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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Candy

What will saying ‘Candyman’ into the mirror do? How delicious is ibuprofen’s candy coating? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Candy! How easy is it to take from a baby? What’s going on with brown M&Ms? Let’s scoff down some delicious candy myths, facts and trivia.

Lie #1: “This Is Sugar-Free, I Can Eat as Much as I Want!”

Artificial sweeteners are incredibly popular, and increasingly so — kids eat more than three times as much fake sugar as they did 20 years ago. Eating too much sugar obviously creates health problems, but replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners isn’t necessarily the perfect solution.

A 2018 paper in Molecules concluded artificial sweeteners are affecting gut activity negatively, causing “a wide range of health issues.” They can also intensify symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease, and while some sweeteners, namely xylitol, generally have positive effects on teeth, others can cause dental erosion.

The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, catchily nicknamed SALSA, found that people who drank two diet sodas a day “experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users.” Fake sugars can lead to you eating way more than you otherwise would. A 2016 paper in Cell Metabolism found artificial sweeteners increase appetite, with lead researcher Associate Professor Greg Neely from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Science saying, “We found that inside the brain’s reward centers, sweet sensation is integrated with energy content. When sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases total calories consumed.” A paper from the same year in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found aspartame blocked the activity of intestinal enzymes, actively preventing weight loss in people who were already obese. 

Too much sugar is objectively, absolutely, definitely bad for you. Too much artificial sweetener? It’s definitely not good for you. Sadly, eating better is more complicated than trading out one component of a big-ass bag of sweets for something else.

Lie #2: It’s as Easy as Taking Candy From a Baby!

This is used to refer to any ludicrously easy task, but there are way easier things out there.

For a start, you have to be a bastard to steal from a baby — we’re psychologically predisposed to not be a dick to them, the lovely little big-eyed sillies. An Oxford University study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences states that “infant facial features serve as ‘innate releasing mechanisms’ for instinctual caregiving behaviors,” so that’s one thing to overcome.

Then, how old’s the baby? Infants of up to six months will frequently demonstrate the Palmar grasp, a primitive reflex thought to have developed to help proto-humans grip onto their parents’ fur. It’s pretty strong — often enough that they could support their own weight with it. Could you wrestle a lollipop from their grip? Yeah, of course you could, but it would involve making some effort. Babies normally have their parents around, as well, and parents will tend to try to stop people doing things like robbing their kids. 

All in all, there are easier things. Buying candy from a store, for instance.

Lie #3: Saying “Candyman” into a Mirror Five Times Will Cause Him to Appear

Legend says, repeating Candyman’s name into a mirror five times will lead him to suddenly appear, complete with big-ass hook and a torso full o’bees. That’s what it says in the film, anyway — it wasn’t based on a true story or anything. It was, in fact, based on a short story by Clive Barker, set in Liverpool in the U.K. Director Bernard Rose’s idea to move the story to a Chicago housing project added the element of race to the tale, which already had class struggles laden through it. Star Tony Todd came up with the character’s romantic backstory, and negotiated a $1,000 bonus for every bee sting he received during the sequence where Candyman opens his mouth and a swarm of bees flies out — not the easiest $23,000 ever earned, but a pretty fucking good one.

The idea of repeating a name into a mirror leading to all kinds of spooky fucked-upness predates Barker, though — looking into the glass and saying “Bloody Mary” has been a slumber-party go-to since at least the 1970s. There are different versions of the myth, with slightly different names, rituals and results, but they’re all combinations of a mirror, repetition and gnarly consequences.

The thing is, stare into a mirror long enough and it doesn’t matter what you say, you’re going to go loopy. Giovanni Caputo of the University of Urbino, Italy, has studied this extensively, and it’s pretty fucked up. Here’s how Scientific American described it: “Caputo asked 50 subjects to gaze at their reflected faces in a mirror for a 10-minute session. After less than a minute, most observers began to perceive the ‘strange-face illusion.’ The participants’ descriptions included huge deformations of their own faces; seeing the faces of alive or deceased parents; archetypal faces such as an old woman, child or the portrait of an ancestor; animal faces such as a cat, pig or lion; and even fantastical and monstrous beings. All 50 participants reported feelings of ‘otherness’ when confronted with a face that seemed suddenly unfamiliar. Some felt powerful emotions.”


The two things going on, supposedly, are Troxler’s fading and neural adaptation — one being the optical effect of unchanging elements of what you’re looking at fading away, and the other the psychological version, i.e., your brain ceasing to be stimulated and ignoring or auto-piloting certain bits of what it’s perceiving.

Caputo later recreated the experiment with people staring into others’ eyes instead of a reflection, and got the same kind of results. In 2019, a study published in the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation put a bunch of portrait artists through the experience, then got them to draw what they had seen, resulting in haunting portraits of alien-like figures, monkey-people and completely unfamiliar strangers. It’s scary! It’s really scary! We’re all going to be fucking killed by the monsters within us! 

Lie #4: Painkillers Have a Candy Coating, They’re Delicious!

Only for a while. Don’t get too into the flavor and suck them, they go fucking disgusting. Apparently

The coating on a pill serves two purposes: It’s there to make taking the pill a less unpleasant experience, but it’s also there to delay when the active ingredients within it are exposed to, and absorbed by, the body. It’s called an enteric coating, and is intended to withstand stomach acid and only dissolve when it enters the small intestine. 

The extra layer of sugar is just there because it’s delicious — it’s trying to go one step further than “inoffensive” and be an actually pleasant experience. Don’t get too into it though — too much ibuprofen can lead to diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and the quantities involved are a lot less than the too much candy that would get you to the same place. 

Lie #5: Van Halen Are the Silliest Thing to Ever Happen to Brown M&Ms

In their heyday, Van Halen infamously insisted on a bowl of M&Ms awaiting them backstage with all the brown ones removed. It was a move often misinterpreted as egomaniacal, but the clause insisting on the brown candies’ removal was in fact placed there as an easy way of checking if the contract rider had been properly read, because if it hadn’t, the amount of equipment and pyro involved in a typical show meant a lot of people could be in danger.

When M&Ms began, they came in red, yellow, green, brown and violet. However, violet was seen as too exciting for some reason, and was replaced with tan. Tan is a shade of brown. They now had a candy available in five colors, of which two were brown

Two out of five being brown is really odd. The letters in M&Ms’ name stand for Mars and Murrie, the two families at the heads of the Mars and Hershey’s corporations, who collaborated on them — it’s not Manure & Manure.

Admittedly, brown is the color of chocolate, but the whole point of M&Ms is that they have a candy shell on them. The best way to show off that candy shell is arguably not “make it the same color as chocolate.” There are so many colors to go to before going for a second brown. Only two of the three primary colors, and one of the three secondary colors, was included at the time — it’s a lot to jump over and find yourself back at “dump.” In 1976, orange was introduced, reducing the hue-of-shit percentage from 40 percent to 33 percent. 

In 1995, someone at Mars realized this could be improved upon, and they invited fans to call a 1-800 number to vote for their favorite option out of blue, pink and purple to replace tan. Blue won, and the fraction of any given packet of M&Ms that could plausibly be mistaken for a very small poo fell to a mere sixth.