MONEY Sports

Crazy Long Shot March Madness Bet Looks to Pay Off Big Time

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David Richard—AP Kentucky's Andrew Harrison is congratulated by Willie Cauley-Stein (15) during the second half of a college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA men's tournament regional semifinals.

Before the college basketball season started, at least 39 people placed a bet at a Nevada sportsbook with 50:1 odds. It's looking like quite a brilliant wager right about now.

The bet in question is that the University of Kentucky would go undefeated through the entire season and win the national championship in the NCAA March Madness tournament. After Kentucky completely dominated West Virginia in a 78-39 rout on Thursday night, the Wildcats stand at 37-0. All they need is three more wins and they’ll go down in history as the best college basketball team ever, or at least the one that had the best season ever.

There have been teams that have run the table in the past, with undefeated regular seasons followed by national championships. But it hasn’t happened in decades. The last squad to do so was Indiana in 1975-1976. Teams played fewer games back then—Indiana’s record was 32-0, including the tournament—so Kentucky has already won more games this year. The great John Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins teams of the 1960s and ’70s had four undefeated seasons and won an amazing 88 games in a row, but again, times have changed and teams play more games nowadays.

Because the season is so long, and because no team has gone undefeated in nearly four decades, gamblers were initially given long-shot odds that Kentucky could accomplish the feat in 2014-2015. Last summer, the William Hill sportsbook in Nevada began accepting bets that would pay off 50-to-1 if Kentucky won every game, including the tournament. According to ESPN, at least 39 people took those odds, including one $500 bet that will pay off to the tune of $25,000 if Kentucky wins its final three games.

Another gambler bet $2,550 on Kentucky to zip through this year with zero losses, but that wager was placed in September, when the odds had shrunk to 20:1. That bet will pay off $51,000 if Kentucky comes through.

Kentucky has had some close games this year, including back-to-back overtime games in January, against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. So it’s indeed possible that John Calipari’s super-talented squad could lose. But as NCAA March Madness entered the Sweet Sixteen this week, sportsbooks listed Kentucky as the overwhelming favorite, with 1:1 odds. Arizona was a distant second at 13:2, and all the other contenders were even bigger long shots. In other words, casinos have been practically begging gamblers to bet on any team other than Kentucky.

Yet even if Kentucky does run the table, there are those who will argue—fairly convincingly—that this year’s team is not the best ever. Not by a long shot. In fact, Vegas oddsmakers say that the 2014-15 Kentucky team would be the underdog in theoretical matchups against several notable college squads from the past, including the undefeated 1976 Indiana team, UNLV circa 1991 with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, and Greg Anthony, and even the 2012 Kentucky team that won the national championship and had six players drafted into the NBA—but that didn’t go undefeated for the entire season.

MONEY credit cards

4 Credit Cards for the Forgetful

using a credit card to pay online
Laurent Delhourme

These are great cards for people who can't find the time or motivation to focus on monitoring their credit cards.

Do you have better things to worry about than your credit cards? Since most of us do, it’s easy to misplace a monthly statement, lose a card or even forget to make a payment. And when we forget, it would be nice to have a credit card issuer that is ready to forgive you and even help you make it better. Thankfully, there are several credit cards that offer terms to help cardholders who might make a mistake from time to time.

Keep in mind that a late payment can still affect your credit, as it will be listed on your credit report. (You can see how any late payments are affecting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.) However, there are other potential negative impacts that you can avoid if you choose a card that’s more forgiving.

Here are four credit cards for the forgetful.

1. PenFed Promise

This card consistently wins our Best Credit Card in America award for the Simplest Card because it has no fees whatsoever. This means that forgetful cardholders don’t have to worry about paying a late payment fee. And although most other cards will impose a penalty interest rate on those who make a late payment, this card will continue to offer cardholders the standard rate, regardless of their payment history. To receive this card, applicants must be a member of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which is open to members of a wide variety of military, government and defense industry workers, as well as members of their family or household. In addition, membership is open to those who belong to a military support group, which anyone can join for a one-time fee of $15. And since there are no fees for this card, that means that there is no annual fee, too.

2. Citi Simplicity

Like the PenFed Promise, the Citi Simplicity features no late fees or penalty interest rate. This card also boasts 18 months of interest-free financing on both new purchases and balance transfers (with a 3% balance transfer fee). Other benefits for the forgetful include automatic account alerts to remind cardholders of their balance levels, payments due or when they go over their credit limit. Account alerts can be received by email or text messages directly on their mobile phone. Cardholders can also choose their own payment due date, so they can pick the time of the month that works for them and is easiest to remember. There is no annual fee for this card.

