Previous “Best Of” posts

The Immense Stupidity of Groundhog Day

As my mother correctly notes each year, there are always approximately six more weeks of winter from Groundhog Day.

Is there a dumber American tradition than Groundhog Day? I submit to you that there is not. Readers of this site will know that I am a fan of all manner of nonsense, but I just can’t get into this. “Groundhog Day”, the movie? A fun flick. Groundhog Day, the “holiday”? Vacuous nonsense.

The problem, as I see it, is that there’s simply nothing there. They pull out poor Punxsutawney Phil, and then…a person announces whether the rodent saw his shadow or not. The groundhog doesn’t actually react in any visible way. The whole thing isn’t even as goofy as “Is the groundhog awake or not?”. No, the weather-predicting woodchuck is utterly unnecessary to the proceedings. They could just flip a coin. Or skip the whole thing entirely.

In the midst of confronting the vast and moronic reach that Groundhog Day has attained, I learned quite a lot from a CNN article detailing they day’s history. For instance, did you know that once upon a time, they ate Punxsutawney Phil after he made his guess?

Before he was a celebrity, though, he was lunch. In a terrible twist, the earliest Groundhog Days of the 19th century involved devouring poor Phil after he made his prediction. The year 1887 was the year of the “Groundhog Picnic,” Yoder said. Pennsylvania historian Christopher Davis wrote that locals cooked up groundhog as a “special local dish,” served at the Punxsutawney Elk Lodge, whose members would go on to create the town’s Groundhog Club. Diners were “pleased at how tender” the poor groundhog’s meat was, Davis said.

Cheese and crackers! Really though, I think I respect this more. Oh, sure, it’s awful. But it feels somehow more honest too. Devour your gods.

And yet, in defiance of both all logic as well as the preceding text, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club claims there’s only been one Punxsutawney Phil in history:

How many “Phils” have there been over the years?
There has only been one Punxsutawney Phil. He has been making predictions since 1886! Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the “elixir of life,” a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life.

Even if it only works on groundhogs, that “elixir of life” seems a lot more impressive than the flimsy record of forecasting. Also, how about sharing? If it adds seven years to his life, Phil doesn’t need a sip every year.

Does Phil have a wife?
Yes, her name is Phyliss. She doesn’t receive the Elixir of Life so she will not live forever like Phil.

What the hell? Why, pray tell, can’t Phyliss have some elixir too? Worse is the fact that Phil’s poor wife/wives have been saddled with a matching name. Just as I would never feel quite right dating someone named “Paula” or “Paulette”, Phil and Phyliss should just be friends, or even steer clear of one another completely.

Remarkably, Canada recently found a way to make things even dumber. Though I believe the world needs exactly zero groundhogs masquerading as meteorologists, it seems we must come to terms with a single such rodent. However, Punxsutawney Phil certainly needs no imitators, a fact it would behoove the Quebeckers to souviens. Their failure to do so led to a bizarre occurrence yesterday, when they turned to a group of schoolchildren to get a prediction about winter. Why? Well it seems that their knockoff prognosticator, “Fred La Marmotte”, showed up to his one-day-a-year job dead.

“Friend” Can Be the Singular of “Folks”

Life in 2022 can really be exhausting for everyone.

Earlier this week, I had a rather jarring conversation at the supermarket. I needed to flag an employee down to clear an alert on the damnable self-checkout machine. The man had just finished helping another customer, and he was walking away from me, so I said “Sir?”. When turned around to assist, he also muttered “Please don’t call me sir next time”. He seemed…annoyed? Offended? I did not understand, and I was a bit taken aback. It was not as if I had said “Hey, you!”, after all.

As he cleared the error on the machine, I asked what I should say next time. He curtly replied “Just wave your hand, I’ll see you”. This was obvioiusly not true, because unlike my mother, he did not have eyes in the back of his head. Now, I certainly could have just said “Excuse me?”, but that seems longer and also slightly less courteous than a respectful “Sir?”. Anyhow, he and I both moved on. Still, it stuck with me. I left the store, utterly flummoxed.

I found myself contemplating this very strange interaction for some time. I had been trying to be polite, and I felt the response had been a bit brusque, even bordering on rude. The man was a bit younger than I am, so it was perhaps a bit odd for me to call him “sir”, but there was no sarcasm or insincerity on my part. I was being gracious, and I was met with something else.

