MONEY Odd Spending

‘The Interview’ Poster Now Listed at $1,000 on eBay

141219_EM_Interview
Would you pay $1,000 for this poster? © Columbia Pictures—courtesy Everett Collection

After Sony cancelled the release of the controversial Seth Rogen movie The Interview, some collectors are thinking posters of the film are worth big bucks.

The Interview may make no money whatsoever at the box office, and it could wind up costing Sony Pictures over $100 million after the decision was made this week to cancel all screenings amid widespread threats to theaters. Still, the film—a comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korea leader Kim Jon Un, and which appears to be the impetus for North Korea’s involvement in a devastating hack of Sony, the production company behind it—could wind up earning some folks a pretty penny.

The Huffington Post noticed on Thursday that posters from the canceled movie had begun surfacing for sale on eBay, with asking prices in the neighborhood of $500. Pop culture experts forecast that these posters will be worth “$15, maybe $20″ in a year, when, presumably, all the hubbub about The Interview and the Sony hack are old news.

Still, this hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs from trying to milk the movie’s moment in the spotlight for quick and easy profits. At last check on Friday, there were around 500 results on eBay for “The Interview Poster.” Some sellers are asking $1,000 or more for vinyl 5′ x 8′ posters of the controversial film.

The highest price paid on eBay for one of the posters appears to be $787 for a 27″ x 40″ double-sided theatrical print that received 59 bids in an auction that ended on Thursday. The market appears to cooling off significantly, however. As of Friday morning, very few posters listed at eBay auction had been bid up beyond $250, and dozens of new listings had no bids whatsoever.

MONEY Odd Spending

Top 10 Strangest Things Marketers Tried to Sell Us in 2014

Our look back at some of the year's strangest products may seem laughable or a sad source of embarrassment—depending on whether you actually bought any of them.

Check out 10 of the strangest things marketers tried to talk us into buying in 2014. A few of them, we’re sure you’ll agree, were quite literally hard to stomach.

  • Dewitos

    Doritos and Mountain Dew
    Scott M. Lacey

    Following on the heels of Doritos cheese sticks and Doritos tacos, this fall PepsiCo began doing taste tests of the most frightening Doritos mashup so far: Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew, a.k.a. “Dewitos” or “Dewritos.” The innovation has been called a “new frontier for fast food,” with a flavor best described as “liquid cheese,” only with lots of caffeine.

  • Quarters for Doing Laundry

    rolls of quarters
    George Diebold—Getty Images

    Over the summer, a startup launched on the premise that people would pay a premium for a subscription service for quarters, which would be delivered so that you wouldn’t have to go round up up the on your way to the laundromat. The service charged $15 per month for a once-a-month delivery of a $10 roll of quarters. Needless to say, the site folded nicely and neatly—not unlike properly handled laundry—after about one week of existence.

  • Burgers for Breakfast

    Person holding BK Whopper
    Karl-Josef Hildenbrand—picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    The battle for fast-food breakfast customers raged in 2014, with Taco Bell and McDonald’s launching ads, special promotions (like free coffee), and new products to beat out the competition. Burger King joined in the fracas with the laziest fast-food concept in recent memory: Burgers for Breakfast, in which BK made Whoppers and other burgers available during early morning hours. The idea reportedly flopped with customers; burgers were not on the restaurant’s national breakfast menu at last check.

  • A Fake “Mona Lisa”

    Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, oil on wood
    Is it real...or is it a Mark Landis? Fine Art Images—Getty Images

    No, no one actually tried to sell the original Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. But to celebrate the launch of a new documentary about Mark Landis, an infamous and prolific art forger, Landis’s forged version of the Mona Lisa was hung in a coffee shop in New York City with an asking price of $25,000. Apparently, no one wants to pay that much for a fake—not even a masterful fake by the likes of Landis. “After all the hype, there wasn’t much real interest or a sale,” a spokesperson for the coffee shop told us.

  • Derek Jeter’s Used Socks

    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3.
    New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter #2 during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards August 11, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles defeated the Yankees 11-3. Tony Farlow—AP

    Throughout the course of Derek Jeter’s final season for the New York Yankees, ticket prices soared when #2 was in town, and an astonishing and varied amount of Jeter collectibles were marketed and sold. Among the oddest pitches: $400+ for one of Derek Jeter’s socks (game used, of course).