3. Discover it Miles

The new Discover it Miles card offers several features for forgetful people. Discover will automatically waive a cardholder’s first late payment fee, and there is never any penalty interest rate. And while the standard Discover it card requires cardholders to go online and activate their bonus reward categories each quarter, the Discover it Miles card offers 1.5 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, all the time, with nothing to remember. Additionally, new cardholders receive double the miles they earned during their first year as a cardholder, automatically, so long as their account is open and in good standing.

Discover also offers email and text reminders as well as a mobile app that cardholders can use to notify them of important events such as their statement being available and their payment being due. Finally, Discover also has a great reputation for fast replacement of lost, stolen or damaged credit cards. There is no annual fee for this card.

4. Capital One Quicksilver

Capital One has a streamlined rewards system, which means that cardholders don’t have to remember all sorts of confusing terms and conditions to use the rewards that they have earned. With the Quicksilver card, customers earn 1.5 cents per dollar spent, with no bonus categories to register for or worry about. And as a Visa Signature card, customers have access to 24/7 emergency card replacement and cash disbursement, in case their card is lost, stolen or just forgotten. There is no annual fee for this card.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY deals

Here’s What the World’s Largest Coupon Looks Like

Fast food icon, Jack, of Jack in the Box, makes a rare public appearance to celebrate capturing the Guinness World Record title for the world's Largest coupon on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015 in Los Angeles. Fans can get their own Buttery Jack Burgers at their local Jack in the Box by sharing shots of the #WorldsLargestCoupon.
Jordan Strauss—Invision via AP Fast food icon, Jack, of Jack in the Box, makes a rare public appearance to celebrate capturing the Guinness World Record title for the world's Largest coupon on Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015 in Los Angeles.

At 80 feet tall and 450 times the size of a regular coupon, it's kind of a big deal. And yes, it's a valid coupon—good for a free burger!

This week, the fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box unveiled a huge—quite literally—new offer. The company needed more than a dozen people to carry the freshly made coupon, which measures 80 feet tall by 25 feet wide, down the streets of Los Angeles. It was then draped down the side of the W Hotel in Hollywood, where it could be admired as the “Largest Coupon” according to Guinness World Records.

The coupon is valid through April 1 for a buy-one, get-one-free Buttery Jack Burger, which features “garlic herb butter melted on top of a new, quarter-pound signature beef patty, tucked inside Jack’s gourmet signature bun.”

You might be thinking it’s a bit impractical to bring an eight-story-high coupon into a restaurant. And you’d be right. But all you need is a picture of the coupon on your phone to get your free burger, and it’s easy enough to locate a photo on social media with the hashtag #WorldsLargestCoupon.

MONEY Customer Service

Comcast’s New Customer Service Strategy: More Tweets

Comcast skyscraper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Alamy Comcast skyscraper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The company is adding 40 new social media experts to help it respond to customers faster.

Comcast COMCAST CORP. CMCSA 0.05% seems to be following through on promises made by its CEO Neil Smit to make fixing its customer service woes a priority for 2015.

“The way we interact with our customers — on the phone, online, in their homes — is as important to our success as the technology we provide,” Smit wrote on a company blog. “Put simply, customer service should be our best product.”

The company has already put a respected company veteran, Charlie Herrin, in charge of repairing its broken method of interacting with customers. It has also created an app which lets people know when a technician is en route to their home, ending the previous practice of subscribers having to wait around during a four-hour appointment window.

Now Comcast is taking its efforts to fix its customer relations a step further by hiring 40 workers for its social media team. These new hires will join an existing 20-person group in providing “help with everything from scheduling appointments to troubleshooting Internet problems and setting up DVRs, CNN Money reported.

Why is Comcast doing this?

“We have thousands of people answering service calls on the phone, and for many customers that’s great. But some people would rather go online, and we want to make sure to give them that choice,” Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury told CNN Money.

The company explained in a press announcement about the hiring effort that it has been using social media since 2007, but the use of platforms including Twitter TWITTER INC. TWTR 0.18% and Facebook FACEBOOK INC. FB 0.35% has increased over the years. This has shifted some customer support needs from traditional call centers to the social media team.

With a much bigger team, we’ll be able to support customers across more platforms. And we’ll be able to get to them faster. A larger team also means that we’ll be able to increase bicoastal and bilingual coverage to make sure we are available 24/7 to customers who speak either English or Spanish.

