Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Patent Lingo



Childhood fame, it’s official – Play-Doh is the smell of a generation.

Now that the kids who spent their childhood mushing pink putty in their hands have become old enough to run the world, they’re changing the rules of intellectual property to protect their olfactory legacy.

Actually, says here Play-Doh has been around since 1956. But I am curious as to how many 60-year-olds today reminisce about the smell of Play-Doh? Feel free to comment on this. I asked a gentleman of about 50 but he’s from Germany. They had their own Play-Doh he says, and he didn’t recall its smell in the same way.

In the US, Play-Doh was a cultural phenomenon; is that what you would call it? For anyone who did not experience something I will call a standard American childhood, the colored putty probably just smells like putty.

To a trained fragrance designer who also did not experience the standard American childhood, it probably smells like “sweet, slightly musky, vanilla fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, combined with the smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.” Because that’s what the trademark now says.

To that generation of US kids who played with it, it smells like childhood and fun.

So this is now a trademark, which I should assume is something like being protected under intellectual property or copyright law. This is a big deal then, because we can’t copyright fragrance. Fragrance and Fashion are two art forms that cannot be protected under the same laws that sent Pharrell into the courtroom over Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.

In fact, after a quick perusal, it looks like there’s only ten other scents in this category (and the UK only has two). The ironic loophole here for Play-Doh is that a product that serves only the purpose of its scent cannot be protected. Play-Doh is a toy, not a perfume or a candle or a cardboard cutout of an evergreen tree. (In the UK, it’s for rose-scented car tires.)

Verizon stores have their own scent trademarked. One that I really like is this company that makes engine lubricant, and it’s got three different aromas that make your car exhaust smell like a fruit basket (cherry, grape and strawberry to be specific). "Fuel Fragrances" by Manhattan Oil, check it out. I like this one because it leads me to my quick diversion – scented Crayola crayons. What the heck were they thinking? They should’ve taken a page out of Play-Doh’s book. The Doh smells good, but it’s not an edible scent. Sure, they say “cherry overtones” and vanilla, but everything smells like cherry and vanilla, right? It’s just not the same as labeling a brown crayon “Chocolate” and then making it smell like chocolate.

In conclusion, and despite the excitement of this news, I am compelled to express my regret on this one issue: Using words to talk about smells is a joke. I understand that laws are made of words, and so that’s all we have, but this – doesn’t mean much in the world of smells.

I would much rather see it as “the smell of childhood and fun.” But I guess that’s too vague. (“Sweet, slightly musky, vanilla fragrance, with slight overtones of cherry, combined with the smell of a salted, wheat-based dough.”)


Hasbro trademarks Play-doh’s scent: Sweet, slightly musky
AP News, May. 18, 2018

Notes
The subject of intellectual property comes up a bit here, so I added some links for your interest:

Post Script
Play-Doh and used Play-Doh do not smell the same. Because it’s sticky, and kids can be gross, and together, that makes Play-Doh, potentially the grossest smelliest thing ever. Kids pat it down on peanut butter and paint-covered surfaces, then on the ground, then on their foreheads… Then they take that entire surface area and squish it upon itself, putting all those microbes that were on the outside, now on the inside, and making more, new outside that can now stick to new microbes, which will be squished back into itself again, and again. It might be the greatest recipe for a germ-bomb ever. Then again, according to this seemingly disruptive news about Leukemia and germs, that might not be a bad thing. Maybe Hasbro has another patent brewing as we speak.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Water Chemistry



Thought I could shed some light on a trendy topic here:  water chemistry and baking success.

Everyone knows Brooklyn pizza is the best pizza, and that there is only one place in the world that makes bagels, and it’s New York City. (If you’ve ever had a bagel in Florida, you know what I’m talking about; unless it was literally baked in NY and shipped to FL, which isn’t uncommon.)

We heard recently the claims of a well-meaning group of entrepreneurs that NYC’s water is now available to the rest of the world. The company's claim: They will analyze your local tap water to calibrate a device that will tweak it to be just like New York City’s water.

What does the water taste like and why? Well, it tastes good, according to taste tests. And the reason is because New York City's water comes from natural reservoirs, highly protected from contamination. This allows the water to pick up minerals in the ground that it passes as it makes its way through the water cycle. Also, the ground it passes is low in calcium, which makes things taste bitter (not better, bitter).

Chances are, however, that taste is not the reason why NYC gets so much props for its water. Chances are it's the chemistry of baking, which is a complicated thing, except to say that it's the chemicals, stupid.

The chemicals themselves are thrown into the Maillard arena to break down and transform.  Pyrrolines and pyridines are some of the bread-smelling chemicals created in this culinary laboratory – the “pyro-“ parts of their names indicate their origin in fire.

I just named two chemicals, but baked goods emanate hundreds of chemicals, all dependent not only on the original chemicals present, but on the nature and extent of the heating reactions. Just like the analogy of the butterfly effect, initial conditions can have a drastic effect on results. In a process as complex as the heated Maillard reaction, a slight change in the initial ingredients can have wide-ranging effects on the bun in the oven.

