Another Movie-Plot Threat: Poison Gumballs

This is too funny:

Fear that terrorists could poison children has led three Dover aldermen to begin inspecting gumball machines.

They’ve surveyed 103 machines in the Morris County town and expect to report their results on New Year’s Day.

Aldermen Frank Poolas, Jack Delaney and Michael Picciallo have found 100 unlicensed machines filled with gumballs, jawbreakers and other candies. The three feel they’re ripe for terrorists to lace with poisoned products.

Here’s another article.

This is simply too stupid for words.

Posted on October 12, 2007 at 6:40 AM58 Comments


Colossal Squid October 12, 2007 7:18 AM

Can you imagine being these people? Terrified every waking moment of every single day. Falling asleep and finding no respite as you dream of Osama Bin Laden sneaking into your town and poisoning your gumball machines.
Truly a living hell.

Kees October 12, 2007 7:33 AM

Hey, they found illegal jawbreakers! Everybody knows that these are the wepaons of choice of terrorists.

matt a October 12, 2007 7:34 AM

What I didn’t realize is that gumball machines need to be licensed. I wonder what the fine is for an unlicensed gumball machine and can you pay in quarters?

Robin October 12, 2007 7:36 AM

I couldn’t find anything that explained where they had come up with the poison gumball idea, or how creating “a registration process to find out where the candy is coming from” would stop the terrorists.

Nick Lancaster October 12, 2007 7:42 AM

I’d like to know what kind of poison would be sufficient to the task:

  • It has to be so devastating that a single gumball will kill the victim.
  • It has to be durable enough to survive long term storage in the gumball machine. (Consider that an effective strategy would be to only poison some of the gumballs, making the attack a random one.)
  • It has to pass a taste test. If it tastes like a chemical, most kids will spit it out.

Additionally, the authorities are emphasizing ‘unlicensed’ as if that explains everything. It’s a mystery machine, filled with chewy treats from a secret al-Qaeda candy factory – as opposed to ‘unlicensed’ meaning it’s a potential illegal source of income for a store owner.

Anonymous October 12, 2007 7:53 AM

“Someone who wanted to do harm really could.” – Alderman Frank Poolas

Oh no!

“Thomas Zellman, director of the Morris County Department of Law and Public Safety, agreed that gumball machines are “certainly not” a threat to homeland security.”

Oh, goodie then. I feel safe again. U-S-A!

Alan October 12, 2007 7:57 AM

It’s all about revenue. Unlicensed vs. licensed–they’re both just as vulnerable. Follow the money. . . .

TF October 12, 2007 8:02 AM

At least the police chief is being reasonable.

From the article:
However, Police Chief Harold “Butch” Valentine said the police department has no reason to believe terrorists are even contemplating contaminating candy.

“We’ve never received any information to the contrary. The gumballs are safe,” he said.

The odds are remote that candy machines would be targeted by terrorists, he added. “You’d probably win the lottery first,” Valentine said.

Ian October 12, 2007 8:16 AM

To expand on the requirements listed by Nick, the poison would also have to lie dormant in the victim’s body for a period of time to allow a worthwhile number of targets to be attacked. If the first person to take a gumball showed symptoms of poisoning too quickly then the source will be identified and removed. Having just one victim hardly constitutes a great return from a terrorist perspective.

cyber_eagle October 12, 2007 8:19 AM

There’s a lot of things terrorists “could” do, an almost infinite number of things. But why, of all those possible and mostly irrelevant threats, why pick gumball machines?? This is taking the comically arbitrary to new levels. Perhaps someones political career was a bit slow, or maybe, I hope and pray, someone just has a sense of humor.

Andy Dingley October 12, 2007 8:23 AM

I’m almost inclined to start a LOL OSAMA meme, “I’m in your gumballs, poisoning your aldermen”

MSB October 12, 2007 8:31 AM

The potential for harm is there, but I don’t see any reason to single out gumball machines. On the other hand, I’ve always wondered about the food hygiene of gumball machine operators. Do the machine fillers wash their hands before filling the machines? If they drop some gumballs while filling a machine, will they just pick them up and put them back in? …

Love Handles October 12, 2007 8:35 AM

In the USA, it looks like you can now justify anything as long the word “terrorist” is attached.