The social care team has access to all the same advanced tools and training as our call center agents do, which means they can quickly jump in to solve problems. They also have a direct line to our tech teams so they can schedule appointments.

While this effort won’t solve all of Comcast’s problems, it will bring some customers immediate help. It’s not a complete solution to a customer service culture which has been built around retention at any cost, but it’s a solid incremental step that should take pressure off the system.

Adding 40 people to the @comcastcares social media team shows that Smit’s vows to revamp customer service have actual money behind them. This isn’t a token hire or a PR move; it’s likely a multimillion-dollar commitment to delivering actual improvement.

Comcast deserves credit

The media, myself included, has spent the past year shining light on Comcast’s customer service failures. Those woes went viral when a recording made by former Engadget editor Ryan Block where a “retention specialist” essentially refused to allow him to cancel his service. That debacle led to a flood of embarrassing customer service issues being made public — everything from bad service to names on bills being changed to derogatory terms.

Comcast probably deserved the scorn it got from the legitimate media and on social media. Now, however, the company deserves praise for not just saying it’s going to fix the problem but actually doing the hard work to turn around its culture, while backing those efforts with financial resources.

This is good business for the cable and Internet giant. A company can’t treat its customers poorly when they can easily leave for other alternatives. But, aside from the long-term business gains the company should make, Comcast deserves credit for publicly tackling what is a thankless problem.

Bringing the customer service battle to social media is a smart move. Twitter and Facebook allow for quick problem resolution. That should result in happy customers and less stress on traditional phone-based customer service.

There are almost certain to be more problems and humiliating gaffes before Herrin and Smit completely change the company’s culture. Still, adding 40 social media customer care reps is a win for customers, which is ultimately a win for the company’s bottom line.

MONEY Millennials

5 Big Myths About What Millennials Truly Want

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Jamie Grill—Getty Images

We've heard a ton about millennials—where they want to live, what they love to eat, what's most important to them in the workplace, and so on. It's time to set the record straight.

In some ways, it’s foolish to make broad generalizations about any generation, each of which numbers into the tens of millions of people. Nonetheless, demographers, marketers, and we in the media can’t help but want to draw conclusions about their motivations and desires. That’s especially true when it comes to the young people who conveniently came of age with the Internet and smartphones, making it possible for their preferences and personal data to be tracked from birth.

Naturally, everyone focuses on what makes each generation different. Sometimes those differences, however slight, come to be viewed as hugely significant breaks from the past when in fact they’re pretty minor. There’s a tendency to oversimplify and paint with an exceptionally broad brush for the sake of catchy headlines and easily digestible info nuggets. (Again, we’re as guilty of this as anyone, admittedly.) The result is that widely accepted truisms are actually myths—or at least only tell part of the story. Upon closer inspection, there’s good reason to call these five generalizations about millennials into question.

1. Millennials Don’t Like Fast Food
One of the most accepted truisms about millennials—easily the most overexamined generation in history—is that they are foodies who love going out to eat. And when they eat, they want it to be special, with fresh, high-quality ingredients that can be mixed and matched according to their whims, not some stale, processed cookie-cutter package served to the masses.

In other words, millennials are huge fans of Chipotle and fast-casual restaurants, while they wouldn’t be caught dead in McDonald’s. In fact, the disdain of millennials for McDonald’s is frequently noted as a prime reason the fast food giant has struggled mightily of late.

But guess what? Even though survey data shows that millennials prefer fast-casual over fast food, and even though some stats indicate millennial visits to fast food establishments are falling, younger consumers are far more likely to dine at McDonald’s than at Chipotle, Panera Bread, and other fast-casual restaurants.

Last summer, a Wall Street Journal article pointed out that millennials are increasingly turning away from McDonald’s in favor of fast casual. Yet a chart in the story shows that roughly 75% of millennials said they go to McDonald’s at least once a month, while only 20% to 25% of millennials visit a fast-casual restaurant of any kind that frequently. Similarly, data collected by Morgan Stanley cited in a recent Business Insider post shows that millennials not only eat at McDonald’s more than at any other restaurant chain, but that they’re just as likely to go to McDonald’s as Gen Xers and more likely to dine there than Boomers.

At the same time, McDonald’s was the restaurant brand that millennials would least likely recommend publicly to others, with Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, and Jack in the Box also coming in toward the bottom in the spectrum of what millennials find worthy of their endorsements. What it looks like, then, is that millennials are fast food regulars, but they’re ashamed about it.