Taste/smell isn’t the only thing that is subject to change here – texture is a big factor as well, and is affected just as much based on initial ingredients.

Is it the case that the same chemicals that make your water taste good also make your bread taste good and also make you bread the perfect combination of fluffy-chewy-crunchy? Maybe not, but in the case of New York City’s water, some have it all.

Post Script
In case you thought NYC had it all, Paris just put bubbly water in it's water fountains. We call that carbonated water.

Rotten Egg Smell Orbits Uranus




BBC, so professional, didn't even crack a smile in this article. The atmosphere of Uranus has hydrogen sulfide in it. Not too much of a surprise, but we finally have evidence. And reason to write this in a headline.

Apr 2018, BBC


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Roses Really Do



OutKast – Roses – 2003

It’s true. Roses really do smell like the end product of our metabolism. Two major constituents of the smell of roses are Skatole and Indole, which are good olfactory representatives of excrement. They’re also used extensively in perfume.

This may or may not explain why many air fresheners (at least as far as I know since the dawn of aerosolized air fresheners) smell like roses. Regardless of whether shit and flowers go together like peanut butter and jelly, it was used a lot as an air freshener scent, at least as far as the early 90’s. (Anyone like to weigh-in here on the history of air fresheners?)

But this fact does explain why I, among others I’m sure, hallucinate excrement when smelling roses – you expect it to be there. This is called redintegration, a kind of hallucination, and it’s explained in this clip from Hidden Scents:

Part of a smell can carry with it the co-occurring odor molecules around them in the memory, and it will later be used to substitute for the whole. Strains of cannabis, aside from the strong skunk-like smell, can have significant amounts of limonene in them. Through redintegration, the potent smells of such cannabis become so tied together that upon smelling an orange (almost entirely limonene), a frequent user might hallucinate the other odors of cannabis along with the orange. This phenomenon represents an apparition superimposed in order to satisfy the nose-brains’ insistence on predicting an odor based on limited or partial information – a behavior that is not limited to olfactory perception.


Post Script

The scent of “musk” comes from the neither region of the musk deer. Just saying. Today you wouldn’t know that, because that scent of musk is now more associated with fresh laundry. Musk is a very big molecule, for a smell, and it sticks really well to your clothes even as they’re being washed, so it’s the main ingredient in laundry detergents.

When you smell “clean laundry,” you don’t think you’re smelling musk, but you are. Funny how today we associate clean with a thing that ultimately comes from an animal’s butt. (Please note that today, most if not all musk comes from a laboratory and not an animal.)


Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Rumpelstiltskin Principle


As the 4,000 year old tale tells, once you have a name for something, you have power over it.

This is a generally recognized principle in psychology, and has some implication for our relationship with smell, a sense for which the stimulus we often fail to call by name.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Organic Molecules in Space


Jan 2018, phys.org

New data from the National Science Foundation's Green Bank Telescope (GBT) show, for the first time, the convincing radio fingerprints of a close cousin and chemical precursor to PAHs, the molecule benzonitrile (C6H5CN). This detection may finally provide the "smoking gun" that PAHs are indeed spread throughout interstellar space and account for the mysterious infrared light astronomers had been observing. -phys.org


Limbic Signal is not exactly the venue for space talk, but when the talk is about things aromatic, it comes up on our radar. Just taking a moment here to clarify the semantics.

"Aromatic" doesn't necessarily refer to aroma, but an entire group of chemicals that form a ring of interconnected carbon atoms studded with hydrogen atoms on the outside. The first of these carbon ring molecules to be discovered was very distinctively pleasant-smelling, and so the following discoveries made of similarly formed molecules were also called aromatic molecules.

The interesting part of the story is that these are organic molecules, containing so much of the carbon that is an integral part of organic life. Therefore there is a equanimity between the words aromatic and organic, as far as chemistry is concerned... The ultimate implication here is that outer space has within its cold, lifeless vacuum a very regular dispersion of very complex molecules that make up the building blocks of life. In other words, as we learn more and more about the world outside of our planet, the more we realize it is not as lifeless as we thought.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

All Mixed Up


Aug 2017, phys.org

First of all - odor-color synaesthesia.

Maybe you've heard of people who hear colors, or see letters as being colored, or some other mismatched combination of the senses. That's synaesthesia. But seeing odors as colors (or more generally, as "visual experiences") is definitely a rare kind.

This special neural tweak, however, makes people better at naming odors - something humans are plain bad at. (There's stories of people who eat peanut butter sandwiches every day of their life being given peanut butter in a smell test, and they can't identify it.)

Synaesthetes were tested by olfactory language expert Asifa Majid and colleague Laura Speed to see if they were better at odor recognition, and it turns out they were. 


Post Script

Hidden Scents was in fact supposed to be named Hidden Sense, but alas, I didn't want to get things confused with this interesting work:


The Hidden Sense: Synaesthasia in Art and Science, by Cretian van Campen, MIT Press 2007.