The Western Society Food Machine presents thousands of exploit opportunities. The people that make up part of that Machine are some of the lowest-paid in society and are usually not subject to any kind of background checks. Even one worker in a flour mill or canned food processing plant can harm millions. And even if you don’t order fish on Monday, think of all the trust that goes into eating a single meal in a restaurant.

If you’re going to start inspecting candy machines due to fear of “terrorists,” then you’re also going to have to inspect everything from bags of egg product, to pickles, to pepper mills, to the bodily fluids of restaurant workers.

Anonymous October 12, 2007 8:37 AM

Sounds like either an Alderman or one of their relatives is losing market share to unlicensed machines. That or the licences generate money for the town.

Next up: unlicensed dogs are a “Terrorist threat”

paul October 12, 2007 8:41 AM

My immediate reaction is to wonder about corruption in the process of licensing gumball machines. If someone who happened to make a bunch of money leasing out and servicing licensed machines, because licenses were for some reason hard to get, were to complain that unlicensed competitors were cutting into profits, the rest would follow pretty automatically.

ADHD Ho! October 12, 2007 8:46 AM

Poisoning those gumballs is the least of it. Think of the chaos, distress, mayhem and unrest that would be caused if evildoers were to hypercharge the metabolism of every child with a galvanic mixture of sugar, corn syrup, sulphites and tartrazine!

shoobe01 October 12, 2007 8:50 AM

I know there are other ways to interpret the numbers, but based on the quote: “They’ve surveyed 103 machines… have found 100 unlicensed machines…” I like to read that as though they only found THREE licensed machines.

Mike Schiraldi October 12, 2007 9:00 AM

Wouldn’t it be easier for a terrorist to poison bags of M&Ms and slip them onto grocery store shelves? Or hand them out at Halloween?

andyinsdca October 12, 2007 9:21 AM

If you are not afraid of the terrorists, Global Warming, Neo-Nazis, trans-fats and second hand smoke, you are not a Patriotic (TM), loyal citizen. Report to Guantanamo Bay for re-education immediately.

Sebastian October 12, 2007 9:26 AM

This just in: Terrorists open stores and sell cheap booze, making unsuspected vicitims drink themselves to death…

Ed T. October 12, 2007 9:33 AM

Of course, instead of ObL poisoning the contents of the gumball machines, maybe it is a parent instead, killing his kids for the insurance policy he just took out on them – and targeting some other random children, to divert attention away from himself.

I still remember the year this happened. Halloween has never been the same since.


PixieStix, anyone?

Dave October 12, 2007 9:37 AM

Won’t somebody think of the children !

Seriously, anything involving children makes practically everyone turn irrational. If this were about terrorists poisoning cigarettes in vending machines, the aldermen wouldn’t have bothered getting involved but when it’s about children…

Roy October 12, 2007 9:47 AM

They’d be dumb terrorists. The obvious place to attack is school vending machines — soft drinks, potato chips, candy, and such — since the volume there is very high. A gumball machine can go days with no takers.

If our children aren’t safe in stores (where gumball machines are) it is easy to keep them away. But if our children aren’t safe in school, then we have to keep them at home, and that presents a serious disruption to the fabric of society.

Matt from CT October 12, 2007 10:06 AM

@andyinsdca…two thumbs up 🙂

More then “license” revenue to the city / county…I’m giving 100:1 odds one or more of the councilors have a business interest or a “friend” with business interests in vending machines looking to run competitors out of town.

It does remind me of this:

David Harper October 12, 2007 10:07 AM

Dover, New Jersey — front line in the battle to protect civilisation from al-Qaeda’s dastardly Confectionery Jihad Brigade!

Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu October 12, 2007 10:10 AM

“Police Chief Harold “Butch” Valentine tells The Star-Ledger of Newark the odds are a person would win the lottery before terrorists would use the machines to launch an attack.”

That’s all the proof we need that this is serious business. Terrorists will poison all the gumball machines and then buy lots of lottery tickets. They’ll use their winnings to fund more terrorist attacks.

Twylite October 12, 2007 10:34 AM

Brilliant. Terrorists don’t even need to think up plots anymore – we think about all the stuff that would make us fear and tell it to them.

