Statistics Saturday: How Many Whats In A What


How many ___ in a ___? This many.
Feet Yard 3
Teaspoons Tablespoon 3
Tablespoons Quarter-Cup 3
Miles League 3
Leagues Mile 3
Divisions League (baseball) 3
Quarter-Cups Cup 3?
Fourths Fifth 4/5 [ whew! ]
Panels Cartoon 4
Divisions Multiplication 1/1
Degrees Degree-Day 1/(Number of Days)
Pages Magazine 96
Whats Whatnot 0
Deals Deck of Contract Bridge cards 53, 644,737,765, 488,792,839, 237,440,000.
Bananas Bread 2 1/3 cups
3’s 33 1/3 3 [ uh-oh ]
Rubik’s Cube 13
Episodes Character Arc 8
Gallons Acre 44,040
Buttons 101-button keyboard 102
Quarks Proton … 3 …
Pinches Inch 1 [ If at the start of a Special K cereal commercial of the 1970s ]
Pinches Inch 0 [ If at the end of a Special K cereal commercial of the 1970s ]
Songs Encore 3
Grains Heap 1,211

Reference: Sweets: A History of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Shocking Results Of College Basketball Game


The local news reports that all of the ten people arrested in East Lansing yesterday, in a raucous disturbance with only a tiny fire that broke out after Michigan State won their way into the Final Four, were MSU students. I’m relieved. When I heard there were arrests made I feared it might include state legislators, leaders of industry such as whoever runs that mysterious electron-associated business, or maybe the jovial guy who was playing Santa Claus at the tree farm where we got our Christmas tree and who was very interested in the complex of extensions cords used to rig up the coffee machine and the space heater. (He explained how Santa was pretty knowledgeable about electrical systems.)

The report also mentioned that besides setting, it looked to me, like maybe one jacket on fire, the mob got to throwing “bottles and bagels”. This surprised me, because while mid-Michigan hasn’t got the greatest variety of bagels it’s got some fairly decent ones. Plus, what’s with throwing what amounts to wads of bread around? Yeah, they’re bagels, but we don’t get the really serious bagels, the ones protected by a crust of pumpernickel-diamond alloy inside a chewy core, around here. If they’re trying to break stuff, why throw bread? But if they’re not trying to break stuff, then do they really need to be arrested for what a top-notch lawyer would say is just aggressive feeding of squirrels? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

When Swords Dance And Porridge Explodes


Jerome Friedman’s The Battle Of The Frogs And Fairford’s Flies keeps being a source of just wonderful incidents and I had to share some more with you because you’ll just see at that. This one is drawn from the 1645 chapbook Strange And Fearful News From Plaisto In The Parish Of Westham, Plaisto being a totally real place and not the result of someone being challenged to say where it took place and bluffing, desperately, “Place … uh … to” and feeling bad for getting stuck with that answer. According to the Strange and Fearful News for one month Paul Fox, silk weaver, “a man of an honest life and conversation” suffered from a haunted house. I don’t know where his conversation enters into things.

The first problem was that a sword started dancing around the house. Fox handled by locking it up. I suppose if I saw a sword dancing around my house I’d try locking it out of the house altogether, but that strategy didn’t really work with a pretty determined mouse that kept getting into the kitchen last year. It didn’t work so well for Fox, though, because the sword came through the door and continued to dance.

The sword got joined by a cane, that hopped around the sword, and here I’m stumped. I can imagine putting an enchanted sword to some practical use, if it could refrain from dancing some. After all, 1645 was before documents had begun to protect themselves by warning not to fold, spindle, or mutilate them, so if you got, say, a phone bill you could chop it into tiny bits because it was obviously a scam, it being the mid-17th century and all. But a sword with a cane just seems one long dancing inanimate object too many to use. Maybe we aren’t getting the whole story. Maybe the sword, despite love of dance, was getting up in years and needed the cane for support. Or maybe the cane feared for its safety in the rough community of 1645 Plaisto.

But the sword and cane settled down — I bet they were friends and got into chatting about old times — and Fox seemed fine with all this until he started hearing a hollow voice banging on the door and demanding, “I must dwell here”. Told it could just go off and dwell somewhere else, it came back the next day and smashed his windows by hurling bricks, canes, oyster shells, pieces of bread, and “other things” at the house. I suspect the spirit didn’t quite know what it was doing. Breaking windows by using bricks is efficient enough, but, oyster shells? That’s a hard way to break a window, and pieces of bread? Was the spirit unable to find wads of kitten fur to throw instead? Or maybe bread meant something different back then, and throwing a “piece of bread” was slang for throwing a Roundhead or a Member of Parliament or something. Also, whose side was the dancing cane on?