  • Seven Weeks of Unlimited Pasta

    Olive Garden pasta
    Joshua Lutz—Redux

    In September, the Olive Garden restaurant chain rolled out one seriously odd food offer: The Neverending Pasta Pass. The potentially cost-effective (also: potentially nauseating and potentially weight-altering) $100 passes gave users as many pasta dishes, breadsticks, and Coca-Cola soft drinks as they could stomach over the course of seven weeks. Only 1,000 of the passes were offered, and they were quickly snatched up by the masses—a few of whom recorded the good, bad, and ugly of eating at Olive Garden week after week.

  • Ebola Fashion

    man in hazmat suit in front of house
    PM Images—Getty Images

    The Ebola outbreak stoked fears around the globe, while also serving as a boost for an array of products, some understandable (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, anti-germ protective gear), others downright bizarre (Halloween costumes, fashionable masks that retailed for $20). Yet another entrepreneur was trying to sell Ebola.com for at least $150,000 this year; he’d purchased the web domain in 2008 and has been waiting for an opportune moment to sell.

  • Pot Edibles That Look Like Hershey’s Candy

    Marijuana leaf
    allOver images—Alamy

    Soon after the sale of recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, shops began selling a range of smokeable and ingestible products. Among the edibles was a brand of marijuana-infused candy called TinctureBelle, which made pot treats like Ganja Joy and Hasheath—with labels that looked eerily similar to traditional Hershey’s candies Almond Joy and Heath. Understandably, family values advocates and Hershey’s didn’t like the imitation versions, and the candy company sued last summer. The case was settled in October, and the pot candies that resembled Hershey bars have been recalled and destroyed.

     

  • Caffeinated Underwear

    caffeinated underwear
    iStock

    File this one under the category of products making outlandish claims that are just too good to be true: In 2014, the FTC ruled that a pair of companies that made and marketed caffeine-infused underwear must stop advertising that its products aided in weight loss. There was no scientific evidence to back up the claims, and customers who were coaxed into buying the caffeinated skivvies were granted refunds.

  • Bigger Butts

    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A.
    Jennifer Lopez performs onstage at the 2014 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Kevin Mazur—WireImage

    In 2014, marketers were more than happy to help convince women that they should try to enhance their physical assets to resemble Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez in one particular way. Hence the increase in butt implants and lift surgeries, as well as the sharp sales rise of products such as padded underwear, which give the appearance of a larger backside.

MONEY Odd Spending

4 Things to Know About (Legal) Cuban Cigars

A box of large cohiba Cuban cigars.
A box of large cohiba Cuban cigars. David Curtis—agefotostock

For the time being, it still won't be easy to procure legal Cuban cigars.

In 1962, President John Kennedy reportedly stockpiled 1,200 Cuban cigars before signing the decree to cut economic ties with Cuba. Now that President Obama has reestablished diplomatic ties and lifted the outright ban on cigars, you might be eager to build your own stash.

Not so fast. Here’s what the new rules actually mean for you.

1) Cuban cigars are still not legal for sale in the United States.

President Obama reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba. He did not lift the embargo on Cuba—that will take an act of Congress. While the United States will soon ease restrictions on travel and banking, for the time being, the ban on trade remains in place. Which means you won’t be able to buy legal Cuban cigars from American retailers anytime soon.

Current law says the penalty for importing Cuban cigars is up to $250,000 in fines and up to 10 years in prison. Under the new rules, travelers to Cuba can bring back $400 worth of goods, only $100 of which can be cigars and alcohol.

2) Only “licensed travelers” can get them.

If you want legal cigars, you need a license to cross the straits of Florida. The White House says the government will allow Americans to travel to Cuba to visit family, to conduct official government business, to produce journalism, for professional research, for educational activities, for religious activities, for public events, to support the Cuban people, for humanitarian projects, to act on behalf of private foundations, to transmit information materials, and to conduct “certain export transactions.”

That said, the Associated Press reported that 170,000 Americans visited the country legally last year. If you’re thinking of traveling to Cuba now that the United States has restored full relations, here’s what else you should know.