However, I found the whole thing turned completely upside down while discussing it with my friend Kim, who deserves tremendous credit. The scales fell from my eyes when she said four (mostly) simple words: “Maybe a non-binary person?”.

Well. Fuck.

The whole interaction now looked utterly different. This idea that this person might not identify as male (and thus a “sir”) had not even occurred to me. Now, I saw the possibility that my in-person subconscious assumption was incorrect, along with every instance of the words “he” and “man” written above. If that is indeed the case, then my simple effort to politely get someone’s attention instead turned me into an inadvertent misgendering ass.

We don’t really have a simple and generic word for directly addressing a specific person. There is no singular of “folks”. We rely on “sir” or “ma’am” or “miss” or “mister”, all of which are gendered. That’s a problem.

Fortunately, my favorite gal pal Amy had a wonderful solution. Her suggestion? Let’s just call everyone “hoss”, as in “Hey hoss, can you get this stupid machine to stop pitching a fit about the bag I’m just trying to load my scanned groceries in to?”. It’s pretty solid! If they mishear you, they’ll think you said “boss”, and who is that going to offend?1

However, while “hoss” is an absolutely hilarious way to refer to anyone, its roots are in the word “horse”. That seems unfortunate at best for a catch-all term. I also rejected Amy’s next idea, “dollface”, which was equally hilarious but even more problematic. Next, I spent some time considering “buddy”. I wish it could work, but it just sounds far too informal to my ear.

Thankfully, though, “buddy” led me to a superior option: “friend”. “Friend”! How great is that? It’s self-evidently friendly, it’s gender-neutral, and it’s even hopeful. A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet, and what faster way to turn them into a friend than to simply declare them one?

Sure, sure, it might come across as vaguely Amish, but then they’ll really take pity on me. I don’t even have electricity, so of course I can’t manage to check myself out at the supermarket! Or perhaps they’ll think I’m trying to recruit them to a cult. They may be wary, and think I might murder them, but at least they won’t think I’m a bigot.

So, I’ve settled on “friend” as the way I’m going to address people from now on.2 I’ll let you know how it goes, friends.


Footnotes:

  1. Oh, somebody, I’m sure. ↩︎

  2. Also probably dogs. ↩︎

I Still Can’t Believe This Worked

Happy birthday, Mom!

My mother is quite the puzzle whiz, and we sometimes do the same puzzles. I introduced her to Wordle, and she pointed me toward another New York Times puzzle, “Spelling Bee”. Now, we play them both each day, and often discuss them. Recently, this led to some amazing fun.

A fair amount of background is in order, but I promise it will be worth it. Even if you’re not a New York Times subscriber, you can sample Spelling Bee at the link above, but I’ll lay it out quickly. The game presents a grid of seven letters, and your task is to make as many 4+ letter words as possible, always including that highlighted central letter:

A honeycomb containg the letters W, A, N, B, E, J, and then O highlighted in the middle
The puzzle for December 7, 2022

For instance, this past Wednesday, you might have entered BANJO, or OBOE, or any other musical instrument containing an “O” that you could spell using the provided letters. You could also spell words that aren’t instruments at all, that’s allowed too. You certainly can’t play “Stairway to Heaven” on NONE, but you could enter it here. How did we even get on musical instruments?! BABOON, that’s a word that would totally count. So would BONOBO, but the words don’t have to be primates either, OK?

Spelling Bee offers several goals in the course of play. Each puzzle contains one or more pangrams, words which use all 7 letters at least once. In the above puzzle, JAWBONE was a pangram (more specifically, it was a “perfect pangram”, because it didn’t use any letter more than once). In addition to pangrams, there are also various point totals to shoot for, culminating in “Genius” level. Finally, one can become a “Queen Bee” by getting all the words on the word list for the day. While I don’t often manage this, my mother attains it frequently.

Beyond the standard gameplay, my mother and I also particularly enjoy an unofficial side quest: finding words that are absent from the day’s word list. For instance, back on November 28, the game failed to accept the word EXIGENCE:

The word “EXIGENCE” being rejected for not being in the word list.
The word dates back to the 15th century!

