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The Hustle

A 13-year-old North Carolina boy had a wild amusement park afternoon; he climbed inside a claw machine trying to score a plush prize and got stuck, requiring first responders to free him. For his crime, he received a yearlong park ban — and probably an Oompa Loompa song, too.

In today’s email:

  • Are you Living Más? Taco Bell’s innovation kitchen sure is.
  • Survey: We asked you about the economics of dating.
  • Chew on this: High-tech dentistry is a hit in Hollywood.
  • Around the Web: Why we get great ideas in the shower, My First Million’s nomination, a fascinating game, and more internet finds.

🎧 On the go? Listen to today’s podcast to hear about Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen, and why it took 13 years of testing for the Crunchwrap Supreme to hit the menu.

The big idea
Taco Bell sign

Taco Bell’s innovation team could probably solve all the world’s woes if we asked them to

Make a list of Earth’s most pressing challenges and the precise consistency of the cheese on a fast-food burrito probably doesn’t rank too high.

But if this detailed New Yorker profile on Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen teaches us anything, it’s to never underestimate the 12 chef scientists and 60 food-innovation developers behind the chain’s menu magic.

They take their work seriously — you have to if your output is a primary growth engine for a ~8.2k-location, $14.65B-in-annual-sales restaurant serving 42m people every week — and they regularly solve complex problems.

Why we’d elect them as our (Crunchwrap) Supreme Leaders

Whether you love or hate the food, the stream of additions to Taco Bell’s menu makes it one of food’s most compelling spaces. At its root is a legendary creative culture they’ve nurtured — one well worth learning from.

Some key components:

  • Iteration: Taco Bell annually releases ~10 new products; to do so, their innovation team generates thousands of ideas and tests ~70 of them.
  • Patience: The idea for the Crunchwrap Supreme was tweaked in the lab for 13 years until it made the cut.
  • Practical constraints: A creative process without limitations is often too blue-sky; the scale of Taco Bell’s business requires careful consideration of the cost, quantity, and preparation of each component, as well as speed — can it be prepared in ~1 minute?
  • Attention to detail: Scientific precision is lent to ingredients’ material properties — from bounce to juiciness, springback to spreadability. And every ratio is carefully considered, like how the balance of fats and acids impacts mouthfeel and brain chemistry.
  • Breaking convention: The team pushes past technical limits — famously trying a paint-spray gun to try applying the correct amount of Doritos powder to their taco shells.
  • Consumer focus: Every successful creative product is evocative for its audience, even an oddball limited-edition Grilled Stuft Nacho. Per The New Yorker, “nostalgia” and “emotion” are frequently raised in their Innovation Kitchen.

BTW: Taco Bell is a leader in generating flash-in-the-pan menu sensations, but it isn’t the only fast-food giant with an impressive experimentation outfit; we’ve been inside Shake Shack’s innovation kitchen.

View on site
eyeball wearing a hat

Elon Musk claims he’ll develop TruthGPT, his own “maximum truth-seeking” AI chatbot. He incorporated a new company,, in Nevada and everything. Keep us posted on this one? We’re busy celebrating 10 years spent waiting at his Hyperloop terminal.


Maple leave: Canada’s CBC has joined NPR and PBS in dropping Twitter. The news org similarly disputes the “government-funded media” label the platform placed on its account.

A whole lotta zeros: Americans ended 2022 by hitting a record amount of credit card debt, setting a new high score at $986B — yes, nearly $1T.

It’s earnings report season: And Christmas thinks it’s the most wonderful time of the year? Please. Bank of America? Profits up 15%. Johnson & Johnson? Revenue up 5.6%. Goldman Sachs? Profits down 18% YoY.

… But don’t cry for Goldman Sachs: They’re Apple’s partner in its newly launched high-yield savings account gambit. Apple Card users can now let their savings accrue a competitive 4.15% APY. (You can cry if you really want, though — we want this newsletter to be an emotional safe space.)

Yikes: Four months removed from a total meltdown, internal technical issues caused Southwest Airlines to temporarily pause all flights yesterday. The ground stop was formally on the FAA’s books for just 16 minutes, but 1.8k+ flights were delayed as a result.

No poor sports: Another day, another sector bouncing back from pandemic uncertainty — this one literally. Sporting goods grew 4.3% YoY last year, with US sales of athletic footwear and apparel, sports and fitness equipment, and licensed gear topping $116B.

