August 27, 2014

August 27, 2014

Pencils Down

Once upon a time, aspiring Civil Servants in the United States had to take a test to be admitted. As someone who enjoys a) being a Civil Servant and b) taking tests, I’m devastated that the Civil Service Exam is no longer administered. Obviously, if I ever get my hands on a time machine, this is the fourth thing I’ll rectify.*

Hope is not lost, however, for I learned today that some countries still administer an entrance exam for hopeful government workers. India’s is one of the most difficult, with less than 1% of applicants getting selected. Let me blow your mind with some sweet, sweet Wikipedia:

The examination is one of the toughest examination in the world with success rate of 0.1%-0.3% with more than 500,000 applicants. It is conducted in two phases - the Preliminary examination, consisting of two objective-type papers (General Studies and Aptitude Test), and the Main examination, consisting of nine papers of conventional (essay) type followed by the Personality Test (Interview). The entire process from the notification of the Preliminary examination to declaration of the final results takes roughly one year.

Did you get a thrill of excitement while reading that? ‘Cause I sure did. Hundreds of thousands of applicants? Eleven tests? One year? YES PLEASE.

It is not immediately clear to me what subjects are available for the nine essay papers, but I’m hoping at least two or three are related to literature, film, television, or food. I’ve spent a lifetime curating knowledge of those areas.** The personality test would obviously be the hardest part, but I assume that’s why they save it until the end.

(When I imagine myself as a Jeopardy contestant, the part that really makes me sweat is the interview with Alex. I’d much rather just sing the state capitals or something.)

Do the highest scorers get the best jobs? That would be nice, though that certainly isn’t how other standardized tests seem to work. The highest ACT scorers didn’t get the best dorm rooms at my college or anything.*** But imagine a world in which only the best and brightest are selected to work in government, with the greatest of those put in the most important jobs.

I need a number 2 pencil and a ticket to Delhi. (Also, a working knowledge of Hindi.)

* After visiting the Great Exhibition (1851), the Chicago World’s Fair (1893), and the Titanic (1912). I’ll get to killing Hitler at some point, but PRIORITIES, GUYS.
** Related: If you got on Mastermind, what would your subject be? I think mine would be Jello.
*** I got a 33 on the ACT, roughly equivalent to a 1450-1500 on the SAT. And I got stuck in the dorm on the edge of campus, next to the railroad tracks. So.

August 26, 2014

August 26, 2014

Welcome Class of 2018

Each year, Beloit College (yay Wisconsin) puts out the Mindset List, explaining how college freshmen see the world. For unless you’re a great deal younger than I think you are, you have very little in common with the Class of 2018. Born mostly in 1996. That’s right, middle aged people who think *I* am young. People born in the mid-90s are full-fledged adults now. Deal with it.

The full list is available at, but here are some that stuck out to me:

1. During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center.

18. Joe Camel has never introduced one of them to smoking.

29. They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz. (I’m with them on this one. Isn’t Orbitz a gum?)

40. They have no memory of George Stephanopoulos as a senior White House advisor.

46. They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser.

Of course, I have to also post my favorites from my own list, the Class of 2006:

14. A "Hair Band" is some sort of fashion accessory.

23. Mrs. Fields' cookies and Swatch watches have always been favorites.

27. Fox has always been a television network choice.

34. Cherry Coke has always come in cans. (Did it originally…not?)

Kids these days, eh?

August 25, 2014

August 25, 2014

Wisconsin State Fair 2014

The 2014 Wisconsin State Fair did not disappoint, you guys. I was particularly counting on this to be a good year, since it was TheBoy’s first visit. The State Fair is almost like a crazy family member: it must be accepted no matter what, but things are a lot easier if it behaves itself.

I stacked the deck in my favor by carbo-loading early and often.

Saz’s Sampler Platter. I would stab for those fries.

I like to hit the Expo Center first thing, before its aisles are crammed with deal-seekers, slow-walkers, and quadruple-wide strollers. Once the place gets crowded, it’s a lot harder to see the miracle mops and wonder choppers. And your ethnic glues: 

Will invade your Polish and Russian glues.

The Sky Hunters: Birds of Prey talk is also one of my favorite things, because how often do you get to see a bald eagle IN YOUR FACE? 

Too young to have the white head and chest. Come back next year.

At this point, I’d been at the Fair for almost two hours. Time for more food. 

Shepherd’s pie on a stick.

The animals were pretty much the same, with one exception: the rabbits and poultry were relocated from their beautiful barn to some sort of jerry-rigged situation and I can’t even.

Where the rabbits and poultry were SUPPOSED to be.

Where the rabbits and poultry actually were. WTF IS THIS.

Also, I was pretty confused to see animals from another state on display.

Stick to your own freaking fair.

New this year, Australian animals on display. The Outback and Wisconsin are actually very similar, in that they are not at all similar.

My delight at this kangaroo was ironic considering what happened next.

While at the north end of the Fair park, I stopped at the Exotic Meat Grill.

Couldn’t decide between a python spring roll and kangaroo potstickers, so I got the combo platter.

And you know what? The kangaroo was DELICIOUS. I believe I’m now a good one-third of the way through eating Pooh and his friends.

The prize-winning baked goods, produce, plants, etc. were impressive as always. The decorated cakes continue to be my favorite.

They’d be even more enjoyable in a free sample situation, I’m just saying.