2. Millennials Want to Live in Cities, Not Suburbs
Another broad generalization about millennials is that they prefer urban settings, where they can walk or take the bus, subway, or Uber virtually anywhere they need to go. There are some facts to back this up. According to an October 2014 White House report, millennials were the most likely group to move into mid-size cities, and the number of young people living in such cities was 5% higher compared with 30 years prior. The apparent preference for cities has been pointed to as a reason why Costco isn’t big with millennials, who seem to not live close enough to the warehouse retailer’s suburban locations to justify a membership, nor do their apartments have space for Costco’s bulk-size merchandise.

But just because the percentage of young people living in cities has been inching up doesn’t mean that the majority actually steer clear of the suburbs. Five Thirty Eight recently took a deep dive into Census data, which shows that in 2014 people in their 20s moving out of cities and into suburbs far outnumber those going in the opposite direction. In the long run, the suburbs seem the overwhelming choice for settling down, with roughly two-thirds of millennial home buyers saying they prefer suburban locations and only 10% wanting to be in the city. It’s true that a smaller percentage of 20-somethings are moving to the suburbs compared with generations ago, but much of the reason why this is so is that millennials are getting married and having children later in life.

3. Millennials Don’t Want to Own Homes
Closely related to the theory that millennials like cities over suburbs is the idea that they like renting rather than owning. That goes not only for where they live, but also what they wear, what they drive, and more.

In terms of homes, the trope that millennials simply aren’t into ownership just isn’t true. Surveys show that the vast majority of millennials do, in fact, want to own homes. It’s just that, at least up until recently, monster student loans, a bad jobs market, the memory of their parents’ home being underwater, and/or their delayed entry into the world of marriage and parenthood have made homeownership less attractive or impossible.

What’s more, circumstances appear to be changing, and many more millennials are actually becoming homeowners. Bloomberg News noted that millennials constituted 32% of home buyers in 2014, up from 28% from 2012, making them the largest demographic in the market. Soaring rents, among other factors, have nudged millennials into seeing ownership as a more sensible option. Surveys show that 5.2 million renters expect to a buy a home this year, up from 4.2 million in 2014. Since young people represent a high portion of renters, we can expect the idea that millennials don’t want to own homes to be increasingly exposed as a myth.

4. Millennials Hate Cars
Cars are just not cool. They’re bad for the environment, they cost too much, and, in an era when Uber is readily available and socializing online is arguably more important than socializing in person, having a car doesn’t seem all that necessary. Certainly not as necessary as a smartphone or broadband. Indeed, the idea that millennials could possibly not care about owning cars is one that has puzzled automakers, especially those in the car-crazed Baby Boom generation.

In many cases, the car industry has disregarded the concept, claiming that the economy rather than consumer interest is why fewer young people were buying cars. Whatever the case, the numbers show that the majority of millennials will own cars, regardless of whether they love them as much as their parents did when they were in their teens and 20s. According to Deloitte’s 2014 Gen Y Consumer Study, more than three-quarters of millennials plan on purchasing or leasing a car over the next five years, and 64% of millennials say they “love” their cars. Sales figures are reflecting the sentiment; in the first half of 2014, millennials outnumbered Gen X for the first time ever in terms of new car purchases.

5. Millennials Have a Different Attitude About Work
As millennials entered the workforce and have become a more common presence in offices around the world, much attention has been focused on the unorthodox things that young people supposedly care more about than their older colleagues. Millennials, surveys and anecdotal evidence have shown, want to be able to wear jeans and have flexible work hours to greater degrees than Gen X and Boomers. Young people also want to be more collaborative, demand more feedback, and are less motivated by money than older generations.

That’s the broad take on what motivates millennial workers anyway. An IBM study on the matter suggests otherwise, however. “We discovered that Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do,” researchers state. There may be different preferences on smaller issues—like, say, the importance of being able to dress casually on the job—but when it comes to overarching work goals achieved in the long run, millennials are nearly identical to their more experienced colleagues: “They want financial security and seniority just as much as Gen X and Baby Boomers, and all three generations want to work with a diverse group of people.”

What’s more, IBM researchers say, millennials do indeed care about making more money at work, and that, despite their reputation as frequent “job hoppers,” they jump ship to other companies about as often as other generations, and their motivations are essentially the same: “When Millennials change jobs, they do so for much the same reasons as Gen X and Baby Boomers. More than 40 percent of all respondents say they would change jobs for more money and a more innovative environment.”