Dan B October 12, 2007 11:15 AM

What I find perturbing is that a news source would actually pick this story up and report on it. That’s just sad. Were junior reporters really starved for a story that day? Or were they trying to show public officials in yet another embarrassing endeavor?

cmarnold October 12, 2007 11:16 AM

And soon officials will begin to suspect that common items such as toothpaste, cosmetics and children’s toys have high amounts of lead and…oh…never mind…that’s all actually true.


Roy October 12, 2007 11:46 AM

All we need now is a forty-foot shipping container full of gumballs coming in from China, with the obligatory ethylene glycol in the recipe, and these idiots will cast themselves as heroes.

dragonfrog October 12, 2007 11:59 AM

@ Nick Lancaster

“- It has to pass a taste test. If it tastes like a chemical, most kids will spit it out.”

You obviously don’t buy a lot of gumballs from vending machines (and who can blame ya?). The things taste chemically already – the risk would be that the poison would cause the gumballs to taste like a naturally occuring food. For example, cyanide apparently tastes a lot like almonds, which would raise alarms.

Nick Lancaster October 12, 2007 12:04 PM

“If you’re going to worry every time something doesn’t make sense, then you’ll be worried every second of every moment for the rest of your life.”
— G’Kar, Babylon 5

Nick Lancaster October 12, 2007 12:18 PM


I have to admit, my last gumball was a long, long time ago.

The meaning is that if the gumball ‘tastes funny,’ the child won’t consume it.

An other onymous October 12, 2007 1:33 PM

@MBL – eww – I will never eat another gumball again

@Dave – poisoned cigarettes? Do you know of any that aren’t poisoned? What’s the cig .v. gumball body count? How many millions to nil.

@Alex – vocal terror – good one. I’d love to know why some people that are brilliant in the narrowest of fields seem like complete idiots in normal life

@Twylite – I have to think ObL et al are sitting in a cave somewhere reading these things “LMAO”

Gee, the only thing missing is flashing lights and the Boston Cops.

Belated apologies for any compound sarcasm above.

Overreaction and lack of critcial thinking seem to be epidemic! It spreads faster than samonella at a raw chicken eating contest.

More seriously ObL & co have already won. This is just one more example of how.

the great pumkin October 12, 2007 1:56 PM

The Great Pumkin is out to get you! and Snoopy too….and Linus and Lucy and Charlie Brown….

awaitingthesquid October 12, 2007 2:03 PM

Hey Bruce, if we can find a picture of poisoned calamari then you can kill two birds with one stone!

Alan October 12, 2007 2:51 PM

Worse yet, the Terrorists(tm) are planning a Gumball Rally. (They only get movie plots from the 70s, film distribution in Pakistan being what it is…)

tom brandt October 12, 2007 3:15 PM

The New York Times reports that Mr Poolas is furiously backpedaling:

‘”Our main concern was health. Period,??? Mr. Poolas said, explaining why he and some colleagues started a project six months ago to inspect all of the town’s candy and gum vending machines to make sure they were properly licensed.

Sure, he had mentioned terrorism, Mr. Poolas said, but only as a “worst-case scenario.”‘

Anton October 12, 2007 5:52 PM

Considering the stuff they put in these gumballs today, it would probably be more prudent to ban them all based on the intrinsic danger of the chemicals they contain. But then again, that would be cruel to the children wouldn’t it.

The phantom ghost called Bin Laden is winning.

f10ff October 12, 2007 6:11 PM

@ Nick Lancaster

“- It has to pass a taste test. If it tastes like a chemical, most kids will spit it out.”

Strictly speaking, water, sugar, fat, etc. are all chemicals. That something is natural or completely safe to eat doesn’t make it less of a chemical.

Peter E Retep October 12, 2007 6:58 PM

Since most gum ball machines are sold by mail order catalogue, what added security does the licensing agency provide?

Or is it only a revenue check for those who are SELLING gumballs by machine on commercial premises?

What if (a) you give away gumballs by machine free of charge?

What if (b) it is a machine in someone’s living room?
Front porch next to the jack-o-lantern? (Self-serve trick-or-treat)?

Oh, isn’ it wonderful to do this just before Halloween? Trick or Treat!

lattera October 12, 2007 7:38 PM

What about pencils? Maybe a terrorist employed at a pencil manufacturing plant rubbed a biochem weapon on my new pencil.

