The Euchre Belt

The other day we were talking about potentially having a social event for our litigation group in Columbus, and someone mentioned that maybe we could hold a euchre tournament. The B.A. Jersey Girl commented, however, that we would have to actually teach the game to some of our lawyers. This astonished me, because I thought that this fun and fast-paced card game was played by pretty much everyone who has ever touched a deck of cards. To the contrary, the B.A.J.G. inexorably maintained: euchre is virtually unknown on her home turf or elsewhere along the east coast, and seemed to be played only in Ohio and perhaps other parts of the Midwest.

Sadly, in this, as in so many things, the B.A.J.G proved to be correct. In America, euchre evidently is widely known and played only in a swatch of states that may be called the “euchre belt”: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. The American version of the game apparently is derived from an Alsatian game called Juckerspiel and was brought to the U.S. by German-speaking immigrants, who handed it down to succeeding generations. That explains why the above-noted swath of the Midwest, where many German immigrants settled, is home to many euchre enthusiasts.

In Ohio, though, euchre soon expanded out of the German immigrant community. When I was a kid, all of the relatives on both sides of my family played euchre (as well as pretty much every other card game), and when I was in high school I and other classmates at Upper Arlington High School often played euchre in the “student center” during break periods between scheduled classes. (It beat studying in the “learning center.”) It was a quick, raucous game that well-suited to being completed within an open period.

The rules of euchre are weird, which is part of the fun of the game–and which makes you wonder what long-forgotten savant came up with them. Among other oddities, you begin by culling the deck itself and getting rid of all of the cards except the nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings, and aces. A euchre game is four-handed, with a player teaming up with the person facing them at the table. Each player is dealt five cards (in two rounds, for no readily apparent reason), and the remaining four cards are placed in a pile face down on the table before the top card is flipped over. This is a crucial element of the game, because the three down cards in the “kitty,” which could be crucial to the hand, are instead “buried” and their identity is unknown to the players. Many euchre players have come a cropper, or lucked out on a weak hand, because of the identity of these down cards.

The players determine a suit first by going around the table so that each player decides whether to “order up” the top card that has been turned over from the kitty, in which case the dealer of the hand takes the card, puts it in his hand, and selects a discard from his hand to join the down cards in the kitty. (This is another key part of the game, where you try to signal your partner about your hand–perhaps by a long pause as if you are debating whether you’ve got enough to order up the card, only to ultimately decide not to do so.) If no one orders it up, the top card is turned down and another round occurs in which any player may name the trump suit. Whichever team names the trump then has to win three of the five tricks, and if they fail they are “euchred.” If you’ve got a very strong hand and you’ve named the trump, you’ve also got to decide whether to “got it alone” and hope you can win all five tricks by yourself–and not get euchred in the process.

The card priority rules of euchre are even stranger. When trump is named, the two most highest ranked cards are the “bowers”–the jack of the trump suit (the all-powerful “right” bower) and the jack of the other suit of the same color (the “left” bower, which can take any card but the right bower). So, if hearts is the trump, the jack of hearts is the right bower, and the jack of diamonds is the left bower. “Bowers” apparently are the Americanized version of “bauers,” which is German for farmers. Players must follow the suit that is led, but if their hand has a void (i.e., no cards of the suit led) they can try to take the trick with a trump. With every player holding only five cards, voids are common, and unexpected trump plays that take an off ace can ruin the best hands.

I can’t summarize all of the rules of this great game, in which hands are over in the blink of an eye. taunting is commonplace, and friendly arguments about card-playing decisions are inevitable, but if you’re not familiar with euchre, I encourage you to learn it. You can check out a “beginner’s guide” to the game here.

I’m hoping we go forward with that euchre tournament. It would be nice to see the “euchre belt” widened and lengthened.

Around The World (Again And Again)

Some people really like cruises. I’ve been on two, and they were nice experiences.

But if you really like cruises, consider this option: a cruise line is offering people the chance to live at sea, in a cruise ship converted into a floating residence that will constantly circumnavigate the globe. One trip around the world will take about 27 months, with about 540 days spent in more than 200 ports that the ship will visit. Travelers/residents can rent a cabin for a minimum of six months–although many apparently have signed up for longer stints, with greater rent discounts–and the cheapest berth will cost $8,000 a month for two people, along with a $30,000 deposit. The priciest room is $35,000 a month for two people, with an $80,000 deposit. (That suite is already booked, in case you’re interested.)

