I’m Out of Practice. Is This a Thing?


I’m trying to get back into writing short stuff, but, you know. I’m out of practice. Is this a thing?

The dragon was nonplussed by the offering of a vast quantity of fish. after a lot of thought the dragon explained, “You must have got something wrong … I don’t have a hoard of herring. I’m just a little deaf in this ear.”

Anyway please let me know on a scale of things, ranging from “a small thing” such as maybe an apple slicer through to “a reasonable-sized thing” such as a loaf of ciabatta bread. On looking back over this, also, I’m not sure I’m not just hungry.

Statistics Saturday: What Some Cooking Terms Mean


  • Brazened Apples. To take apples or any other fruit with edible skin and subject them to a display of outrageous behavior.
  • Deglaze. To take food off the window.
  • Reassembled Eggs. Scrambled or stirred eggs which have been placed back into a shell or similar hard container. It is not necessary to unstir them; if one does, the result is called “Delmonico Eggs”.
  • Oignon Brute. A half-peeled onion placed on a skillet in a manner characteristic of 1960s and 70s architecture, generally reliant on concrete, with the working structure implied by the shapes of the visible exterior or of elements within the living interior space.
  • Adumbrate. To set a relish or other briny material on the shelf in the pantry by mistake until you remember it maybe should be refrigerated, but you’re not sure if that’s really necessary or just cautious.
  • Roast Jeté. To set something in the oven while jumping.
  • Discoursing the Meat. To remove the edible part of an artichoke from a golf course or other public walkway.
  • Naked Spaghetti. The most dangerous pasta.
  • Icing. To make any kind of food wait for you.
  • Serendipity Sauce. Any process which moistens your cooking surface without your effort, including the automatic sprinklers going off.
  • Blornching. To over-stir the meat, meat substitute, or thick pudding, to the point you neglect everything else, and you end up not even liking the meat either.
  • Escanaba. (Localism.) To have or serve food in Michigan’s upper peninsula.
  • Scowling Cheese. Any hard or semi-soft cheese which has been made to disapprove.
  • Western-Fried (as in steak). To southern-fry something while lost.
  • Chunked Wheat. To sort into four or fewer categories a pile of flour or other wheat product.

Reference: Defining NASA: The Historical Debate Over The Agency’s Mission, W D Kay.

Statistics Saturday: What Your Most Common Misspelling Of “Parmesan” Says About You


  • Parmesean. Your family had the joke pronunciation of “par-mee-see-anne” and now you are willing to fight for it.
  • Parmisan. You understand vowels are flexible things but darn it, you have to call it as you hear it.
  • Parrrmesan. You think Talk Like A Pirate Day should last longer.
  • Parmejean. You wish to encourage Italian, as a language, to do more with the letter ‘j’.
  • Parrmeesianne. You have a hard time stopping once you’ve really got started on something.
  • Parmsan. You are in a hurry and don’t have time for this.
  • Sherbert. You misunderstand questions.
  • Parmasan. Your ability to spell this was ruined forever by learning the cheese comes from Parma.
  • The Green Bottle Of Cheese. You are so afraid of typos that you forget it’s not kept in a bottle but rather a canister.
  • Parm. You hope to acquire prestige by posing as closer to cheese than you are.

Reference: Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, Peter L Bernstein.

Statistics Saturday: Some Fictional Spices


  • Paragon
  • Oleomangels
  • Antitheseed
  • Dingo peppers
  • Melankonkus
  • Qualia
  • Mega-vanilla
  • Oregoo-no-look-out-it’s-loose
  • Sysop
  • Manganese
  • Vermillion Sands
  • Hypochondria
  • False Coriander
  • Balsam and Soapbark, Radio’s Smile-A-While Boys
  • Cassio

Reference: Amelia Earhart: A Biography, Doris L Rich.

60s Popeye: Popeye in the Woods and … did Wimpy invent the bacon cheeseburger?


Today’s is a cartoon from 1960. I always lead with that, but I want that year particularly remembered. The story is by Ed Nofziger, and the animation direction by Eddie Rehberg. So you know the producer (and director) was Jack Kinney. So, again, from 1960, here’s Popeye in the Woods.

This is another cartoon that feels like two cartoon ideas pushed together. In particular, it feels like a regular cartoon onto which a public service announcement was grafted, like Gene Deitch’s Tooth Be Or Not Tooth Be. Here, it’s a camping cartoon plus a warning about not setting the forest on fire.

So it sends Popeye and Wimpy out to the woods, past a quick shot of commanding billboards, to sleep. They’re out in the open, without even sleeping bags. Popeye is kept awake by the quiet sounds of the woods. Apart from a squirrel dropping an acorn and a frog beating its chest, these are all insects. Or mushrooms popping up. I’m not sure why it’s almost all insect noises, except I guess for the comic exaggeration that a caterpillar is so very slight a sound.

There’s also the good comic instinct that Wimpy falls asleep and stays asleep. This after complaining he wanted hamburgers that Popeye said they couldn’t cook here. Wimpy snores, so we know he’s asleep. But he’s also interrupted by mutterings about hamburgers. And the most interesting one is a muttering, “hamburger with cheese and bacon”.

So, do you know the story of The Bacon Cheeseburger? Granting, yes, it’s always hard to track down where foods actually started. But the least-disputed claim is that bacon cheeseburgers first appeared at an A&W restaurant on then-US 16 in Lansing, Michigan. In 1963. (The road is now either Grand River Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue, depending on where the restaurant was.) Then-franchise-owner Dave Mulder thought the cheeseburger would be even better with bacon, and what do you know, was right. (Mulder would go on to be chairman of A&W, so, good instincts all around.) Granted, it’s absurd to suppose that no person ever had the thought of putting bacon on a cheeseburger before 1963. This still seems like an early publication of the idea.

And this is not Wimpy’s only act of food pioneering this cartoon. After Popeye finally silences the forest, the quiet wakes him up. Again, good story structure there. Wimpy sees the mushrooms that appeared and declares “mushroom-burgers are delicious”. He sets them grilling on what seems more like a mushroom kebab than anything else, but, still. Today, restaurants offer portobello mushrooms, for vegetarians who want something like a burger only disappointing. When did that start? When did that become widespread? People aren’t copying Wimpy’s inspiration here, right?

A chagrinned Wimpy imagines the burned-out forest, with survivor raccoon, two deer, and a rabbit crying over their fates.
If that were a skunk rather than a raccoon, I would wonder whether former Disney animator Jack Kinney was alluding to the movie version of Bambi. I’m still a bit curious whether that was still the goal but they thought a skunk would be a distraction in a way a raccoon wasn’t.

Wimpy’s campfire starts a forest fire, and Popeye eats his spinach so he can stomp it out. Wimpy has to jump into the water to put himself out, and ruins his mushroom-burger-kebab. And Popeye explains how bad forest fires are, starting from the killed trees to the displaced animals to the floods and human misery that result. And then cooks a chagrinned Wimpy some hamburgers, in a proper grill, because he’s Popeye the safety-in-the-woods man.

As with the tooth cartoon I’d like to know if this was meant to be a public service. I wouldn’t think it hard to fill a whole five minutes with camping jokes, especially since so much of the time was jokes about not being able to get to sleep. It makes more sense they couldn’t find five minutes of jokes about woodland fire safety, at least not before deadline. It would also make sense of Wimpy feeling regret about the innocents he might have harmed.

And I would so like to know whether Wimpy bestowed on us all the bacon cheeseburger and the portobello mushroom burger and didn’t even make a fuss of it.

