Strychnine, Stray Dogs, and Bad Apples: How NOT to Host a Marathon

On August 30, 1904 the city of St. Louis hosted the third Olympic men’s marathon. A relatively young sporting event, the marathon had been designed in order to pay homage to the Greek legend of Pheidippides (you can learn more about the legend from this previous post: “Why Running is Stupid: Proof that penguins are faster than sock monkeys”) and promoted as the flagship Olympic event in the first successful modern Olympic games of 1896.

Despite its brief history, the sport did attract a number of top athletes, many of whom did not attend the 1904 Olympic games. In all, there were thirty-two athletes who did participate, representing only four nations. Fourteen of the runners actually finished the race.

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It certainly does look like a nice place for a run. I mean, if running weren’t stupid.

 

Of those, the winner used performance enhancing drugs during the race (well, okay, so it was strychnine, but at the time, it was considered performance enhancing). The fourth place finisher ate a couple of bad apples, got sick, and took a nap during the event. And one athlete was chased almost a mile off course by a stray dog.

But at least only one runner was disqualified for completing a large part of the race in a car (the same man went on to win the Boston Marathon the next year. On foot).

Chicago had been the original choice to host, but because the Olympics would compete with the St. Louis World’s Fair (of iced tea and waffle cone fame), the IOC agreed to move the games so the events could be combined. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a great choice.

Really who wouldn't find this more exciting than a marathon?    photo credit: neil conway via photopin cc

Really who wouldn’t find this more exciting than a marathon? photo credit: neil conway via photopin cc

Not only were the games desperately overshadowed by the fair, but the 24.85 mile marathon course (the event wasn’t standardized to 26 miles 385 yards until 1924) was filled with brutal hills, littered with road debris, and covered in so much dust that one runner collapsed from hemorrhaging after dust coated his esophagus and ripped his stomach lining. The event was begun in the late afternoon in the miserably hot and humid weather typical of St. Louis in August and water was made available to the athletes in only two locations along the course. Frankly, it’s a wonder any of them finished and lived to tell the tale.

But I am happy to report that since then St. Louis has gotten quite a bit better at hosting marathons. This past weekend saw the city alive with many running events associated with the St. Louis Go! Marathon.

In its 14th year, the Go! is a weekend of family fitness activities including fun runs for all ages and culminating in a half, full, and relay marathon event. Even better, the website insists that there are a full 17 water and Gatorade stations available along the route so participants can comfortably skip the strychnine. The event attracts over 25,000 participants each year and is, in general, pretty darn cool.

Now if you looked back at my earlier post, then you know that as much as I appreciate physical fitness and enjoy staying in shape, I don’t run. Well, unless I have to, which I rarely do. But I did attend the Saturday of Go! weekend to cheer on my oldest son, who participated this year in the Read, Right, & Run Go! Marathon.

This, to me is probably the best run of the weekend because it is a celebration of six months of hard work for the grade K-5 participants. It’s organized through area elementary schools that work to help students complete 26 acts of service, read 26 books, and run 26 miles in order to qualify for the final celebration run.

A tee shirt AND a medal? Maybe running isn't so stupid after all.

A tee shirt AND a medal? Maybe running isn’t so stupid after all.

Over 6000 students representing 250 schools participated this year, which means that in the St. Louis area, little kids performed more than 156,000 good works, read more than 156,000 books, and ran more than 156,000 miles. And as far as I have been able to find, not a single one of those kids got sick from eating bad apples during the race or got chased off course by wild dogs.

So, go St. Louis! It may have taken a try or two to get it right, but it looks like you’re a marathon city after all.

Worth Its Weight in Emeralds

About a month ago, I irreparably broke my favorite pair of sunglasses. So that you might understand the implications of this event in my life, I should explain, I’m not really what you might call a sunglasses person.