City haul: NYC has the world’s wealthiest population, thanks to its 340k millionaires. The Bay Area is the global leader in billionaire residents (63 of them). And yet again, Boston leads the way with the most dudes who will give you $20 right now if you can give ’em five good reasons why Kevin Garnett isn’t the best power forward in NBA history.

Finally: Instagram will let you add up to five links in your bio, which Zuck said was probably one of Meta’s “most requested features.”

Monster teamup: Niantic and Capcom are partnering on a “Monster Hunter” augmented reality game, akin to Niantic’s “Pokémon Go.” We can’t wait to fight a dragon while walking to the post office.

Oops: German artist Boris Eldagsen’s portrait placed in the 2023 Sony World Photography Awards despite it being AI-generated. Eldagsen said he submitted as a “cheeky monkey” to see if competitions were prepared for AI. “They are not,” he wrote.

YouTube announced policies around eating disorders: Content featuring “imitable” behaviors, such as purging after eating, will be banned, videos discussing recovery may be age-restricted, and resources will be made available.

Get productive: We broke down the many ways that business leaders can maximize their productivity management and get ahead.

cost of the average date

Zachary Crockett

The economics of dating during high inflation

Beth Bogdewiecz prefers activity dates. She likes getting to know someone beyond conversation, seeing how they react to stress or crowds to better gauge her interest in the potential match.

The problem is the price. In Denver, where she lives, an hour of climbing or pingpong at a bar with appetizers, ends up being ~2x the cost of a standard drinks date.

“There’s always a chance it could turn into more,” she told us. “On a deeper level, it’s like, ‘Do I want to spend money tonight?’”

Bogdewiecz isn’t alone.

The recent bout of inflation has impacted nearly every component of dating life — food, drinks, transportation — and has added additional financial pressure to courtship.

We were curious to learn more about the economics of modern dating life, so we recently surveyed ~700 of you on the topic.

How much do people spend on dates? What do they do? How has inflation impacted dating life? And what broader roles does money play in whom we choose to go out with?

Read the full story. →
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Teeth Tech

Dentists are getting high-tech

If you’ve ever dealt with a crown or extracted tooth, you may recall having a big ol’ tray of goop jammed in your mouth, then waiting weeks for your tooth to arrive.

Dr. Jon Marashi — dentist to stars including Ben Affleck and Cher — can get it done in ~3.5 hours, sans goop, per The Hollywood Reporter.

He takes a 3D scan of the patient’s mouth, 3D-prints a replica tooth, and uses a Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) milling machine to produce a porcelain crown.

Other modern dental miracles include:

  • Augmented reality and AI tools that take facial scans, then create Instagram-esque filters depicting what a new set of pearly whites would look like.
  • A laser that can remove gum tissue and bone to improve gummy smiles or remove veneers in ~15 minutes.
  • Lasers that can whiten teeth without heating them, ideal for patients with sensitive teeth.

The dentists THR mentioned…

… are working with big-name celebs with deep pockets — Cher has an estimated net worth of $360m. But can the average person enjoy these advancements?

Well, it depends: Cosmetic procedures — such as whitening, veneers, and gum shaping — are not typically covered by insurance, so it depends on what they can afford out-of-pocket.

But many dentists are using digital scans over traditional impressions. After a practice pays upfront costs of ~$21k-$24k, the cost per digital impression generally comes down to ~$30. Plus, they’re comparatively less messy and more efficient (here’s a video of how they work). Those digital scans may even be covered if they aren’t strictly for cosmetic work.

But will your dentist rush to get you in if you’re not starring in a prestige drama? Good luck.

View on site

🚴‍♂️ On this day: In 1943, chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann ingested a compound he thought might stimulate respiration and circulation, which is how he discovered the hallucinogenic effects of LSD. April 19 is known as Bicycle Day in honor of the strange bike ride he had on his way home.

🏆 Guess what?: Our own My First Million is nominated for a People’s Voice Webby! Vote here!

🚿 That’s interesting: Psychology Today explores why some of our best ideas hit us in the shower, on a walk, or while folding laundry.

🧐 That’s cool: A simple game that tells us a lot about trust.

🍓 Aww: And now, a tiny possum enjoying a fruit salad.


You know you’re just fine when Twitter is your utopian getaway. You’re fine. We’re fine. Everyone’s fine. (Link)


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