What is It? of the Week: A Rat King

Friday, February 15th, 2008

[Given that it is now the Chinese Year of the Rat, I thought this appropriate.]

A Rat King is not the King of Rats, despite what certain dippy ballets and Dungeons & Dragons geeks would have you think. A Rat King is a mythological creature composed of a mass of rats, stuck together by knotted and intertwined tails. This phenomenon is said to occur when rats nest together in large numbers and their tails somehow naturally tangle together. They are reported to move about as a single entity, running amock and scaring the sh!t out of everyone. This phenomenon/myth appears to be of European origin and the oldest report of a Rat King may date to 1564.

For examples of preserved (hoax) Rat Kings: LinketyLinkLink

Perhaps only worse than a Rat King is the dreaded squawking Chihuahua King.

(via Susan)

What Is It? of the Week: The Rum Cannonball

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Today I was watching “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” At the monsoon-destroyed ruins of Hotel Citroën on the island of Little Ping, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) notes:

“What a shame. They had a bartender here, Kino, made the best Rum Cannonball I’ve ever tasted.”

The question comes to mind: Is this a real drink, or something invented by Wes Anderson? From internet discussions and references, it’s hard to tell if this drink actually existed before the movie. Based on an average of posted recipes, I made a Rum Cannonball (actual photo).

The Rum Cannonball
•1 part white rum
•1 part gin
•1 part orange juice
•1 part pineapple juice
•1 part lemon-lime soda
•1 part strawberry soda
Serve over ice with a key lime, pineapple, or tropical orchid garnish.

What does it taste like?: Not bad . . . fruity fizzy booze.

An alternate recipe also exists:
•2 oz rum
•Top-off with orange juice
•4-5 dashes of Angostura bitters

What does it taste like?: Not bad . . . rummy spicey o.j.

Bonus Round: Drink one while wearing a Hotel Citroën t-shirt.

‘What Is It?’ of the Week: Santa Claus and His Evil Servant

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

The modern American Santa Claus is the result of a huge mess of practices and figures that have collided at high speed throughout the ages. Here is a brief synopsis of the origins of the modern American Santa Claus, and a history of his evil assistant (who is all but gone in American culture), in an approximate chronological order:

Santa Claus:
Saint Nicholas – The 4th Century Bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey), he was known for giving to the poor. In particular, he was known for providing the dowries for three impoverished sisters – sparing them of a life of begging and prostitution. Saint Nicholas became (among many other things) the patron saint of children. Many cultures honor him on December 6th, weeks before Christmas.

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‘What Is It?’ of the Week: Aroniaberry, Açai, and Dragonfruit

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

[Technically, this is a "what are they?" - three relatively obscure fruits that are now making appearances in American food products]


Aroniaberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – This berry is more commonly known as “Chokeberry” – a name that isn’t very marketable (thus “Aroniaberry”). A deciduous shrub from the wet woodlands and swamps of the American east, aronia berries have the highest concentrations of anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins (which have powerful antioxidant properties) of any known plant. However, aroniaberries taste like ass: all of the unpleasantness of pure cranberries, with a sickly-sweet/overripe finish of rotting plums.


Açai (Euterpe oleracea) – Pronounced “a-sa-i”, this grape-sized drupe actually comes from a species of South and Central American palm. This fruit is high in dietary fiber, contains the sexy omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, and is high in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins (antioxidants). The pleasant taste of açai is somewhere in between cranberry and blueberry, but less powerful.


Dragonfruit (Hylocereus polyrhizus and Hylocereus undatus) – Also known as “Pitahaya”, “Pitaya,” and “Strawberry Pear,” it is perhaps the most spectacular fruit ever. Native to Central and South America, these fruits are produced by epiphytic (tree-dwelling) vine-like cacti. The skin of the ripe fruit is a vibrant pink, with either a pink flesh (H. polyrhizus) or a white flesh (H. undatus) with thousands of tiny dark seeds suspended throughout. The gelatinous flesh has the consistency of soft melon and its mild taste is a combination of subdued kiwi and strawberry. This fruit is primed to become trendy, due to its exotic look, its edibility, and its kick-ass name.

