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McDonald's ice cream machines seem to always be broken

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DAME DAMIAN: (Rapping) Welcome to McDonald's. What's your order, bruh? Can I get an Oreo McFlurry, yeah? We're not serving ice cream right now. It's broken at the moment. Can I get you something else? Oh, I knew you're going to say that...

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Yes, that's TikToker Dame Damian expressing the pain we've all felt When, you're craving a McDonald's ice cream cone or a McFlurry, only to be told yet again that machine is broken. The problem is so common that one customer even created a site, McBroken, just to track which soft serve machines were busted across the U.S. Speculation over why the machines are always down has run rampant for years. As it turns out, Twitter and Reddit weren't completely wrong about there being a conspiracy to this mystery. Andy Greenberg is a journalist for WIRED. He's done a serious deep dive on the real reasons behind the broken machines, and he joins us now from New York. Welcome.

ANDY GREENBERG: Glad to be here.

SNELL: So tell us what threw you down this twisted rabbit hole. Why were you digging into ice cream machines?

GREENBERG: Yeah, this kind of bizarre and very twisty story began for me when I started to get these messages on the encrypted messaging app Signal from a guy I'd never met before named Jeremy O'Sullivan. And Jeremy explained to me that he was one of the founders of this tiny tech startup called Kytch. And he told me that he had uncovered a massive corporate conspiracy inside the world of McDonald's. He told me that he had basically hacked into these McDonald's ice cream machines and found that they have a secret menu.

SNELL: Wait. So when you say a secret menu, you're not talking about, like, secret ice cream combinations. You're talking about a menu to like, fix this machine or make the machine work, right?

GREENBERG: This is, like, a secret passcode, sort of like the pin on your phone but one that you're not supposed to know about, like, as the owner of the machine that unlocks all of its secret data.

SNELL: So Kytch - they're not exactly doing this out of the kindness of their heart. This is a business. What are their claims against Taylor in this case?

GREENBERG: Taylor, the ice cream machine company - as Kytch began to catch on among restaurants and was being used in hundreds of McDonald's - Taylor, I think, started to sense that this was a kind of - strangely a threat to their business. They wanted to develop their own connected ice cream machine - to fix their own ice cream machine on their own terms. But they never seemed to be able to quite get it done, so they instead started to try to get their hands on a Kytch device. Taylor's attempts to get their hands on a Kytch device and reverse engineer it ultimately involved, like, fake names and private investigators. And Kytch has now sued Taylor and some of its distributors, and that is now a kind of unfolding legal drama.

SNELL: So how have Taylor and McDonald's responded to all of this?

GREENBERG: Well, McDonald's stands by its initial claim that it's just trying to protect the safety of its devices. Taylor has claimed, directly to me, that they never tried to copy a Kytch device, that they just wanted to analyze it to, you know, see if it was safe. But the latest wrinkle of this story that I just wrote about last week is that in the process of this lawsuit, Taylor has had to release 800-plus pages of internal emails. And you can see them directly trying to copy Kytch's features.

SNELL: I guess the question that I can't help but wonder is, are they actually any closer to having ice cream machines that work? Is it going to be any more reliable anytime soon that I can walk into McDonald's and get a cone?

GREENBERG: That's maybe the real tragedy of this story - is that McDonald's and Taylor seem to have been more focused on trying to kind of tank Kytch's business than they are on actually fixing these ice cream machines. I mean, if you look at mcbroken.com, like, around 10% of them are down across McBroken's whole data set. And in New York City - I check this pretty often - it's, like, 30 or 40% sometimes.

SNELL: Well, that is WIRED journalist Andy Greenberg. I want a McFlurry now. Thanks so much for your time.

GREENBERG: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.