Statistics Saturday: Some Failed Ways To Reheat Pizza


  • Set it in the microwave without turning the microwave on.
  • Transfer the pizza repeatedly from one thermos bottle to another.
  • Get people on social media talking about it a lot.
  • Give the pizza a stern lecture about the importance of conserving its heat.
  • Set the pizza in a hot bath.
  • Ask your neighborhood’s ice elemental to never cold your pizza up. This may involve a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck-like argument about “you will” “I won’t” “you will” “I won’t” “You won’t” “I will” “Have it your way, Doc.”
  • Set the pizza on top of a coffee mug that, on inspection, turns out to hold iced tea.
  • Hypnotize the pizza.
  • Shine a laser on it, but it’s one of those keychain lasers you get as a gift when the department wants you to not actually feel better about working there.
  • Engage the pizza in a heated debate.
  • Embarrass your pizza by reminding it of that one time it had a Tweet go a little viral and it misspelled “public” and it was twenty responses in before someone pointed it out.
  • Wrap the pizza in some cute sweaters.

Reference: Airborne Trailblazer: Two Decades with NASA Langley’s 737 Flying Laboratory, Lane E Wallace.

(I didn’t plan to pair this with Popeye’s Pizza Palace, but what the heck.)

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Pizza Palace, an exciting journey into pizza-themed madness


Popeye’s Pizza Palace is a 1960 Jack Kinney joint. The story and the animation direction are both Eddie Rehberg’s doing. It’s … a cartoon, certainly.

It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time when just mentioning pizza was a sure-fire laugh line. Foods go through this as they become part of The American Diet. In the 80s, sushi was such a crazy idea that saying someone liked it was the shorthand way to establish they were Not From Around Here. Possibly not from the planet. I recall a Fred Allen quip, circa 1940, where he described a bagel as “a doughnut with a hangover”, an image funny enough it doesn’t matter it doesn’t make sense. Somewhere in my copybook is a note about H L Mencken protesting the people who eat olives instead of a good normal salty food like anchovies.

Snoopy, in his doghouse, which is just under the eaves of the Brown house from which a giant icile dangles, thinks: 'I'm doomed!' Inside, Lucy watches Charlie Brown place a call. Charlie Brown: 'Hello, Humane Society? We need your advice ... how do you get a dog out of a doghouse before an icicle falls on him?' To Lucy: 'He said to try coaxing him out with his favorite food ... something he just can't resist ... ' As he picks up the phone he asks, 'What's the number of 'Villella's Take-Out Pizza Parlor''?'
Charles Schulz’s Peanuts for the 12th of February, 1960, from a story that even as a kid I thought was weird because since when is Snoopy’s doghouse right next to the main house? And why the quote marks around “Villella’s Take-Out Pizza Parlor”?

So. The late 50s/early 60s were pizza’s turn to be really hilarious as everybody in America discovered they liked the basic idea. This observation gives us the premise, sure. It also gives us the choice to fit the word “pizza” into every line of dialogue. It’s a bold choice, one that works in a way I’m not sure Rehberg intended. Like, I believe Rehberg figured he was stuffing the dialogue with a zany funny word. But the endless repetition ends up creating this absurdist word music and I got into that.

Popeye holds up his 'parasol pizza', an umbrella whose surface, apparently, is a pizza. There's olives dangling from the edges.
Does … does Popeye know how people generally use pizza in their lives?

The whole — I can’t really call this a story. The whole scenario has this absurdist air. It starts with Popeye juggling pizzas and shuffling a stack of pizzas like cards, and ignoring Wimpy’s pleas for hamburger pizzas. The absurdity grows as Popeye lists a bunch of bonkers pizza concepts. This includes the doughnut pizza you eat from the inside out, the sun bonnet pizza, the parasol pizza, and the Leaning Tower of Pizza. (Every time my Dad drove me up Route 17 in North Jersey he’d point out where the Leaning Tower of Pizza restaurant used to be in the 60s.) There’s not a one of them that customer Brutus is at all interested in. It sneaks up on those Monty Python “dictionary” sketches where they run through asking the same thing four hundred different ways.

Popeye tugs a circle of pizza dough down his head, looking uncannily like the Fat Albert character 'Dumb' Donald. Both of Popeye's eyes are visible through the pizza dough.
You may ask why Popeye has two eyes peering through a layer of pizza dough here, but if we’re going to be honest, having just the one eye would somehow be hideous. Instead it just looks like that Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids character you remember as being named Mushmouth, but who was in fact “Dumb” Donald.

As a story there’s not much here to make sense. Wimpy trying to cadge “hamburger pizzas”, sure. Turning to Brutus when Popeye won’t even answer him? Sure. Brutus offering to buy Wimpy pizza? All right. Popeye then asking Brutus what he wants, leading to the long string of baffling concept pizzas? Introducing the weird pizza conveyor belt? Brutus deciding he wants a tamale pizza and Popeye getting red-hot furious at this idea? I can’t figure any motivation here. It’s all people tossing off strange sets of words into an absurd universe.

Because it’s an odd moment, to close off a string of odd moments, let me share Popeye’s closing rhyme:

I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I’m Popeye the Pizza Man
I beats ’em and rolls ’em
As fast as I can
‘Cause I’m Popeye the Sailor Man!
Pizza!

This is an apt summary of the cartoon.

Popeye stands behind his counter, holding up a pizza, vertically, to the audience. On the pie are the words 'The Pizza Ends'.
Fun activity: what scene in this cartoon, if any, convinced you that the animators knew exactly what a pizza was and how it looked?

MiSTed: Eating for Death, Part 2 of 2


Did you enjoy the first half of Eating For Death? This was another of my pieces of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan fictions, written in late 2015 I believe, and taking apart an article from the March 1922 issue of Physical Culture. I bet Bernarr Macfadden is felling all foolish about his whole crusade to get people to eat when they’re hungry instead of bored or feeling obligated. The very unneeded joke about the Snorks is there because I was reading the Wikipedia article about the Snorks for some reason and that stuck in my mind. I apologize for putting the Snorks in your mind now too.


>
> The “eat-to-keep-up-your-strength” idea that
> has been advocated for generations by allopathic
> physicians,

CROW: *And* Popeye!

MIKE: Gotta respect Popeye on strength.

> has sent, literally, millions of people to
> premature graves.

TOM: Underneath a giant avalanche of casseroles and loaves of bread!

>
> Even a person in good health can miss one meal or
> fifty meals, for that matter, without serious results.

CROW: Fifty meals! You’d be spending your whole day eating at that rate.

TOM: You know you miss all the meals you don’t eat.

> But abstinence of some sort is absolutely essential if
> appetite is missing; and is especially necessary in many
> illnesses.

MIKE: Like chronic mouthlessness.

TOM: McWhirtle’s Indigestibility Fever.

CROW: Temporarily made of cardboard; can’t take liquids.

>
> There is no sauce better than hunger;

CROW: Except bleu cheese salad dressing.

> and there
> can be no health of a superior sort, unless food is eaten
> with enjoyment.

MIKE: Wait, so now enjoyment is a sauce?

CROW: *Yes*, and it’s made of bleu cheese.

>
> When you eat a meal with what is known as a
> “coming appetite”

TOM: My appetite went upstairs and it can’t find the way back.

CROW: “The stairs are past the third door!”

MIKE: “I can’t find the door!”

CROW: “Are you in a room or in the hall?”

MIKE: “I … don’t know?”

> you are often treading on dangerous
> ground. This “coming appetite” is often due to
> overstimulation of nerves

MIKE: By the penetrating electropasta needles.

> rather than to natural bodily
> demand, and is, therefore, frequently of the voracious
> character. It compels you to overeat.

TOM: To be fair, ordering a box of Hypnofood didn’t help.

> You are not
> satisfied until you eat so much you cannot hold any more.

CROW: Eat until fingers don’t work. Got it.