3) Yes, Cuban cigars really do taste different.

Cuban cigars been contraband for half a century. So are they really as good as people say, or does the “forbidden fruit” taste sweeter?

Aaron Sigmond, founding editor of The Cigar Report and Smoke Magazine, says yes: Cuba’s terroir—its soil and climate—does produce different tobacco. “The Dominican Republic and Nicaragua both make exceptional cigars, but nothing is like Cuba,” Sigmond told Bloomberg. “It’s analogous to wines. California, Oregon, Italy all make exceptional vintage wines, but the wines of France reign supreme simply because of the terroir in Burgundy and Bordeaux.”

Researchers agree: One study found judges could distinguish between Cuban and non-Cuban cigars, and judges consistently ranked Cuban cigars higher, Vox reports. That’s significant, since previous studies have found that people struggle to distinguish expensive and inexpensive wines.

But if you’re not a cigar aficionado, you might not be able to tell. Many people are snookered by counterfeits. “Most people are not getting what they think are Cuban cigars,” Roland Boone, tobacconist for the Buckhead Cigar Club in Atlanta, told Bloomberg. “Many are made in Mexico, with a facsimile of a band that appears like a Cuban band.”

4) If you want to try a real Cuban, it’ll probably run you $10 to $20 a cigar—or more.

Real Cubans are expensive. Slate estimates that they start at $10 a pop. Sadly, that means the rules could exclude the best Cuban cigars. Stephen Pulvirent at Bloomberg writes:

“While prices vary greatly—not all Cuban cigars are created equal—the $100 allotment will generally cover no more than a dozen high-end cigars from makers such as Partagás and Cohiba. There are vintage and limited edition cigars for which a single stick will still be too pricey to make it into the U.S.”

READ NEXT: Thinking About a Trip to Cuba? 5 Things You Should Know

MONEY Odd Spending

How Much Would Hanukkah Gelt Be Worth If It Were Real Gold?

Bag of Hanukkah Gelt
The gelt we used for this measurement. Sarina Finkelstein

Inquiring minds want to know.

Ever wonder how much that Hanukkah gelt would be worth if it were actually 24-karat gold and not foil-wrapped chocolate? Well, we’ve got the answer.

For those who don’t know, chocolate “gelt,” or money, is a traditional Hanukkah treat for children and often used in the holiday game dreidel. The dreidel is a spinning top with four sides, and depending on which side the top lands on, players get either all of the gelt in the pot, half of the pot, nothing—or have to add another piece of gelt to the pot.

But let’s get back to the question at hand. Of course, you can’t just weigh the chocolate coins and calculate the value of that weight in gold. After all—SCIENCE FACT!—a gold coin the same size as a gelt coin would weigh much more than the chocolate. (Gold is almost three times as heavy as lead by volume.)

So, instead, we found the volume of our $1.49 bag of Hanukkah gelt using the displacement method. Then, armed with the easily obtained density of gold—19.32 grams per cubic centimeter—we calculated how much gold coins of the same size as discs of Hanukkah gelt would weigh. Finally, we calculated how much a small bag (containing one large and three small coins) of real gold gelt would cost at the current market price of $38.45 per gram.

The results: All together, the one large and three small coins in our bag would be worth about $7,785. Individually, the big coin was worth $3,373 (rounded to the nearest dollar) and the three little coins were each worth about $1,471.

Happy Hanukkah!

MONEY deals

6 Black Friday Deals So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Real

dogs with "adopt me" signs
Jim McKinley—Alamy

Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets, toys, clothing, and jewelry come as no surprise. But how about Black Friday promotions featuring guns, giveaways of cats and dogs, and the requirement to strip down to your underwear?

Here are a half-dozen downright bizarre Black Friday deals:

Free Cats & Dogs
At least one Humane Society (in Oregon) is waiving the usual $50 adoption fee on cats now through December 1. In addition to free cat adoptions, the shelter is knocking $50 off normal dog adoption fees, which generally run $100 to $350. Other humane societies around the country are hosting Black Friday pet deals such as free dogs if they’re black and at least six months old (Kansas) and a promotion of $5 to adopt a cat 5+ years old and 50% off the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals (in Massachusetts).

