Another stick on the wall

Ransom Riggs

Imagine every nasty, chewed-up wad of gum you've ever had the misfortune of discovering on the bottom of your shoe or the underside of a desk, times 10,000, magically transposed to one spot. If that sounds like somewhere you'd love to visit, then welcome to otherwise relatively hygenic San Luis Obispo, California, whose number-one tourist attraction is Bubblegum Alley, AKA Cooties HQ. For over 40 years, pop-art pilgrims and masticatory thrill-seekers have donated wads of their own to this erstwhile shrine to the almighty bubble "“ more than 300,000 pieces in all, measuring 40 meters in length and up to 15 pieces deep. Awe-struck, inspired and more than a little overwhelmed by the smell, I felt compelled to post some holiday snaps of the Pollock-esque Alley, as well as a few gum-related facts for y'all to chew on:

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1. The minty-fresh Greeks of yore were famously fond of a gummy substance called mastiche, derived from the resin of the mastic tree. (For you etymology buffs, mastic is the root of masticate, which despite sounding dirty to fifth graders means "to chew.") First century botanist Dioscorides thought the mastic had medicinal properties, and he was onto something: twentieth century scientists confirmed that chewing its resin reduces bacterial plaque in the mouth.

2. The US Army has issued its infantrymen packs of chewing gum since World War I, claiming that its use during battle improves soldiers' concentration and relieves stress. Only since Gulf War I has the Army dispensed caffeinated gum, with each stick approximately equal to the pick-me-up of one cup of coffee.

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3. In an attempt to avoid having a Bubblegum Alley of their own, the neatfreak nation of Singapore banned the posession of chewing gum outright in 1992. The punishment for smuggling it into the country "“ even a small amount for personal use "“ ranged from steep fines to caning. But thanks in part to a 2004 free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Singapore (and heavy lobbying by the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company), the law was revised to allow certain types of chewing gum which boast "proven health benefits" "“ such as "enamel-strengthening" Wrigley's Orbit gum.

4. Perhaps owing to an increased blood flow to the brain experienced while chewing, gum-chewers have scored higher on word-recall tests than non-chewers. Despite this, chewing gum is banned in many schools.