Statistics Saturday: April Fool’s Day, By Content


Maybe 1% pranks; 4% the 'Find The Mistakes' episode of The Price Is Right, and the rest is people complaining that someone went and played a prank, or maybe was just thinking about it.
Although, yeah, Gmail, what were you thinking?

But you can understand people being angry at April Fool’s Day, what with the Internet being flooded with dubious news stories, jokes in questionable taste, ill-considered surprise changes in web sites, and causes for phony outrage, only we know ahead of time the day’s going to be full of them.

The Cranberry Riders


Apparently for its sesquicentennial Rider University in New Jersey got people organized to set the Guinness World Record for the “longest line of fruits”, by stringing together 10,036 cranberries. I don’t question the wisdom of this, naturally. I don’t know a better way to celebrate a sesquicentennial than setting a fruit-string record. I’m reminded of how Piscataway, New Jersey, celebrated its sesquicentennial by placing in a line an estimated twelve tomatos. (It was founded in 1666, so its sesquicentennial was in 1816, so it was harder to get fresh fruits back then, so lay off. Also it was only Piscataway.)

And I don’t argue with the choice of cranberries. If you want to set a record that’s going to stand you’re going to need a lot of fruits, and cranberries are pretty good because you get a lot of them from wherever it is cranberries come from and they’re all small, so you’re not going to have to up all your storage space for cranberry depository needs. If you were trying to string together over ten thousand watermelons you might well have a line that runs out of New Jersey, through Pennsylvania, and into a little bit of Kentucky before someone checks the map and says that’s not possible.

Plus, and I don’t want to sound too enthusiastic about the state of my birth, but New Jersey is a great place to get cranberries. It’s not obvious from the toll roads, but nearly three-quarters of the land area that isn’t toll roads, outlet malls, or that little bitty mountain range in the upper left corner are cranberry bogs. There’s so many cranberries in New Jersey that you can’t toss an otter into a cranberry bog without getting a lot of cranberries tossed back at you by otter-defending cranberry beasts. Compare this to the in-state availability of, say, durian and you can see why cranberries are almost inevitable.

It’s the number that’s got me: why did they stop at 10,036, instead of the obvious round number of 10,030? Why not go on to a clearly more attractive 10,044? It’s not that the previous record was 10,035; the article I read about it said they broke the old fruit string record by over four thousand pieces of fruit. Possibly they ran out of cranberries, although I’d imagine for the cause of getting to a lofty number like 10,054 someone could have run to the store and got another can, or taunt a nearby otter. Maybe they ran out of string. I could see that stopping the whole project dead. They could resort to twine for the end, although that might get them in trouble, and besides any ball of twine anyone thinks they have is always, always, purely notional. Nobody has had the twine they thought they had since 1942, which wasn’t any particular anniversary for Rider University.

Rider’s director of media relations, Kristine Brown, pointed out that Guinness requires that food used for records be “used in some way”, so apparently when all the record-certifying is done, and someone goes home knowing that their career has caused them to take a trip for the purpose of verifying a string of cranberries, “we’re gonna string them on the trees around campus so all the birds and the squirrels and everybody can enjoy them”. And this offers another clue why cranberries were used, because you can see obvious problems in trying to decorate a university campus with strings of some other fruit, such as squash: I don’t think squash is a fruit.

I’m not sure the exact biology of it but I’m pretty sure fruits are defined as “the plants that people eat because they like eating them, as long as candy bars aren’t available”, while vegetables are “the plants people eat because they feel they should be eating vegetables or because it’s winter and they retain oven heat like crazy”, and then there’s big leafy stuff like lettuce and spinach that people eat because they hold salad dressing. You couldn’t put even world-record-setting strands of squash around campus, not without getting caught or the string breaking.

Also, I had never before thought to frock a university campus in strands of cranberries for the fall, but now, I have a new prank to play.