Buy a Car, Get It Free If It Snows on Christmas
A car dealership in Chicago has a sales pitch that’s tempting for those who like to gamble—and that could wind up being extremely costly for its promoters. The deal is that all customers who buy a new Buick or GMC automobile at the dealership on Friday or Saturday will get full refunds on their purchases if it snows six or more inches on Christmas. The dealership is calling the promo its “White Friday” sale.

Guns & Ammo
It may not be what your family expects to find under the tree or stuffed in stockings on Christmas morning, but guns have come to be hot sellers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year, the number of FBI background checks conducted for each firearm purchase on Black Friday was nearly triple that of a typical sales day. Why are guns hot sellers during this period? Largely for the same reasons that so many other items are hot sellers right about now—because stores have big promotions to attract customers. Walmart is discounting all firearms by 20% for its Black Friday sale, while gun enthusiast websites are filled with firearm and accessory deals—weapons, targets, ammunition, and more—from a wide range of retailers around the country.

Wait Outside in Your Underwear, Get Free Clothes
Among the many early Black Friday sales that have popped up this week, probably the strangest took place on Tuesday at Desigual in San Francisco: As the Consumerist pointed out, the first 100 shoppers waiting outside the store wearing nothing but their underwear received free tops and bottoms from the Barcelona-based fashion retailer.

Buy a Car, Get a TV
The first ten customers to buy new cars at a Toyota dealership in Missouri received free flat-screen TVs thrown into the deal on Black Friday. What’s more, the first ten people in the door at the dealership on Friday were handed $25 gift cards for ham—no car purchase required.

Loans and Online Bank Accounts
Everyone else feels comfortable glomming onto Black Friday for sales and marketing purposes, so why not financial institutions as well? The Utah Community Credit Union, for instance, is advertising “BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTERS!” in the form of auto, home equity, and personal loans with supposedly great terms. Capital One 360, meanwhile, is hosting a Black Friday Sale, with bonuses like $100 for new savings and checking accounts and, depending on how much you invest, $150 to $1,250 bonuses for those opening a new online trading account or IRA.

Bear in the mind that even if these offers are truly good deals, taking out a loan or opening a new bank account is certainly not something you decide impulsively because of some flashy promotion. For that matter, no one should go adopting a pet or buying a gun on an impulse either.

MONEY

Mall Will Fine Stores if They Don’t Open on Thanksgiving

Walden Galleria, Buffalo, NY.
Walden Galleria, Buffalo, NY. David Knopf—Alamy

Stores at one mall in upstate New York are being strong-armed into opening for business by 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Tenant retailers that don't get with the program will be fined.

Every day, the list of retailers and shopping centers opening up for “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving Day itself is growing. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving store hours don’t necessarily boost holiday season sales so much as displace them from one day to another, more and more retailers apparently feel compelled to open for business on the national holiday—often during prime dinner hours but sometimes much, much earlier than that. Toys R Us, for instance, is matching Best Buy and J.C. Penney with a 5 p.m. opening time on Thanksgiving—an hour earlier than Target and Macy’s—while RadioShack just announced that more than 3,000 of its stores will open at the freakishly unnecessary hour of 8 a.m.

In virtually all cases, retailers explain their decisions to open on Thanksgiving by pointing back at consumers—saying that shopping time on the holiday and “flexible” store hours are what today’s consumers demand. After all, the stores have a choice to not open on Thanksgiving, and that’s just what a couple dozen retailers have said they’ll do, often proudly proclaiming that they’re staying closed to allow their employees to spend the day relaxing with their families.

Yet at least in one case, a group of stores doesn’t really have much choice in the matter. Walden Galleria, a mall near Buffalo, N.Y., decided that this year, it would open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That’s six hours earlier than last year, but still, other malls in the area are also opening at the earlier time.

What’s bound to bring Walden Galleria plenty of grief, however, is the heavy-handed way it is prodding tenant retailers into opening at 6 p.m.: They’re being threatened with fines if they don’t go along with the plan. It’s unclear how much the fine would be for failing to open by the assigned hour, but apparently the amount is substantial enough to compel some reluctant shop managers into coming to work that day.

