ribbed trivia roundup

Additional research on topics that came up at bar trivia, including papal names, papal indecency, libelous slander, slanderous libel, and fast food dearly departed…

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1. OK, so papal names: the winners are John with 21 (weirdly, they skipped John XX and I don’t know why) and Gregory with 16. Benedict is next with 15, then Clement, Innocent, Leo and Pius. There have been four Eugenes. There are some real fun ones when you go to the bottom of the list: Dionysius, Eutychian, Lando, Silverius, Severinus, Simplicius, Sissinnius, Telesphorus, and Zephyrinus.

It turns out there have been a lot of bad popes. Indeed, so many bad popes that there’s an entire book about the worst of them, called … The Bad Popes. The ne plus ultra of bad popes—you might say the canonical bad pope—is Stephen VI, who is primarily known for the “Cadaver Synod” of 897. This involved exhuming the body of his predecessor Formosus for purposes of an ecclesiastical trial. The corpse was propped up on a throne and peppered with questions (a deacon answered for the deceased). It was found guilty, stripped of its vestments, had three fingers removed—the fingers used for blessing—then was reburied. Then it was exhumed again and thrown in a river. Later it washed on shore and was reburied again. One historian suggests that 10 years later a different pope exhumed the body to put it on trial again, but that story has largely been debunked.

File photo: Cadaver Synod

Wikipedia helpfully informs me that “The Cadaver Synod and related events took place during a period of political instability in Italy.” Oh, so you’re saying that exhuming the body of the pope, putting the cadaver on trial, desecrating the corpse, reburying it, re-exhuming it, and dumping the body in the Tiber occurred during a period of political instability? Good to know, thanks. Now I know what to watch out for. Incidentally, has anyone written a history of exhuming bodies for vengeance and/or humiliation purposes? I remember reading that Oliver Cromwell’s head was exhumed and put on a spike, but I’m guessing that history holds many examples.

Another important note in pope history: Pope Benedict IX, who became pope in 1032 at the age of 20 (the original young pope), was forced out in 1036, came back, was expelled in 1044 owing to a supposed “sodomitic lifestyle”, took the papacy back by force in 1045, then literally sold the papacy to his godfather, experienced sellers’’ remorse, and retook the throne in 1046 before vacating again in 1048. He is called a “disgrace to the Chair of Peter” by the Catholic encyclopedia, and one historian refers to him as “a demon from hell.” He holds at least three papal records: he was the youngest pope, he had the most penalty minutes in one season, and he’s the only guy to sell the papacy. The best part of papal history is that at any given time there is most likely a pope, an antipope, and hundreds of other people either claiming the throne for themselves or working a Machiavellian scheme to get into power, so everyone gets described as the living embodiment of pure evil by someone.

By the way, today’s “great moments in wikipedia lists” is a List of sexually active popes.

Double by the way: the term “triple crown” comes from the name of the papal tiara.

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2. Some notes on defamation: one landmark moment in the history of libel was the sad case of Australian restaurant critic Leo Schofield, who (along with his paper) was fined $100,000 for a particularly wicked review of the Blue Angel restaurant. His critique included comments like “Even Godzilla boiled for 45 minutes would be appallingly overcooked. Which is what our grilled lobster most certainly was, cooked until every drop of juice and joy in the thing had been successfully eliminated, leaving a charred husk of a shell containing meat that might have been albino walrus.” Unfortunately the legal concept of “fair comment” was apparently not enough to exonerate Schofield’s fare comment (I’m so, so sorry for that). As a side note, for my money there is little better than a properly done savage restaurant review. In the #1 on that list, AA Gill describes veal kidneys as “a gray, suppurating renal brick.”

And what about the so-called “McLibel” trial, when McDonald’s sued five activists in the UK for distributing a leaflet critical of the company. Instead of rolling over, two of the five defended themselves in court in a trial that spanned nearly a decade. Executives ended up on the witness stand, and the company got fitted for a set of clown shoes. The trial dragged on so long that McDonald’s offered to settle the case by donating to charity on the condition the duo not speak ill of the company in public, though they could say whatever they wanted to friends. The pair offered to accept, on the condition that McDonald’s stopped advertising, and only recommended their products in private to friends. Eventually McDonald’s was awarded $40,000, the court concluding that some parts of the leaflet were defamatory, but they have not bothered to actually collect.

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3. Speaking of McDonald’s, here’s a fun fact: the McRib was invented because of the success of chicken mcnuggets. Now, you’re probably thinking that, high on the successful mcnuggetization of america, McDonald’s crack team of food scientists hoped to strike gold again with another molded agglomeration of emulsified meat slurry. But, actually, mcnuggets were so successful that there was a chicken shortage, and the mcrib was a pork-based stand in.

Anyway, the McRib debuted in 1981, was removed in 1985, then brought back occasionally, supposedly killed for good in 2005, and brought back again and again. As discussed, one of the best and most weirdly compelling articles I’ve ever read offers speculation that the availability of the McRib is related to fluctuations in pork prices. It includes the sentence “Fast food involves both hideously violent economies of scale and sad, sad end users who volunteer to be taken advantage of.”

McRibs being cast

The Filet-o-Fish dates back to 1962, and was introduced as a meatless alternative for Roman Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Fridays. The CEO of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, had his own idea for a meatless sandwich: the Hula Burger, a grilled pineapple ring covered with american cheese. The story goes that he offered a bet to the franchise owner who suggested the filet-o-fish: put both on the menu, and the one that sells the most stays permanently. Take a guess which won.

The Shamrock Shake was introduced in 1970 and was originally lemon-lime flavored. It was marketed by “Uncle O’Grimacey,” and I swear I’m not making that up. The McMuffin was introduced in 1972, marketed by Mayor McCheese and Deputy Mayor Puff McMuff (I definitely made up that part).

And now for the abominable and/or failed fast food product matching game. Match the numbered product on the left with the appropriate lettered response:

1. McDonald’s Onion Nuggets A. After I ate this, I experienced prolonged night terrors accompanied by a recurrent grinding sound in my chest matching the frequency of a woodchipper being fed a 24 year old live oak during the dry season.
2. McLobster / McSpaghetti/McPizza B. ER admissions for burned hands increased 70,000% following its introduction
3. BK Enormous Omelet Sandwich C. Based on a suggestion from Henry Kissinger
4. KFC Double Down D. Empirically demonstrated limits on the culinary benefits of extrusion
5. Taco Bell Waffle Tacos E. Referenced in the landmark study “Consumer shape preference for fried allium”, in the Quarterly Journal of Deep-Fried Consumption (Venkman & Stantz, 1985).
6. BK Chicken Fries F. A failure that speaks to the inherent conflict of globalization
7. Wendy’s Baconator G. Contained 120% of the FDA’s daily recommended sodium intake, but only 15% of the recommended daily offal intake according to Hormel Institute of Nutrition.


Answers: 1-E, 2-F, 3-G, 4-B, 5-C, 6-D, 7-A


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