Community Events: Neighborhood Warning Night


Lesser Pompous Lakes, All Residential Neighborhoods, 6:30 – 8:30 pm: All residents are requested to go to their windows and look up and down the block to identify the most petty things their neighbors are doing that still annoy them. Get some sheets of paper and write these things down, then wad the papers up around rubber erasers and after ten or fifteen minutes go out and throw these things at the relevant neighbors. Meanwhile in the confusion a small squad of pranksters from South Lesser Pompous Lakes will be able to sneak in to City Hall and leave the cow. No don’t write that part in the e-mail to the newspaper, Jeremy. No, it isn’t funny to pretend we’re going to tell them why we’re doing it, now delete it before you hit send

Newton’s Prank


I’ll bet that if you have a mental image of Isaac Newton at all, it’s a pretty stern one: a guy forced to wear gentlemanly outfits of the late 17th century with that huge powdered wig that seems to be sarcasm, staring out with an expression that says “shut up, you idiot, I already know everything you could possibly say, and it’s all idiotic”, only written like they did back before anyone decided spelling words kind of the same-ish way most of the time. You don’t think of him as having a humorous side at all, or even cracking a smile. At best you’d think his only entertainment was judging other people to be far beneath him, but that’s one of those cases where history is overblowing his reputation. Why, once time, as Member of Parliament representing Cambridge at the Convention Parliament in 1689, which decided King James II had left the throne of England without pointing out how he left because of all those people pointing pointy spears at him, Newton once piped up to say that it was a little drafty and could you please close the window, you insufferable dunce.

But there’s more to him than that. Why, according to this book that got quoted in some other book that I actually read, Newton at least once played a really grand practical joke. And yeah, I know, you can put anything you want in one book, but I read in a totally different book about the same thing happening, without even quoting that first book, so this has got to be legitimate. While a student at the Grantham Grammar School in the 1650s, “he first made lanterns of paper crimpled, which used to go to school by, in winter mornings, with a candle, and tied them to the tails of the kites in a dark night, which at first affrighted the country people by thinking they were comets”, and if all that isn’t remarkable enough consider that my spell-checker has no objection to “affrighted” but doesn’t think “crimpled” is a word.

Apparently, his little stunt of faking a comet was very convincing in making other people think they were seeing comets, which got the folks around Grantham to wonder what calamity the comets were foretelling. I hope they’re not still waiting for the disaster, come to think of it. Probably they’re not; 350 years is a while to wait for the end of the world to be set off by a fake comet hung from a kite, but, get an idea in some people’s minds and it won’t get back out again either. Anyway, his getting people to see portents of doom is a really good response to a practical joke. The most response I ever get from a prank is some resigned sighing and people looking at their watches to see if they’ve acknowledged my existence enough and can now move on. I just bet Newton never had to deal with people rolling their eyes and smacking their lips while waiting for me to finish being amused by myself, but to be fair, he was the one with that whole idea of faking a comet with some kites and some paper crimpled. Also inventing physics. That’s pretty impressive too.

But if Newton was willing to play this one prank, one time, when he was a kid, obviously, he must’ve played a whole bunch of other pranks throughout his life. What other ones might there have been? I guess the obvious things he might have done were to spread rumors about how Wilhelm Leibniz plagiarized his recipe for Apple Moon Pie (“takke your Appells toe a most vy. grt. height above yr Moone Pie, and droppe them on the Moone Pie untill it being the Pie is affrightingly crimpled”), impose a confusing infinitesimals-based notation on calculus, or call Robert Hooke over to set his drinks on Hooke’s head. But I guess it’s more respectable that Newton might have played practical jokes that require some real props and lighting effects and such; think how you’d feel if you learned Newton was fond of Mad Libs or of telling lesser scientists “I got your nose, you pathetic ignoramus”. It takes imagination to make a comet, a lesson taken to heart by Newton’s I-guess-you-can-kind-of-call-him-a-friend Edmond Halley.

Basic Dishwasher Repair


Is your dishwasher not draining properly? By properly we just mean is it taking all the water which gets put into it, and sending it back out again, with reasonable speed. We aren’t concerned with how stylishly it does the draining, or even whether it’s complying with all relevant state and local regulations, although that might be important in the long term. By the long term we mean after the subpoenas have been issued. By issued we mean to you. By you we mean not necessarily you; it could be someone much like you, such as a friend or sibling.

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