Crackerjacks photos by Meg Nanna

We all have those friends who get a few drinks in them and start making proclamations, stating their own undercooked thoughts as fact. But some claims are too thought-provoking to ignore. Like my friend Tommy’s theory, announced in a crowded kitchen in the day-buzzed leadup to Thanksgiving, that “you can’t get drunk on just Jell-O shots.”

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Cut to Scooter McQuade’s one midweek evening. Tommy beat me here and already has a beer in front of him, despite promising only to have Jell-O shots, “for science.” He says a High Life pony doesn’t count. Tommy has the carpenter’s overalls and shoulder-length hair of a modern-day Jesus of gelatin, so I believe him. But we decide he should have at least 20 Jell-O shots before he has another beer.

I ask what kind of Jell-O shots they have, and the bartender opens the fridge and says, “Red... orange... lime... grape... yellow.” I get a mixed half-dozen in a red plastic fry basket.

Scooter McQuade’s

A small crowd of friends has gathered to peer review Tommy’s work. We watch him pat down the various pockets of his Carhartts, finally producing a pristine plastic spoon he picked up at Whole Foods on the way over. Clearly, we have a lot to learn from our friend Tommy.

By the time we demolish a tray of tots, Tommy’s five Jell-O shots deep and feeling breezy. There are no visible signs of intoxication, and none self-reported either. His favorite flavor? Red, hands down. I decide it’s time for the big show: Hell-O Jello’s “designer Jell-O shots” at my favorite Northwest Portland neighborhood bar, Crackerjacks.

When we arrive, Crackerjacks’ patio is watched over by an illuminated unicorn on the roof of the Hell-O Jello cart. We get the Mega Sampler: 14 shots with flavors like raspberry mango, Tang, blueberry, key lime pie, and a delicious eggnog pudding. They have to confirm we have at least four people in our party to let us order it.

Tommy’s favorite? It’s hard to understand him, because every time he opens his mouth all we can hear are Pop Rocks detonating—but I’m pretty sure he says “the grape Pixy Stix one.” I add a couple deluxe-looking options to the table: a glittery Goldschläger-and-cherry “Sin-a-bear” and a “Jell-O Club of the Month” that promises lime Jell-O and a surprise. It seems to be topped with Lucky Charms without the marshmallows and it tastes like Windex and breakfast cereal, so it’s definitely surprising. The Sin-a-bear is better, though unfortunately topped with more Pop Rocks—at this point, Tommy’s teeth are sending some pretty heartbreaking letters from the front.

By now, Tommy’s pushing 15 Jell-O shots. I watch him walk a straight line a few times and I’m satisfied he’s sober. I call his dentist to apologize, and we move on to the speed round.

Sandy Hut

Looking for something that will pack a kick, we head to the Sandy Hut. “Well, it at least tastes like booze,” Tommy says, brandishing his trusty Whole Foods spoon and powering down a mean half-dozen in about a minute. Suddenly—he stands! Is this it? Is he drunk? Is he gonna get sick? No! He goes back to the bar for two more!

For this act of heroism, I allow him another High Life pony. And I decide to reward him with a “classy” Jell-O shot at Interurban, home of historically accurate classic cocktails from vintage recipes... and Jell-O shots. Tommy gets two, and doesn’t even ask what they are. They’re served in glass, and each with their own metal spoon, which Tommy disregards for his plastic pal.

And he’s still not drunk. At 25 Jell-O shots—five beyond where we told him he could stop—he’s done it. There’s a strange glint in his eye, but that could be a Goldschläger flake or shrapnel from a Pop Rock. We watch him walk off into the dark night of his victory, imagining the beautiful, disgusting rainbow sloshing around in his gut.

I called the Nobel Prize people, but I’m still waiting to hear back.