The word list for each day doesn’t actually consist of all possible words. Instead, editor Sam Ezersky intentionally narrows things down by eliminating obscure words, thus making Queen Bee status a bit more achievable. While we know this, my mom and I still enjoy the chance to grouse to one another about how ridiculous any oversight is. “A kindergarten baby ought to know that word.” Any crossword solver worth their salt has seen this word:

The word “EELING” being rejected for not being in the word list.
eeling (noun): the activity or business of catching eels (Yes, really.)

That should bring you up to speed on Spelling Bee. Now, let’s look at this past Tuesday’s puzzle. That puzzle included the letters D, L, E, P, O, C, and the must-use letter U. After working on it for some time, I sent my mother the following image, along with a message noting my incredulity that this word wasn’t included in the day’s list:

The word “UPDOC” being rejected for not being in the word list.

Please enjoy our ensuing conversation:

Paul says: How does it not have “Updoc”?!; Mom says: What is Updoc?; Paul says Not much, what’s up with you?

I wasn’t sure this would actually work, and I was absolutely tickled pink when it did.1 My mother was greatly amused as well.

Here’s to another trip around the sun, Mom. Many happy returns!


Footnotes:

  1. Hat tips for this joke are certainly due to Bugs Bunny, The Office, and most especially Scrubs. Zach Braff’s delivery of “It’s happening” slays me.2 ↩︎

  2. In the event that the linked Scrubs video has been, well, scrubbed from YouTube, I’ve archived it here. ↩︎

Meditations on an Inexpensive Laundry Basket

I’m down to a cost of 20¢ a year and falling.

Something people should know about me is that I’ve had one laundry basket for my entire adult life. If my obituary includes the line “He was the kind of guy who could use the same laundry basket for decades”, well, it will be an accurate reflection of who I am. Or was. Whatever. Just behold my basket, in all its graphite glory:

A simple (albeit holey) gray laundry basket

After I bring my clean laundry upstairs, I flip the basket upside to deposit my dry clothes on the bed for folding. Each and every time, the bottom of the basket catches my eye:

The bottom of a laundry basket

As the r/nostalgia sub-Reddit can tell you, “Yaffa Blocks” was a name brand for a particular kind of inexpensive storage solution. It seems the company also made laundry baskets. What I really notice, however, is the price tag:

A Linens n Things price tag, reading $3.99

$3.99 seems very inexpensive! My basket does date back to around the year 2001, but even an inflation-adjusted price would be just $6.71 today. Seems low!

Now sure, my humble basket is plenty scuffed, and it has one cracked corner:

A slightly cracked corner

But it’s a vessel for transporting toasty warm clothes approximately 50 feet. It does the job. It still works.

The price tag also lists the name of the store where this basket was purchased, and that’s a real throwback. “Linens ‘N Things” was a New Jersery-based big box retailer selling home goods, a competitor to “Bed Bath & Beyond”. You’ll notice I say “was”, because Linens ‘N Things went bankrupt in 2008. Less than a year later, all of their retail outlets were closed. Still, this price tag endures on the bottom of my basket.

In 2022, the Linens ‘N Things name lives on via an online-only store. Impressively, as the tag shows, the Linens ‘N Things website has been around for quite some time. Here’s a look at LNT.com from around the time when this basket was purchased. It seems the company even had a privacy policy very early on:


Circa 2001, captured via the always-helpful Internet Archive Wayback Machine

In addition to being purchased from a New Jersey-based retailer, this basket was also made by a New Jersey-based manufacturer:

The Basicline logo

It appears “Basicline” was the company that owned the Yaffa trademark, and also I guess that they made at least 11 products. You may notice that I am once again using the past tense. Alas, like Linens ‘N Things before it, Basicline is no more. In 2010, they filed for their own Chapter 11. Further, per Wikipedia, Linens ‘n’ Things’ current parent company Sequential Brands sought bankruptcy protection last fall.

Given all these bankruptcies, I’m beginning to think that even back in 2001, this product was underpriced. $3.99 was simply too low to charge for a product which would go on to serve me well and faithfully for 20+ years and counting. In life, you have to know your value, and charge accordingly.

The Wonkeyed Bonus Pig Shall Not Be Forgotten

Look how they massacred my pig.

