One of my friends told me that if you poured salt water into a pop machine's coin slot, it would spew out loads of free pop ... sounds dubious to me.

Origins: Free soda, you say? All for pouring a little salt water into the coin slot?

Possibly thanks to a suggestion made on an episode of MacGyver (an action-adventure U.S. television series that ran from 1985 to 1994), teens in the mid-1990s were inspired to try their hands at salting, a practice in which injected salt water was used to
short-circuit coin changers. The saline would act as a conductor, causing the unit to jackpot both money and product.

Illegal or not, that looked too good an opportunity for any number of youngsters to pass up. In June 1994, three youngsters arrested and charged for salting in Macomb County, Michigan, had 154 cans
of pop in their possession, the results of an evening-long spree. They were representative of what was going on elsewhere.

Each case of such vandalism was estimated to cost about $600 in loss of money and product, damage to the select panel and coin changer, sales downtime, and the cost of repair. Those "free sodas" were proving to be expensive.

The vending machine companies fought back the only way they could: They improved the technology. Salting was eliminated by moving the coin changer to a different part of the machine. The channel is now long and perforated so salt water can't flow through it; the bill validator is mounted above the slot, so nothing can gain access to it. Older machines were fitted with diverters that channeled fluids away from the coin mechanism but allowed coins to travel their usual smooth path into the coin acceptor and coin changer.

Bathing the coin slot of a dispenser with a salt water benediction to gain a freebie is now a thing of the past. Very few machines that could be influenced by such a baptism are still around, making this a pointless exercise in futility. It's still one that will get you in trouble with the law, though.

Besides the risk of being caught and charged with theft, those who engage in salting may put themselves in other forms of jeopardy. On

21 August 1995, ten-year-old Shawn Ramanauskas was electrocuted by a candy machine in Alabama. The family's attorneys argued the unit had been improperly connected to an ungrounded electrical outlet and that other guests had complained for two days prior to the fatality of getting painful shocks from that cluster of vending machines. Given that the purpose of salting is to short circuit a machine's electricals, an improperly grounded unit could prove deadly to a kid looking to scam some free product with the help of some saline. (There's no reason to suppose Shawn Ramanauskas was engaged in such a practice his death came as a result of an unit being plugged into an ungrounded, wrongly polarized outlet that was rigged by a handyman. But such an accident does point up the potential dangers salters could encounter.)

Barbara "intent to swill" Mikkelson