The below is something I wrote four years ago -- a reader earlier this week suggested I write about it, but I already had, so I'm sharing it again today. Enjoy! -- Dan
 

The Nose Knows

Walk around most of the Disney theme parks and you’ll eventually end up on “Main Street, U.S.A.,” a feature in Disneyland, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Park in Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Main Street U.S.A. — regardless of its actual location — features restaurants, costumed characters, and a few shops here and there. Some of the shops sell snacks like cookies or candy or other goodies, and for the shopkeepers (okay, for the Disney corporation), it’s their goal for you, the tourist, to walk into their stores and buy yourself something to nibble on. They’re very tempting, the snacks — you can almost smell them as you walk by the stores.

That’s how they get you.

It’s not an accident, either. Disney uses something called a “Smellitzer” — think Howitzer, but for aromas — across their theme parks. Technically called “Scent-Emitting Systems” on the 1984 patent application (available here), the device literally blows odors of Disney’s choosing toward park guests in strategic locations.There are a variety of reports from Disney fan sites detailing what the authors believe to be the use of the machines. There’s a “strong concentration of peppermint” near the Magic Kingdom’s candy store. Another detected the scent of popcorn. And, yes, there’s at least one report of the telltale (yet in this case, faux) aroma of freshly baked cookies. (Here’s a more reliable source attesting to the same.) Finally, one fan site purports to have an image of the Smellitzer’s vent.

The applications of the Smellitzer and similar technology aren’t limited to selling you snacks, either. In August of 2006, Popular Science reported that the University of Central Florida was using them in war games. Specifically, Jacki Morie, a researcher at the school’s Institute for Simulation and Training had created something called a “Scent Collar,” emitting smells of trees and metal, as appropriate, in simulated events. The Collar, in the words of Popular Science, transformed an experience which was akin to a “fancy videogame” to something “more [. . .] like a real place.” Which is kind of strange, because Morie got her idea from fantasy land — she used to have an office at Disney World, and her experiences with the Smellitzers probably inspired that idea.

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Bonus fact: Another use for Smellitzer-like tech? Branding. The NBA’s Brooklyn Nets play at the Barclays Center, and if you’ve been to a game there, you may have noticed an unfamiliar odor wafting in the air. That odor, according to Deadspin, is the arena’s “own signature scent [. . .] meant to enhance the consumer experience and build brand identities.”

From the ArchivesGrass-o-s: What the smell of freshly mowed grass signals.​

Related: An aromatherapy diffuser — basically, an at-home Smellitzer.
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