Sherlock Holmes would give up. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew? They’d whimper a bit and then crawl home in defeat. Scooby-Doo and the gang? This one is way out of their league. Alan Turing wouldn’t even come close.
That’s why it’s still a myster and will be until the middle of August.
And if you’re not clued in, you just haven’t been to your friendly neighborhood Walgreens to pick up a canister of Pringles’ new mystery flavor.
We have. The store is just a few steps from the luxurious, I.M Pei-designed Weekly office and there’s a liquor aisle. Besides, we could use the 10 grand Pringles promises to hand over to whoever figures it out—you know, to buy some notebooks, maybe a dictionary.
Pringles has done this thing before, running two mystery flavor campaigns in Canada. They taunted the civil folks to our north with seven layer dip, followed by Philly cheesesteak. The company also rolled out mystery flavors to stump people in Japan and Australia (a clue: Vegemite).
Hey, those scientists at the Pringles lab can conjure just about anything. And we could go into just how they deconstruct whole potatoes cell by cell, but there’s a small matter of $10,000, with many more thousand eager sleuths on the trail.
The staff at Food & Wine came up with a short list of possibilities, which includes gas station nachos—Yu-um—quesadilla, beer cheese and pimento cheese. Writer Adam Campbell-Schmitt recorded some of the first takes. “The queso at Chili’s” was one. “I get alcohol right away” was another.
Meanwhile at The Daily Meal, editors settled on either chili cheese dogs, fried chicken, biscuits soaking in gravy, quick-serve breakfast sandwiches or Lunchables.
See now why it’s such a puz...wait a sec. Gas station nachos? Lunchables? Queso from a tub? Why are we pursuing this again?
Oh, yeah. The money.
It helps that Pringles are considered a healthy snack in this office (who doesn’t enjoy the crunch of reconstituted potato flakes?). And that Walgreens is easy to access (the mystery flavor is only available at the pharmacy chain—maybe as a way to increase business?)
So we interrogated Tyler Adams, manager at the Walgreens at the corner of Fremont and Canyon Del Rey in Seaside. Tried good cop, bad cop. Tried that thing with the desk lamp from old detective movies. Tried everything we learned from Hogan’s Heroes.
Weekly staff writer and free agent Mary Duan even suggested waterboarding.
Finally he broke and revealed…nothing. “They like to keep their secrets,” Adams said of Pringles.
Someone then thought to check the ingredients. No help there, either—unless you happen to know what “natural and artificial flavor” tastes like.
Yeah, there are a few clues. Cheddar cheese stands out. Yeast extract, as well. But these only point in vague directions. “Spices” does no good whatsoever.
So we broke down, “borrowed” the corporate credit card and brought a few canisters back to the office. After two full days of thorough investigation, broken only by a furious, profanity-laced demand for an explanation of all those empty pages heading to the printer, we developed a list of suspects.
“My guess is pork rind,” says graphic designer Alexis Estrada. But pork rinds sit next to Pringles on so many shelves, that seems a bit unlikely. Cheesy garlic bread was a frequent suggestion. Of course, Pringles has been really clever here. They sprinkle the orange-colored seasoning so lightly the flavor of the—can we call it a chip?—intervenes.
There were other suggestions. Intern Lily Sherer offered “Mexican,” though she didn’t offer an idea of which region this Mexican came from. Some of the others were garlic fries, Corn Nuts, mac and cheese, salted particle board and ball sweat.
Yeah, that is one of our official entries.
Squid was just as useless, offering "shrimp-flavored popcorn." To Squid, everything tastes like shrimp-flavored popcorn.
Finally we turned to former intern and now big man on the San Francisco State University campus Ivan Garcia, assigning him some Pringles-tasting homework.
He handed us a Blue Book with this essay:
“Upon first bite of the Pringles mystery flavor crisps, the strongest flavor is saltiness. But the Pringles mystery flavor, like most existential mysteries, begins to make more sense the more it's reflected on.
"Each potato crisp packs a powerful wave of the kind of cheesiness that can only be delivered via neon orange powder. The cheesiness is undercut by a rich smoky flavor reminiscent of bacon bits and hints of caramelized onions, and the unmistakable umami flavor of monosodium glutamate.
"Philosophers may debate this for thousands of years to come, but the Pringles mystery flavor seems to be bacon mac & cheese.”
We won’t know how to grade this until Aug. 18. Pringles introduced the mystery flavor to Walgreens shelves on May 1. They will be pulled on July 30, but they give a little slack, allowing entries until Aug. 13.
Until then, the Burning Question can't really be answered. But it's probably cheesy bacon cornbread.