Of course I find them useful when driving west during sunset. And if I’m going to be hanging out poolside in the summer sun for a few hours with the kiddos, I would prefer to do so while wearing a pair, but I am not the type of gal who runs out to buy the season’s hottest shades in a variety of colors to match my closetful of sundresses. I’m not really a sundress person either.

I could never pull off this look. I'm also not a sun hat person.   photo credit: nickel.media via photopin cc

I could never pull off this look. I’m also not a sun hat person. photo credit: nickel.media via photopin cc

Despite that, I have owned many pairs of sunglasses in my lifetime and because I inevitably lose them, I never spend much money on them. So while I may go through as many pairs as your average Hollywood starlet, they probably don’t match the lone sundress hanging in my closet.

But this broken pair was different. You see after many years of encouragement from eye care professionals, I finally had an optometrist who got through to me. Basically, he told me that if I wanted eye cancer, then by all means, I should keep wearing cheap shades, but that if I preferred to live eye cancer-free I should buy overpriced sunglasses from him.

I bought the sunglasses.

I learned a few things from the experience:

  1. Unless you need prescription lenses, never ever buy sunglasses from an optometrist. Or maybe it’s just that mine was the Darth Vader of optometry, but yikes, that’s a markup!
  2. It’s amazing how easy it is to keep track of a pair of sunglasses when it represents more than a casual $10 investment.
  3. I look much better in a sundress when I’m not squinting.
  4. A good pair of sunglasses is worth its weight in emeralds.
I find your lack of expensive sunglasses disturbing.  photo credit: Scott Smith (SRisonS) via photopin cc

I find your lack of expensive sunglasses disturbing. photo credit: Scott Smith (SRisonS) via photopin cc

This last point was even well-understood by Emperor Nero of first-century Rome who, though not described by his contemporaries as a very nice guy, was, according to Pliny the Elder, the proud owner of a nice pair of emerald shades. Or something like them anyway.

Pliny, who wrote about emeralds (in my favorite translation) that “nothing greens greener,” subscribed to the then commonly held notion that the color green was gentle on the eye and that emeralds in particular might aid in the rehabilitation of eyestrain and poor sight. So it stands to reason, then, that Nero who is known to have been nearsighted, might use emeralds, or as some have suggested, one very large emerald as a sort of looking glass to help him see better at gladiatorial contests.

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

And I thought my sunglasses were expensive. photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

At this point you might be asking, how exactly did that work? Well, I’m not sure it did. First of all, though many sunglass historians (a very narrow field) have claimed Pliny’s reference to Nero’s strange behavior as a part of sunglass history, Pliny seems actually to have suggested that Nero used the emerald as a reflective surface in which to watch the gladiator battles (the first mirrored sunglasses?) rather than as a lens through which to view them.

Retro 1st-Century gladiator viewing emerald lenses. Some things never go out of style.   photo credit: The Bees Knees Daily via photopin cc

Retro 1st-Century gladiator viewing emerald lenses. Some things never go out of style. photo credit: The Bees Knees Daily via photopin cc

And then there’s Dr. David Wood, a classics professor at University College Cork in Ireland who had the audacity a few years back to suggest (fairly convincingly) that Pliny just might have misunderstood the whole bit about Nero’s amazing green goggles. The wording used by other historians of the day could have been interpreted to suggest that Nero watched the games through a slit in a curtain (the precursor of 1980’s shutter glasses) in order to hide the fact that he was too busy tweeting to pay attention.

Apparently Pliny (who didn’t seem to like Nero much) didn’t bother checking the facts. In another time, he would have made a decent practical history blogger, or, perhaps, the world’s most celebrated sunglass historian. We may never know for sure whether Nero rocked a great pair of shades, or a stylish monocle, or a weird concave green mirror type thing, because, of course, history lost them.