You can see photos of the ship that will be carrying the passengers on their endless around-the-world trip, and some of the amenities it will offer, here. The cruise will be an adults-only affair. It is clearly catering to an older audience; a sales manager for the cruise line describes the ship as akin to “a retirement home on the water.” Of course, pretty much every cruise could be described in that way.

What would it be like to be on an endless cruise around the world? I’m not sure, but I do know this: I would definitely hope that I liked my fellow passengers, because after six months with them anyone who was annoying would really be getting on my nerves.

Aged Adjectives

The other day I ran across a story about a senior citizen. In one of the first few paragraphs, I ran across the inevitable, dreaded “aged adjective.” In this case, it was a double dose: “spry and sprightly.”

In case you’re not familiar with them, “aged adjectives” are words that are frequently used in human interest stories about old people. The idea is to describe the particular golden ager in a way that is contrary to what people would expect to see in a senior citizen. And, frankly, the general preconceptions about the lifestyles of the elderly are pretty grim. Most people seem to think that retirees are boring, completely sedentary, and hoping for nothing more than a nap and an “early bird” meal at the nearest Golden Corral. The roster of aged adjectives play against that sad stereotype.

Think about it: when have you ever seen the words “spry” or “sprightly” that weren’t immediately followed by “octogenarian” or “90-year-old”? These are words that are never used to describe a teenager or a thirty-something. But after the years have added up, a reporter assigned to write a feature story about a gray hair who is capable of walking unaided from point A to point B might think that surprising fact was worth communicating to the reader, and “spry” and “sprightly” predictably get hauled out again.

Of course, “spry” and “sprightly” aren’t the only aged adjectives out there. Here are some others that come to mind:








Steady on his feet

If they are used to describe you you can be assured that you are viewed as a member of the Geriatric Brigade–which, incidentally, meets at the Golden Corral for dinner every Tuesday at 4:30, sharp.

Celebrating St. Pat’s In Style

Our lobby had an interesting combination of St. Patrick’s Day celebratory items out for consumption this afternoon. It wasn’t clear whether you were supposed to start with the Lucky Charms, then toss back some of the Bailey’s Irish Cream (or Kahlua), and then top things off with a cupcake, or were expected to proceed in a different order. Either way, you’d probably end up feeling a bit green around the gills.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Mighty Forces, Ever At Work

For about 100 million years, all of the land masses of Earth combined to form one huge supercontinent that we now call Pangea (or Pangaea). When Pangea existed, the current continents fit neatly together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, as shown in the illustration above. The east coasts of North America and South America were wedged up against Africa, and it would have been possible to take a delightful driving trip to anywhere in the world–such as heading due east from Columbus, Ohio across the northern rim of Africa and then up through Eurasia to the eastern tip of Siberia. Careful packing would have been a must for that journey!

Pangea was just one of several supercontinents that have existed–and will exist again–in the long history of Earth. Like its predecessors, Pangea broke apart thanks to the ceaseless grinding movements of the tectonic plates that comprise Earth’s mantle. Those movements caused North and South America to drift gradually westward, creating the Atlantic Ocean, and Africa and Antarctica to fall away to the south and Australia to head east.

The best current evidence of the impact of the ongoing churning of the Earth’s crust is found in Africa, which geologists have determined is slowly splitting apart. The Somalian plate in east Africa is shearing off from the Nubian plate on which the rest of Africa is situated. Each year, they move a few millimeters farther away from each other–meaning that in a few million years a considerable gap will open, a new ocean will be created that fills the gap, and there will be a new, large island off the east coast of a smaller Africa.

In an even longer period of time. the tectonic plate movements will push North America all the way west to Japan and the east coast of Asia, forming a new supercontinent that they have already dubbed “Amasia.” At that point, it will be possible to take a cool driving trip from Columbus due west to the Great Wall of China–with a stop at the Corn Palace and other attractions along the way, of course.

Our Optimistic IRS

America’s Internal Revenue Service turns out to be a pretty optimistic place. This may surprise people who associate the IRS with dense, bureaucratic prose, obscure tax calculations, and no-nonsense audits. But the irrefutable evidence of innate IRS optimism is right there for all to see, in Table III of IRS publication 590-B.

(That description of the document just screams “IRS,” doesn’t it?)

