Then & Now
The “Jeopardy!”/Tom Swift Connection
GREGORY J. of Dayton’s Bluff writes: “‘Jeopardy!’ is an interesting show. It can make you feel like a genius one moment and a total idiot the next. And every once in a while, something comes up that demands more information than a simple answer and question. That happened to me recently.
“The category was ‘Acronyms,’ the answer was ‘TASER,’ and none of the contestants knew that it stood for the Tom A. Swift Electric Rifle. Neither did I. I needed to know more, not the least of which was: Since when did Tom Swift have a middle name?
“To make a long story short, I learned that Jack Cover invented the TASER in 1974 and originally named it the TSER, after the book ‘Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle,’ which was a book in the original Tom Swift series, published in 1911. However, Cover decided that TSER was a clumsy name and gave Tom Swift a middle initial of ‘A,’ even though he never had one in the books. Thus the catchy acronym TASER was born. [Bulletin Board interjects: We propose that the “A.” should stand for “Alva.”]
“A TASER shoots two darts up to 35 feet into the intended target. These darts remain connected to the launcher by wires that provide a jolt of 50,000 volts, which stuns the victim. How does that compare to Tom Swift’s electric rifle? Obviously I needed to consult the source material. Guess what? I own a copy of the book.
“It turns out that except for the fact that his rifle could also stun a person from a distance, the two are very different.
“Let me quote Tom Swift’s own description of his invention: ‘It works by electricity. That is, the force comes from a powerful current of stored electricity. There are no batteries, but the current is sort of a wireless kind. It is stored in a cylinder and can be released as I need it. More power can be [generated] by means of a small dynamo. There are no bullets. A concentrated charge of electricity is shot from the barrel with great force. You can’t see it, yet it is there. It’s just as if you concentrated a charge of electricity of five thousand volts into a small globule the size of a bullet.’
“That all sounds very impressive, but it is basically gibberish. There is more. The electric bullet can pass through metal or wood like an X-ray, can be set to detonate at a specific distance and be adjusted to create a burst of light, or to stun, kill or disintegrate the intended target. Fortunately, even after 112 years, we still can’t build something like Tom Swift’s electric rifle.”
Out of the mouths of babes
A Lady Who Loves Little People: “Our San Francisco Daughter (who is now our N.Y.C. Daughter) came home to help me celebrate my 75th birthday, and to visit with her Midwest family and friends.
“A few days before my birthday, N.Y.C.D. invited a close friend, Jen, and her 4-year-old daughter, Amaria, to our house for lunch. While Jen and N.Y.C. Daughter chatted, Jen’s daughter, Amaria, and I got a chance to know each other.
“I buy books for children who come to visit, and Amaria got really excited when she saw a ‘Clifford’ book on an end table. After exploring the book and two others that I had on the table, she asked if I had any more Norman Bridwell books. I was totally flummoxed by her question. Finally, my brain got into gear, and I realized that she was talking about the author of the ‘Clifford’ book. This child was obviously smarter than the average bear!
“Before she got involved with another book, she remembered that our adopted cat, Sugar, was downstairs with Jen and N.Y.C. Daughter, and she went to play with the cat.
“When it was time to climb the wooden steps to get ready for lunch, Jen (who was already at the top of the stairs) cautioned her daughter (who had stocking feet) to be careful because the stairs might be slippery. I immediately volunteered to carry Amaria up the stairs. Once we reached the landing, Amaria exclaimed: ‘You’re very strong!’ I was puzzled how she was fixated on my strength, because she repeated the comment several times.
“Dinner wasn’t quite ready, so Jen suggested to Amaria that she might like to draw a picture for me. Amaria happily jumped to that activity; halfway through the picture, she stopped drawing and looked at me VERY carefully. Then she asked: ‘Why are you so strong?’ I didn’t quite know how to answer, so I told her I must have been born that way. From her expression, I knew that wasn’t the answer she was expecting, so I explained that I often lift heavy things, so that must be why I’m strong.
“As I finished speaking, Amaria leaned very close to me, scrutinizing my face, and then she declared: ‘But you’re OLD!’
“No one had ever told me I was old (not even my doctor, who recently told me that my body was 10 years younger than the date on my birth certificate), so the wind kind of left my sails. I was now looking at 75 under a new light.