>
> At such times a fast is often necessary. But if
> you cannot do that it is absolutely essential that the
> meals should be very light,

TOM: Chew on a balloon, or possibly a bulb of some kind.

MIKE: Any method of general illumination will do.

> if you desire to avoid
> illness that might be serious in character.

CROW: Try illnesses that are lighthearted in character, such as clown flu and the a deficiency in vitamin giggle.

>
> Three square meals a day will send any one to an
> early grave.

TOM: Diversify your meal with triangles and ellipsoids.

> You may be able to follow a regime of this
> sort in growing years, but when full maturity arrives
> look out for trouble if you persist in this habit.

MIKE: In your fallow years just sit in the middle of a room not eating and waiting for death to overcome you.

>
> Three light meals or two medium heavy meals daily
> will prolong your life and increase your efficiency
> mentally and physically.

CROW: Four times a day grab an open-faced sandwich.

TOM: Six times a day, just gnaw on the kitchen counter.

MIKE: When feeling restless, lick an oven door.

>
> I eat but one hearty meal a day, and that is
> preferably taken at noon, though sometimes it is eaten in
> the evening. Occasionally I eat a light meal in the
> morning or evening,

MIKE: Thursdays I spend passed out in a bathtub full of potato salad.

> if I have a craving for food, though
> these light meals frequently consist of fruit alone or
> nuts and fruit with a warm or hot drink.

TOM: Occasionally I rub a slice of lettuce against one cheek.

>
> But the main point that I want to emphasize is

CROW: Food is a good idea but it will never be made practical.

> the necessity of avoiding the habit of eating by the
> clock — without appetite.

TOM: Wait until your clock cries and then feed it all it needs.

>
> Wait for a definite feeling of hunger. Let your
> stomach dictate your eating habits.

MIKE: And leave me some of the garlic-stuffed olives, people.

>

> http://blog.modernmechanix.com/eating-for-death/

CROW: I had death for lunch, can’t we have joi de vivre for supper?

MIKE: Who wants a bowl of hot, buttered MURDER?

TOM: And with that, everybody, good night and be merry!

MIKE: Happy.

TOM: Whichever.

CROW: Night, folks.

                                       |
                                    \  |  /
                                     \ | /
                                      \|/
                                   ----O----
                                      /|\
                                     / | \
                                    /  |  \
                                       |

Disclaimer: Mystery Science Theater 3000, its characters and situations and premise and all that, are the property of … uh … I was going to say Best Brains, but I guess it’s Shout! Factory and Consolidated Puppets? Or something? I’m not positive. Well, it’s theirs, and I’m just using it as long as they don’t notice. Bernarr Macfadden’s “Eating For Death” appeared in the _Physical Culture_ magazine from March 1922 and I believe it to be in the public domain. I ran across it from the Modern Mechanix blog linked above, and it’s a crying shame that’s gone defunct because it was so much fascinating reading. Supporting Snorks: Sad Wikipedia sub-section, or saddest Wikipdia sub-section?

> You can be a palpitating force, a veritable human
> dynamo, or you can be a half-alive mass of human
> flesh — not unlike the jelly-fish.

MiSTed: Eating For Death, Part 1 of 2


So I’m going to run another Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic here. This one’s short enough to do in two segments — it’s a bit long for a single piece — and it’s riffing on an article of dietary advice that the Modern Mechanix blog ran years ago. They used to run weird bits from the back issues of their magazines and it was such a delight. I wrote this somewhere around late 2015, if my notes are right. See if you can spot where I future-proofed a riff!


[ START. The Brains are in the theater. ]

>
> Eating for Death

TOM: My favorite _Columbo_ episode! Patrick McGoohan plays this world-famous chef being blackmailed and …

>
> By Bernarr Macfadden

CROW: Um …

TOM: Yeah, exactly which parts of that name are spelled wrong?

>
> _Physical Culture_, March 1922

MIKE: I forgot to renew my subscription!

>
> THE crime of the age is meal time eating — without
> appetite.

CROW: Also that Sacco and Vanzetti thing. But mostly eating.

TOM: Snacking is the misdemeanor of the age!

>
> It is the direct cause of more suffering,
> weakness and disease than any other evil.

CROW: Even more than not appreciating your parents?

>
> It poisons the life stream at its very source.

TOM: Its Snackables!

>
> “The blood is the life.”

MIKE: The spice is the life?

TOM: The blood is spiced?

> The quality of this
> liquid determines vital activity throughout every part of
> the body.

CROW: I think Bernarr Macfadden grossly underestimates the importance of acetylcholinesterase.

MIKE: You’re *always* accusing people of underestimating the importance of acetylcholinesterase.

CROW: I just think it’s very important is all.

>
> You can be a palpitating force, a veritable human
> dynamo,

TOM: You can be a large turtle-like artificial intelligence!

CROW: You can be a leading importer of cheese to Denmark!

MIKE: You can be several key innovations in the history of Timothy hay!

> or you can be a half-alive mass of human
> flesh — not unlike the jelly-fish.

CROW: Jellyfish are made of human flesh?

TOM: Ew ew ew ew ew ew *ew*.

> It is the quality of
> your blood that determines entirely to which class you
> belong.

CROW: Is this gonna be one of those stories where Bernarr Macfadden finds out his blood was replaced with a high-grade polymer and suddenly nobody will talk to him anymore?

>
> Eating without appetite means devitalized blood.

MIKE: Or that you’re putting more melted cheese on everything.

> The stomach is not ready to digest food at such times.

TOM: It’s off wandering around, taking in museums, reading good books, and then you throw a big slab of bean-and-cheese burrito at it.

>
> It is appetite — a strong craving for food —

CROW: A lesser craving for pottery shards.

> which
> definitely indicates that the stomach is ready for
> digestion.

TOM: Why not just wait for the stomach to call?

CROW: Yeah, like, ‘Hey, stomach here. I’m raring to digest!’

> The food eaten is then keenly enjoyed.

MIKE: Well, it is like 2016.

TOM: So?

MIKE: So who calls for *that*? That’s more like a tweet or a text message or something.

CROW: Excuse *us* for maintaining some dignified propriety, Mike.

>
> The pleasure in eating serves a very valuable
> purpose.

MIKE: It gives us a reason to go eat a second time, sometime.

> It not only causes an unusual activity of the
> salivary glands, but also of the glands of the stomach.

TOM: Glands! Is your stomach going through puberty?

CROW: It’s so awkward to have esophageal zits.

> So that when the food arrives in this organ, digestion
> and assimilation progress rapidly and satisfactorily.

MIKE: Though not without some sarcasm.

>
> Now when you eat without appetite, these
> invaluable functional processes are inactive or entirely
> absent

TOM: They take one sabbatical year and everything comes crashing down!

> and the food can do nothing but lie like lead in
> the stomach.

MIKE: Stop eating lead! There’s your problem.

>
> You say it won’t digest.

TOM: *You* say it won’t digest. We’re just nibbling some here.

> Why should it? No
> self-respecting stomach will allow itself to be outraged
> in this manner, without protest.

MIKE: My stomach’s wracked with depression and low self-esteem though.

CROW: Well, so you can eat any old time.

MIKE: Which … fits.

>
> Eat at meal time if you are hungry, but if the
> food has no taste respect the mandates of your stomach

MIKE: And sprinkle on the MSG powder.

> and wait until the next meal or until your appetite
> appears, even if it takes several meals or several days.

TOM: If you never eat again, then you may be losing weight.

[ To conclude … ]

60s Popeye: Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon so why is it about Popeye?


We have seen the name W Schmidt before. He was credited or co-credited for the story for Popeye the Popular Mechanic, for Popeye the Piano Mover, and Popeye the White Collar Man. The Internet Movie Database also credits him for the story for Popeye the Fireman, though the title card says otherwise. Given that pedigree it’s odd to see a cartoon suggesting Wimpy gets a job instead. Volus Jones gets the animation direction credit, and Jack Kinney produced. Here’s the 1960 sort Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon.

Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.

But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.

In the kitchen, Brutus laughs at Popeye, who's fallen and is covered by a set of pots and pans and strainers and such. Popeye's oversized spinach hoagie sits on a table.
My friends with kitchen jobs tell me it’s like this all the time.

The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.

60s Popeye: Spinach Shortage and so is Brutus just a food tycoon this cartoon?


We have many things to thank Jack Kinney for, this cartoon. One is producing and directing it. Another is the story. Animation direction’s credited to Alan Zaslove, though. Here’s the 1960 short Spinach Shortage.

Ask someone to describe a Popeye cartoon and they’ll give you a plot-driven summary. Popeye and Olive are doing something, Bluto/Brutus horns in, Popeye eats his spinach, beats up the bad guy. But ask what makes a Popeye cartoon interesting, especially the black-and-white ones. You get a response more useful to making lasting cartoons: it’s the mood. Popeye facing a silly or perilous situation and muttering silly comments. If you want a good Popeye cartoon, get a premise and a couple solid scenes riffing on it.

Spinach Shortage isn’t quite there. It’s got a good premise. Bluto/Brutus has tried to deny Popeye spinach before (see the inspired How Green Is My Spinach) but the idea is sound. And it takes a different angle here: Brutus has cornered the world spinach market and just won’t sell to … well, there’s a mystery.

Is this cartoon’s Brutus trying to get Popeye? Or just to get rich? He spends a lot more time chuckling about the rise of spinach prices than about what this is doing to Popeye. At one point he says how spinach has gone up to 10.25 per ton, and later to 50 per ton. That seems low, even for 60-year-old prices. But what do I know the price-per-ton of spinach? This brought me to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. This brought me to learn I don’t know how to read a USDA Agricultural Marketing Service report on spinach commodity pricing. I can see where most every market is “steady” or “about steady”, which seems nice. Another site says that in 2014 spinach for canning was about $68 per ton, so I guess Brutus’s quotations were in line.

Sign reading 'SOLD OUT!'
Yeah, I remember when spinach was something you ate for the music. Now? It’s all about affecting a consumerist pose. Total sellouts.

Back on point, though. The cartoon has this dreamlike flow to it. Popeye stocked up his spinach supply last week. It evaporates as he walks over to it. Popeye searches and finds nothing but store signs about there being no spinach. Popeye tries to break in to Brutus’s warehouses. The scenes feel like when Speedy Gonzales is trying to break into the cheese factory past Sylvester or Daffy Duck. Except the plot demands Popeye fail in ways Speedy can’t. Popeye tries riding a balloon into the warehouse, and falls into the sewer, to climb into the warehouse, and find he can’t pry open a box. It’s almost a nightmare logic of obstacles temporarily overcome and then renewed.

Reel out the events and I guess there’s a thread of action that makes sense. The cartoon’s most interesting, though, when it’s being strange. Popeye’s spinach stock disappearing. The progression of signs telling Popeye there’s no spinach. Good, strong, weird scenes.

So why don’t I call this is a good cartoon? I’m not sure. I’m near to reasoning myself into calling this good. But then I have to explain why I more enjoyed writing about it than watching it. I notice the strongest scenes are all front-loaded. Popeye trying to break into the spinach warehouse is a bit pathetic for one of the first generation of superheros. There’s some nice silliness in the ways Popeye tries to break in, like trying a fishing pole to snag a can, or riding a balloon. But they’re also mundane, at least for a cartoon world. Too plot-driven a way to break in, and to have the attempts fail.

Heap of spinach spilled over a box. Sitting up is a silhouette of Popeye in spinach; just his pipe is clear and not covered in the leafy green vegetables.
So if this cartoon’s Brutus doesn’t know who Popeye is, then he just went and tried to kill a guy who was just trespassing. If this cartoon’s Brutus does know who Popeye is, then he just went and dropped a heap of spinach on him. I don’t insist that characters never take actions against their own interests but it seems like Brutus should have thought through what he wanted to accomplish a bit more.

The cartoon ends with Popeye punching Brutus into an Eat More Spinach billboard. There’s no hint that Brutus’s corner of the spinach market will end, or that spinach supplies will return to normal. This isn’t the first cartoon to not bother establishing the status quo will return. And goodness knows we don’t need reassurance that in the future Popeye will eat spinach. It does feel like an unresolved chord, though. I can defend this. We don’t need the central premise of a nightmare resolved to finish the nightmare. It could be the cartoon needs to lean more into the nightmare feeling.

60s Popeye: County Fair, and that’s about all there is to say about it


Are we back to 1961? Yes, we’re back to 1961, and Paramount Cartoon Studios. County Fair is directed by Seymour Kneitel, like every Famous Studios or Paramount Studios Popeye short. The story’s credited to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer.

The Popeye Wikia for this short summaries it: “Popeye and Brutus are farmers who enter a county fair contest to see who is the best. As per usual, Brutus resorts to cheating.” It’s a struggle to think of more to say about it. This group of people had been making Popeye cartoons for 28 years when this was made. They could probably have done it in their sleep.

What I expect from a Paramount-made cartoon, here, is that it’ll be crafted correctly. The animation will be sluggish, but it won’t have errors. The writing will be plain, but will make sense. We’ll never have a baffling fiasco of a cartoon. The worst that will happen is the cartoon will be dull.

And that’s what we have. It’s your standard Popeye-versus-Brutus contest, going several rounds with Brutus cheating. Remarkably his cheats work half the time. In this sort of setup I expect either all the cheats to work or none of them to work. The score being tied at the last event is novel. Also the last event is spinach-eating. That’s an odd choice; all the other events sound like County Fair contests. But, it’s a Popeye cartoon, the spinach has to be somewhere.

Farmer Brutus and the pig he holds looking shocked and amazed that Farmer Popeye has his arms full of dozens of wrapped hams.
Oh, here’s the other moment of personality this cartoon. Popeye winning the hog-calling contest demands he do something spectacular with calling a hog. So it has to be either he gets an enormous number of pigs, or at least one tremendous pig, or, this, here to horrify that adorable pig Brutus has.

Fleas a Crowd I liked as a solidly competent cartoon with flashes of wit or imagination or silliness. Here’s another cartoon solidly competent. It lacks those flashes, though; even the cartoon’s title is a generic content description. Its only distinctive part is Popeye and Brutus trying to distract each other at the tastiest beef-burger contest, about 7:00 in the video. (Why not say ‘hamburger’? Surely there weren’t enough turkey burgers or other variants in 1961 that you’d need to specify a beef-based hamburger.) They do a couple rounds that are almost literally, “Hey, look at the distraction!” I can imagine being annoyed by this and calling it laziness if I were in a foul mood. As it is, I’m basically happy, so I see it as a gleeful embrace of the artifice or something.

Still, I’ve watched this cartoon three times in the last 72 hours, and will remember nothing of it 72 hours from now.

60s Popeye: Barbecue for Two, which has to be good since Popeye’s in his old outfit


So this is a weird one. It’s back to the Jack Kinney studios, with a cartoon produced and directed by Kinney himself. The story’s credited to Dick Kinney and Al Bertino. And it’s dated 1960, in a title card that sure looks like the copyright was superimposed later. The credits warn that it’s going to be a cartoon to pay attention to. The production credits are given this striking rhombus background, for one thing. And the music is abnormally long for the King Features run. We’ll get into more of these peculiar things in Barbecue for Two.