What I do know for sure is that over the next few weeks, spring will really be in full bloom here and after that will come summer days filled with sunshine, lazy days at the pool, and maybe even a few sundresses. With that in mind I finally ordered a new pair of sunglasses. They are coming from the same company as the broken ones, a very similar style, at about ¼ of the price I paid in Dr. Darth Vader’s office. Regardless of how much I paid for it, though, I remain convinced that a good pair of sunglasses is worth its weight in emeralds.

Why Bricklaying is the Devil’s Work

I confess I’m a sucker for a good treasure hunt. I love the idea of solving riddles, breaking codes, and following the winding path through an unfolding conspiracy. I cheer as the ever expressionless Nicholas Cage blazes through hundreds of years of US history, as Tom Hanks discovers long-unnoticed symbols on the world’s most revered and well-studied works of art, and as Harrison Ford stands before an ancient knight and chooses wisely.

A great hero is always made greater by a mysterious secret society.   photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

A great hero is always made greater when set along side a mysterious secret society. photo credit: Cayusa via photopin cc

And my heart delights in exploring the fictional possibilities provided by the secret societies that make such plots possible, all of which seem to somehow relate to the Freemasons.

I wish I could give you a concise history of them because they are fascinating. Unfortunately there’s not a lot known (at least by outsiders) about the origin of the Freemasons. I mean sure there is a circle of thirteen Grand Masters that each have a part of a code leading to a series of clues (39 in all) throughout the world that when put together will reveal the secret history of the fraternity and simultaneously signal the apocalypse. Probably.

Outside of that, what I have been able to uncover (in a brief Internet search) is that there are people who have spent A LOT longer searching through MUCH more reliable sources and have come up with some thoughts.

Basically, the Freemasons most likely started as actual stonemasons. Or they were influenced by actual stonemasons. And though there have been attempts to trace the group back to the pyramid builders of Ancient Egypt and to Solomon’s temple, all we really know is that documentation suggests it may have developed sometime before 1400.

Whether the organization formed from a trade guild of masons finding that they already had a structure in place that might serve to make the world a better place, or whether the first Freemasons were regular guys who wanted to do all of those things and thought the allegory of the tools used by literal builders was pretty neat, is anyone’s guess. Either way, the fraternity has long existed for the purpose of promoting the dignity of the individual, the right to freedom of religious worship, the need for public education, and the establishment of democracy.

Okay, so that is pretty neat.   photo credit: Philip Morris via photopin cc

Okay, so that is pretty neat. photo credit: Philip Morris via photopin cc

Or so they claim.

But because we all know that conspiracy theorists and Hollywood screenwriters are generally good sources of reliable information, I think it’s safe to say that Freemasons are really just a group of powerful satanic treasure-hoarders who are plotting to take over the world, to the tune of $1.5 million in charitable contributions per day.

Clearly Freemasonry has done and is doing some great things in the world. Still, it has run into its share of serious criticism from major world religions that find within its devotion to ritual and secrecy the components of a religion itself, one that may in many ways conflict with mainstream Christian, Jewish, and Islamic teachings.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Freemasonry and its relationship to world religions, but I will say that I am convinced that masonry is the Devil’s work.

I say this because late this past Saturday afternoon, my husband was looking at a flower bed at the corner of our house and he made a rash decision. Our lot is pretty hilly and so this flower bed is the height of a single landscape block on one end, but becomes a four foot retaining wall at the corner of the house. And it’s been falling.

So, my husband, who is not a mason by trade, decided that Saturday afternoon was the right time for him to transform into an “expert” bricklayer, removing the heavy stones and laying them all over our yard so he could rebuild the wall, level and perfect. He did not look at a forecast first.

So then when Saturday evening brought him news of a family emergency and with it, plans to be out of town the next day, and with the first part of the week promising rain to wash away all of the exposed dirt pile in our corner flowerbed, it fell to me (also not a mason by trade) to build a brick wall.

Easy peasy. Even my children can build walls.

Easy peasy. Even my children can build walls.