Over in Iceland, there’s a supermarket chain called Bónus.1 When I visited the Nordic nation six years ago, I became very fond of the company’s logo, which I call the Bonus Pig. It’s a piggy bank (for savings!), and it’s so round that it often takes the place of the letter “O” in their name.2 Feast your eyes upon the Bonus Pig:

If you’re thinking “That looks rather silly”, you’re not wrong. It is silly, and that is what makes it great. But my friend, this little piglet used to be so, so much sillier. Please, click the play button below to morph the Bonus Pig back to its former glory:

Just look at that incredible wonkeye. It is the epitome of glorious imperfection. From the moment I happened upon the Bonus Pig in 2016, I was smitten. I shared it on Instagram:

[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

For quite some time, I also re-used one of their plastic bags:

[Photo courtesy of S. Hiraiwa]

Can you believe this was the logo of the largest supermarket chain in an entire country? It’s amazing. Here it is on one of their storefronts:

The little piggy who owned a market also flew on flags:

A few months ago I even received a Bonus Pig shirt as a gift.3 I wear it proudly and wonkeyedily:


Please insert your own pig snort sound.

Alas, the original Bonus Pig was sanitized in the past year or so. Some swine, no doubt thinking that they could “fix” the Bonus Pig, went and gave the little dude corrective eye surgery. Just as when the execrable SAP Concur killed off Hipmunk, joy has once again been sucked from the world. It is a travesty. This is not my beautiful pig:

Before too many days go by, I hope the designer in question says to themselves “My God, what have I done?”, and sets to work undoing this regrettable change.

For now though, my wonkeyed little friend can still be spotted in various places around Bónus’s website. If and when it eventually disappears completely from there, this page will remain as a memorial to what was lost.


Footnotes:

  1. Apparently, they’ve also got eight stores in the Faroe Islands. ↩︎

  2. Technically, it’s the letter “Ó”, but I’m not really down with diphthongs. I’m going with a standard “o” in this post, and in my life. ↩︎

  3. This shirt is a knockoff, so it’s particularly amusing that they kept the registered trademark ®. ↩︎

Spahks Afta Dahk

This place has everything!

Recently, I received an invitation to an event to be held at Boston’s Museum of Science. It was billed as an “electrifying experience”, due to the presence of the world’s largest air-insulated Van de Graaff generator.

Email invitation to the “Sparks After Dark” event, with the following text: Calling all party animals! Sparks After Dark - the official after-party of the Museum of Science's  Stars of STEM  annual fundraising event is back! Hosted by the Innovators, the Museum’s young professional society, Sparks After Dark is Boston’s only late night party in a room producing over a million volts of lightning—the Museum's Theater of Electricity. Shocking, we know.

Sparks After Dark will feature cocktails, late night bites, science-themed entertainment, live animals, music, and dancing featuring the Museum's favorite drag queen and DJ, Coleslaw.

With a name like “Sparks After Dark”, it was only natural that I would repeatedly read the invitation out loud in an over-the-top and utterly ridiculous townie accent. As one does. While practicing that tomfoolery, I then realized that the second paragraph’s bizarrely long list reads like a Stefon sketch.

And so, I present you with this nonsense:

You can listen for this ad on Boston-area radio stations for the next week. You won’t actually hear it, but nothing can stop you from listening for it.

A Paean to Hipmunk

“SAP Concur”, you have ruined a good thing.

For years, Hipmunk.com was my preferred site for finding flights. With an innovative interface that showed flights from multiple airlines and made it possible to sort by more than just price, they made travel search dramatically better. In the words of former marketing director Alexis Ohanian, they “took the agony out of online travel search”.

Hipmunk’s front page was friendly and made it easy to start your search:

The old Hipmunk.com site
Circa 2016, captured via the always-helpful Internet Archive Wayback Machine

As you can see, the front page also prominently featured Chippy, the company’s adorable mascot. The little chipmunk appeared throughout the site, most notably in the site’s tremendous loading animation. While results were being retrieved after you submitted a search, Chippy would be shown, pretending to be an airplane:

Hipmunk's adorable loader image
[Image via Dribbble]

As I waited, I would often join the bucktoothed rodent. You’re never too old to pretend to fly.