MONEY Debt

Federal Consumer Agency Proposes New Rules for Payday Loans

New rules could require payday lenders to verify that customers can afford to repay their debt before allowing them to take out a loan.

Payday loan borrowers may finally be in for some relief. On Thursday, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released the outlines of new proposals that would impose restrictions on various high-interest lending products, including payday loans, which the bureau defines as any credit product that requires consumers to repay the debt within 45 days.

The proposals also contain new rules for longer-term loans, such as installment loans and car title loans, where a lender either has access to a borrower’s bank account or paycheck, or holds an interest in their vehicle.

The CFPB’s actions come as high-interest lending products have been receiving increasing scrutiny for trapping low-income borrowers in a cycle of debt. Payday loans, which typically last around 14 days, or until the borrower is expected to get his or her next paycheck, technically charge relatively low fees over their original term. However, many payday borrowers cannot afford to pay back their debt in the required time frame and must “roll over” the previous loan into a new loan.

As a result, the median payday customer is in debt for 199 days a year, and more than half of payday loans are made to borrowers who end up paying more in interest than they originally borrowed. Longer-term auto-title loans and installment loans have been criticized for similarly locking consumers in debt.

In order to protect borrowers from falling into such “debt traps,” the CFPB’s proposals include two general strategies for regulating both short- and long-term high-interest loans. For payday loans, one “prevention” alternative would require lenders to use the borrower’s income, financial obligations, and borrowing history to ensure they had sufficient earnings to pay back the loan on time.

Any additional loans within two months of the first could only be given if the borrower’s finances had improved, and the total number of loans would be capped at three before a 60-day “cooling-off” period would be imposed. Payday shops would also have to verify consumers did not have any outstanding loans with any other lender.

A second “protection” alternative would not require payday lenders to ensure their customers could repay their loan without further borrowing, but instead imposes a series of restrictions on the lending process. For example, under this plan, all loans would be limited to 45 days and could not include more than one finance charge or a vehicle as collateral.

Additionally, lenders would have offer some way out of debt. One method could be a requirement to reduce the loan’s principal to zero over the course of three loans, so nothing more would be owed. Another option is a so-called “off-ramp” out of debt, which would either require loan shops to allow consumers to pay off debts over time without incurring further fees, or mandate that consumers not spend more than 90 days in debt on certain short-term loans in a 12-month period. The “protection” alternative would also include a 60-day cooling-off period after multiple loans and a ban on lending to any borrower with outstanding payday debt.

The bureau has proposed similar “prevention” and “protection” options for loans that exceed 45 days. The former would require similar vetting of a borrower’s finances before a loan is given. The latter would include a duration limit of six months and either limit the amount that could lent and cap interest rates at 28%, or mandate that loan payments take up a maximum of 5% of a borrower’s gross monthly income, in addition to other regulations.

Apart from new regulations on the loan products themselves, the CFPB also proposed new rules regarding collection. One regulation would require lenders to give borrowers advance notice before attempting to extract funds from their bank accounts. A second would attempt to limit borrowers’ bank fees by limiting the number of times a lender could attempt to collect money from an account unsuccessfully.

Before any of the any of these proposals can become a bind rule, the bureau says it will seek input from small lenders and other relevant stakeholders. Any proposals would then be opened to public comment before a final rule is released.

The Consumer Financial Association of America, a national organization representing short-term lenders, responded to the proposals by stressing the need to keep credit available to unbanked Americans, even while increasing consumer protections.

“CFSA welcomes the CFPB’s consideration of the payday loan industry and we are prepared to entertain reforms to payday lending that are focused on customers’ welfare and supported by real data,” said association CEO Dennis Shaul in a statement. But, Shaul added, “consumers thrive when they have more choices, not fewer, and any new regulations must keep this in mind.”

The Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting predatory lending practices, released a statement in general support of the CFPB’s proposals.

“The proposal endorses the principle that payday lenders be expected to do what responsible mortgage and other lenders already do: check a borrower’s ability to repay the loan on the terms it is given,” said Mike Calhoun, the center’s president. “This is a significant step that is long overdue and a profound change from current practice.”

However, Calhoun said, the “protection” options were grossly inadequate, calling them “an invitation to evasion.”

“If adopted in the final rule, they will undermine the ability to repay standard and strong state laws, which give consumers the best hope for the development of a market that offers access to fair and affordable credit,” Calhoun added. “We urge the consumer bureau to adopt its strong ability to repay standard without making it optional.”