Possibly the cane danced this one out, since a boulder weighing “half a hundred weight”, which if I know anything about English measures means it could weigh anything except fifty pounds, jumped out of the garden where it’d been content to all appearances for decades and tumbled up the stairs into the middle of the room. Fox had someone take it back out into the yard, but it just came right back up the stairs again. I assume the rock had just had enough with all the cane-dancing and bread-throwing and decided to pick a fight with scissors.

Fox stuck it out a while, suggesting you could just haunt a silk-weaver’s house for weeks before he’d get impatient with it. Or maybe he figured dancing swords were more interesting than the other pastimes of 1640s England, such as dying of plague or accusing people of being Anabaptists. But there’s limits to anyone’s patience, and his was reached sometime after a pot of porridge got splattered around the room and the spirits started pulling his family’s hair and knocking their heads. He eventually moved to a new house, where the spirit followed, and he moved back to the first place, figuring, I guess, why not?

By the time the pamphlet was written, Fox was still having trouble with house-haunting, but everyone was confident it wasn’t witchcraft. I don’t know what became of him or his house; maybe he came to appreciate having a bread-throwing ghost around. Hard to say.

The Internet and Pumpernickel


You know how the Internet has changed things? Suppose that you like pumpernickel. In the pre-Internet days you’d probably just go along liking pumpernickel, eating it in appropriate amounts and wondering if you’re maybe the youngest English-speaking soul who still eats it on purpose. Certainly nobody you ever meet except your grandparents eats pumpernickel. This might be because you switched to a supermarket, away from the bakery that’s in the midst of downtown’s bustling Customers Pronking Into Traffic district because it closes fifteen minutes after you get out of work and there was that time you asked about what eight similar-looking loaves were and got into a painfully awkward conversation with them not understanding what it was you didn’t understand, and don’t ever have to talk with anyone to buy actual bread anymore.

Now and then something called pumpernickel turns up in the sandwiches Arby’s tucks into the weird subdivided parts of its menu board like they don’t want to have them but also can’t take them off without hurting somebody’s feelings. But mostly, you just like pumpernickel, the taste and the way saying “pumpernickel” over and over again makes you feel, and the store usually has sufficient pumpernickel for your immediate heavy-breaded needs, and the worst that ever happens is occasionally your brain is haunted by the idea that ABC’s classic “The Chomper” public service announcement supporting dental health might have shouted out to pumpernickel and carrot sticks as good things to eat, please hopefully not together. How pumpernickel can be all that good for teeth was still mysterious, what with it just being bread, but at least you could take in the message.

With the Internet, that’s changed. You can find all kinds of people who also like pumpernickel, which right away is a big change in your bread-based social interaction. Before any pumpernickel-based socialization you had was of a strictly practical kind: buying pumpernickel, eating pumpernickel, maybe answering the awe-struck questions of children who don’t understand why you’d go eating a kind of bread that’s the color and pattern of the decorative walkways in the garden paths in back of the boring restaurant their parents dragged them to once and swore never again.

Now there’s a theoretical aspect to the whole thing, having bread-themed social interactions in a setting that’s far removed from any actual bread, or possibly any other actual people. Certainly real people can’t be writing this much about pumpernickel, or as they spell it “pumpernickle” or worse, and why whatever it is you like about it is the wrong thing to like about it. Where would they find time to do the necessary things of daily life, like driving to the hardware store or being hissed at by squirrels?

And yet what they write is compelling, because it all leaves you miserable. You’ll learn, for instance, that your favorite brand of pumpernickel was created by a white supremacist, Euell M Pumpermeyer or whatever, who figured that by improving the yeast or rye or whatever used to make his bread products he’d be able to inspire wider eugenicist movements. He sold out decades ago to a big multinational conglomerate, and he’s been dead for literally a couple years now anyway, and at least he was an incompetent white supremacist who never noticed that yeast is just not among the top hundred things suppressing people. But still.

Worse, you’ll discover that the multinational conglomerate that makes that pumpernickel, only with not so much overt racism and more high-fructose corn syrup, is still a horrible, horrible company. Some in the pumpernickel forums try to argue about this, pointing out the company’s placement as one of the Top Ten Ethical Multinational Conglomerate Bread Manufacturers, but that mostly means they’re responsible for fewer than average maimings of low-level employees and there’s room to plausibly dispute their links to the Blood Caraway trade. And the supermarket isn’t any great shakes either because it’s sustained mostly by the profits derived from smacking cinder blocks with kittens. This earned the store a certificate for being in the top twenty percent of ethical supermarket chains before the ethics panel went into the shoe closet and started weeping and hasn’t stopped yet.

All these things were going on before, but you never had to know because you never learned anything about the pumpernickel trade beyond that you could buy and, if you chose, eat some. Now the Internet can reassure you that, yes, “The Chopper” does tell you pumpernickel is somehow important for your teeth.