Here’s the thing. I get bricks. I played with Legos as a kid. And I watched my husband tamp down the dirt, lay the paver gravel, and check several times with the level before laying the block and checking it again. I had even helped out by handing him tools. How hard could it be, right?

And it’s not that hard to lay the blocks on top of one another once that first layer is level, but I was working on a slope so there were still quite a few blocks that needed to be placed directly on the ground itself. After an hour or so, I had gotten to the point that I could lay a level brick on the dirt after several attempts. And then I got to a brick that had to lay half on the dirt, and half on another brick.

It took me three hours. THREE. HOURS. For one brick. ONE. BRICK. Neighbors stopped by to laugh with at me as I reveled in my incompetence. But I finally did it. Because I was determined to do it. It was a matter of pride. After my eventual success, I took a few pictures, put a tarp over the whole darn thing, and walked away.

This is not what we in the business (or so I've heard) call "on bubble." *sigh*

This is not what we in the masonry business call “on bubble.” *sigh*

Now I know that the average mason doesn’t spend three hours to place one brick, at least if he does I hope he doesn’t charge by the hour. So the only conclusion that I can draw is that he must have sold his soul. And I have to assume that fifteenth century masons did as well.

Even the dog is a critic.

Even the dog is a critic.

Because that is the only way I can see them successfully building great architectural wonders in which they could hide clues leading to vast amounts of undiscovered wealth that would one day be rediscovered by nerdy treasure hunters seeking to return it to the world thereby foiling the Freemason attempt at total world domination. Probably.

Orange Balls and Red Gatorade

Like many American households, ours will be dedicated this weekend to the sport of basketball. My nine-year-old has his final game of the season on Saturday and unlike with other sports seasons he’s had, I’m a little sad to see this one end.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy being the mom who makes it on time to all the practices with a water bottle for my kid and an extra for yours in case he forgot (because I’m the super mom), brings after-game snacks complete with little bottles of red Gatorade (because I’m the cool mom), never argues with the bonehead coach or the most likely blind ref (because I’m the respectful mom), or chants elaborate rhyming cheers (because I’m the most embarrassing mom in the world).

Pardon me, sir, for daring to suggest that my grandma would be a better ref than you. I mean no offense, of course. She's really quite spry for 95 and only completely blind in one eye. photo credit: HPUPhotogStudent via photopin cc

Pardon me, sir, for daring to suggest that my grandma would be a better ref than you. I mean no offense, of course. She’s really quite spry for 95 and only completely blind in one eye.
photo credit: HPUPhotogStudent via photopin cc

It’s just that this basketball season was the first time my kiddo, who is brilliant, but also big for his age and a little awkwardly coordinated, has seemed to really enjoy playing a sport (now if only he could ditch his embarrassing mom). He’s always liked the social aspect of being on a team, but this is the first time that tiny details like rules, skills, strategy, and competition have entered the equation for him.

I’m grateful for a couple of reasons. First, I actually like and understand basketball. Second, it’s one of those great indoor cold-weather sports that keeps him active during even the most brutal winter (this one).

And it turns out, that’s exactly why the sport exists to begin with. Because in 1891, a teacher at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts by the name of James Naismith, needed a way to keep his class of 18 young athletes in good physical condition, as well as a way to keep them from driving him completely insane during the indoor months of a brutal New England winter.

What he came up with was a game with 13 rules in which two teams of nine players each had to pass a soccer ball up and down the gym floor and score goals by tossing the ball into peach baskets nailed onto the edge of the gymnasium balcony. After having to stop play and get out a ladder to retrieve the ball a few hundred too many times, someone was finally smart enough to cut the bottoms out of the baskets and the game started to gain some traction.

And you thought the jump ball slowed down the game too much. photo credit: monkeywing via photopin cc

And you thought the jump ball slowed down the game too much.
photo credit: monkeywing via photopin cc

Actually, it spread incredibly quickly through the YMCA system and soon enough to college campuses where the rules were tweaked until on March 20, 1897, the first 5-on-5 intercollegiate basketball game was held between Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. In case you care (I don’t), Yale won 32-10.