So if you’re not alert to the subtleties of animation production, like, if you’re a kid watching these cartoons, you maybe realize something’s strange about this. We settle in to Popeye’s suburban home, although it’s not his usual Boring Suburban Home from Kinney productions. But the real giveaway is our first look at Popeye. He’s not in the white, Navy-derived sailor suit. He’s back in black/navy-blue, like in the comics and the 1930s cartoons. Also he looks … somehow more squished and angular at once.

The Popeye Wikia says this was “the pilot” for the King Features Popeye cartoons. The Internet Movie Database says it was the first short made for TV, but that Hits and Missiles became the pilot. Who’s right? Clearly, impossible to know. But this sure reads as the pilot, particularly for having different models for all the characters. And for how studiously they avoid naming Brutus. The closest we get is an admiring Olive Oyl saying of Popeye’s neighbor, “What a handsome brute [ something ]!”

Popeye holding in his arms Swee'Pea, Wimpy, and Brutus. Popeye's wearing his old blue sailor suit. The sky behind is the same pea-soup-green as the lawn.
I suppose Popeye knows what he’s doing, but, Swee’Pea on the left and Wimpy AND Brutus on the right? That’s a heck of an unbalanced load. I’d put Wimpy and Swee’Pea on one side and Brutus on the other. Save your hips the agony.

The premise is that Popeye wants to have Olive Oyl over for a barbecue for, well, it’s there in the title. Brutus intrudes, becoming obsessed with getting in on the action. This would be obnoxious except Popeye starts the aggressions here, swiping petunias from right under Brutus’s nose. Wimpy joins the action because he can smell the hamburgers. Swee’Pea jumps in because he’s very young and should have some adult at least within screaming range. Brutus starts hitting on Olive Oyl by singing the rock-and-roll she loves. His lyric, “Don’t drop no mustard on my clean white shirt, baby”, is just wonderful, and his swaying, like he’s me trying to dance, is an extra nice goofy bit.

Olive Oyl rejecting Popeye’s square music evokes Coffee House, the Beatnik cartoon, certainly. The other Jack Kinney cartoon this makes me think of, though, is Popeye’s Car Wash, for its plot structure. Particularly for the way Popeye has to run between several stations — hamburgers to Wimpy, the swing for Swee’Pea — before getting back to fighting Brutus, or trying to.

I like this short, but have to admit it’s a complicated liking. The models for the characters are weird. Our first view of him is the skinniest Wimpy apart from the weight-loss cartoon I’m sure they did. There’s some snappy lines in it, such as Olive Oyl declaring, “If there’s nothing I like the least, no-gentlemen is the most”, or observing, “What’s that? A plane? A train? A rocket? It’s Wimpy!” Or there’s weird lines. Thinking here of Brutus taking off Olive Oyl’s shoe and dropping lumps of sugar in. Less good, and more baffling, is Brutus’s rage at being called Junior. I cannot see how this is a “sissy” name and I wonder if some other name got changed to Junior in the recording. His declaration “My name is … ” before Popeye punches him across the continent (and knocks the world off-axis) is a funny bit for everyone who noticed the avoidance of Brutus’s name.

Olive Oyl and Brutus singing together, caught at a moment when Olive Oyl's mouth is wide open and looking a bit Pac-Man-ish, really. The sky behind them is this solid green mass.
I know this isn’t a very good look, but that muddy green is just what the sky looked like before the Clean Air Act.

Much of the music sounds, to my ear, like leftover Famous Studios sound cues. This makes sense for a pilot. There are a few bits where Popeye huffs his pipe. It’s a faint thing, softer than the huffing he does in other shorts.

It’s always easy to like the first, or first couple, episodes of a series. They tend to be weirder, and that stands out. I suppose if the whole cartoon series were like this then this one wouldn’t stand out. As a one-off, showing a way that Popeye might have been animated and wasn’t? It’s compelling.

Popeye’s still being a jerk about those petunias, though.

In Which I Just Get Mean About Trick-Or-Treating During The Pandemic


“It’s perfectly safe to go trick-or-treating while the pandemic’s out of control,” say parents who for the past ten years have had the cops X-ray their kids’ Jolly Ranchers. Sure. All right. I’m calling your bluff. I’m handing out popcorn balls.

Related issue: I have no idea how to make popcorn balls. My best ideas for how involve, spraying a handful of popcorn with glue? Maybe rolling some kernels with silly putty until it all coheres? There’s some trick to it, I’m sure. Oh, right, of course there’s a trick, because it isn’t trick exclusive or treat. Don’t mind me, I’ll run out of whatever mood this is soon.

So, Turns Out Fortunes Are Hard To Make


OK so I would totally be out of here and busy being rich, but it turns out my plans for a food planer ran into some problems. Like, you have to make one, and then you have to make millions, and then you have to sell them. And sure, everybody gets the idea. But then pressing something that smooths out the peanut butter and then going to smooth out the sour cream? That gets some mixes that just don’t go over well. I’m sure this can all be sorted out but honestly? I’m getting to think that being rich is just too much effort.

In Which My Fortune Is All But Made


Yeah so I had the idea for the invention that’s going to make me rich beyond all reasonable dreams. It’s a food planer, so you can use it to level out the surface of your ice cream or peanut butter or, heck, even sour cream, and get the experience of breaking the nice smooth surface every single time. Thanks for being with me in my journey through life up to this point, where I get fame and wealth and the acclaim and thanks of the millions, but obviously now I need to drop all this blogging foolishness and go into doing whatever it is wealthy people do all day. Rebalancing portfolios or something. Been fun writing; see you later!

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is banana bread hard to make? June – August 2020


Banana bread is not hard to make. Toby is just Toby.

So that catches you up on Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the end of August 2020. If you’re reading this after about December 2020, or if any news about Mary Worth develops, I’ll try to post it here.

Meanwhile, on my other blog, I’m going through the alphabet explaining mathematics terms. Also, at the end of this month, I’m hosting the Playful Math Education Blog Carnival. That’s a gathering of educational and recreational mathematics writing. If you know something mathematical that delighted you, please, let me know. More people would like to know it, too.

Mary Worth.

8 June – 30 August 2020.

Delightfully grumpy Saul Wynter had niece Madi as houseguest for the summer. Her father had to go to Venezuela for The Company, so I trust they mean he’s part of another inept CIA coup attempt. Madi’s mother died years ago. Madi’s grandmother — Saul’s cousin — just died, and Madi’s not coping well. But what else is there to do? Let her stay with a friend? After many walks with his rescued shelter dog Greta, Saul thinks he’s ready for a summer with Madi.

Saul Wynter: 'Madi, I'll show you the spare bedroom where you'll be staying. You can put your things in here.' Madi, looking at her phone: 'Fine.' Saul: 'Oh, that's my dachshund. Let me introduce you to Greta.' Greta looks up, wagging. Madi: 'Ew! Keep it AWAY from me!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of June, 2020. First, I love that Saul Wynter’s interior decorating is “pictures of my dog” and “pictures of me with my dog”, although it’d be nice if we saw some of Bella, his beloved previous dog, too. Second: I am so anxious about Madi’s clothes spilling out of her luggage there. I know it’s just stuff she’d had in the living room so she’s moving it like fifteen feet but still. Also she pulled a bunch of her stuff out in the living room before she’d seen the spare bedroom for some reason.

Oh, but hardly! Why, Madi is sullen, and messy, and on her phone like ALL the TIME. More, she doesn’t like dogs and shoos the timid but friendly Greta off. Greta returns the courtesy, ripping up a shirt she’d left on the floor. Everybody gets stressed out and Greta hides under the bed.