Publication 590-B tells you when and how you need to determine the mandatory “required minimum distributions” from your 401(k) plan and other individual retirement arrangements, because you eventually have to start taking those retirement funds that have been sitting in your retirement account in pre-tax form and start paying tax on them. As Publication 590-B explains at page 8, you figure your RMD “by dividing the IRA account balance (defined next) as of the close of business on December 31 of the preceding year by the applicable distribution period or life expectancy” set by one of the Tables.

Table III, found at page 65 of Publication 590-B, is the uniform lifetime table that many taxpayers will use. It gives a number for each year of expected longevity that you then use to complete that equation. And that’s where the optimism seeps in, because Table III includes numbers all the way up to age “120 and over.” That’s right: the IRS thinks there’s a sufficient chance that you might make it to 120 that it has formalized and published the appropriate retirement plan tax calculation if that actually occurs.

Pay no attention to the fact that records indicate that precisely one person in modern world history–Jeanne Calment of France, who lived to age 122 before dying in 1997–has made it to their 120th birthday! Some scientists think you have a shot of hitting that milestone, and now you can be confident that the IRS does, too.

By the way, if my understanding of Publication 590-B is correct, if you make it to 120 you’ll have to take half of whatever remains in your retirement account as income at that point, and pay tax on it. Think of the birthday party you could have!

The Bear Friendship Test

Somebody at the National Park Service apparently has a sense of humor.

The NPS Twitter account published some bear safety tips as we move from hibernation season into spring, a period where famished, reawakened bears living in national parks can expect to be much more active. One useful tip was: “If you come across a bear, never push a slower friend down, even if you feel the friendship has run its course.”

A bear encounter under such conditions would be a pretty good test of a friendship.

The real advice was to travel in groups, keep your distance from any bear you see, not surprise a bear that hasn’t noticed you, and “identify yourself” as a human to any bear that notices you by standing still, talking calmly and waving your arms. I’ve seen exactly one bear in the wild, when I was hiking in Glacier National Park, and my approach was to quietly turn around and skedaddle in the opposite direction. That worked for me.

Cats On The Cusp

I think we can all agree that, viewed in hindsight after almost three years have passed, the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were a pretty weird, unsettling time–but we’re just now beginning to learn how much weirder it could have been.

This TIME magazine story about a recent admission by a former health official in the U.K. illustrates the point. Lord Bethell, a deputy health minister during the early days of the pandemic, acknowledges that the U.K. government briefly thought about instructing citizens to exterminate all pet cats due to fears that the cats might be spreading the coronavirus. Great Britain has about 11 million cats. Fortunately, the health authorities decided to investigate the fears of COVID-spreading cats, concluded that the fears were groundless–as they obviously were later proven to be–and avoided mass catricide.

As the TIME article notes, other animals were not so lucky. Singapore euthanized 2,000 hamsters, and Denmark, which, curiously, apparently is the largest mink producer in the world, knocked off millions of minks in a hasty decision that was later found to be totally unjustified. No country, however, took the step of requiring the killing of household pets–and we can only imagine the reactions of pet owners if that had been tried!

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. It just goes to show that letting things simmer down, and actually doing some investigating before making peremptory decisions, can prevent a catastrophe.

Banking On The Power Of Annoyance

How do you incentivize someone to pay their bills? The Ford Motor Company has come up with an approach that would invoke the power of annoyance, in conjunction with “smart” technology, to encourage people who have fallen behind on their car payments to catch up.

Ford has filed for a patent on technology that would allow the car maker to take certain vehicle-related actions when a car owner misses payments. The technology could permit Ford to remotely turn off the car’s air conditioning, shut down the radio and sound system, disable cruise control and automatic windows, cause constant beeping in the car’s interior, and ultimately to lock the car owner out of the car altogether. (A car without air conditioning, radio, and working windows sounds like one of my battered ’70s cars, but I digress.) And, if the car has self-driving capability, the technology could even cause the car to drive itself to a location where it can be picked up by the repo man.

Ford’s patent application acknowledges that the disabling power of the technology “may cause an additional level of discomfort to a driver and occupants of the vehicle”–which really is the whole point. Ford also says it has no plans to deploy the technology at present, but the patent application gives us a glimpse of a future where manufacturers of items that are often paid off over time equip their devices with technology that gives them self-help options in the event of non-payment. And, once the technology is installed, manufacturers would no doubt establish an order of priority that would steadily increase the annoyances until they reached the unbearable point: perhaps starting with disabling the windows and the sound system, then nixing the air conditioning during the summer, and finally counting on an irritating, incessant beeping, in combination with everything else, to bring the car owner to his knees and finally pay up.

Really, this kind of remote-controlled activity is just part of the price of “smart” technology. Once it gets rolled out in new cars, I predict it will invigorate the used car market.

Redefining “Cooperation”

I’m sure the job of a TSA agent isn’t an easy one. They’ve got to remind travelers of the ever-changing rules for screening, enforce the security standards, and review the x-rays of countless suitcases and computer bags every shift. They are also regularly dealing with stressed-out people who left too late and are now are trying desperately to get through security and catch their flights. There’s bound to be some friction.

Still, I thought this sign that I saw in an airport recently in the TSA checkpoint area was an interesting juxtaposition. After announcing in bold letters that any threats, verbal abuse, or physical violence against TSA agents are strictly prohibited and could give rise to criminal charges and thousands of dollars in fines, there’s a polite thank-you to travelers for their “cooperation.” Typically, you wouldn’t think of “cooperation” as describing compliance with instructions in the face of monetary penalties and criminal prosecution.

Don’t get me wrong: I think TSA agents are just doing their jobs and should be treated with respect and consideration–which in my traveling experience is exactly what happens. I’ve never seen any kind of incident in the security area, and I hope that I never do. But the TSA’s definition of “cooperation” is a bit more elastic than mine.

Two Melons

Yesterday I had breakfast at a breakfast buffet at the conference I was attending. Like every breakfast buffet in the history of conference breakfast buffets, it featured slices of orange melons and green melons. You never see one without the other, and people who want to add a healthy item to their plate will take a few slices of each—only to remember with their first bites that while the orange melon is delightful and delicious, the green melon is a tasteless fibrous mass that no one really enjoys. I suspect that most abandoned breakfast buffet plates include a few uneaten slices of green melon.

So, why do breakfast buffets inevitably feature the unwanted green melon along with the succulent orange melon? Either the green melon growers have an exceptionally powerful lobby, or there is a National Melon Balancing Act lurking in the federal statute books that mandates that any establishment that decides to offer a breakfast buffet must include both.

New Year, New Tests

One of the interesting things about getting older is that, as you hit new age milestones, you’re recommended for new medical tests and scans that you’ve never heard of (or, for that matter, thought of) before.

This month I was introduced to two of them, both of which involved my new friend the ultrasound machine. I last encountered the ultrasound device when we were in the child-bearing years, and it was used to produce dark and murky images that were indecipherable to anyone who wasn’t having a baby. The new tests obviously had a different purpose.

The first test was an abdominal ultrasound scan to look for aortic aneurysms, which is a one-time test recommended for men over a certain age. Aneurysms are bad things, and the scan is an early screening tool designed to allow doctors to spot and treat them before they burst. That made sense to me–who wants to deal with a burst aneurysm, really?–so I found myself lying on a treatment table and lifting up my shirt so a medical technician could apply some transmission gel to my stomach and then use the scanner to move gradually around on my torso to get a good look at my abdominal aorta. The scan took about 30 minutes and was no big deal.

The second test was a carotid artery ultrasound, which is designed to look for blocked or narrowed carotid arteries. Since the carotid arteries carry blood directly to the brain, blockages are bad and can lead to strokes. This test was even easier, didn’t require any clothes adjustment, and literally took about five minutes. I reclined on a treatment table next to the machine and the gel and the ultrasound scanning tool were applied first to one side of my neck, then to the other. The technician gazed intently at her screen, we heard the rhythmic whooshing of my heart pumping blood through the carotids, and then I was done.

My primary care doctor is a big believer in preventative medicine and early testing and using the amazing tools that are now available to detect and avoid potential medical issues. With the wear and tear inflicted by years of use, I’ve become a prime candidate for blockages, burstings, and other bodily breakdowns. Now that my aorta and carotid arteries have been checked out, I’ll wait patiently until I hit another milestone that puts me in the age range for another recommended screening or scanning. I expect I’ll be seeing my new friend the ultrasound machine again.

A Mad Man Bun Tale

Some people, at least, seem to really dislike man buns–be they the top knot, the pineapple, the undercut, or any other random styling of long hair rubber-banded on a guy’s head. But how do you assess the degree of disdain for man buns? The extent of absolute contempt for this coif is notoriously hard to measure.