What with the global pandemic about which you may have heard tell, I haven’t flown in quite some time. As such, I haven’t needed Hipmunk since late 2019, or earlier. However, I’ve now received both shots of the COVID vaccine, and a family matter recently had me needing to check flights. I visited hipmunk.com, and was horrified to discover that the site was no more.

Apparently, Hipmunk was acquired by business travel behemoth SAP Concur in 2016. Though Hipmunk managed to hang on for a few more years, SAP Concur shuttered the site early last year. The domain now leads to the most soulless, corporate garbage ever:

The new landing page for hipmunk.com
Awful. Just awful.

I am distraught. SAP Concur, you have sucked joy from the world. You’re bad, and you should feel bad.

Those monsters, or someone in league with them, even removed Hipmunk’s former Wikipedia page.1 I hope this article can serve as a memorial to a once-great service, now lost to time and bureaucracy.

So long, and thanks for all the flights. You’re flying with the angels now, Chippy.


Footnotes:

  1. Amusingly, there is a LinkedIn page for Chippy, at least until the faceless flunkies at SAP Concur notice. Maybe Google Flights can hire Chippy to work for them. ↩︎

Meat-Ax Your Notifications

Hey, turn off badges while you're at it.

I’ve long advocated for drastically reducing the number of notifications your digital devices are allowed to produce. Earlier this year, I recommended the following in a footnote:

Years back, I turned off nearly all notifications and badges on my phone, and I highly recommend it. I let texts through, along with emails from VIPs and a tiny number of other things. For everything else, I’ll get to it when I get to it. I strongly encourage everyone to give it a try. It’s a vastly better way to live your life.

The artificial urgency device notifications create is unnecessary, and probably unhealthy. Very few notifications are actually time-sensitive, yet far too many of us let our phones take us out of the moment needlessly.

It turns out Apple CEO Tim Cook agrees, as revealed in a recent podcast interview with Outside magazine:

Tim Cook: [S]o the action I took was I started asking myself, why do I need all these notifications?

Roberts: Right.

Cook: Why do I really need this? Do I really need to understand things in the moment that they’re happening? And you know — and I started taking a meat ax out to some of these things that would grab my attention but didn’t need to in the moment —

Roberts: Mm-hmm.

Cook: — to free me up to do other things. So — yeah. I learned — like I think like probably most people underestimate how much they’re using it.

Until now, I never had a catchy name for my advice. Now, thanks to Cook, I do. Henceforth, my suggestion that most people should turn off most notifications will be referred to as “meat-axing”. Take back your life! Meat-ax your notifications!

Merry Whatevs

Merry Valentine's! Merry St. Patrick's Day! Merry Fourth of July!

Last year, I attended a delightful holiday party co-hosted by my friend Susie S. This party included a cinema light box with rearrangeable letters, the kind you’ve likely seen at some point in the past few years.

I decided to craft this message:

A sign reading 'Merry Whatevs'
Please note the use of the champagne emoji

This was an inclusive message, for any and all to be merry at the end of the year, regardless of what holidays one celebrates. I was thus quite surprised when it created a most ridiculous controversy, after Susie posted it to her Facebook page. As I have no desire to brew a further tempest in this teapot, I won’t link to the thread in question. However, I will share some choice quotes (all presented as they were posted, with typographical errors preserved).

  • [W]hy would you even repost something like this I respect your religion and I respect my religion

  • As a Christian, this is offensive. It’s not like we say “Merry Hanukkah, or Merry Kwanza”….no… we say “Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza.” This is directly related to Christmas. And it is taking Christ out of Christmas 😞 please reconsider this as your cover photo. It is harboring negativity and anger in our country.

I was truly taken aback by these responses. Two different Christians seemed to feel they owned the word “merry”. That was really something to me. Frankly, it was terribly difficult to wrap my head around the idea of someone going through life so privileged, and so oblivious to that privilege, that they could believe someone using the word “merry” is offensive. And yet, there we were. There we all were.

Fortunately, many additional folks came in to defend this goofy thing which should have needed no defending.

  • This isn’t mentioning any religion at all. If anything I think it reads as “Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate.” by saying MerryWhatever.

  • I find it kind and inclusive and joyful. Merry is a word that belongs to everyone.