It goes on like this until the start of July when Mary Worth’s meddle-sense finally kicks in. Once she’s aware of friction between housemates Mary Worth can not act fast enough. She has them over for lunch, teleporting them into her kitchen before Saul Wynter gets off the phone. “It’s all right, Mary Worth just does that,” Saul reassures Madi. Mary Worth notices Madi noticing her flowers, and Madi admits her grandmother loved color. Mary Worth agrees: color is one of her favorite intensive properties of matter, up there with viscosity and specific gravity. Mary Worth coaxes Madi to an afternoon at the pool. And to have cookies, since her grandmother was a great cook.

Mary Worth: 'Tell me more ... about your grandmother.' [ When Mary gives Madi a flower. ] Madi: 'Gram loved colorful things.' Mary Worth: 'She must have loved your hair ... the colors.' Madi: 'She loved *me*.' Mary worth: 'People we love who've passed away are still with us in spirit. Love is the bridge that connects us. Something may remind you of her, or you may have a feeling of her near you. That's her watching over you, loving you still.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of July, 2020. That is a lot of meddle Mary Worth is offering considering Madi has said just seven words about her feeling. Also, the word balloon break in the top row adds a level of sinister they can’t have intended. Unless they’re writing a bit for us ironic readers, I guess.

At the pool Mary Worth asks Madi about her grandmother, and listens a short while. She comments how things Madi does to remember her are nice. How we honor loved ones by imitating the good they did. Have to say, Mary Worth’s meddle game is on.

Madi resists the suggestion to get to know Saul and Greta, though. She complains her Gram’s died, her life’s “shaken”, and she’s living all summer with a grouchy old man and his dog. She makes a fair point. Mary Worth talks about Greta’s long time spent looking for a home and Madi rolls her eyes all the way into Gil Thorp. But she invites Mary Worth to jump into the pool and that helps some. She says Mary Worth reminds her of Gram.

Madi is flopped on her bed, crying. Greta the dachshund comes up and stand up on hindlegs to examine her. Greta hops up and lies down beside Madi.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 1st of August, 2020. It’s adorable but how did Greta get up on the bed?

This meddles Madi at least into being a quiet sullen who doesn’t put her feet on the couch. She’s still crying at night, though. Until Greta pokes in and squeezes up against her because dog. And that fixes the problem of her not liking dogs. At least not liking Greta.

So way back when this story started an incident happened that I didn’t think rated mention. Toby was having trouble making desserts for a Charterstone meeting. I thought it was no more than a bit of color along the way to the actual Saul-and-Madi-and-Greta story. I should have known better. Mary Worth isn’t some slapdash strip that would leave a plot point like that hanging. And the resolution of this launches the end of the story to greatness. From the 5th of August we see Toby struggling again to make dessert for, I think, a different Charterstone meeting.

Toby on the phone: 'Mary, I need your help!' Mary Worth: 'What's wrong, Toby? What happened?' Toby, in her itchen, the counter filled with batters and banana peels and eggs splattered on the counter and all: 'I'm making banana bread for the next Charterstone meeting, and the recipe doesn't make sense!' Mary Worth: 'I'll be over soon. Do you mind if I bring a friend?'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 6th of August, 2020. “I don’t understand how but my kitchen is a Slylock Fox Six Differences puzzle! A bird just swooped in here and carried off a fish that does or does not have a gill slit, and there’s a cat pointing and laughing at me!” “No, no, Toby, we’ve been through this. That cat is always pointing and laughing at you. Also that cat is Professor Ian Cameron, your husband. Remember?”

Toby needs Mary Worth’s help: she can’t figure out the banana bread recipe. This raises many questions, among them: what, she can’t go to Bake-N-Cakes and buy dessert? I concede the plot requirement that Toby be working on something a 13-year-old could plausibly have experience with. But, like, the banana bread recipe at AllRecipes.com is seven ingredients, one of which is “bananas”. It has three steps, one of which is “preheat oven and grease pan”. (Snark aside, I think AllRecipe’s step two is over-stuffed. I would break that into three or four steps, one for each time something’s mixed or poured into a new bowl.) Toby’s kitchen is a wasteland of ruined bananas, spent eggs, and viscous puddles of things. I can’t swear that her ice cubes weren’t somehow on fire. If we the audience had not seen that, I would theorize this was a setup to trick Madi into opening up. Instead, no, we have to suppose that Toby is a person who can’t parse “In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar”.

Madi comes with Mary Worth. Toby provides an example of her failed banana bread, so Madi never suspects she’s being patronized. A person who can’t “stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended” is not trying to outthink a 13-year-old. Madi offers that her Gram made banana bread with a “secret ingredient” and she decides, finally, to let Toby know what it is. With the secret Toby tries again and now she has a successful banana bread! The little project makes all the difference. From here on Madi’s a pleasant friendly teen and likes Greta and Saul and Mary Worth and feels bad for Toby and everything.

Toby: 'Madi *what* did your Gram put in her banana bread?' Madi: 'It's a secret ... ' (She leans up, to whisper into Toby's ear.) 'But I'll tell you since you *really* need it ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 11th of August, 2020. “It’s `bananas’. You put bananas in the bread.”

So from the 18th of August we move into the ritual of thanking Mary Worth for everything. This story she did do something to be thanked for. Madi’s decided her summer turned out great. And she’s going to be a chef and bring her Gram’s recipes to everyone. And hey, her dad’s been released by Venezuela counter-intelligence, so he’ll be swinging by to pick her up soon and we can … never see her again I guess. We haven’t quite gotten to Madi’s last strip, much less any hint what the next story is. I expect that to start next week.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

[ Back to GRIFFY, on his quest --- he enters the MARY WORTH strip! ] Jeff, on the phone: 'What should I do? There's this oddly drawn guy here, looking for a missing girl!' Griffy: 'I need so see Mary!' [ Soon ] Griffy: 'Morning, Ms worth! I'm from th' Zippy comic! Can we talk?' Mary Worth: 'Young man, you need help, all right. Th'kind only a MENTAL HEALTH professional can provide!' (Griffy, thinking) 'Uh-oh! I'm frozen in place and unable to speak under th'withering gaze of Mary Worth!!'
Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead for the 19th of August, 2002. So the Auto Care place has been updating its signs, but just to announce when they would reopen after the Covid-19 shutdown, and then to thank the Lansing Economic Development Corporation for assistance and that’s all fine enough. There’s just no way to turn those into inspirational-despair messages, is all.

  • “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” — Elon Musk, 7 June 2020.
  • “No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does.” — Christopher Morley, 14 June 2020.
  • “It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it.” — W Somerset Maugham, 21 June 2020.
  • “When anger rises, think of the consequences” — Confucius, 28 June 2020.
  • “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.” — Lily Tomlin, 5 July 2020.
  • “Be a little kinder than you have to.” — E Lockhart, 12 July 2020.
  • “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” — Lady Bird Johnson, 19 July 2020.
  • “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” — Steve Maraboli, 26 July 2020.
  • “I don’t think people really realize or understand just how wonderful and special dogs are.” — Robert Crais, 2 August 2020.
  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” — Thomas H Palmer, 9 August 2020.
  • “Take care of all your memories, for you cannot relive them.” — Bob Dylan, 16 August 2020.
  • “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” — Gertrude Stein, 23 August 2020.
  • “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” — Helen Keller, 30 August 2020.

Next Week!

I don’t have to worry what Mary Worth is doing. I’ll be updating you on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) unless something forces me to do otherwise. Thanks for reading.

Understanding Chocolate


There’s an advertisement in the local alt-weekly for “Chocolate your body understands”. That’s a mind-expanding exercise for you. My body, you may have gathered, never had trouble understanding any chocolate, no matter what funny accent the chocolate might have put on. But, we are asked to accept for the premise of this advertisement, there are chocolates that bodies can’t understand. The bodies try, surely, by such methods as speaking more loudly at the chocolate, but nothing comes across. Some other food group, perhaps a sauce of some kind, must come in to serve as interpreter. (Oh, finally the purpose of peanut butter is clear!) But now all these indignities of translation end, and we can just eat chocolate, so they promise.