“We’re just stuck following the rules, because if we didn’t, we’d be fined by the mall and being a small company, that’s substantial to us. We can’t just pay that. We have to stay open,” Shaun Deutsch, the manager of the mall’s Tee Shirt University store said, according to the local Time Warner Cable News station. “It’s been a lot different this year trying to find people to work. It’s not been easy. I’ve been forced to schedule myself because I can’t find anyone else, really, to help me out.”

The Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day Facebook page took note of Walden Galleria’s nasty tactics and immediately placed the mall on its “Naughty” List—reserved for shopping outlets opening on Thanksgiving.

MONEY Odd Spending

A Brief History of ‘Pay What You Want’ Businesses

hand holding up quarter
ballyscanlon—Getty Images

A pay-what-you-want investing service? Yes, it's here—and it's hardly the only business bold (crazy?) enough to allow customers to pay whatever they feel is appropriate, even $0.

On November 11, a new investment company called Aspiration launches with the goals of “democratizing the financial services industry,” “making elite investments available to everyday investors,” and “building a movement around the idea that you can make money and make a difference at the same time.” The minimum investment is only $500, and the pitch is that at long last, middle-class investors will get access to the kinds of investment products that traditionally have been available only to the rich. The concept is noble enough, and the focus on regular folks is certainly refreshing, yet Aspiration is hardly the only service out there aiming to woo less affluent investors.

No, what makes Aspiration truly unique—unheard of, in fact—is its fee structure. Or rather, the absence of a fee structure. Instead of charging a fee, Aspiration “allows its customers to decide how much to pay the company – even if that number is zero,” the launch announcement explains. “Aspiration calls this approach ‘Pay What Is Fair’ and while it has been tried before in one-off fashion, this is the first time it has been brought to the investment world and the first time a company has built its business model on this approach.”

Whether such a revolutionary business model can work for investing or is little more than a gimmick is impossible to tell right now. For obvious reasons, “pay what you want” is a curiosity that’s intriguing to consumers and grabs plenty of headlines, but thus far other PWYW experiments have yielded results that are decidely mixed. For example:

Restaurants: Bubby’s, an all-American restaurant with two locations in Manhattan, is running a “Pay Whatever You Like” buffet Thanksgiving dinner with some of the proceeds going to charity, and it’s clear the owners expect customers to pay a pretty penny: There’s a “suggested donation” of $75 per person. Another restaurant, a diner in North Carolina called Just Cookin, recently removed prices from the menu, leaving the exact amount paid for food and service up to the customer and God.

In probably the most well-known PWYW restaurant trial, the fast-casual chain Panera Bread opened a nonprofit café five years ago, and the experiment was so successful that in early 2013 the concept was expanded to four dozen St. Louis locations, which offered turkey chili on a pay-what-you-want basis. Roughly half a year later, however, PWYW chili was removed from menus. Apparently Panera received tons of generous donations early on in the program, but interest (and money collected) faded as time passed. Even so, there are still five nonprofit Panera Cares locations in the U.S., where the menus have suggested donations but no set prices.

Payday App: The biggest problem with payday loans is that while the fees might seem small—say $15 per $100 borrowed—the terms represent the loanshark-like equivalent of an APR of 400%. Enter ActiveHours, a payday loan alternative that pays customers immediately for the hours they’ve already worked and, incredibly, has no mandatory fees.

“We don’t think people should be forced to pay for services they don’t love, so we ask you to pay what you think is fair based on your personal experience,” the ActiveHours site explains. Even so, consumer advocates warn that people who become dependent on such a service are more likely to wind up behind on their bills, and they also might wind up (voluntarily) paying tips to the service that are themselves the equivalent of a loanshark’s terms.

Taxis: In 2009, during perhaps the Great Recession’s darkest days, a former Wall Street banker named Eric Hagen introduced Recession Ride Taxi, a PWYW cab service in Burlington, Vt. Hagen offered rides only on nights and weekends as a way to help people out and perhaps make a few dollars. Even though Uber and other ride-share services would seem to be encroaching on Hagen’s idea, Recession Ride Taxi is still running—and still operating on a PWYW basis.