Obviously basketball has grown and changed a lot since those earliest games. Players now dribble the ball (except in the NBA) and the sport can now claim its very own ball that though roughly the size of a soccer ball is much more orange. The peach baskets too have been replaced with metal rims on backboards and nets that make a pleasant swooshing sound.

Because nothing says "This is a real sport" like an orange ball. photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

Because nothing says “This is a real sport” like an orange ball.
photo credit: arbyreed via photopin cc

And as the players get more skilled and taller (the average NBA player is now well over ten feet tall), and the game becomes too easy and therefore boring to watch, the rules will continue to change. I’m sure my son will keep track of them all because he likes basketball. And he even kind of gets it, which is a great source of joy for my husband, because I hear that in addition to my son’s game, there may be a few other ones to watch this weekend as well.

Frankly, I probably won’t pay a lot of attention to those other games. I didn’t fill out a billion dollar bracket because I really only cheer for two, or possibly three college teams, when I happen to catch them on television. None of them are in the tournament this year. But I bet all the players who are participating will manage just fine without me because I have no doubt their moms will be there with extra water bottles, elaborate rhyming cheers, and a snack with a little bottle of celebratory red Gatorade for after the game.

The celebratory sports beverage of choice for kids with cool moms.   photo credit: Lorianne DiSabato via photopin cc

The celebratory sports beverage of choice for kids with cool moms.
photo credit: Lorianne DiSabato via photopin cc

Yielding the Circumference

Sarah Angleton:

I rarely post more than once a week, and never two days in a row. Except for today. But I cheated. This post is from March 14 last year, but since so many more people read this blog now (thank you!), I thought I’d wish all of you a happy Pi Day!

Originally posted on thepracticalhistorian:

Today is March 14 (3/14 in the US), which means that millions of nerds are spending the day happily celebrating that most mysterious of irrational numbers, pi . I’ll just briefly explain in case you don’t happen to be a nerd (because the jury’s still out). Pi (which is a stage name because this Rockstar number is too irrational to have it any other way) is the expression of the ratio of the circumference (the distance around) of a circle to the diameter (the distance across and through the center) of that same circle.

English: Illustrates the relationship of a cir...

Ancient nerds discovered that this ratio is constant for any circle and like nerds will do (and this is the reason they generally make more money than non-nerds), they correctly decided that this might be information worth noting. And when I say “ancient,” I’m talking before Egyptians and Babylonians started writing down their various approximations for…

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It’s Only Wafer Thin

Right now in my freezer, I am proud to report, there is still one full sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies. One afternoon right at the end of January, an adorable little neighbor girl showed up on our doorstep peddling the irresistible treats. And I wasn’t home. I say this because I don’t want to accept the blame for the ridiculous number of boxes we purchased.

You see, my husband is a sucker very generous man, one of the many reasons I love him so much. He also has a competitive streak so when that shrewd little neighbor girl told him her dad had ordered seven boxes of Thin Mints, my man ordered EIGHT BOXES. The trouble with this is that he doesn’t eat them. He doesn’t even like them; he just knows I do. He did  also order a box of his favorite Samoas, which is currently unopened in the pantry, but mainly he ordered cookies for me.

Oh, no, no. I just meant one of the little green boxes. Oh, okay, I'll just take them all. photo credit: Brother O'Mara via photopin cc

Oh, no, no. I just meant one of the little green boxes. Oh, okay, I’ll just take them all.
photo credit: Brother O’Mara via photopin cc

Sweet, right? But as any little scout savvy enough to set up a sales table outside a marijuana clinic or to pit one competitive neighbor against another can tell you, these things are addictive. It’s true that according to the FAQ page linked to the Girl Scouts of America website: “Girl Scout Cookies…are considered a snack or special treat. As with all treats, they should be enjoyed in moderation.”