I bet it’s not as simple as they pretend. There’s probably some classwork your body has to take before it talks with the chocolate again.

But What Does Make Sense For Major Charles Winchester


Since my brain is unwilling to let this go: if he had his family back home send crates of Charles Chips. I am making this joke because I feel like being a seven-year-old who has noticed a word appearing in more than one place and I am going to stand a little too close to you and smile, showing slightly too many teeth, until you agree this is very clever, which I will realize much later is not the same thing as ‘funny’. Yeah, delivery potato chips would be pretty well smashed up by the time they got to Korea but hey, some people like that. You can spackle them together with dip and make a barely edible wad of material that’s sweet, salty, and has lots of sharp edges. That’s definitely in character for Major Winchester.

Statistics 2010s: Ten Things Of The Decade Just Passed


  • August 22. everyone who had a part in this day, give yourselves a fresh round of applause without being unseemly about it.
  • Cheddar II: Cheddiest. From out of Nowhere, Connecticut, 06269, this new flavor, appearing in ouch-y sharp, dangerous in its pointedness, somewhat polyhedral, and mint, has taken over the world of cheese and opened up new avenues in being so much more than the inspirational cheddar that it’s not hard to see why old-fashioned cheddar is expected within the next two years to go the way of the original, almost forgotten ched.
  • once-in-shakespeare.com Where else but this scrappy new start-up can one get a convenient listing of all the words that appear in the canonical plays of William Shakespeare one time? Anyone can produce a list of all the words, just by shaking a collected edition on its side until the pieces fall out, but who’s going to take out the duplicates and grow new authors with them?
  • Raised Flooring. After years of drop-down ceilings being the cliche and overused answer to ways to make a room seem more claustrophobic we have this alternative. Unexpected bonuses include having more things to count while bored, and the improved sense of balance as people try to walk on those bar things from which the floor panels are hung. This will inspire grace in our walking like Groucho Marx if nothing else will.
  • How the English language has no solitary word for the feeling of uncertainty that accompanies thinking that one’s socks are damp when there’s no chance for taking one’s shoes off to check or to change them no matter how much we need a word for exactly this sensation. This single loss has saved millions of dollars and dozens of lines of newspaper type in just the past month. And think of all the people it’s inspired to try to buy less painful shoes. Yes, yes, you can put together a bunch of words to get the same sense across. It’s not the same.
  • Flatware. There is nothing which soothes the desperate need to buy flatware quite like flatware, and we should all be glad the flatware industry exists to satisfy this need. Be warned: much so-called flatware these days is not in fact flat, but extends into a third or even a fourth spatial dimension. If you have no choice but to purchase this imitation flatware do speak to the steamroller operator with whom you’re on good terms — you are on good terms with at least one steamroller operator, aren’t you? — to arrange for the appropriate enflattening.
  • March 10. Nobody’s saying it’s a patch on August 22, but it’s still really good all around and everybody deserves to take a bow for that too.
  • Adverbs. These sentence-stuffers had a great run and it’s a shame that we’re scheduled to lose them if the conversion to Modifiers.6 ever happens. Still, anyone who’s ever had to write to a specified word count has relied on their ability to be added to or removed from sentences and they will be missed, like when someone notices the `a’ or `an’ doesn’t match with the next word anymore.
  • Sriracha Automobiles. For the past fifteen years sriracha has been slipping almost unnoticed into everything, starting with sandwiches, then cooking shows, then books, then consumer electronics, and now into the important industries of Navy ships and personal automobiles. No one may know where sriracha comes from or what it intends, but we can be sure that it’s here and it’s unavoidable, and that with the proper setup it can be used for good or at least to not be so frightening, and that earns it a place on this list.
  • Simple Thermometers. Despite fears no important features of the weather developed into the imaginary and then the complex number plane. So despite the shortages in Complex Thermometers none were needed, except for that stretch in fall where the temperature became one of the principal roots of a heptic polynomial. But for the most part we got along just fine with the old-fashioned thermometers and isn’t that one of the ten things about the decade just finished?

I Didn’t Have Time To Deal With Spider-Man’s Stuff Today


So please here take a moment to point and snicker at a pepper plant that, despite having ALL SUMMER LONG to work on it, never managed to grow more than about four inches tall. And then used that chance to spit out like fourteen green peppers, most of them taller than it is.

So to sum up, plants: what’s the deal, huh? Seriously, what the heck? You know? Right?

A small green pepper plant, with three full-grown peppers, reaching to the ground behind its roughly five-inch height. My hand is behind the peppers.
These peppers are going to make such a great one-fourteenth of a meal!

Answers below.

Statistics Saturday: Unhealthiest Cookies, According To Nutritionists


  • Lady Middle Fingers
  • Quicksandwich cookies
  • Bleak-and-white cookies
  • Laser biscotti
  • Oatmeal/rusty-nail cookies
  • Gingerdead
  • Antimatter macaroons
  • Southern Pecan Mouth-Sealer
  • Anhydrous pfeffernüsse
  • Mega-Shrapnel Oreo
  • Linzer Taipan
  • Dynamite-and-custard cream

Reference: Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps, Peter Galison

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Three


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.


It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.

The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.

Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?

Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.

That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.

All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.

All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage One


The gang agrees a road trip would be great. It’s been so long since the last one. There’s not going to be many more good chances this year. The weather’s getting to be more of itself. Work is getting busier. There’s the chance the state might discontinue roads for the rest of the year. No telling. If we don’t get to it soon we might never start at all.

Which car to use? There’s the obvious choice. That’s the one that would reach its scheduled service mileage about one-third of the way through the trip. That’s … something we could handle? … Right? … Daniel insists he can handle it. Nobody believes it. The cashier at Pita Pit asks Daniel if he’s all right, or if he’s lying about something powerfully important to him. The guy at the car wash just leans in and hugs him, saying, “I don’t know why but, man, something about you says you need this. Whatever it is, it’ll get better.” Amanda’s the first to admit this won’t work, though, even after finding car dealerships roughly along the planned path.

It’ll be Josh’s car instead. It’s less comfortable. But Josh insists he’s glad to host the trip. “It’ll be great! I can finally get updates to all my state maps!” Nobody’s sure whether this is serious. But in that little cubbyhole in his car doors are a lot of maps. So many maps. Gas station maps. Maps from Esso gas stations. A map of the Washington, D.C. area that still shows “Lee Family Estate” where Arlington National Cemetery should be. A map showing the Colonie of Nieuw-Nederland. It’s pristine. His car is three years old. There have always been things about Josh nobody understood. Now, knowing a little more, everyone knows him less.

Road snack purchases are a hot debate. There’s the faction that wants things bought ahead of time, so the gang can set off without false starts. There’s the faction that sees the false start as tradition. There’s the faction that insists there’s rest areas on the highway for a reason. Amanda tries to be the sensible one and insists road snacks aren’t necessary if everyone just eats good meals. There seem to be more factions than people going.

Fourteen hours of heated debate spread over three chat groups, none of which have all the participants in it, agrees at least to go to the same convenience store and stock up. This after ninety minutes of argument about the supermarket being cheaper. Or the neighborhood grocery store being better for the long term economic health of small business all right THANK YOU we get it. It’s twenty-five bucks’ worth of Fritos, economic justice doesn’t enter into it.

The cooler issue will not settle. There’s good economic reasons to get bottles of soda, even small bottles, and keep them in cooler. This crashes into the faction that fresh-poured fountain drinks taste better. A hard-shell cooler works better but bangs the knees of everyone in back. A soft-shell cooler fits between people but Sophia’s read things about breeding bacteria? Somehow? It’s all very tiring.