Book, Music, Comedy Downloads: Way back in 2000, Stephen King decided to skip over publishers and sell a serial novel called “The Plant” strictly in digital e-book format using an honor system. Readers were asked to pay $1 per installment, and King said he would keep writing if three-quarters of those who downloaded the book paid up. At one point, less than half of those downloading were actually paying for the book, and the author never completed it—though the author reportedly earned nearly $500 million in the venture. As things now stand, the six existing parts of “The Plant” are available for free download at King’s website.

In 2007, Radiohead began selling digital downloads of an album called “In Rainbows,” and when fans dropped it into the virtual checkout basket, the only price listed was “It’s Up to You.” Some rock-n-roll old-timers, including KISS’s Gene Simmons, were not impressed. “That’s not a business model that works,” Simmons said at the time. “I open a store and say, ‘Come on in and pay whatever you want.’ Are you on f***ing crack? Do you really believe that’s a business model that works?” Nonetheless, Radiohead’s move was probably ahead of its time considering that few artists make money selling their music nowadays anyway.

More recently, the work of Louis C.K., who over the years has been at the forefront of unorthodox direct-sales strategies including selling comedy special downloads for a flat $5 and comedy show tickets with no intermediaries or fees, was featured in a “Humble Bundle” of comedy albums offered on a pay-what-you-want basis. Humble Bundle is known for bundling together several video games and allowing customers to pay whatever they like for the package, with portions of the payment going to the developers, charity, and Humble Bundle.

MONEY Odd Spending

Good, Bad, and Ugly of Paying $100 to Eat at Olive Garden for 7 Weeks

Olive Garden sign
Betty LaRue—Alamy

What's it been like to partake in Olive Garden's seven-week all-you-can-eat Pasta Pass? One participant likens the pass to Tolkien's Ring of Power, "immensely powerful, yes, but dangerous and probably better off destroyed."

In September, Olive Garden unleashed an unprecedented Neverending Pasta Pass promotion on the American public, offering a total of 1,000 of the passes—which entitle the holder to unlimited pasta, breadsticks, soup or salad, and Coca-Cola beverages—for just $100 apiece. The deal sold out in just a few minutes.

For passholders—several of whom have blogged or been interviewed about the experience—eating an absurd amount of Olive Garden food has brought on a rollercoaster of emotions, from excitement to depression to downright goofiness. There’s even been some trash-talking among a few of the Pasta Pass pugilists, as Howard Cosell might have called them. There have been obscenely enormous collections of Olive Garden leftovers stuffed in their refrigerators. And, it’s safe to say, the experiment has left behind exactly zero six-pack abs in its wake.

With the pass officially expiring as of Sunday, November 9, it’s time to reflect on a few of the other major takeaways from the experience:

It’s Been Quite a Value
Each Pasta Pass cost only $100, and considering that regular diners pay $9.99 per meal for what’s included in the pass, passholders needed to eat only ten times at Olive Garden for the purchase to pay off. As you might imagine, some made it their mission to get as much out of the pass as possible.

Alan Martin, a pastor from Burlington, N.C., said earlier this week that he’d already eaten at Olive Garden 100 times, meaning his $100 pass was averaging out to $1 per sit-down. He plans on consuming $1,800 worth of food and drink before the pass expires. “I would love to be the person that ate the most of the 1,000 people” who bought passes, the “Pasta Passtor” told a local TV station, which filmed Martin (of course) at Olive Garden dining on pasta and chicken. “That would be a good contest to win because that means I got the most value out of the card of anyone in the United States.”

Bear in mind that maximizing the value from a $100 Olive Garden pass could also mean consuming upwards of 100,000 calories during the seven weeks the pass is valid.

It’s Made Them Semi-Famous
Martin has been featured on local TV stations multiple times, and was highlighted by the “Today Show” after eating his 100th Olive Garden meal with the pass on November 5. When asked about what he would do when the pass expires on Sunday, Martin admitted he was unsure, and a little scared. “I have no idea what I’m going to eat for lunch Monday morning,” he said.

Several other passholders have gotten attention in the media because they’ve been blogging about their OG dining experience. Most notably, there’s Matt Pershe, a recent UPenn graduate whose Tumblr has been mentioned by Eater, Philadelphia magazine, and Forbes, among others.