According to the center, 21 states, including the District of Columbia, have significant protections against payday lending abuses. An interest-rate cap, which lending activists say is the most effective means to regulate payday lending, has been adopted by 15 states.

Earlier this month, MoneyMutual, a lead generator for payday loan products, was fined $2.1 million by the state of New York for advertising loan products with illegally high interest rates. According to New York law, unlicensed payday lenders cannot charge an interest rate over 16% per year, and licensed lenders are subject to a cap of 25%. MoneyMutual has acknowledged it advertised loans with an annual percentage rate between 261% and 1,304%.

 

MONEY Food & Drink

5 Amazing Facts About Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Heinz Ketchup

150325_EM_MacaroniKetchup
Alamy—Alamy

The merger of Kraft Foods and Heinz combines hundreds of well-known brands into one monster Big Food conglomerate—none more notable than the iconic products Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Heinz Ketchup.

When you heard about the new merger of Kraft Foods Group and H.J. Heinz Co., chances are you thought about each brand’s best-known product—Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Heinz Ketchup, respectively. Well, here are a handful of things you might not know about these two ubiquitous items, which have been mainstays in American pantries and supermarket shelves for decades.

Heinz sells more single-serve ketchup packets annually than there are people on earth. The Heinz Company’s trivia page reveals that it sells 11 billion single-serve ketchup packs per year. “That’s 2 packets for every person on earth,” the site explains. The company also sells 650 million bottles of Heinz Ketchup annually in 140 countries, and uses two million tons of processed tomatoes per year, more than any other business in the world. (It uses tomatoes not only for ketchup, but in tomato sauces and other products.) Oh, and the famous “57 Varieties” on ketchup bottles? It means nothing. Henry Heinz thought it was a lucky number, so he used it in advertising and put it on the company’s products, which now number into the thousands.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese has always been dirt cheap. Kraft began selling boxes of macaroni and cheese in 1937, during the heart of the Great Depression, and the main sales pitch was that you could feed a family of four for 19¢. Consumers bought eight million boxes in the first year, and 50 million boxes were sold during World War II, when meat and dairy were in short supply, and when one food ration stamp was valid for two boxes of mac ‘n cheese. At Ranked, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese is currently listed at #3 among voters weighing in on “The Crap You Eat in College, Ranked” (after pizza and Ramen noodles), in which this is the criteria: “Must be cheap, fast and easy. Bonus points for gross.” It’s also been described as “One of America’s Favorite Drunk Foods.”

The fastest recorded time for eating each is about the same. The unofficial record for downing a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (once it’s cooked and mixed, of course), is 33.8 seconds, while the Guinness world record for drinking a full bottle of ketchup is only slightly quicker, at 32.37 seconds.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is sold in at least 50 varieties. The company’s current product list shows at least 50 macaroni and cheese varieties sold in stores, including 18 different flavors that come in the classic blue box format, including SpongeBob and Star Wars shapes, Garlic & Herb Alfredo, Three Cheese Jalapeno, and Cheddar Explosion. That’s just in the U.S., mind you. Different products are sold in other countries, or at least they’re sold under different names, as in Canada where macaroni and cheese is marketed as Kraft Dinner. Speaking of which …

Canadians love both iconic products—especially together. Among the thoughts that the beloved Canadian band Barenaked Ladies had when creating a certain crowd-favorite song about striking it rich:

If I had a million dollars
We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner
But we would eat Kraft Dinner
Of course we would, we’d just eat more

And what goes with Kraft Dinner? That’s right: ketchup. In the song, the band jokes that if and when they have big bucks they’ll “buy really expensive ketchups… That’s right, all the fanciest Dijon ketchups.” But everyone knows the ketchup of choice up north, and all over the world for that matter, is Heinz.

The classic (Canadian) comedy troupe “Kids in the Hall” also played up the curious food combo in the sketch below, in which a pair of poor street performers are rewarded for their dedication to macaroni and cheese and ketchup with several years’ supply of both:

One exasperated Canadian writer even declared Kraft Dinner “our de facto national dish” a few years back because it is so popular in the country. Finally, today, in light of the Big Food merger, the Canadian press was compelled to point out that many people “like Heinz ketchup with their Kraft Dinner.” So the deal especially has some natural synergy to it north of the border.

