destro trivia roundup

Novelty food-delivery devices are all the rage these days: burritos, tacos, sushi, and pizza all 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: the organ meat cannon is almost operational, and the trivia roundup is here.

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1. Really love poetry? Want to write some, but have no understanding of metaphor and allegory, a sixth grade vocabulary, and zero 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 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. Later, McGonagall found his muse in poetry, and wrote to Queen Victoria requesting she act as his patron. Somehow misconstruing a polite “thanks but no thanks” response as an affirmative, he walked 60 miles through thunderstorms to recite his poetry before the queen. Which didn’t work out. In one of his many autobiographical accounts, he blames the guard, who asked him to recite poetry before letting him in: “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).

Recovering from a near-lethal shaming, McGonagall continued to write, earning a subsistence living through benefactors and menial pay for poetry recitals. His most lasting employment was at the circus, where he was paid 15 shillings per night to recite poetry while being insulted 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

McGonagall died in poverty in 1902, though his poems are still published today and he’s more famous than many of ostensible 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 did, I mean. 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: people don’t care if you suck, as long as you do it colorfully. See here for more on McGonagall.

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2. After cutting his teeth developing orange sodas “Whistle” and “Howdy,” Charles Leiper Grigg invented 7-Up in 1929. His forays into orange soda world had been regionally successful but crushed under the corporate jackboot of orange soda overlord Crush, so Grigg went to work on lemon-lime flavors.

Yes, that’s a racist as hell mascot

Lemon-lime flavors hadn’t yet caught on, so Grigg sequestered himself in a laboratory surrounded by bunsen burners, bubbling erlenmeyer flasks, and seltzer bottles to develop his magnum opus. As one would expect from a man who named his first two efforts Howdy and Whistle, Grigg called 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. Yes, lithium—harkening back to a bygone era of patent medicines and snake oils. 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. By the way: regions with higher naturally-occurring amounts of lithium salts in the water supply have lower suicide rates.

Not long after its release, the name was changed to just 7-Up. The origins of the name 7-Up are a mystery lost to the sands of time, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the lithium was removed.

Baby’s first hit

7-Up really took off in part because of the demand for mixers during Prohibition—a shift which also benefited ginger ale. The company managed to stay afloat during WWII, when sugar rations took down many other soda makers. By the end of the war, it was the third most popular soft drink in the US. As a final note: there’s an urban legend that the famous red dot/cool spot in 7-Up’s logo represents Griggs’s eyes, as he was supposedly red-eyed and an albino. He was neither, and the spot came well after he died. But man, cool idea, right?

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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. Once, 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. Her 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. She refused assistance, then saved the stranded miners and earned the nickname Angel of the Cassiar. Apparently bored with the Klondike, Cashman 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 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 and not just movies, the mining company payroll the thieves intended to steal had not yet arrived. 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.

Later, a sixth accomplice was also arrested. The bandits were sentenced to death, but the last accomplice received only life in prison. The punishment was not enough for the townspeople/ravening mob, who dragged the man out of jail—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 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.

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4. GI Joe was one of the most formative media of my childhood. I would 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, whose primary business tactic involved hiring mercenaries to ignite conflict in tense regions, then make cash selling arms to both sides. Destro’s 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. His neckchain is the Scottish symbol for absolute power, and I can’t believe they have a special symbol just for that. Finally, 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, don’t deal with Destro.


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