There’s Been Some Trash Talking
A passholder going by the name “Vino” has had plenty of fun running the blog AllofGarden.com. He’s created customized names for Olive Garden’s different pasta dishes, such as Angelhare, Depression, Acceptance, and Futility (instead of fusilli, presumably), and even coined a few pastas in honor of his fellow passholders, including Hagana, named after the blogger chronicling the experience at 49 Days of Pasta.

On Friday, Vino posted what has to be the funniest Pasta Pass trash-talking video ever. In the tongue-in-cheek post, Vino calls out Pasta Pass top dog Alan Martin—he of multiple TV appearances—for saying on camera that he’d vaguely eaten “about” 95 meals at Olive Garden. “Let me guess Alan, math isn’t your strong suit?” Vino says to his webcam, before listing his own “accomplishments” in terms of Olive Garden consumption—”a heart-rending story of love, loss, and carbs,” he says. Then the smack really comes down.

“Face it Alan, you’re old. Pasta’s slowing you down. Me? I’m young, spry. Every bite I take only makes me hungrier,” Vino says. “And I won’t rest until I show you, and every imPASTer like you what I’m made out of.” Naturally, the video ends with Vino taking a shark-like bite out of a breadstick.

It’s Been Emotional
Dining on pasta at a chain restaurant for weeks has caused several participants to have some pretty deep thoughts. It’s been a rollercoaster of highs, lows, and carbs. “A few days ago, I was excited for the Pasta Pass to end,” Hagana Kim of 49 Days of Pasta wrote when week six of the pasta experiment just passed. “Now that the end is staring me in the face, I’m sad. Depressed, even. I may do some unpredictable things this week.”

On the other hand, UPenn grad Matt Pershe seems more than ready to be done with OG. “I’m thrilled to announce that there is one week remaining for my Never Ending Pasta Pass,” he wrote around Halloween. “I think of the Never Ending Pasta Pass nowadays as something like the ring in Lord of the Rings. Immensely powerful, yes, but dangerous and probably better off destroyed.”

The Pass Has Inspired Poetry
Over at the Pastageddon blog, Max from Pennsylvania has posted a smorgasbord of Olive Garden-inspired imagined scenes and oddball poetry, often related to movies ranging from “Pulp Fiction” to “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.” His Halloween post included a twist on the haunting children’s rhyme from “Nightmare on Elm Street”:

One, two, OG’s coming for you
Three, four, better lock your door
Five, six, get your pasta fix
Seven, eight, gonna finish the plate
Nine, ten, never eat again

It’s Sometimes Been Sickening
Beyond having fun, the bloggers have all included some reviews of the food. Some of them have been quite good, while others … not so much. On Day 31, Matt Pershe finally willed himself to finally try a dish with Italian sausage, and it wasn’t pretty. “Between the sausage and the five cheese marinara, the dish looked something like a frat row sidewalk on a Saturday night,” he wrote. “Appearances aside, the texture of the sausage was the same texture you’d get from a sausage in a Super 8 continental breakfast.”

Even worse is what was described at Pastageddon recently. “Since I am on the last week I thought I would try the Zuppa soupa but i’m sorry I did because it gave me the poopas,” the post reads. “I don’t know if it was the soup, pasta or shrimp but I’m currently sitting here hoping I don’t puke.”

MONEY Odd Spending

Drivers Snatch Cash Flying Out of Armored Truck Near D.C.

Flying Money
Kyu Oh—Getty Images

Thanks to a broken door, a gust of bills spilled out of a truck onto I-270 this morning.

At around 8 am Friday it was raining cash on a Maryland section of Interstate 270, about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C., after a malfunctioning lock on an armored vehicle caused a bag of money to scatter onto the highway. Early reports claimed the broken lock resulted from a collision with a dump truck.

Unsurprisingly, so many drivers stopped to grab the cash that traffic on the northbound lane came to a virtual standstill, and by the time troopers got there, most of the bills were gone—leaving only a little more than $200 for police to collect.

While authorities are still figuring out how much money was taken, at least $500 flew out, according to the Maryland State Police. Other reports say thousands are still missing and one good samaritan has already returned more than $1,000.