Can someone please inspect the fibers of my shirt from terrorists rubbing biochem weapons on it?

What about my shampoo?

Anonymous October 12, 2007 8:48 PM

“Next up: unlicensed dogs are a ‘Terrorist threat'”

Only if you were planning to eat them. Or are worried about them cheating at poker.

Steve October 12, 2007 11:22 PM

Forget candy. Forget bulk-packaged food. A terrorist gets maximum return on his effort by poisoning the law-making process. The most spectacular success of this strategy is, of course, the Patriot Act, but the effect trickles all the way down to city councils. Not that I disagree with the idea that that gumball-license plan is the product of a gumball distributor out to kill the competition. In Louisiana, floristry is a licensed trade.

ndg October 12, 2007 11:44 PM

Nick Lancaster

  • It has to pass a taste test. If it tastes like a chemical, most kids will spit it out.

Ummm, not exactly, if it tastes natural kids will spit it out, kid food contains only chemicals these days!

Your Alderman October 13, 2007 2:13 PM

@ lattera
“What about my shampoo?”

Curse you, you hell-spawned evildoer!! Now terrorists will try to infiltrate our shampoo factories and sneak liquid explosives into actual shampoo bottles, which innocent consumers will carry onto airplanes, to be cunningly detonated by secretly rewired radio-controlled toys.

How can we POSSIBLY stop this?!!!

I say we forcibly license all the workers at shampoo factories, and all their suppliers. Oh, and start a Vigilant Citizens program where everyone reports anything slightly strange to police authorities. Yeah, that should prevent it. Whew.

Jagadeesh Venugopal October 14, 2007 8:05 AM

I think it is important to national security to scrutinize every gumball machine. Doing so might drive up the prices of gumballs to a few dollars each, but think of the benefits of doing so… less ingestion of sugar and various other chemicals that go into gumballs.

Coke machines at schools should also be similarly inspected. The cost of coke will go up, but obesity will go way down.

Finally all fast food joints will need to come under the department of homeland security. Heaven knows what terrors lurk in a big mac. They need to be inspected. Once a big mac starts costing $5 and above, people stop eating it. Presto reduced obesity.

Not only will we be safer as a result of this intensive inspection, if it is conducted nationally, but we will also be on average far lighter. The only losers from this whole enterprise are Osama and the peddlers of cholesterol lowering medication.

Gordon October 15, 2007 2:13 AM

When unlicensed gumball machines are outlawed, only outlaws will have unlicensed gumball machines…

stacy October 15, 2007 8:47 AM

The only thing missing is some vague statement about funding terrorism with the revenue generated by these unlicensed gumball machines 🙂

CGomez October 15, 2007 12:37 PM

It would be nice to discuss plausible threats. Merely discussing threats would not make them likely, but many movie-plot threats are likely (like 9/11 itself).

I think what we could use is frank discussion about real threats, and what is left if anything of the sick people who would carry them out. If there are all these “terrorists”, where are they?

markm October 15, 2007 1:43 PM

“I’ve always wondered about the food hygiene of gumball machine operators. Do the machine fillers wash their hands before filling the machines? If they drop some gumballs while filling a machine, will they just pick them up and put them back in? …”

I don’t know about the machine fillers, but when I was at the age to like gumballs, if I dropped one, I’d pick it up and pop it back in my mouth. I think I was pretty typical. Unfortunately, I don’t think a gumball poisoner would have to worry too much about making them taste funny, they pretty much taste like the flavoring came out of a chemical factory to begin with.

More to the point, unless the “licensing” process requires security checks on everyone in the supply chain, it would not make a bit of difference to the terrorist threat. That is, not just the machine fillers, but the factory workers that made gumballs, the warehouse that stored them, the truckers that delivered them, etc. And if you actually successfully exclude Achmed the Alleged Possible Madman from all of those jobs, your security is still no better than the locks on the machines – which I’m sure are no better than is needed to deter 14 year old thieves.

UNTER October 19, 2007 2:18 PM

Isn’t Dover where they tried to teach Creationism as science? Why the intense correlation between religious stupidity and intense xenophobia?

I guess there’s a syndrome at work – what some call Right Wing Authoritarianism. The fear is needed to justify the boot-licking subservience.

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