Here’s one bit of tangible evidence of just how much people despise the man bun. A story circulated widely on social media recently about a guy out in Los Angeles who was allegedly caught after accosting 37 men and cutting off their man buns, saying that he was “doing the Lord’s work.” Of course, the story is fake–an attempt at humor published by a satirical website. The story had obvious elements of implausibility (really, a guy grabbing 37 man bunners and hacking off their offending hairstyles?) and other signs of phoniness, like overtorqued quotes, but some people readily believed it.

I’m guessing that you were far more likely to fall for this ruse if you felt an underlying scorn for the man bun, with your antipathy rendering you especially gullible. People who really can’t stand man buns would be far more likely to accept that another, more extreme bun-hater might be motivated to take forcible bun removal into his own hands. What better evidence of broad bun dislike could there be?

A Slob’s Reform

When I was in college, I admittedly was a slob. Dirty dishes were piled up in the sink of my apartment, I never made my bed, I never cleaned the refrigerator, and the bathroom was a horror show of mold and grime and dirty towels. It is embarrassing to admit this now, but my apartment was so trashed that my mother forced my poor sisters to come over to clean it–thank you for that, sisters, by the way–only to learn a week or so later that, after a party my roommate and I hosted, it was a disaster area again. But it was college, there was a lot going on, and I couldn’t be bothered to spend time on something mundane like cleaning up.

At some point after college, though, my attitude changed, and I experienced a radical shift on the rank messiness to obsessive cleanliness scale. I realized that clutter in my living space kind of bugged me, and that I favored a spotless, gleaming countertop over one that was smeared with grease and littered with crumbs. I found that I enjoyed making the bed in the morning, picking things up and stashing them in their proper place, and doing simple chores like putting dishes in the dishwasher and polishing a tarnished tray to a decent shine. And, at the office, I found that I liked a clean desk and that, as between loose papers and documents stashed neatly in folders and then in boxes, I much preferred the latter.

As I puttered around this morning, putting away dishes from the dishwasher and wiping down the sink, I found myself wondering: what caused the change? Was there always a neatnik buried beneath the slouching college laissez-faire attitude about dirt and grime? I don’t think so, because I don’t remember being troubled at all about my crummy college living conditions. I suspect that, as I moved from college to the working world, I realized that maintaining some degree of cleanliness was a part of responsible adulthood. And I think I also came to appreciate the simple pleasures of doing a basic chore than can be brought to a complete conclusion in a short period. If you work at a job where you might not see results from your labors for weeks or months, you find real value in the immediate gratification of a completed task on the home front.

I wonder how my current self would react if given the opportunity to see my grubby college apartment. I suspect I’d collect some cleaning supplies, roll up my sleeves, and happily accept the challenge of bringing it up to code–so my poor sisters didn’t have to do it.

The Father Of Peeps

Easter is two months away–it falls on April 9 this year–but most Easter baskets that will be assembled in 2023 are likely to have predictable contents. You can bet your bottom dollar that nestled deep in the fake plastic grass, next to the chocolate bunnies and the speckled malted milk eggs, you will find bright yellow marshmallow chicks–known to all as Peeps.

Peeps are the favorite Easter candy of some people; for others, Peeps have a dangerously addictive quality. For those people, if Peeps are in the house they must be promptly discovered and immediately consumed–perhaps, in some cases, after first briefly exposing the Peeps to the air, so that the yellow skin hardens. And then, after the lust for Peeps is fully sated, the guilt about gobbling down multiple delectable Peeps will cause the Peeps addict to banish the candy from the house until the next Easter rolls around.

Why I am writing about Peeps in early February, two full months before Easter? Because the guy who invented the machine that allowed Peeps to be mass produced and delivered to millions of Peeps fans just died.

His name was Ira Born, but he was known as Bob. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the family candy business, called Just Born. In the 1950s, Just Born bought a small company that produced marshmallow candy by hand. Bob Born decided to try to create a device that would produce the marshmallow treats mechanically, and spent a year designing and building the machine that ultimately would produce a package of Peeps in six minutes, whereas the hand production approach would require 27 hours of labor. Bob Born’s machine successfully mechanized the process and was in operation for more than 50 years at the Just Born candy company, and the technological concepts he developed are still used in the making of Peeps. That’s why he’s known as the Father of Peeps.

Bob Born died at age 98, having revolutionized a candy production process and allowed delectable, bright yellow marshmallow chicks to become a beloved staple of Easter baskets throughout the land. Peeps fans owe him a debt of gratitude that can never been repaid. That’s a pretty good legacy.