Anyone with the good fortune to have picked up the flying cash might want to think twice before spending it: State police told the Washington Post that those caught on traffic camera grabbing the money can be charged with theft.

MONEY Shopping

You’ll Never Guess Which Retailer Has the Cheapest Prices (Hint: It’s Not Walmart)

$1.00 price sticker
Gregor Schuster—Getty Images

A new study reveals that Dollar General is the lowest cost retailer in America.

Often when people think of low prices and retail, the first chain to come in mind is Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT -0.9076% . Due to the sheer high volume of goods it sells, the megaretailer is a textbook case study for economy of scale. However, sometimes big can be too big and Dollar General DOLLAR GENERAL DG -3.8294% is able to beat Wal-Mart to the low price punch for some very good reasons.

The Kantar Retail Research Team

A study is performed annually by Kantar using a basket of goods across 21 categories in the edible grocery, non-edible grocery, and HBA segments. In order to arrive at the data points for each retailer, the lowest price point for each category was selected no matter what the brand. For example, if a box of Corn Flakes was on the list then the price of the generic brand (if cheaper) was selected over the name brand.

Out of the six retailers analyzed, Target TARGET CORP. TGT -0.9244% came in last while Dollar General finished first. Wal-Mart got second place with 2.5% higher overall prices. The average cost of the basket at Dollar General came out to $26.75. For Wal-Mart, it was $27.41 and for Target it was nowhere close to the other two with a total of $40.61. The $0.66 spread between Dollar General and Wal-Mart is 5.5 times higher than the $0.12 spread a year ago with the same study.

This is despite Wal-Mart’s much more massive size. For example, in the current fiscal year, analysts expect Wal-Mart to post nearly half a trillion dollars in sales compared to just $19 billion for Dollar General or more than 25 times higher. How does David Dollar General manage to beat the Goliath Wal-Mart?

The real low cost leader

Your first suspicion might be that the only reason Dollar General could possibly beat out Wal-Mart on prices is by taking a hit on profits. Wal-Mart has made a consistent 24%-25% gross profit margin for the last three years on the products it sells. Therefore it stands to reason that if somebody only has a 10% markup it could sell at cheaper prices even if it doesn’t get the volume discounts of Wal-Mart.

That’s not the case with Dollar General, however. Not only does it have cheaper prices, but it makes more profit margin on average on each of its products. For the last three years, Dollar General has averaged between 30%-31% in gross profit on its sales, which is higher than Wal-Mart’s.

How could Dollar General have lower costs?

You have to remember — the purchase price of a product from the wholesaler is only part of the ultimate cost to a retailer and the price for the consumer. A typical Wal-Mart Supercenter might have over 140,000 items for sale while a typical Dollar General has between 10,000-12,000 items.

As Megan McArdle of The Daily Beast once tagged the problem,

“A Walmart has 140,000 SKUs, which have to be tediously sorted, replaced on shelves, reordered, delivered, and so forth. People tend to radically underestimate the costs imposed by complexity, because the management problems do not simply add up; they multiply.”

Multiplied management problems equal multiplied costs baked into each average product’s cost and price.

More of less is cheaper

Dollar General, by specializing in far fewer items and brands, has fewer logistical complexities and fewer costs. The secret to low costs is the power of buying in bulk and cheap stocking costs to sell those products. It’s the simple reason a child’s lemonade stand only sells lemonade — to offer a larger variety of drinks would require a lot more effort for less average return on each.

During Dollar General’s last conference call, CEO Richard Dreiling explained it well when he said, “This foundation of limited assortment and distribution efficiencies allows us to successfully compete with much larger retailers and provide our customers with everyday low prices that they can trust.”

Foolish thoughts

Dollar General may still have plenty of potential market share it can take from Wal-Mart. Its biggest disadvantage is lack of consumer knowledge. We’ve been bombarded by the media, and Wal-Mart itself, that if you want cheap prices it’s Wal-Mart or bust and nobody can touch them. As consumers become more and more aware of the Dollar General advantage, don’t be surprised if its sales continue to creep up. It is up to 26 quarters in a row of positive same-store sales growth and may still have a long way to go.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser