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Royal Society reports on actor chemistry, Yankees retire Cracker Jack, Thermometers again

by K. M. REESE
May 31, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 22



Royal Society reports on actor chemistry

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), in Britain, has released its list of the top 10 pairings of movie actors "that produced gold on the silver screen." Robin Young reports in the April 27 Times (London).

Instead of counting film awards or box-office receipts, Young writes, "the society applied its expertise in chemistry to close analysis of some of the great screen partnerships." RSC had decided that screen chemistry, like any reaction, "required ingredients which would form a compound containing all the right elements."

The Times cites John Emsley, an RSC member and author of "Vanity, Vitality, and Viagra." Emsley said: "For most people the word chemistry has a different meaning when they talk about sexual chemistry, but to fulfill one you need the other. That's the way the body works. Perfumes, for example, act as human sexual attractants, but essentially they are chemicals."

A reaction that works needs reactants with different qualities, said an RSC spokesman. If the reactants are a man and a woman, the reaction can involve "pheromones and other hormones being released and the two [people being] obviously attracted to each other, which translates well to the audience." There can also be chemistry between two men or two women. The RSC spokesman said: "We wanted to show how this side of science applies to elements of everyday life. It helps people to realize how important chemistry is in almost all aspects of society."

Some couples who individually have dandy characteristics, Young reports, do not react well together on the screen. The most disastrous example was Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier in "The Prince and the Showgirl." Young reports that Olivia de Havilland, interviewed in her Paris home, said: "There certainly is such a thing as screen chemistry, although I don't believe you find it frequently. There was a definite on-screen chemistry between Errol [Flynn] and me. "

Young reports that de Havilland endorses the chemists' hypothesis: "People should not be surprised by screen chemistry because, after all, life is all chemistry."

Yankees retire Cracker Jack

Corey Kilgannon reports in the May 19 New York Times that the New York Yankees baseball team has "quietly retired a longtime stadium starter, Cracker Jack." The caramel popcorn-peanut snack has been part of baseball for about a century. It was immortalized, at least for baseball fans, in the 1908 song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," specifically in the line "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack." The team is replacing the product with Crunch 'n Munch, which is said to be a caramel crunch just like Cracker Jack but without the prize.

Stadium executive David Bernstein told the Times's Kilgannon that the move started when he learned that Cracker Jack would be available only in paper bags, not in boxes. Paper bags break open, he says, and don't sell as well as boxes. Crunch 'n Munch comes in boxes, so Bernstein and some colleagues taste-tested the products and Crunch 'n Munch won.

A spokesman for Frito-Lay, which owns Cracker Jack, said the company regrets the Yankees' decision, but "there's always next year." A spokesman for ConAgra Foods, maker of Crunch 'n Munch, said, "We'd have no heartburn if Yankee fans started ... singing, 'Buy me some peanuts and Crunch 'n Munch.' " Yankee Stadium's Bernstein said, "We may wind up going back to Cracker Jack because--well, you know, the song--but we'd have to go through our supply of Crunch 'n Munch first."

At Shea Stadium, meanwhile, the New York Mets are sticking with Cracker Jack, Kilgannon reports.


Thermometers again

Remarks about thermometers (C&EN, May 10, page 64) prompted Gerry P. Moss to write from London to "remind you of the third scale contemporary with those of Fahrenheit and Celsius." He refers to the Réaumur scale from 0 to 80 degrees. The scale was devised by René A. F. de Réaumur, who used an alcohol thermometer. Moss recalls, "I well remember seeing one at the Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, Italy, still hanging in the lounge."


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