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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

2017 NogginLabs vending machine tournament


2017 NogginLabs vending machine tournament

Leonard Vance

March Madness is on the horizon, but contrary to popular assumption, it's not the premier tournament of the month. That title goes to the 2017 NogginLabs Vending Machine Tournament, naturally. As always, expect super-scintillating action, jaw-dropping upsets, and heartwarming Cinderella stories. After narrowing the field of 38 to 16 true contenders, my condolences go out to some shock early exits, including Fiber One Bars, Nature's Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Rold Gold Pretzels, Veggie Straws, Oreos, Peanut Butter M&Ms, Kit Kats, and Hershey's bars. For the record, all of these opinions are solely my own and do not reflect NogginLabs—and all of our vending options are great, obviously. But there must be a winner. With that said, let's check out the bracket.

The Usual Suspects Region

This region features snacks we've all come to know, love, and expect from vending machines across the country. We all know what they bring to the table, and we know they're always in the hunt for the title. 

Seeds: (1) Snickers, (2) Twix, (3) Skittles, (4) Reese's

The Bag-Half-Empty Region

This region features snacks one may select when sugar and chocolate are not primary interests. They're light, salty, and crunchy, and strictly for those not upset by opening a bag that appears half-eaten. 

Seeds: (1) Nacho Cheese Doritos, (2) Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips, (3) Skinny Pop Popcorn, (4) White Cheddar Cheez-Its

The Still Trying Region

This region features snacks that one may select when they're not quite tired or hungry enough to really let go. These snacks feel relatively healthy, but they still give you that sugar kick you're craving around 2 p.m. 

Seeds: (1) Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Kind Bars, (2) Second Nature Naked Medley,  (3) Nature's Bakery Blueberry Fig Bars, (4) Kashi Chocolate Almond Sea Salt with Chia Chewy Granola Bars

The "Let's Do This" Region

This region features sugar-packed snacks one may select when they're ready to truly live, though you may feel pressure to qualify them if someone sees you. A simple, "One of those days," or mere shoulder shrug would suffice. 

Seeds: (1) Strawberry Pop Tarts, (2) Rice Krispie Treats, (3) Famous Amos Cookies, (4) Vanilla Cupcakes

Let the games begin!

Sweet 16

(1) Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Kind Bars vs. (4) Kashi Chocolate Almond Sea Salt with Chia Chewy Granola Bars

(2) Second Nature Naked Medley vs. (3) Nature's Bakery Blueberry Fig Bars

I'm mildly allergic to nuts, so this round is based purely off of my assumptions. Chocolate/almond/sea salt/chia may be a delicious combo, but I'm not completely sold. Also, there are usually fewer Kind Bars left, so people seem to like them. Meanwhile, a medley just sounds appealing. Therefore, (1) Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Kind Bars and (2) Second Nature Naked Medley move on. 

(1) Snickers vs. (4) Reese's

(2) Twix vs. (3) Skittles

True story: My nut allergy is not life threatening; I'll only get annoying rashes. And one time in college, out of sheer desperation, I grabbed a Snickers bar before an early test, and I got an A on that test. I was satisfied all afternoon, too, until the rash developed. But I remember our good times... Also, you get MANY Skittles compared to only two Twix bars, so (1) Snickers and (3) Skittles advance. 

(1) Strawberry Pop Tarts vs (4) Vanilla Cupcakes

(2) Rice Krispie Treats vs (3) Famous Amos Cookies

Childhood memories and name recognition earned it the  #1 seed, but I've never seen anyone in the office eat a Pop Tart. Not a good sign. And in our other match-up, the chocolate chip-to-dough ratio offered by Famous Amos cookies simply can't be matched. So, (4) Vanilla Cupcakes, with the huge upset, and (3) Famous Amos Cookies, move on.

(1) Nacho Cheese Doritos vs. (4) White Cheddar Cheez-Its

(2) Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips vs (3) Skinny Pop Popcorn

The relatively small Cheez-Its bag size offers a rare glimpse of snack packaging honesty, but it's not enough to take out the Doritos juggernaut. And while Sun Chips boast that multigrain quasi-healthiness, nothing in the vending machine eats quite as clean and guilt-free as Skinny Pop. So, (1) Nacho Cheese Doritos and (3) Skinny Pop Popcorn advance.

Elite 8

(1) Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Kind Bar vs. (2) Second Nature Naked Medley

I've never eaten either of these, because I hate rashes, but I have a lot of respect for nuts in general. They're packed with nutrients and I imagine one feels pretty good choosing them as a midday snack. (2) Naked Medley has more nuts, I think, so it pulls off the upset.  

(3) Famous Amos Cookies vs. (4) Vanilla Cupcakes

Life is meant to be lived! And nothing says, "I'm living my best life!" quite like grabbing the Vanilla Cupcakes. They might come along with a hint of guilt, but it's nothing a little icing won't cover up. Sorry Famous Amos. Continuing its stellar run, (4) Vanilla Cupcakes moves on to the Final Four. 

(1) Snickers vs. (3) Skittles

In the most intense battle thus far, Skittles held out strong as the only non-chocolate sugar snack in the mix. And they're undeniably delicious and appealing. And I can't even eat Snickers. But I know how Snickers plays in crunch time, so they win by a deep, deep buzzer beater. (1) Snickers advances.

(1) Nacho Cheese Doritos vs. (3) Skinny Pop Popcorn

Unfortunately for Skinny Pop, this one was over before it started. I once saw a Superbowl commercial in which a fetus jumped out from its mother's womb just to grab a Doritos chip during a routine ultrasound. Skinny Pop simply can't match that. (1) Doritos moves on. 

Final Four

(1) Nacho Cheese Doritos vs. (4) Vanilla Cupcakes

Full disclosure: I've never actually eaten the Vanilla Cupcakes from the vending machine. But whenever I see someone do it, I can't help but smile. And I envy that person's boldness. And Doritos, while great, simply do not elicit that reaction. However, let it be known that Doritos went down valiantly, and it remains a standout vending machine chip option. But in Cinderella fashion, (4) Vanilla Cupcakes move on to the championship. 

(1) Snickers vs. (2) Second Nature Naked Medley

I've never seen a Second Nature Naked Medley commercial, but I have seen a Snickers commercial featuring Betty White playing a tag football game. She really came with the zingers. Also, I've seen two programmers eat Snickers, and they create marvelous things, and I trust them in general. I'm going with Betty White and the programmers here. (1) Snickers advances. 

The Championship

(1) Snickers vs. (4) Vanilla Cupcakes

I know what you're thinking: How can a snack you've never eaten and a snack you really shouldn't eat make it to the title game, Leonard? 

"Honest, unbiased judgement," I reply. 

Moving on. Unsurprisingly, Snickers walks into the final nonchalantly, knowing what it brings to the table: balance, satisfaction, and confidence. But in the tournament, you must go big or go home, and nothing goes as big or is as bold as Vanilla Cupcakes, so it's anybody's game. Before the match-up, Vanilla Cupcakes were just exuding a natural, sprinkle-topped confidence. Snickers was unfazed. It was a battle for the ages. 

The winner:

(1) Snickers

But at the buzzer, Snickers came through in the clutch—like it always does—and snatched the 2017 title from Vanilla Cupcakes' clutches. When it's all said and done, the snacks in the vending machine are there to give us the boost we need to continually create great e-learning, and be it for pleasure or out of necessity, my old friend Snickers does the job. And it has fantastic commercials. One time, Marcia Brady was so hungry she morphed into Danny Trejo until she ate a Snickers and reverted. It was an amazing transformation I just can't see Vanilla Cupcakes pulling off.