MONEY Food & Drink

10 Cult-Favorite Foods Brought Back from the Dead by Popular Demand

Don't give up hope if some heartless corporate type decides to kill off your favorite soda, cereal, or fast food indulgence. It'll surely make a return to the marketplace if popular demand, well, demands it.

When Burger King brought back chicken fries to its menu last summer, the company explained that the decision was made due to a widespread campaign of fast food fanatics clamoring for their return via online petitions and social media. “Guest outcries reached a point where they could no longer be ignored,” reads a BK statement in August, which also noted that chicken fries, which hadn’t been available since 2012, would be back on menus nationally only for a limited time.

Apparently, while the “limited time” window seems to suffice for the Shamrock Shakes, McRibs, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the fast food world, a merely temporary return for chicken fries just didn’t cut it. This week, BK announced that the breaded and fried chicken strips were becoming a permanent part of the menu, to the delight of the fanatical tweeting masses.

Not everyone is happy about the return of chicken fries. Among the disappointed are those who are passionate about bringing back some other food or drink item they’ve craved desperately since it disappeared. For instance, the Beefy Crunchy Movement Facebook page, which has over 16,000 likes, voiced disgust that BK listened to its fans by making chicken fries permanent, yet Taco Bell has ignored the passionate calls for the return of the burrito featuring Flamin’ Hot Fritos inside. The Beefy Crunch Burrito was brought back by popular demand in 2013, but it disappeared quickly and hasn’t been seen in nearly two years.

Other Taco Bell fans have demanded the return of the extra-spicy Volcano Menu, while still other fast food customers have focused their passion on bringing back items ranging from McDonald’s hot mustard sauce to KFC Chicken Little sandwiches. Yes, KFC currently has Chicken Littles on the menu, but the supposedly “new and improved” version is quite different from the one sold decades ago, and critics have bashed the new item as little more than a “misappropriation of the Chicken Little’s good name.”

What’s interesting—and quite revelatory about human nature and our most passionate cravings—is that there’s quite a long history of failed healthy fast food items, yet there doesn’t seem to be much of a movement to bring any of them back to menus. Instead, campaigns to bring back beloved food and drink from the dead overwhelmingly lean toward those heavy in salt, sugar, grease, calories, and caffeine. Here’s a list of cult favorites that disappeared for a while and recently resurfaced after the people have spoken.

  • Burger King Chicken Fries

    Burger King Chicken Fries
    Burger King

    The same week that BK announced the return of chicken fries, word also spread that it was significantly scaling back availability of its once-hyped low-calorie French fries dubbed Satisfries. This juxtaposition seems to get to the heart of why consumers head to fast food establishments in the first place.

  • French Toast Crunch Cereal

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_FRENCHTOASTCRUNCH

    Amid plummeting cereal sales, General Mills recently decided that bringing back French Toast Crunch would be a way to boost business. “We have been overwhelmed by the consumer conversations, requests and passion for the cereal to come back,” a company statement explained of French Toast Crunch, which was sold from 1995 to 2006, and has been back on store shelves as of January. General Mills also periodically plays the nostalgia card by offering Boo Berry, Franken Berry, and other “spooky” cereals around Halloween, sometimes with retro-look packaging.

  • SURGE Soda

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_SURGE
    AP—AP

    Coca-Cola said that last fall it brought back SURGE, a Mountain Dew-like soda popular in the ’90s, due to a “passionate and persistent community of brand loyalists who have been lobbying … to bring back their favorite drink.” A SURGE Movement Facebook page had 129,000 likes at the time, and it’s now pushed to over 215,000 likes. The initial batch of rereleased SURGE sold out almost immediately.

  • Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_WENDYSPREZTEL
    Neilson Barnard—Getty Images for Wendy's

    The “it” fast food item of 2013 was undeniably the Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, which like most new chain restaurant menu products was first introduced as a limited-time purchase. It wasn’t gone for long, however. “You said ‘bring it back.’ So we did,” Wendy’s tweeted to the world last summer, less than a year after the 680-calorie Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger disappeared from menus. “Then you said keep it on the menu.” Indeed, it’s now part of Wendy’s permanent menu.

  • Chocodiles

    Twinkies Chocodile
    Hostess

    At one point, a box of chocolate-covered Twinkies known as Chocodiles was selling for $90 on eBay. That alone should tell you how badly consumers were jonesing for the oversugared sweet that hadn’t been widely available for years. It also explains why the manufacturer, Hostess, brought Chocodiles back last summer. “In the past Chocodiles seemed to be shrouded as much in mystery as in chocolate, inspiring an obsession among fans that was truly the stuff of legends,” William Toler, president and CEO of Hostess Brands, said at the time. “Now, fanatics will once again be able to satisfy their cravings and a new generation will be able to experience the magic for the first time.”

