Statistics Saturday: Some TV Show Episodes I’m Still Angry About Decades Later


  1. That “Lash Rambo” episode of The New WKRP In Cincinnati.
  2. The one where Worf’s Brother saves this village from a planet-wrecking crisis and everybody acts like he’s the jerk.
  3. The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Ted Baxter gets a job as a game-show host that he’d be great at, and everyone pressures him to give that up so he can go on being a local-news anchor who’s not any good at it.
  4. That Aladdin where Iago gets the Genie’s powers, and he makes a mess of things his first day and feels like a total failure, even though, what, you figured you were going to be an expert the first time you tried something? Why is this talking parrot unrealistic about the speed of his ability to master genie powers?
  5. The Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Evil Admiral built an illegal cloaking device and everybody’s all smugly disdainful of him but they use it anyway because doing without would be a little inconvenient and nobody calls them out for this hypocrisy.
  6. The Far Out Space Nuts where their Lunar Module got stolen, but the planet has a machine that can duplicate anything, and Chuck McCann gives the thing a picture of the Lunar Module and the machine makes a really big duplicate of the picture, and he and Bob Denver were expecting it to make a new spaceship for them because what were they expecting?
  7. The 1980s Jetsons where Elroy accidentally stows away on the Space Shuttle.

Also, while I do not remember this at all, Wikipedia claims this was the plot of a 1987-season episode:

George discovers that he has become stressed out lately due to his teeth, so his dentist creates special false teeth to relax him—but end up stressing him out even more.

I assume the episode guide writer is being wry.

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What’s In The Refrigerator Still, Somehow


So sometime back I bought a pack of kaiser rolls. I’m not sure how far back, except I’m almost sure it was summer when I got them. We use them for (vegetarian) burgers, except I keep thinking they’re pretzel rolls when I’m not looking at them. That might seem like a curious mistake to make repeatedly but then remember I keep them in the fridge so they’ll last longer in the summer weather.

Thing is, we have four of them left in the pack. And we had four of them left in the pack last time we had burgers. I’m not sure when’s the last time we didn’t have four of them left in the pack, which is part of why I can’t really swear to just when we got the bag. It’s been a long while considering our veggie burger consumption.

Anyway, I just want to say I’m going to be cross if I’ve finally come across a magic endlessly-regenerating never-empty bag of something for my life, and it’s kaiser rolls instead of Boyer peanut-butter Smoothie cups. Or, I guess, pretzel rolls. Not that Mallo Cups are bad, just the Smoothie cups are harder to get in good shape.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Also, I’ve learned that people really, really like numbers. At least numbers they don’t have to do anything with. If they can just see a number that’s different from the number it was last time — but is the same just often enough to be exciting — they’re happy. So who am I to fight that? So let’s try this. I’ll start the index at 100, so today it’s:

100

Story Free To A Good Home


So a modern-day genie can’t find an oil lantern and so takes up the first bottle available. It’s a shampoo bottle. Now, the genie’s all right with granting wishes and all that, except they come out all goopy and in need of a rinse and maybe conditioning. Also, the bottle-owner can always get a little bit more out of a wish by standing the bottle upside-down for a few minutes, as long as it doesn’t slip on the wet surface. And I’m not sure about this part but there may be an enchanted loofah.

Well, if you can’t do anything with that, I talk some more about mathematically-themed comic strips over on my mathematics blog. You can use that, surely.

Robert Benchley: The Rope Trick Explained


There is no such thing as the Indian Rope Trick, the stunt where a rope gets tossed up in the air, and an assistant climbs up it and vanishes. There never was. The entire stunt was a creation of 19th-century western magicians. I know, I was shocked to learn it too. Peter Lamont’s The Rise Of The Indian Rope Trick: How A Spectacular Hoax Became History describes much of the trick’s cultural history. Lamont mentions how the humorist Robert Benchley was an early and fervent skeptic that there was ever such a thing as the Indian Rope Trick.

In this piece, collected in My Ten Years In A Quandry And How They Grew, shows off some of Benchley’s skepticism about the trick, although it isn’t one of the pieces Lamont quotes, for fair reason.

The Rope Trick Explained

In explaining this trick, I need hardly say that it is known as “the Indian rope trick.” That is the only trick that everyone explains, as well as the only trick that no one has ever seen. (Now don’t write in and say that you have a friend who has seen it. I know your friend and he drinks.)

For readers under the age of three (of whom, judging from several letters at hand, I have several) I will explain that “the Indian rope trick” consists in throwing a rope into the air, where it remains, apparently unfastened to anything, while a boy climbs up to the top. Don’t ask me what he does then.

This trick is very easy to explain. The point is that the boy gets up into the air somehow and drops the rope down to the ground, making it look as if the reverse were true. This is only one way to do it, however. There are millions of ways.