“I was still mulling the situation over when Jen appeared, so I asked her why Amaria thinks I am so strong. Jen explained that both of Amaria’s grandmas had knee replacements, and neither of them lifted Amaria up.
“My guess is that both grandmas thought it was easier to explain old age than replacement knees, so Amaria was amazed that an old woman like me could scoop her up and carry her up the stairs.
“Even though Amaria was like the child who called out the emperor for not wearing clothes, I still remain A Lady Who Loves Little People.”
The sign on the road to the cemetery said “Dead End”
Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Division
Our Official Electronic Board of the Church on Lexington in Shoreview Monitor — Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul — reports: “Subject: A cheerful winter twofer in Shoreview.
“The most recent messages on the electronic board of the church on Lexington in Shoreview read:
“‘A SNOWFLAKE IS
“And . . .
“‘HOT COCOA HELPS!’”
The Lowfalutin Pleasures
The Happy Medium: “Subject: My Claim to Fame.
“I no longer enjoy driving the freeway system. While on freeways, it seems
everyone is racing to get to wherever before the bell rings. Cars rushing on
both sides of me is not a comforting situation.
“For the last several years, I drive only on roads that are close to the ground — that is, the back roads, where there are trees and houses obstructing the horizon view on either side. Back roads are just fine, thank you very much.
“My claim to fame is driving from the north side of the metro to Edina
without using the freeway system. It takes longer, but I get there quietly and
“How did I manage that, you ask?
“No, I did not use the modern GPS. If I had used that system, I would have
driven that ‘voice woman’ crazy because of the need for one adjustment
statement after another. [Bulletin Board interjects: Actually, Apple Maps and Google Maps — and perhaps other map apps — let the user choose to “avoid highways.”] No, I used the trusty spiral paperback version of the ‘Hudson’s Twin Cities Street Atlas,’ dated 2000. Don’t tell me I have to embrace the Internet age.
“Briefly, here are some of the streets, avenues or boulevards I used. Starting
at Champlin: West River Road, Winnetka, over the 610 freeway, Broadway, over Highway 81, Winnetka again, Wayzata Boulevard, Louisiana Avenue,
Excelsior Boulevard, Brookline and Vernon — and voilà, Edina. The quiet residential areas were much better than battling the rapid-moving traffic on both sides.
“In case you want to try that route, please note there may be a few
changes due to road construction, including one or two more ’roundabouts.’
The roundabouts have mushroomed like rabbits over the last few years.
“Yes, my claim to fame holds: driving to Edina without using the freeway
system. Fame is good, even if it is only driving on roads close to the ground.”
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
Vertically Challenged reports: “I just had an odd Baader-Meinhof. [Bulletin Board notes: Every Baader-Meinhof is, by definition, odd.]
“Yesterday N.Y. daughter was telling me about 7-year-old Adriana, when they were in the park and there were some people there and she greeted them by saying ‘Konnichi wa.’ I had never heard that before, but evidently she had learned a few words in this language [Japanese].
“So . . . right now I’m reading a book in a cozy mystery series, and it takes place on a cruise ship mostly, but four people are getting off in Tokyo for the day, and they get into a cab and all greet the driver with ‘Konnichi wa’!”
The verbing of America
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “From a post on a neighborhood website: ‘His car was snowbanked.’”
Live and learn
Al B of Hartland: “I’ve learned . . .
“Never make snow angels in a dog park.
“No one can find a spider like someone who is terrified of them.”
The vision thing
Including: Know thyself!
Eos: “Subject: The Icky Bug Test.
“I came into the house after shoveling, and saw what I thought was one of those
multi-legged bugs (the kind that give me shivers) moving in the corner of the entryway.
“I squeaked across the kitchen floor in my snowy boots and grabbed my plastic bug-catching glass and paper. As I positioned myself for the capture, it moved again, and I shivered.
“I carefully lowered the glass over it, slid the paper under the glass, and trapped it. (I’m a ‘catch-and-release’ person.) I opened the kitchen door, stepped outside, and tipped the glass over. Instead of a bug, I saw a small, fluffy, gray feather float down to the snow.
“Silly me! But I passed the Icky Bug Test with just a couple of shivers.”
Band Name of the Day: The (Knee) Replacements
Websites of the Day: Apple Maps and Google Maps