  • McDonald’s Chicken Selects

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_SELECTS
    Bloomberg—Getty Images

    The recent return of Chicken Selects to McDonald’s menus has been heralded as a potential savior for the fast food giant, which has been suffering from lackluster sales for years. “Although they are back by popular demand, they will only be available for a limited time,” McDonald’s warned. Alas, the return of Chicken Selects was not combined with the national reappearance of what many consider the perfect dipping sauce, hot mustard.

  • Pepsi Made With Real Sugar

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_PEPSI
    Alamy—Alamy

    Last summer, PepsiCo rolled out three flavors of Pepsi (regular, vanilla, cherry) sweetened with real sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. In the past the company has also made and marketed “throwback” versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, which use real sugar and feature old-school logos on cans, and it recently introduced another soda with real sugar, DEWShine. Have the masses actually been begging for Pepsi and Mountain Dew made with real sugar? It’s not clear they have. But Mexican Coke has been a cult favorite among hipsters for years, supposedly because it uses real cane sugar.

  • Tim Hortons Chocolate Eclair

    Tim Horton's Chocolate eclair
    courtesy of Tim Horton's

    The Canadian donut-and-coffee chain asked customers which “classic” menu item of yore they’d like to see return in 2014 to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary, and the top vote-getter, with 40%, was chocolate éclair. The éclair won out even though one Toronto Star reviewer called the whipped cream “fake and disgustingly sweet.”

  • Olive Garden Braised Beef and Tortelloni

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_OLIVEGARDEN
    courtesy of Olive Garden

    Casual sit-down dining chains have steadily been losing business to fast-casual superstars like Chipotle and Panera Bread. So when a critical mass of Olive Garden customers mounted a social rallying cry to put the braised beef and tortelloni entrée back on menus, the company listened. It returned to Olive Garden last spring, to the rejoicing of many on the restaurant brand’s Facebook page.

  • Miller Lite (Packaging)

    150326_EM_COMEBACK_MILLERLITE
    Scott Boehm—AP

    Miller Lite never went away. Like many macro brews, Lite sales have dropped steadily, coinciding with the rise of craft beer. But Lite has never been taken off the market. What’s it doing in this list then? One thing about Miller Lite has been brought back from the past—for about a year now it’s been sold in vintage-looking cans featuring the original logo—and the old-school approach has yielded greatly improved sales. Another old-school beer, Coors Banquet, has similarly been able to drum up sales because of it’s been packaged in throwback “stubby” bottles that some drinkers can’t seem to resist.

MONEY Advertising

At Last, You Can Buy Wallpaper and Sheets with Big Macs on Them

Big Mac sheet set
courtesy of BigMacShop.se While visions of hamburgers dance in your head...

Call it fast (food) fashion. McDonald's just launched a home goods and apparel collection featuring oversized Big Macs on sheets, thermal underwear, wallpaper—even pet clothing.

Perhaps even stranger than the existence of the new Big Mac Shop collection is the fact that sales are currently limited to one country: Sweden.

The collection was introduced on Tuesday at a “McWalk” fashion show in Stockholm. The range of products includes Big Mac bedding, Big Mac thermal underwear, and Big Mac wallpaper, priced at the equivalent of about $47, $58, and $54, respectively. All items feature the same picture-perfect image of a Big Mac that you only see in ads—never in the restaurant when you buy one—repeated hypnotically over and over.

Yes, this has all the makings of an April Fools gag. But it’s not April 1 yet. And based on the reporting of AdAge and AdWeek, among others, these are indeed actual products that are actually for sale, in Sweden at least. (Alas, we tried to make a purchase on the site but were shot down with the message that delivery was not available to the U.S.)

AdWeek clarified that while the Big Mac collection wasn’t a joke, it was “part of a global day of McDonald’s hijinks” called imlovinit24 that took place earlier this week. The campaign called for 24 marketing stunts in 24 cities around the world, including a huge Big Mac jigsaw puzzle in Madrid and a tollbooth in Manila that dispensed free McDonald’s food to drivers. Profits from Big Mac Shop sales will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

At last check, bedding, thermals, and wallpaper from the collection were still available to interested Swedes, but it appears as if the collection’s rubber boots, raincoats, and dog clothing are already sold out.

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