The day before the trip the low-tire-pressure light comes on. Josh has a pressure gauge for just this problem. It’s not the front driver’s side tire. It’s not the rear driver’s side tire. It’s not the front passenger’s side tire. It’s not the rear passenger’s side tire. Two hours of increasingly cross words follow in three of the now-five group chats. Fourteen separate web searches for symptoms follow. Eight of them end up on Yahoo Answers. Despair sets in. Sophia has the breakthrough insight: could it be the spare tire? Yes, it could, but it is not. Thirty minutes later the low-tire-pressure light stops lighting. Daniel offers it was his suggestion to put electrical tape over the dashboard that did it. The real explanation remains unknown. Perhaps the tires just wanted some attention.

“Fritos are not a matter of economic justice” becomes the newest in-joke for the group. Three and a half years later it switches to being Cheetos not being a matter of economic justice. No one is able to explain this phenomenon. It becomes a matter of great angry debate when anyone tries to insist that it was originally Fritos.

Regarding Another Cinematic Universe Or Two


I’ve realized there must be a fan theory that the fondly-yet-dimly-remembered summer camp movie series Meatballs shares a continuity with the beloved-I-assume series of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs movies. This would be the dullest fan theory not to include the phrase “dying hallucination of”.

Eight Things There Are To Say About Mealtimes


Mealtime. It’s a great-sounding word. It pairs together two great syllables. Well, the first syllable is great. The second syllable is that thing that reminds us we should have got this all done before. Still, “mealtime” together? That’s some nice stuff. Even better if the stuff includes, like, a gravy of some kind. Less good if the mealtime includes one of those Very Internet Persons who wants to argue about whether chili is a sandwich or hot dogs are soup.

How much do we really know about mealtimes? Not as much as we could, surely. The average person knows only about 95% of everything they might care to know about mealtimes. This could be improved, one way or another.

Mealtimes may seem like traditions fixed since time immemorial. It turns out that “time immemorial” usually means something a lot closer to 1956 than people admit. Also it’s not so much “fixed” as it is “it would make someone else’s life easier if we tried a little harder”. That person also deserves a lunch sometime they could predict.

Still, meals have been a lot more flexible in their scheduling and content than we realize. This until we notice that we’ve been “a couple minutes late” on dinner every day for the last six years. Also that by “a couple minutes” we mean 95 minutes. Also that by dinner we mean “two items taken, at random, from the freezer and heated up”. This most recently included a chunk of orange juice concentrate dating to the 2008 Financial Crisis. That usually makes people aware of what they’re doing with mealtimes, momentarily.

Still, there are common patterns in the times of meals. Dinner, for example, used to be a midday meal, had somewhere around noon. This shifted in the early 19th century, when the busy residents of New York City found it was too much bother to get home at that hour. Dinner moved first to 2 pm, then to about 8 pm, then back to 6 pm. In 1934 it moved back to 11:30 am the next day. This had the neat side effect of ending the half-day of work on Saturdays, since otherwise Saturday dinner would interrupt Sunday brunch. And thus the modern weekend was born.

Dinner kept moving later and later, though, and people reasonably got fed up having to wait so long. Oh, that exciting day in 1955, though, when the whole population started to say, “you know, I am fed up with waiting for dinner” and then heard themselves say that out loud. So they started having a quick, supper-like meal, eaten at dinnertime. Dinner as we originally knew it faded away, except for historical reenactments. It’s currently estimated to be around 3:35 pm, two days after.

Lunch has often been around noon. The trick is when noon happens. Yes, we think of noon as being at that 12:00 that has a morning just before it. But that’s just the chance result of the French Revolutionary Calendar. What noon is supposed to be is “nine”. This is not necessarily nine in the morning, nor in the evening. It’s supposed to be nine hours past the moment that’s nine hours before noon. How that ended up at 12:00 remains a mystery. Anyway I usually eat lunch late myself.

Breakfast is an interesting meal to time. In the old days, sure, people were fasting all the time. It added some panache to the famine going on. But even when food was plentiful there were problems. You could see, for example, religious prohibitions against eating meat on Fridays or Tuesdays. Or against eating milk on unseasonably warm days. Against eating eggs that haven’t been kept in a pot of water. Against eating things with the letter “r” in them before the Apocalypse. The trouble with finding a thing to eat was resolved in the 13th century, when a series of church councils came around to the idea that when the letter “r” appears in “breakfast” it is serving as a kind of devotional bread. Happily these councils got the matters settled first thing in the morning, first day of the meeting. And so we have breakfast right at the start of the day.

Will there be new mealtimes yet invented? It’s hard to say. Most of us have settled into a modern pattern where we kind of keep grabbing small things and ingesting them. And we don’t have any time to do anything properly anymore. But what if research projects to inject new hours into the day, such as the experimental R o’clock, works? We might get something good yet.

Statistics Saturday: Things That Non-Vegetarians Think The Rest Of Us Need To Hear


  • Salad isn’t food! Salad is what food eats!
  • You know, chickens are really mean to other chickens.
  • I’d love to be vegetarian but then I couldn’t put bacon on everything.
  • You know, the Indian word for ‘vegetarian’ is ‘bad hunter’.
  • Yeah, that’s cool but some of us have to be the carnivores.
  • You know, the Humane Society of the United States is a lobbying group, not an animal shelter.
  • Oh, yeah, this is a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. They make a great tuna steak.
  • So when you go for fast food are you, like, just there to be all smug about everyone getting their chicken nuggets or stuff?
  • I couldn’t possibly keep up with all the measurements and supplements and stuff you have to do to be a vegetarian. I’m impressed.
  • You know, you get E coli from lettuce.
  • You know, almost nobody actually has a problem digesting gluten, you can just eat whatever you want if you haven’t actually been to an allergy specialist.
  • That’s all right, I’ll eat enough sausage for both of us!
  • Wait, that’s got cheese on it, you can’t eat cheese, right?
  • It’s so weird you want, like, burgers that taste like meat but that nobody has to kill a cow for, instead of something really vegetarian.
  • You know, hamsters will eat their own babies if you let them.
  • So when you go for fast food do they, like, just throw a handful of yard clippings in your face?

Reference: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Paul Fargis, Sheree Bykofsky.

Thinking About Rotini


Boy, do you ever look at a box of machine-extruded rotini and think about all the generations of pasta-carvers plying their trade? Rotating this thick noodle base and chiseling away a long and deep enough groove to make that spiral? Learning how to have a steady enough hand as to not chop the rotini up into too-short a length, or making the spiral tread too shallow or the vanes too thick? And doing it fast enough that they could carve away a whole dinner’s worth of pasta in the time it takes to make a meal? And then all those centuries of accumulated experience being wiped away in favor of pasta-making machines that don’t need any humanity to them.

Hey, totally unrelated yet fun fact: my sister-in-law won’t let me tell her kids anything without a responsible grownup supervising.

In Which I Misunderstand A Food Objective


I wasn’t listening very closely to the teaser for the Mister Food segment on the noon news Friday. I thought the guy said he was going to show off a “dessert that would be worthy of the Renaissance”. So that kept me hanging on for the whole commercial break. What would this be? My best guess: a slab of honeycomb on top of marzipan, covered in nut-megg and tobacco leaves, bludgeoned the one tymme with a sugar-cayne.

Anyway it turns out they were doing a Kentucky Derby tie in. They had said a “dessert that would be worthy of the Winner’s Circle”. You can see how “Winner’s Circle” and “Renaissance” sound similar, what with both things being made up of words composed of syllables and all. Anyway I’m annoyed because I wanted Mister Food to tell me I was right.

Hey, are they going to have a Kentucky Derby this year? I should look that up. They hold those in prime-numbered years, and also some of the others.