By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017
© McDonald's

“Reinventing the straw” might sound up there with “reinventing the wheel” as examples of things that don’t need to be reinvented. But when it came to their new Chocolate Shamrock Shake, the people over at McDonald’s didn’t feel like the standard straw was cutting it. So they hired a team of aerospace and robotic engineers – professionals who clearly had more important things to do with their time (even McDonald’s called the project “utterly frivolous”) – to build a straw optimally designed for drinking this limited-time seasonal beverage.

As we discussed earlier this month, McDonald’s decided to go bonkers with its St. Patrick’s Day-themed Shamrock Shake this year, expanding the green seasonal menu item into an entire line of five beverages. The headline-grabber of the group has been the Chocolate Shamrock Shake – a bottom layer of chocolate shake topped with a green layer of traditional Shamrock Shake. Think of it as a black and tan for teetotalers with no fear of diabetes.

© McDonald's

Now, as any consumer of layered beverages can attest to, these kinds of drinks can be tricky: Sip from the top, and you mainly taste the uppermost flavor; shove a straw to the bottom, and you’re only sucking on what’s underneath. So, as the company explains in a press release, McDonald’s endeavored to “deliver the ideal flavor ratio of 50% chocolate and 50% mint in each sip, versus enjoying each flavor separately with a traditional straw.” The burger giant (with, needless to say, plenty of money at its disposal) reached out to NK Labs and JACE Design – two companies who have worked for heavyweights like Google and NASA – and the “STRAW” was born.

© McDonald's

The STRAW is actually an acronym for “Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal.” This STRAW straw’s unique design, featuring a candy cane shape and multiple holes, allows for it to pull flavors from multiple layers at one time. “My first reaction was, that doesn’t seem too hard. We could have a double straw—one longer, one shorter. No problem,” Seth Newburg, principal engineer and managing partner at NK Labs, told Fast Company. “Then we immediately thought, once you get halfway down, one straw is going to start sucking air . . . It’s one of those things that seems so simple, but as we got into it there were a lot more issues exposed. It turned out to present quite a few engineering and scientific challenges.”

© McDonald's

An insane amount of thought seems to have gone into the final product – "A lot of designs we came up with would work well when the shake was full, or might work when the shake was empty, but in a lot of situations, we found if we didn't get the diameters just right, we’d end up drawing in air, or the first few sips would be good, but you had to wait a minute for the straw to be recharged,” Newburg was also quoted as saying – which makes it a bit perplexing that McDonald’s is only releasing the STRAW on a limited basis. “Only 2,000 were produced in time for Shamrock season,” the company writes, and they will only “be available in select participating restaurants.” For those whose life won’t be complete without a STRAW, McDonald’s says you can go to its website “to learn where and when the lucky few will be distributed.”

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So why not release the STRAW to the general public? Maybe McDonald’s is withholding the STRAW because it’s all a lie – just like alleged the moon landing! The signs are all there; these companies also worked for NASA! #STRAWConspiracyTheories

Though when reached for comment about whether the STRAW will ever see larger distribution, a McDonald’s spokesperson told me that “anything is possible for Shamrock season 2018!” So I guess we could also just be patient. Though waiting far less fun that wild speculation.

Related: Starbucks Will Soon Serve Ice Cream At Over 100 Locations