As the lucent maiden approached on a white palfrey, she lifted her gossamer eyes and told the once and future king of England, "Thee shall befall the greatest worship that ever befell king in Britain."
The maiden then departed, and King Arthur knew his quest: It had fallen to the knights of his Round Table to recover the Holy Grail. Later that evening, as if to drive the point home, a shrouded vision of the Grail appeared before the assembled knights, and Arthur's nephew, Gawain, pledged to "labor in the quest of the Sangreal." It was then that Arthur grieved, for he knew his fabled Camelot would never be the same.
As I embarked on my own, admittedly less ambitious, Doritos Quest, I, too, encountered a maiden with a message. Of course, my maiden did not arrive on horseback, nor did she glow from within. Rather, she stood behind an inch-and-a-half-thick bulletproof glass window, illuminated by the flickering radiance of a gas station's fluorescent tubes.
"Have you tried those?" she asked as I approached the counter to purchase passage into The Quest.
"No," I replied, realizing that I may be in the presence of a latter-day sibyl. "Are they any good?"
"They nasty," she said, rolling her large brown eyes and blowing out her cheeks. "They taste like Mountain Dew wasted on a bag of Doritos."
Whereas the successful quest for the Holy Grail resulted in the ascension of Galahad and the return to its heavenly owner of the cup that once held the blood and sweat of Jesus as he traced the Stations of the Cross, my Web-based quest, if successful, involved the naming of a new Doritos flavor, which would, the company assures, give me the chance to lay my hands on a "golden ARTIFACT" worth a whopping $100,000 and, I presume, a seat in that tortilla-chip pantheon in the sky.
Oh! How far we've come.
Just as Arthur effortlessly pulled Excalibur from the stone, so I tear into the foil bag of Doritos and extract one of the triangular artifacts.
Placing the wafer, host-like, in my mouth, I am immediately thrown into a roiling sea of contradictory flavors. Just as I think I detect a current of sodium diacetate, it's quickly overtaken by a wave of corn maltodextrin laced with a kelp-like layer of monosodium glutamate and malic acid.
I have no idea what this chip tastes like. Certainly there's a strong faux-citrus note, but otherwise I'm lost. Swallowing, I concentrate, extract another triangular issue of Frito-Lay, Inc., and think back to what my maiden had said.
Certainly, they nasty, but what else did she say? They taste like Mountain Dew wasted on a bag of Doritos.
That's it! I log onto The Quest's advertainment Web site (www.doritosthequest.com) and see what appears to be a Da Vinci Code cryptex knockoff. In the cryptex's field, I type, "Mountain Dew" and watch as the cryptex spins and whirls to produce a note, which reads in part, "It has begun. One enigma solved spawns another in its place.... Only the clever, swift and keen will rise to meet the challenges and compete for the golden ARTIFACT worth $100,000. MANY WILL TRY. ONE WILL SUCCEED."
Intriguing as this cryptic Frito-Lay ad copy is, it's here that I abort my quest.
You see, I can't help but think back to Arthur and his knights. Sure, the quest brought Galahad his heavenly reward, but it also wrought its fair share of misery. The trusted Lancelot cuckolds the king, Merlin is imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake and Arthur himself falls at the Battle of Camlann.
Oh, I suppose such unpleasantness might be worth it if the Doritos Quest yielded the return of Christ's chalice used at the Last Supper, but for a stinking 100 grand and a case of mild indigestion? Forget about it.
Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to firstname.lastname@example.org.