The strangest tech to come out of Utah: July edition
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Here be dragons,” and let me break it to you: It didn’t come from a George R.R. Martin book. Until recently, the Latin translation, “Hic sunt dracones,” was rumored to have been inscribed on medieval maps, something that’s now thoroughly debunked (the only historical inscription of the term was found on a lone globe from 1510).
Were it true, or if a new map was scribed, it’s fair to say the landlocked Beehive State might be worthy of a footnote thanks to its high propensity for dragons—Dungeons & Dragons, that is. Google search results indicate that Utahns play more Dungeons & Dragons per capita than any other state (runners-up are Idaho and Oregon). There are echoes of this everywhere you look, from east Utah’s Dragon ghost town to Pleasant Grove’s Evermore, a fantasy-land amusement park that hosts an annual dragon lantern festival.
The state’s dragon-related denizens include Tracy Hickman, best-selling author and co-creator of the Dragonlance series (which is referenced in multiple official Dungeons & Dragons campaigns), and American Fork-based sci-fi supremo Brandon Sanderson of Dragonsteel Books and Dragonsteel Entertainment.
Utah’s dense dragon landscape has birthed many spin-offs. Provo-based game developer Latitude launched their A.I. Dungeon scroller in 2019. The Void, a now-shuttered VR space in Pleasant Grove, featured immersive VR dungeon crawls co-designed by the aforementioned Tracy Hickman.
Sensing a theme? Before we get into the latest strange tech in Utah, it’s time for this month’s Two Truths and a Lie, the Utah Tech Edition—Dungeons & Dragons themed, obviously. Of the following three D&D startups (narrowing it down was a challenging task, believe me), which is the fake one? (Scroll to the bottom for answers.)
- A startup that designs and sells reusable D&D dungeon scrolls with limitless terrain
- A startup that designs and sells D&D-themed playable tabletop NFTs
- A startup that designs and sells scented D&D peripherals to set the scene
Dungeon Master University: Where DM’s level up their game
As the D&D audience grows—an estimated 50 million people partook in 2021—demand for a dungeon master who knows their ogres from their orcs (and has narrative flair) has exponentially increased. Enter Dungeon Master University (DMU), launched in March 2021 by Orem-based Dax Levine. Levine had offered his virtual dungeon master (DM) services for a few years, charging up to $500 for corporate clients. As interest ballooned, he realized there was a gap in the market, and his background in education made him uniquely well-placed to get ahead of this.
DMU’s three-hour courses cover the wide-ranging skill set necessary to be a top DM, with titles like “Conflict-driven characters,” “Voicing Legendary Saga,” and “Motivational Game Psychology.”
“People pay me to find creative ways to murder them,” Levine told his students over Zoom. Levine now employs a team of six. A summer school program for kids is in the works, as well as one-on-one coaching. It’s about time D&D players got the respect they deserved—if people can make a million dollars playing Defense of the Ancients, why not D&D?
Crypto, the metaverse, and artificial intelligence summer camps for kids
It’s summer camp season, meaning parents everywhere can get some respite from their beloved progeny. It takes about five days for your neatly ordered house to descend into sticky chaos, with everything in exactly the wrong place. Ya feel me? Summer camps are a salve to this, not to mention a chance for your kin to rapidly outstrip you in terms of technological know-how. Forget drone camps and Roblox camps (which still exist); the new batch of summer camps have tapped into today’s tech zeitgeist. Seriously, slime is like, so 2021.
Salt Lake City-based Higher Ground offers a cryptocurrency-focused summer camp that trains monetary-minded teens and tweens in penny stocks, portfolio management, and the broader world of crypto. They say that students will compete in “simulated trading competitions.”
Artificial Intelligence is another summer camp trend, offered by Lehi-based Code Adventure and eleven other summer camps outlined in a 2021 analysis by the Center for Security and Emerging Technology. And with a nod to this month’s theme, the University of Utah offers various in-person D&D bootcamps for ages 9-14 (class fee covers dice, the player handbook, and a figurine).
Remote students also have options, such as Outschool’s Nifty NFTs: Non Fungible Tokens for Beginners course for kids aged 12-17, courtesy of Salt Lake City educator Brooke Martinez. Also on offer are Metaverse masterclasses courtesy of CAMPK12, an online program that teaches VR and AR game development. “Your child could become the youngest metaverse creator in the world,” a poster for the program reads. Ah, they grow up so quickly.
The adult chocolate milk Smack’d(own)
It’s well-known that milk and Mormons are happy bedfellows. In 2016, Milktoberfest became an annual Oktoberfest replacement, and many of Utah’s milk connoisseurs believe chocolate milk reigns supreme. Whether the gold medal goes to the BYU Creamery, Gossner Foods, or Rosehill Dairy is up for (heated) debate, but a new contender lurks in the wings.
Enter Smack’d (yes, that’s how they spell it), a Lehi-based canned and caffeinated chocolate milk startup. “We are obsessed with chocolate milk, but we also aren’t 12!” is their tagline—hence the 60mg of caffeine and 30g of protein per can.
Founded by “lifelong chocolate milk drinker” Josh Mendenhall, who also works as Pattern’s chief creative officer, this canned milk is aimed at adults. “I want to market to the 25-40 somethings,” he told the Talk Dairy To Me podcast. “It has enough caffeine to keep you going through the day. It’s geared toward a post-workout pick-me-up.”
Mendenhall is part of the 2022 cohort of the Dairy Farmers of America CoLAB Accelerator, which embraces new ideas in the dairy space. He explains that packaging is key—an aluminum can is more “adult” than a juice box. “I drink it every day,” he says. I’m all in! Who says being an adult means you don’t get to enjoy chocolate milk anymore? Not me.