destro trivia roundup

Novelty food-delivery devices are all the rage these days: burritos, tacos, sushi, and pizza may all be delivered by unmanned helicopters. The trivia roundup has been hard at work on a projectile based system, and YOU can help test it. Just don this star-spangled jumpsuit, put on some kneepads, and hold on to this sackful of haggis. Now, squeeze your way down and hang on tight, because the organ meat cannon is almost operational, and the trivia roundup is here.

mcgonagall :: 7up :: nellie cashman :: destro


1. Really love poetry? Want to write some, but have absolutely no concept of metaphors, a sixth grade vocabulary, and lack rhythm? Maybe you can be the next William McGonagall, who made a living (sort of) in the last third of his life by writing profoundly bad poetry. And if there’s ever a biopic, he’ll definitely be played by Benedict Cumberbatch:

switched at birth

McGonagall, born in 1825, was a moderately successful weaver whose interest in the arts flourished as an adult. First, it was acting. Though lacking skill, he paid the theater owner handsomely to claim the lead role in Macbeth. In his first performance, he felt another actor was trying to upstage him, so he ad-libbed and REFUSED TO DIE, which should have been Shakespeare’s original ending. It’s unclear if he continued acting after this performance, but he later realized that poetry was his muse, and wrote to Queen Victoria, requesting she act as his patron. Somehow, he managed to misconstrue a polite “thanks but no thanks” reply as an answer in the affirmative, and walked 60 miles in a thunderstorm to recite his poetry before the queen. Which didn’t work out. In one of his many autobiographical accounts, he blames the guard, who’d asked him to recite some poetry right there in the doorway: “No, sir, nothing so low in my line of business. I am NOT A STROLLING MOUNTEBANK that would do the like in the open air for a few coppers” (emphasis his).

Despite suffering what should have been a mortal shaming, McGonagall continued writing, earning a subsistence living through the generosity of benefactors and menial pay for poetry recitals. His most lasting employment was at the circus, where he was paid 15 shillings a night to recite his poetry while being insulted by the audience and pelted with “eggs, flour, herrings, potatoes, and stale bread.” I’m assuming that list isn’t comprehensive, but in any case the showings eventually became so rowdy that the police were forced to shut them down. He penned a poem in response to this injustice—because, you see, he enjoyed the abuse:

Fellow citizens of Bonnie Dundee
Are ye aware of how the magistrates have treated me?
Nay, do not stare or make a fuss
When I tell ye they have boycotted me from appearing in Royal Circus,
Which in my opinion is a great shame

He eventually died in poverty in 1902, though his poems are still published today, and he’s probably more famous than many of his peers. Wikipedia tells me that the six characteristics of doggerel poetry are: Trite, cliché, or overly sentimental content; Forced or imprecise rhymes; Faulty meter; Misordering of words to force correct meter; Trivial subject; Inept handling of subject; and McGonagall can almost immediately hit the sex-fecta. His most famous poem is The Tay Bridge Disaster, which was written in response to the collapse of Tay Rail Bridge during a storm in 1879. It killed 75 people (the collapse, not the poem):

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed’.

First, he gets bonus points for managing to work “buttresses” into a poem, and as a noun, even. Second, I encountered less sophisticated responses in the op-ed section of the Star Tribune after the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, so he’s got that going for him. It’s still unclear whether McGonagall was clever enough to be in on the joke, or altogether lacked self-awareness and/or shame and/or dignity. Either way, he was a genius is his own peculiar way, and I can’t decide which makes a better story. The important lesson here comes from Major League, where Rick Vaughn taught us something about fame and talent:

See here for more on McGonagall.


2. 7-Up was invented in the 1929 by one Charles Leiper Grigg. Grigg had cut his teeth developing flavors at some other beverage companies; his earlier sodas were the orange flavors “Whistle” and “Howdy”. Though regionally successful, they were generally crushed under the corporate jackboot of orange soda overlord Crush.

Yes, that’s a racist as hell mascot

Grigg spun off his own company, the Howdy Corporation, and went to work on lemon-lime flavors, which had not achieved popular acclaim at the time. After a few years—presumably hunched over a laboratory table surrounded by bunsen burners, test tubes and seltzer bottles—Grigg finally had his magnum opus. And, as one would guess from someone whose first two name ideas were Howdy and Whistle, Grigg named his new concoction “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda”. “Bib-Label” because he planned for his company’s labels to be placed over the neck of the bottle like a bib; “Lithiated” because it contained lithium (in an amount I have been unable to ascertain). Yes, lithium. Why yes, I do prefer my soda comes with mind-altering pharmaceuticals. It harkens back to a bygone era of patent medicines: Dr. Phineas J. Pinkham’s Sodawater Carbo-lixirs come in Pineapple Penicillin, SSRI Strawberry with Swamp Root Extract, Berry Berry Benzedrine with Bison Liver, and Quince Quaaludes with Pennyroyal—accept no substitutes (incidentally, regions with higher naturally-occurring amounts of lithium salts in the water supply have lower suicide rates). Anyways, that whopper of a name was pretty quickly changed to 7-Up Lithiated Lemon-Lime, and shortly thereafter to just 7-Up.

