How Oreo Got Shaq To Dunk (Cookies) With His Mind

Telekinesis never sounded so sweet.

We should make it clear right off the bat that Oreo cookies can’t actually read Shaquille O’Neal’s mind. At least, not in the “they know what Shaq is thinking” sense. But at an activation this week at New York’s Chelsea Market–the site of the original Nabisco bakery where the Oreo was first birthed into this world–Shaq did spend his afternoon dunking Oreos using only the power of his mind. Well, his mind and a brain-sensing headband from technology company Muse.


The way the activation worked, Shaq sat down across from Oreo enthusiasts while both were wearing the brain-sensing technology. Above each of them was an Oreo cookie, suspended from a mechanical arm four feet above a glass of milk. When Shaq or his opponent thought about dunking the cookie–or thought in relaxed, alpha brain-wave patterns, the kind that a person preparing to enjoy a delicious sugary confection might think, anyway–the arm’s motor would descend and guide the cookie halfway into the glass of milk

“Your brain has all these cells and neurons that are communicating via electrical impulses all the time,” explains Ian Cleary, VP of Ideation and Innovation at Relevent, which partnered with Oreo and Muse on the activation. “The device was essentially a consumer-grade EEG machine, which is a machine that measures the activity going on in your brain. This technology isn’t reading your mind–we don’t know what you’re thinking–it’s more like we’re looking at patterns of brain activity. Scientists who’ve studied this have different names for different patterns of activity–alpha brain waves, beta, delta, theta, etc. Each brainwave is associated with a different type of brain activity pattern. For the hands-free dunk, anytime you were over your average state of alpha brain waves, we moved the Oreo closer to the glass of milk.”

For his part, Shaq took to having his mind read by Oreo well. Dunking is his thing, after all, and he figured out the process quickly. “He was a natural master of the hands-free dunk,” Cleary says. “He got right away how to control his thoughts in the right way to dunk that Oreo pretty quickly every time.”

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.