[NEWS] Twinkie page shut down

Mark Q. Maxham (max@atg.apple.com)
Wed, 22 Feb 1995 10:18:31 -0800

Administrators consider trademark issues, while fans offer support and
sympathy to frustrated `scientists'
by Chris McKenzie

Due to a complaint about possible copyright infringement, the world-famous
T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project webpage was temporarily shut down by Rice officials
last week

The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. (Tests With Inorganic Noxious Kakes In Extreme
Situations) webpage, a tongue-in-cheek collection of scientific experiments
performed on Hostess Twinkies, is maintained by Lovett College junior Todd
Stadler and Lovett sophomore Chris Gouge. Their efforts have earned them a
number of Internet awards and have attracted the attention of newspapers all
over the world, including the New York Times .

The widespread publicity attracted more viewers to their website, but it
also caught the eye of Paolo Fassari, who, according to Gouge, sent a
complaint via e-mail to Andrea Martin, Director of Users Services.

"He claimed to be with some advertising agency and that the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S.
Project violated a copyright that he had," Gouge said.

In accordance with Rice computer policy, Martin decided to temporarily shut
off public access to the page. She then forwarded the complaint to Patricia
Bass, Judicial Affairs Officer.

To resolve the situation, Bass has talked with a vice president of
Interstate Brands, Hostess' parent company, about the webpage and the

>From her conversations, she expects that the company will have no objections
to the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project and that the webpage will soon be allowed
back online.

"I'm optimistic that things will work out fine," Bass said.

The source of the initial complaint has been called into question in the
past few days, according to Stadler.

"It's just becoming apparent," Stadler said, "that [Fassari] does not
represent Hostess or Interstate Brands."

However, while Fassari's complaint has been "resolved to some semblance of
satisfaction," according to Gouge and Stadler, it raised issues about the
trademarks that Rice felt still needed to be resolved before the page was
allowed back online.

Martin stressed that the shutdown was standard Rice procedure in handling a
complaint against a webpage.

"It wasn't an attempt to discredit the [T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S.] homepage," Martin
said. "In fact, I think it's a great page."

The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project's fame derived from its unique take on the
scientific method. Gouge and Stadler subjected Twinkies to a variety of
experiments, including a Rapid-Oxidation Test (the cake was set on fire), a
Gravitational Response Test (the Twinkie was dropped off the sixth floor of
Lovett) and a Turing (intelligence) Test against a Rice freshman (guess who

The duo published the results of their work on the webpage in
straight-faced, scientific prose accompanied by explanatory photos and

Now that the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. webpage is off-line, Gouge and Stadler have
put a short page in its place updating visitors on the status of the
complaint. The page's address is http://www.rice.edu/~gouge/twinkies.html.

After the shutdown, Gouge and Stadler received a large amount of e-mail from
fans of the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. webpage offering their support and sympathies.

Some have offered to write letters in support of the Project; others have
offered to put the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. page on their servers, outside Rice.

Some of the e-mail was from junior high and high school teachers who have
used the page as examples in their science and computer classes.

Officials first tried to contact Gouge and Stadler about the complaint on
April 3. Stadler, who did not find out about it until he returned from the
four-day spring recess, said he was "completely surprised" by the news and
"angry because no one was explaining how [the situation] was going to be

Stadler was also frustrated by Fassari's complaint, one that Stadler said
"he had no basis to make."

"The page has been out there for a year," he said, "and [the media]
contacted someone with Hostess every time they wrote something about it.

"[Hostess has] had plenty of opportunities to hear about it."

However, Stadler proposed that the entire affair may have been initiated for
a very non-legal purpose.

Citing the timing of the initial complaint, and the fact that Paolo
Fassari's name is a close (though inexact) anagram of "April Fools," Stadler
thinks that the whole thing may be a prank.

He stressed that it may only be a "paranoid theory" and that he in no way
wants to offend Fassari, if indeed that is his name.

After talking to Fassari over the phone, however, Stadler thinks that "parts
of his story don't match up" and finds himself drawn more and more to his
"paranoid" conclusion.

If the complaint was indeed an April Fools' joke, it still raised the
attention of Rice's lawyers and caused Gouge and Stadler plenty of unwanted

"If this was a prank," Stadler lamented, "I'm still waiting for the

(c) 1996 Rice Thresher