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Mat A:

How do they get those little Ms on M&M candies? Disenfranchised elves working for Mars, Inc. at minimum wage? Or some esoteric new-fangled tenth generation computer gizmo? Or perhaps just some mundane mechanical process that has eluded me? I got kidz, and they ask the darndest questions. Please help before I fall from their grace. P.S.: Who are the M&M in M&M?

-- Dads know everything (almost) in Spring Valley

Hi, kidz! Thanks for letting Dad think he's still the smartest guy in the house. It makes him feel good when you ask him questions like this. So anyway, here's your answer, thanks to your pal, good old Dad.

The little Ms are put on the candies by a clever printing press that the Mars company invented themselves. Way back in the 1950s, M&Ms were so popular that other candy companies started making their own copycat versions. Mr. Mars didn't like that at all. So he decided he'd label each one so people would know when they were eating the real thing. He was pretty sure if he tried to stamp the letters on, he'd smash them, so instead he rigged up a printing press with two rollers. One roller has a whole bunch of Ms that stick out, like printing type. The surface of each M is automatically coated with an edible white dye to act like the ink. This roller transfers the image of the Ms to a second roller with a smooth surface. As the candies come down the conveyor belt toward the smooth roller, a machine jiggles them around until each one falls into its own little seat so they don't move. When they zip under the smooth roller, the white M is transferred from the roller to the candy. Mr. Mars got the idea from the way some newspapers and magazines are made. It's called offset printing.

And who are the Ms? The first one is Forrest Mars, the guy who had the idea for the sugar-coated chocolates in the first place. The second one is Bruce Murray. The weird part is that the Murray family owned the Hershey chocolate company, Mars's biggest competitor. Why would they team up? Well, it was wartime, World War II, and the government rationed chocolate. The only company that could get all they wanted was Hershey, since they made the candy sent to American soldiers. Mars gave Murray a share of the M&M business, and in exchange Murray gave Mars loads of chocolate.

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