Baby’s first hit

Why it’s called 7-Up is a mystery lost to the sands of time, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the lithium was removed. 7-Up really took off in part because of the demand for mixers during Prohibition (which also benefited ginger ale), and then managed to stay afloat during WWII (when sugar rations took down many other soda bottlers), and eventually became the third most popular soft drink in the country by the end of the war. Also, there is evidently a “common” urban legend that the famous red-dot/cool-spot in 7-Up logos represent Griggs’s eyes, as he was supposedly red-eyed and albino. He was neither, and the spot came well after he died. But man, cool idea, right?


3. Nellie Cashman nellie_cashmanwas a nurse, philanthropist, gold prospector, and badass. Born in Ireland and raised mostly in the US, Cashman left home in 1874 for the Cassiar Mountains of British Columbia, as the Klondike Gold Rush was underway. She became the first white woman to enter the Cassiar Mountains.

There, she established a boarding house for miners where money was collected for charity. Upon learning that a group of miners was trapped in the mountains following some particularly severe weather, Cashman organized a six-person search party and took off to find the stranded men (and bring them supplies, as most were suffering from scurvy). The rescue party was forced to wait out the storm for 77 days in a camp at the base of the mountains; the weather was so severe the Canadian army sent in troops to rescue Cashman, assistance she politely refused. She subsequently saved the stranded miners and earned the nickname Angel of the Cassiar. Apparently bored with the Klondike, she then moved to Tombstone, Arizona, where she worked as a nurse. After a brief sojourn to Baja for an aborted gold-prospecting venture that came up dry, she returned to Tombstone and to raise her sister’s children.

It was around this time that the Bisbee Massacre occurred near Tombstone. In 1883, a group of banditos robbed the Goldwater & Castenada Mercantile in Bisbee. Because stuff like this also apparently happens in real life, when the thieves strolled in, the mining company payroll they had planned to steal had not yet arrived at the bank. Rather than wait it out, they took what they could, started shooting up the town—and this is my favorite part—left at a “leisurely pace”, robbing others as they made an extremely slow getaway. They left four dead bodies in their wake. The five culprits were eventually tracked down by a posse,

and a sixth accomplice, a Bisbee businessman, was also arrested. While the bandits were sentenced to death, the accomplice received life in prison. That wasn’t good enough for the townspeople, who broke into the jail, dragged the accomplice out—leaving the bandits behind—and strung him up (the official coroner’s report lists his cause of death as emphysema. JUSTICE!). Given the town’s total fucking blood lust, the sheriff decided to give out and/or sell tickets to the mass hanging, and erected some bleachers in the town square. This was a bridge too far for Cashman, who decried the spectacle. When her consternation went unheeded, she found a weakness in the bleachers just like the fucking Death Star and destroyed them the night before the hanging (the weakness: her axe). The hanging still went on—the tombstone is famous:

this really looks fake.

but when there were murmurings about exhuming the bodies to use as medical practice, Cashman hired guards to prevent the bodies from being desecrated. Like I said, badass. Today, you can still eat breakfast at Nellie Cashman’s Monday Club Cafe, but it only gets 3 stars on Yelp.

4. GI Joe was one of the most formative…things…in my childhood, so I plan to return to this well. For the moment, I’d like to share the story of Destro, world’s best villain.


Destro’s full name is James McCullen Destro XXIV, Laird of the Castle Destro in Scotland. He comes from a long line of arms dealers. Classic Destro move: hire mercenaries to ignite conflict in tenuous regions, then make fat cash selling arms to both sides. His trademark mask is forged of beryllium steel, and was forced on an ancestor by Cromwell after an arms deal gone wrong. Intended as a mask of shame, the Destros have turned it into a badge of honor. Terrifying, terrifying honor. His neckchain is the Scottish symbol for absolute power (I can’t believe there’s a symbol for that). I think I was secretly jealous of Destro as a kid because he was making time with the Baroness.

“what? no, nothing! we were discussing ransom schemes!”

Anyways, it’s best not to deal with Destro. Dude’s legit.


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