everyone can wear contacts, and not everyone is a good candidate for LASIK. I first got contacts when I was in high school, in the early 1970s. (That was way back in the hard-lens era. My girlfriend decided to try on one of them one night, and getting it back out of her eye was tough because she was running around the house screaming.) Then I had soft lenses for maybe ten years. But for a dozen reasons — including how miserable I was during allergy season and while I was operating my table saw — I decided I like glasses better, even though that makes me less interesting to my granddaughter, who is two and a half years old and enjoys “drinking tiny waters” from her mother’s contact case.

Maybe you like glasses better, too. If so, you can get in touch with Tavakoli or one of the other opticians at SportRX, by going here.

Xray Dave

Better Golf, in Bar Form

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Gerry Mullally grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In the early 1970s, his father sent him to the United States to get him away from the Troubles. His first job here was as a caddie at Maidstone, where, among other things, he was stiffed by Juan Trippe, the cheapskate founder of Pan American Airways. Mullally became a food scientist, and worked for several major corporations, and retired last year. In January, he began manufacturing a post-career invention of his: the Par Bar, a nutrition bar formulated specifically for golfers. I learned about him from a friend who belongs to the same golf club he does, and invited him to play with the Sunday Morning Group. He brought treats:

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“I created a must-have list of features and benefits and set that as the development goal,” he explains on his website. “It needed to taste really good, it should be made with only natural and healthy ingredients, and it would have to provide sufficient energy for the whole round.” The idea is to eat about a third of a bar roughly 15 minutes before you tee off, then take another bite or two every couple of holes. “The bar I set out to develop was high in protein, high in slow-release carbohydrates and high in dietary fiber,” he continues. “I had become aware of a recently approved food ingredient from green tea leaves called L-Theanine. Its properties seemed tailor-made for the challenges of golf, and clinical studies had already confirmed its ability to increase mental alertness and focus.”

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I followed Mullally’s instructions and had my best round of the season so far. Does Par Bar get the credit? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve noticed this sort of thing before. Many years ago, I covered a multilevel-marketing convention for another publication, and one of the exhibitors gave me some bee-pollen tablets. I swallowed one, and a couple of hours later I was stung by a bee. On Sunday, just about everybody played with exceptional mental alertness and focus, except for three guys who had recently watched videotapes of their swings. In the photo below, Mullally and I are on the fourth tee. You’ll notice that there’s still some advertising space available on my jacket:

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The Par Bar solves a perennial mid-round problem, to which my solution, heretofore, has usually been either a Snickers or a hot dog. And it tastes good!

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Reader’s Trip Report: 2016 Connecticut Golf Show

Mark Beebe, in "visor wig."

Mark Beebe, in “visor wig.”

The forecast for two Sundays ago included “up to” a foot of snow. We got about three quarters of an inch, so I guess the forecast was accurate. The day before the big storm, Mark Beebe, an out-of-town member of the Sunday Morning Group, visited the Connecticut Golf Show, at the convention center in Hartford, with his golf buddy Tom. Mark’s report:

“Tom’s wife is recovering from a serious illness, and he’s also been helping another old golf buddy, ‘Lefty’ Bob, who’s in failing health. So it was good to see him and get him out doing something we both like: wasting time doing golf stuff.”

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“Pretty much all the major equipment guys were there. I didn’t try any of the clubs, because my March swing is not of club-fitting quality and if I wait until my July swing shows up the same equipment will be available at a higher price—the same strategy I use for investing in stocks.”

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“Nevertheless, I did buy a few things. I broke my No. 1 rule, as always, by buying a club without swinging it, a TaylorMade M1 3-wood. I also bought a ball marker with the insignia of Michigan State, my alma mater—which was nice because the Spartans had just gotten bounced from the NCAA tournament, in the first round, the day before. There were no Middle Tennessee State ball markers, but I did pick up a dozen of last year’s Titleist NXT Tours. I went through racks and tables of remnants and leftovers, and noticed that they had great prices for small and medium golf shirts, but hardly anything in XL. There was also a guy selling coffee tables:”

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“Does anyone actually keep score with these things?”

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“I picked up lots of brochures from golf resorts, and one from the John Casablanca modeling and talent agency, which had a booth. I asked the Casablanca people why they had come to a golf expo, and they said, ‘Because that’s where the people are.’ I took their brochure to give to my daughter, who is studying theater in college.”

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“Tom and I stopped for lunch on our way home and got caught up. That was the best part. We’re hoping to tee it up in the next couple weeks, weather and health issues permitting. And when I got home I found a good place to put my NCAA bracket:”

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The Single Most Important Ingredient of High-performance Sports Drinks

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I have an article in the current issue of National Geographic about the sense of taste. While I was researching it, Michael Tordoff, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, handed me a plastic medicine cup containing a clear liquid and asked me to drink it. It tasted like water. Tordoff said, “You didn’t taste much of anything, but this is something that rats and mice prefer to almost everything else we have ever, ever tested.”

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Tordoff said, “You didn’t taste much of anything, but this is something that rats and mice prefer to almost everything else we have ever, ever tested.” The liquid contained maltodextrin, a kind of starch. If an athlete takes a mouthful of maltodextrin solution and immediately spits it out, he said, the athlete will perform better, despite having tasted and ingested nothing, or next to nothing. “I don’t have a good explanation,” he continued. “There’s something very special about starch that we don’t understand.”

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Some sports drinks contain maltodextrin, but that’s not the ingredient I mean. The ingredient I mean is mildly yucky taste. In foods and beverages that are supposed to be good for you, deliciousness is usually a liability, because people tend to believe that if something tastes good it can’t possibly be beneficial. Several years ago, Mattson, a food-and-development firm in California, was hired by a physician who wanted to develop a supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin, which some people believe relieve the symptoms of arthritis.

Barb Stuckey—who is Mattson’s chief innovation officer and the author of a good book called Taste—told me, “We talked him out of a bar and into a beverage, because in a beverage you can control the calorie count better.”

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They found that “citrus” was better than “berry” at disguising the tastes they were trying to disguise, and that giving the beverage a slightly silky mouthfeel reinforced the idea that it was coating sore joints. But they didn’t make it taste too good. The model there, Stuckey told me, was the popular energy drink Red Bull—which, she said, was purposely given “just the right amount of bad.”

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The photo below is of some other things I tasted when I was at Mattson. They wouldn’t work in a sports drink: they tasted too good.

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