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The Oreo 'Doomsday' Vault and Other Strange and Surprising Company Secrets

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Corporate Cloak and Dagger

Corporations are just like people — they all have secrets. Most of those involve boring proprietary information dealing with such things as patents and protocols. Sometimes, however, the biggest companies in the world have skeletons in their closet so outrageous that they sound like they were lifted from a movie script. From super-secure secret vaults to James Bond-style research and development projects, these are company secrets worth telling and hearing.


Related: The Secret Histories of 25 Popular Brands

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There Will Be Oreos After the Apocalypse

On the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, just 800 miles from the North Pole, stands the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It’s a super-secure facility that protects more than 1 million seed samples for any humans remaining after a global catastrophe. A concrete rectangle built into the side of a frozen mountain, the structure and surrounding landscape appear to have been plucked from a “Star Wars” movie. A short while away, there’s a much smaller but similarly designed vault — inside this one, though, there are not the seeds needed to repopulate Earth and save humanity from extinction, but Oreos wrapped in mylar. At exactly 78° 08’ 58.1” N, 16° 01’ 59.7” E is one of the silliest but most ambitious marketing stunts ever devised: The Global Oreo Vault.


Related: 26 Craziest Marketing Stunts of All Time

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KFC Keeps Its Recipe on Hardcore Lockdown

Another famous company has another crazy vault much closer to home. Everyone knows there are 11 herbs and spices in KFC’s original finger-licking-good recipe that Col. Harland Sanders perfected in 1941. What exactly those spices are and in what proportions is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the restaurant industry and the world. Even KFC’s head chef, according to The Daily Meal, doesn’t know the recipe after two decades with the company. Two vendors blend half the spice mixture without knowing what the other is doing. The original recipe is stored in a highly secure vault within the legal department at the company’s headquarters in Louisville. Only one person knows the combination, according to Gizmodo, and only two living people know the secret recipe.


Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

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How Disney World Is a Kept Mosquito-Free

Disney World is in a hot, wet, rainy mosquito’s paradise — it’s literally built on a swamp — yet it would be a challenge to find anyone that has ever been bitten by a mosquito there. Without highly effective mosquito control, the park simply couldn’t function, but Walt Disney didn’t want to soak his family theme park in chemical pesticides. Instead, he hired Maj. Gen. William “Joe” Potter, an MIT-trained engineer who had served as governor of the malaria-ravaged Panama Canal Zone. He engineered every aspect of the park to be void of the standing water mosquitoes need to breed. From building architecture to the choice of plants and placement of rides, every inch of the park is designed to funnel water toward Potter’s elaborate and always-thirsty drainage system underneath the park.


Related: 25 Ways Disney Revolutionized Entertainment


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Elon Musk Once Dabbled in (Not) Flamethrowers

Tesla CEO Elon Musk launched his Boring Co. to build tunnels — get it, boring? — to decrease street-level traffic. The engineer/CEO/mad scientist then devised a way to raise money for his start-up that happened to result in lots of people all over the world getting arrested for having flamethrowers: building and selling 20,000 real, functioning, hand-held flamethrowers at the highly accessible cost of just $500 each to the general public. The move was quickly frowned upon by anti-flamethrower people everywhere. Musk responded by naming his creation the Boring Co. (Not) Flamethrower. He sold all 20,000 and raised $10 million. You can still buy one on eBay for eight or 10 times the original asking price.


Related: 11 Surprising Things That Tesla Makes That Aren't Electric Cars

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Also, His Old Tesla Is in Outer Space

In 2018, Musk attached a special payload to the inaugural launch of his SpaceX company’s Falcon Heavy rocket: his own Tesla Roadster electric sports car. It hitched a ride to the cosmos that day, complete with a spacesuit-clad mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat. Last fall, Starman — behind that wheel of a car that once took Elon Musk to work and back — passed within 5 million miles of Mars. The site WhereIsRoadster.com lets you keep track of the adventure in real time, with info such as how many times Starman has listened to “Space Oddity” on a loop (around 300,000) and how many times the car has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty (more than 41,000).


Related: 15 Iconic Business Leaders Inseparable From Their Brand

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A Secret Google Department Is Doing Comic Book-Level R&D

X (or the Moonshot Factory, and formerly known as Google X) is the secret research-and-development division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It’s as cool as it sounds. Think internet carried by beams of light and underwater camera systems for ocean farmers. Its top-secret projects have names such as Loon, which is developing internet balloons on the edge of space; Waymo, which is making self-driving cars; Makani, which is experimenting with energy kites; and Project Foghorn, which is making renewable fuel from ocean water.


Related: Companies That Have Changed the Way We Live Over the Past Decade

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Amazon Is Trying to Cure the Common Cold

Google has company in well-funded, highly secretive, and infinitely imaginative research and development — Amazon. The retailer’s version is called Grand Challenge. In March, CNBC broke a story about a clandestine Grand Challenge program called “Project Gesundheit.” That’s the code name for Amazon’s effort to eliminate the common cold, a biological scourge that costs the economy $40 billion a year and whose cure has eluded the relentless efforts of scientists, doctors, and governments across the world since the 1950s. It’s unclear how many of the more than 100 people assigned to Grand Challenge are working on the vaccine project or if they’ll be the ones to finally crack the code of the common cold.


Related: 34 Companies That Changed Our Culture for Better or Worse

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In Amazon’s Early Days, Productivity Was Measured in Pizza

Pizza played a role in the foundational days of Amazon, when CEO Jeff Bezos was still just an online bookseller with a vision. Bezos knew smaller teams of people are more productive. The smaller the team, the less time it spends coordinating and the more time it spends on the task at hand. Any company can scale up and down much much more easily if all that’s required is to add or remove small teams from any given effort. Bezos established the two-pizza rule, which would become part of Amazon’s philosophical bedrock: Two pizzas should be enough to feed any team in one sitting. If more pizza is required or people are still hungry, the team is too big. Today, Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer — but it’s actually just a huge collection of tiny teams. With pepperoni.

Facebook
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Facebook Is Trying to Read Your Mind — and Getting Close

Apparently, owning all your data isn’t enough for Mark Zuckerberg. Leaked audio last year revealed the social giant was developing mind-reading technology, and it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. The year before, Facebook researchers published a paper outlining how they had created a headset that could direct a computer to transcribe what the wearer was saying — not by responding to voice commands, but by decoding brain activity. The company is working on a neural sensor it hopes will translate people’s thoughts into computer commands for video games or into simple responses such as typing.


Related: 12 Eccentric Projects of the Super-Rich

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Uber Launched a Super-Shady Ghost App

Uber was already awash in controversy in 2017 when the world discovered the ride-share company had created a mirror version of its own app — a ghost program to trick certain users trying to get a ride, but who would never be sent a car. Called Greyball, the app was described by Uber as a way to protect its drivers from known problem riders. But as part of a program called VTOS (for “Violation of Terms of Service”), it also protected them from traffic citations given by municipal regulators running law-enforcement stings. More ominously, it gave cover to drivers trying to discriminate against riders while remaining invisible.


Related: Companies That Have Been Accused of Having a Toxic Work Culture