Once upon a time, way before flying cars in outer space, matcha green tea doughnuts, and unsolicited nudity on dating apps, there were dittos. Dittos were the high tech version of carbon copies, the low tech version of photocopies, and what every no tech schoolkid in the 60s and 70s took their pop quizzes on.

The ditto was created by making a master copy on a “spirit carbon”, which was transferred to a hand-rotated printing cylinder. From the original document the teacher would crank out multiple copies, which remained fascinatingly cold and moist when they were handed out to the class. The uncanniness of the clammy paper was enhanced by the very particular soft, blurred purple of the print.

But the thing every member of the Ditto Generation treasured was the smell, courtesy of the machine’s duplicating fluid. We breathed deep of the scent of newborn ditto like it was fresh-baked cookies, or a bracing ocean breeze, or life-giving oxygen. But it wasn’t life-giving oxygen. It was methanol and isopropanol, and we were frying our brains.

But safety, schmafety. Dittos smelled good! The odor was sharp, damp, clarifying. It was moreish – you were compelled to keep huffing the wet paper until it finally dried and lost its magic. The narcotic nature of the ditto fluid (too much exposure resulted in dizziness and blurred vision) meant that it automatically heightened the drama of any situation – which usually involved taking a test.

This eerie, searing smell was a perfect pairing with the adrenalin and fear triggered by a pop quiz. The smell of dittos was the smell of the obsidian knife edge between triumph and failure.

And everyone agreed that dittos smelled “purple”.

Headshot - Katie Puckrik