While in India, a friend of mine, a Mr MacGregor, assisted me in confusing the natives, in more ways than one. We dressed up in Indian costume, for one thing. This confused even us, but we took it good-naturedly.

Then I announced to a group of natives, who were standing open-mouthed (ready to bite us, possibly) that Mr MacGregor and I would perform the famous Indian Rope Trick under their very noses. This was like stealing thunder from a child.

Stationing myself at the foot of a rope which extended upward into the air with no apparent support at the other end, I suggested to Mr MacGregor that he climb it.

“Who—me?” he asked, hitching his tunic around his torso.

This took up some time, during which part of our audience left. The remainder were frankly incredulous, as was Mr MacGregor. I, however, stuck to my guns.

“Up you go, MacGregor!” I said. “You used to be in the Navy!”


So, like a true yeoman, Mr MacGregor laid hands on the rope and, in a trice, was at its top. It wasn’t a very good trice, especially when viewed from below, but it served to bring a gasp of astonishment from the little group, many of whom walked away.

“Come on in—the water’s fine!” called Mr MacGregor, waving from his pinnacle (one waves from one’s pinnacle sideways in India).

“Is everything fast?” I called up at him.

“Everything fast and burning brightly, sir!” answered Mr MacGregor, like a good sailor.

“Then—let ‘ergo!” I commanded, sounding Taps on a little horn I had just found in my hand.

And, mirabile dictu, Mr MacGregor disappeared into thin air and drew the rope up after him! Even I had to look twice. It was a stupendous victory for the occult.


“Are there any questions?” I asked the mob.

“What is Clark Gable like?” someone said.

“He’s a very nice fellow,” I answered. “Modest and unassuming. I see quite a lot of him when I am in Hollywood.”

There was a scramble for my autograph at this, and the party moved on, insisting that I go with them for a drink and tell them more about their favorite movie stars. There is a native drink in India called “straite-ri” which is very cooling.


It wasn’t until I got back to our New York office that I saw Mr MacGregor again, and I forgot to ask him how he ever got down.

Statistics Saturday: My Reactions To Reading The Grimm Fairy Tales


The big ones: the devil has a kindly grandmother? What did you THINK would happen when you wished your child would turn into a raven? And man, don't EVER be a mouse.
Thoughts inspired by reading Jack Zipes’s translation of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Seriously. As best I can tell, in all 259 tales collected there’s one mouse that makes it to the end of the story, and he’s a spiritual manifestation of the King’s dream-state and not a mouse in his own right anyway.

George Melies: An Up-To-Date Conjuror


I forget how long it’s been since I brought the lovely films of Georges Méliès up here, and it would take whole minutes to check earlier videos and find out. Here, though, I offer his 1899 short, An Up-To-Date Conjurer. It’s a short film, barely a minute long, as the date almost implies. It’s almost plotless, too, another thing you might expect from the date alone (A Trip To The Moon was three years in its future), but that just means the action is all the camera-tricks and sight gags that define this style of silent movie. It’s just a minute of magic tricks, and a fun one at that.

Farmer Al Falfa: Magic Boots


For today I’d like to continue the Terry Toons theme that’s been going on around these parts with the 1922 short “Magic Boots”. This is another good example of the kind of loose and improvisational style that was so common in cartoons before sound. The action starts with some mice dancing, and turns to a bunch of cats, then cats at sea, then wearer-less boots marching around, and then before you know it things have reached Saturn and the Moon and … well, despite a weak ending that as far as I can tell isn’t set up at all, there’s steadily something interesting and weird going on. Do enjoy, please.

Felix the Cat Monkeys with Magic


The title for this Felix the Cat cartoon might set up some disappointment, as it turns out the title card means the verb form of “monkeys”. Ah well. It’s a cartoon that’s got a number of pretty good gags of the kind that 1920s cartoons excelled in, especially in visual tricks and in metamorphoses. It does have a rather dreamlike plot: the sense I get is the creators were trying to think of things where Felix could use a wave of the hand to do something, and if that means the viewer looks down a moment and looks back up and suddenly there’s a bear chasing Felix and then a cow turns into a car, well, that’s just the sort of world Felix lived in.

The Big Idea


There are many ways that you can become a giant, here defined as a person fifty or more feet tall, or long while lying down. The easiest is to be born as one, of course, although many mothers protest this for the obvious reason, that it’s harder to fit the giant toddler into preschool programs. Next is to fall through a portal into an alternate universe in which the general scale of things is different, but this has its hazards as the flow of time might be different and you might be stuck in a dopey cartoon of some kind. Being the subject of an experimental gigantification ray is a convenient approach for people who are looking to work with their local mad scientist, or if they prefer the equivalent there’s magic spells that are poorly understood. Surely the most exciting method of becoming a giant is to take a job as a self-trained scientific detective, find one can’t use the magnifying glass to find clues correctly, and go stumbling into gigantism thusly. The important thing isn’t how you become a giant, it’s that you try.