‘What Is It?’ of the Week: The Giant Isopod

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

‘Woodlice’ [a.k.a. - 'Pill Bugs,' 'Sow Bugs,' 'Potato Bugs,' 'Roly-Polies'] are a common sight in piles of moist rotting wood, and are perhaps the most well known examples of an Isopod [an order of Crustaceans, they're related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimp].

At around 2,000 feet beneath the sea, isopods have gone from the size of a pea to the size of a f%&$ing lapdog. Behold the ancient looking Bathynomus giganteus – the Giant Isopod. Their large size may be the result of living on the deep ocean floor, which permits small creatures to evolve to gigantic proportions.

If you’d like to see Bathynomus giganteus in person, you won’t need a submarine: the James R. Record Aquarium [Fort Worth, Texas] has live Bathynomus giganteus on exhibit.

‘What is It?’ of the Week: a “Grilled Charlie”

Monday, August 20th, 2007

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” just may be one of the funniest damn television shows ever written. A detail in one of the episodes (season 2 – “The Gang Goes Jihad”) has caught the attention of several serious fans: a mysterious sandwich called a “Grilled Charlie.” Below are the results of my own reverse engineering analysis of a Grilled Charlie.

Its appearance and description in the show offer several good clues to its construction:
•Firstly, the instructions shouted by its creator, Charlie:

“A Grilled Charlie has peanutbutter last! Peanutbutter outside, chocolate inside! Butter inside, cheese outside!”

•Close inspection of the scene reveals a jar of JIF peanutbutter, a packet of American cheese slices (or cheddar), and a bottle of Hershey’s syrup next to the hotplate used to fry the “Grilled Charlie” (though other posted recipes erroneously indicate a chocolate bar).

Here’s a possible/probable way to create this:
Step 1 – Butter the bejeezus out of one side of a piece of white bread. Place the piece of bread, butter-side down, onto a hot skillet (if you’re hardcore, your skillet is on a hotplate and you’re in a filthy apartment).

Step 2 – As the butter side is frying, place a slice of cheese (American or possibly cheddar) on the top of the bread and let it melt. Then flip the bread over and fry the cheese side (you’ll need a sh*tload of butter to pull this off properly). You’ll have to keep moving it so the cheese doesn’t burn off the bread.

Step 3 – Remove the butter-cheese slice and put a new white bread slice onto the skillet (make sure there is still sufficient butter in the skillet to fry it). Fry the piece of bread, and while it is frying put Hershey’s chocolate syrup on the top side. Flip the bread over and quickly fry the chocolate side (it will actually fry if you do it right). Remove from skillet.

Step 4 – Join the two pieces of fried bread, cheese on outside, butter and chocolate on the inside. Add JIF peanutbutter to the outside of the sandwich (not clear if it goes on top of the cheese or on the opposide side of the sandwich).

Step 5 – Eat warm, with cold beer. Then prepare for the heart attack.

It is surprisingly good – a nice combination of burnt cheese, chocolate and peanutbutter.

“What Is It?” of the Week: Cthulhu

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

[For those of you who are not knee-deep in geekery]: Cthulhu (usually pronounced KThoo-Loo) is a sinister ancient deity from the works of early 20th century science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu is described as being gigantic and green, with rubbery skin, having an ‘octopus head’, a large belly, claws on its hands and feet, and thin wings emerging from its back. In Lovecraft’s universe, Cthulhu came to Earth (from somewhere in the distant cosmos) hundreds of millions of years ago and currently rests undead and “dreaming” among the remains of the buried alien city of R’lyeh, which lies beneath the most desolate area of the South Pacific (47° 9′ S, 126° 43′ W). In Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu,” Cthulhu is described as contacting people in their dreams (usually in mid-March), and by these means Cthulhu generates cults of human worshippers around the world who await his eventual awakening; according to Lovecraft, the powerful leaders of the Cthulhu cult live “in the mountains of China.”


Needless to say, Cthulhu has serious geek appeal. There are Cthulhu role-playing games, Cthulhu is a figure in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, there are numerous Campus Crusade for Cthulhu movements, and the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has created an awesome 1920’s black-and-white ’silent movie’ of “The Call of Cthulhu.” They do a good job of following the original story and their visuals and musical score are stellar (watch the trailer). The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society also offers a number of cool Cthulhu downloads, including the kick-ass cellphone wallpaper above.