  • It’s lighthearted. Some of the people at the party don’t have religious affiliations, I’m sure. ” Merry” is not a Christian word. In fact in merry old England the phrase they’ve always used is “Happy Xmas” not “merry”.

  • If your faith is threatened by someone’s greeting, then you may need to reexamine your faith and/or religious choices.

  • Love this! I want one! Inclusive and also highlighting the exhaustion of the holiday season!

  • I think it’s cheerful and inclusive, and doubly that it’s a damn shame folks don’t take it in the obvious holiday spirit with which it was intended.

Despite what a few ridiculous blowhards have been spouting on television for years, there’s not actually a war on Christmas. However, I’m now starting a war for “Merry”. After this incident, I’ve determined to apply merry to everything I can. So Merry Hanukkah! Merry New Year! Merry Martin Luther King Day!

Merry Whatever, everyone!

Fun With a Gratuitous Photo Booth

The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace Las Vegas are strange and terrible, and this machine fits right in.

On a recent ramble through Las Vegas, I found myself in the surreal Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.1 This is apparently the highest grossing mall in America by sales per square foot, but the retail collection occupies a place of dread in my mind. Its dim lighting and second-story faux facades combine with the bizarrely sky-painted ceiling to warp reality in almost Daliesque fashion.

Photo of the Forum Shops mall
This is a deeply weird place to shop, or even just exist for an hour.
[Photo credit: Simon Property Group]

Are you inside? Are you outside? Would you like to dine inside inside at Trevi, the Italian restaurant next to a paltry attempt at a Romanesque fountain, or outside inside to really soak in the lack of sun beaming down through the “clouds”?

Naturally, this mall featured a photo booth placed outside of a meatball restaurant. While I did not eat at Carmine’s, upon noticing their contraption, I was more than willing to take advantage of it. It paid off in spades.

Photo of me using the machine
Perhaps in sympathy to their hosts, the Carmine’s sign lacks an apostrophe.2
[Photo credit: T. Arment]

As you can guess from the Facebook and Twitter logos seen on the front, this machine is intended to aid customers in spreading the word about the restaurant via social media. You can do it “for FREE!”, no less, which is surely the highest price anyone would pay for this. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a meal after which I felt the need to send a digital postcard to my friends, but to each their own.

Wanting to see just how strange this would be, I took a photo, then punched in my own email address to receive a copy. I thought it best not to subject anyone else to this exercise in stupidity and data collection. Though the on-screen keyboard malfunctioned repeatedly, I eventually convinced it to send my picture. My task complete, I stepped away so that literally no one else could use, or even notice, the machine. I pulled out my iPhone to check my email, but there was nothing. I checked my spam filters, but still, bupkis. Feeling defeated and not just a little claustrophobic, I decided to move on and out of the mall.

Several hours later, however, I received an email from myself. With the subject line “I’m at Carmine’s Vegas!”, it indicated that “a friend” had sent me a uPostcard.

Success! My photo had arrived, in glorious, 800×600, framed, PNG-not-JPG glory. Here it is:

My dumb face
This photograph accurately captures what it feels like to be at the Forum Shops.

As you can see, I have been dubbed a “Spaghetti fanatic”.3 Shockingly, despite the unrequested title I’ve had bestowed upon me, this postcard design actually isn’t awful. While it seems completely unrelated to the restaurant outside of which it sits, with a smiling face, better alignment, and a lack of derrieres in the background, it could at least produce an acceptable reproduction of being at the mall.

However, this is not actually what a recipient will see. Instead, when the emailed link is clicked, this is the hideous train wreck you’ll be shown.

A real train wreck of a design.

From the words being shoved in my mouth via a misaligned dialogue bubble to the sprinkle of social media droppings including the just-about-to-be-defunct Google+, it’s all stomach-churning. So it is that I can say this for Carmine’s: Whether you eat the food or just use their unnecessary photo booth, one way or another, you’re not going to leave hungry.


Footnotes:

  1. No apostrophe, though there certainly should be one, ridiculous explanations aside. ↩︎

  2. The restaurant’s name is a possessive “Carmine’s”, and the horizontal signs include an apostrophe. ↩︎

  3. The business cards are due back from the printer any day now. ↩︎