At this point, about five hours in, I was starting to lag a bit. Even a cruller on a stick wasn’t getting the job done.

"Wisconsin State Fair Gothic"

So I tried again with some shark:

Tasted like your typical flaky white fish. #SharkWeek

Had to settle for finishing the day with a ride on the SkyGlider.

“Eat all the things! For those of us who are too full!”

Until next year.

August 18, 2014

August 18, 2014

Lunch Trays: Another Item Made for the Right-Handed

Milwaukee Public Schools—the system responsible for my education from K-4* through fifth grade—has announced that it hopes to offer free lunch to all students this year. When I heard, my first thought was of course to reminisce about my personal favorite MPS lunch, the mock chicken leg. I’m tickled to discover that I’m not the only one.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the lunches I got at MPS, not least because they were less than $2. (I did get a second milk, though. That was a thing some of us did and I don’t remember whether it was because we were really thirsty, big fans of dairy, or just trying to be cool. Possibly all three.) Also, you never actually paid in money at the cafeteria. You had to give money to your teacher (or, if you got your lunch for free because you were poor* your name got crossed off some sort of list) and she gave you a lunch ticket. Extra milks were a separate ticket. And thus began my first experience with specie.**

(For the last few years of my MPS experience, our milk came in pouches rather than cartons. We were told this was more environmentally friendly. Getting the straw in without puncturing the whole setup was impossible, sort of like with a Capri Sun or drawing blood.)

But that’s just the payment. Let’s talk about the food. Other than the mock chicken leg, I remember very little of it…except that I had one of those weird childhood aversions to the sub sandwiches, and that the tacos hurt my mouth. That’s right, kids: When I was your age, we ate HARD TACOS.

Now, though? Here is an actual listing from the August 2014 MPS menu:


Never mind that the condiments are listed separately. There are probably legal reasons. Let’s focus on the fact that this meal includes two vegetables, and the meat is—one assumes—identifiable as turkey. What the what?

Here’s another:


Breakfast for lunch? Are you kidding me? Again with the carrots, though. They must have a shedload of carrots, and are trying to offload them at every meal. “Pizza? Add a side of carrots. Sandwiches? Let’s throw some carrots on there. French toast? WITH CARROTS IT IS.” Unless carrots for breakfast is a thing that I’ve just been missing out on lo these many years?

Anyway, now it looks like everyone will get their mock chicken legs, tater tots, and carrots for free. Not that many kids ever brought their lunch to my recollection—why pack a sandwich when you can get the whole kit-and-caboodle for a couple of bucks? But still. There is now literally such a thing as a free lunch at Milwaukee public Schools. Hometown heroes, indeed.

* The actual term was probably something like “economically disadvantaged” but I’m calling a spade a spade here, people.
** Others include Bible bucks at Vacation Bible School and the points schemes at casinos. Those have resulted in far less food, alas.

August 11, 2014

August 11, 2014

Know-It-Alls: District Trivia

(Follow-up from last time: I actually got the opportunity to use 'oxt' on vacation. Only TheBoy caught it, but I'm hopeful that it's like ebola: just the one occurrence can lead to a worldwide outbreak.)

(Too soon?)

While at this year’s World Quizzing Championships (856th, baby), I ran into a guy who invited me to play on his pub trivia team. I think the technical term for this is “networking,” though I don’t really understand human social interaction well enough to be sure. Bottom line: I’ve dipped a toe into the District Trivia waters and now I’m a wee bit obsessed.

District Trivia is one of a number of companies that run regular trivia games at DC-area bar/pub/restaurants. Your town—assuming you live in a somewhat-populated area—probably has a similar setup. During my recent visit back to Milwaukee, I was shocked to learn that at least two (TWO!) companies are running bar trivia there. Good old Milwaukee.

Anyhoo, District Trivia runs a robust game, and I say that as a Mensan quiz show champion.

(Allow me to pause a minute to finish patting myself on the back.)

Nearly a hundred questions are asked over the course of the evening, with over four hundred points available. (Details on playing and scoring can be found on the DT website.) The question writers are mostly (possibly entirely) bros, so there’s more sports than I’d like. Then again, I’m not the one writing five nights’ worth of trivia for dozens of venues every week. It’s probably pretty labor-intensive, and quite possibly my dream job.

Previously, I hadn’t done a lot of team trivia, because I myself personally know a lot of stuff (see: Mensan quiz show champion, above). But playing in a team definitely helps with my blind spots (e.g. 20th century popular music, pop culture of the 1960s/70s/80s, sports) and reaffirms my dedication to knowledge. For example, we were discussing naval ranks. Someone mentioned that US ranks mirror British ones. No fewer than three people quickly piped up that the US no longer has Commodores. That sort of thing doesn’t happen a whole lot to me outside pub trivia. Or ever.

Plus, when I know something no one else does on the team, it brings me great joy, of the type I assume other people get from having kids. (There has to be some reason they keep doing that.) Like when I knew what grawlix were. Or where you’d find a recombobulation area. Or all the Presidents in order. (Should the Books of the Bible ever come up, I may literally explode in happiness. But only after completing the worksheet.)

So, look, finals are coming up in September, and I’m pretty psyched. If you’re local, I will probably ask you to play. If you’re not local, you’re of no use to me consider finding your own local trivia situation. It’s a way to interact with people without really interacting and possibly also proving that you’re smarter than they are. WIN-WIN. Oh, and you'll probably get food and drink. WIN-WIN-WIN.