Of course. That makes sense. It’s good advice. I won’t sit down and eat the entire box, then. I’ll just eat one of the two little sleeves of wafer thin cookies. For now. Then I’ll have a glass of milk. And maybe the other sleeve of cookies, since the box is already open.

And that’s why I don’t order eight boxes.

It’s also the reason that since its humble beginnings as a 1917 fundraising bake sale for the Mistletoe Scout Troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, the sale of Girl Scout cookies has grown to staggering annual sales of over $700 million. Ten years after Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts and just five years after that local cookie fundraiser in Oklahoma, Chicago Girl Scout leader Florence E. Neil put together an inexpensive cookie recipe for the organization’s magazine, The American Girl, encouraging local troops to sell the cookies to raise activity funds.

And even though the original 1922 Girls Scout cookie recipe wasn’t the Thin Mint, the program flourished. In 1936 Girl Scouts started working with a number of commercial bakeries across the country to supply the growing demand for their cookies, which by 1951 came in three delicious varieties: Do-Si-Dos (peanut butter sandwich cookies), Trefoils (shortbread), and at long last, Thin Mints.

There is absolutley no reason to sit down and eat a whole box of Girl Scout Cookies at once. Not when they come so nicely packages in 1/2 box serving sizes. photo credit: elaine a via photopin cc

There is absolutley no reason to sit down and eat a whole box of Girl Scout Cookies at once. Not when they come so nicely packaged in 1/2 box serving sizes. photo credit: elaine a via photopin cc

Gradually, Girl Scouts consolidated their cookie sources and today the ones you buy because cute little girls are standing in the cold right outside your favorite grocery store and you suspect they might not be allowed to go home until their cookie table is empty, come from one of two commercial bakers. Each bakery is required by the Girl Scouts to produce the three varieties standardized in 1951, but then select five more varieties to offer every year. The recipes are similar between the bakeries, but not identical, and the names may be different as well. So, if like my husband, you for some reason just love Samoas (actually the second best seller in the catalog), don’t be too upset if you find you have to settle for a box of Caramel deLites instead.

Thankfully, Thin Mints are always Thin Mints so there’s no confusion there, and I’m not the only one who likes them. As the top-selling Girl Scout Cookie, Thin Mints make up 25% of sales every year, most of them going to residents of my neighborhood. I am fortunate that even though my husband isn’t a big fan, my two sons enjoy them as much as I do, so I’ve managed to go through several packages by doling them out in lunch bags. I’ve mailed a couple more boxes in college care packages and I put the rest in the freezer.

Sadly, that last solution doesn’t work out all that well, because the only thing tastier than a Thin Mint is a frozen Thin Mint. And the only thing tastier than that is a sleeve of frozen Thin Mints. I’m not thinking the last cookies are going to make it into lunches tomorrow. I wonder how the boys would feel about getting Samoas instead.

I bet he'd rather have a Thin Mint. photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc

I bet he’d rather have a Thin Mint. photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc

Bouncing Ideas Around

My oldest son, a bright nine-year-old with big dreams, wants more than anything to be an inventor when he grows up. And having watched him design and build, and redesign and build better since he was old enough to know blocks could be more useful in his hands than in his mouth, I have no doubt he will succeed in doing just that.

Actually I think if he could just wear a lab coat to work, he might be completely happy. photo credit: philentropist via photopin cc

Actually I think if he could just wear a lab coat to work, he might be completely happy. photo credit: philentropist via photopin cc

The trouble is he isn’t quite sure what to invent. He still lives in a nine-year-old’s world and thankfully, from his perspective, life is pretty good. So one of his favorite questions to ask people is whether they have a problem he can solve with an invention.

This approach hasn’t led yet to much inspiration, but I think he’s on the right track because many of the most important inventions in history have occurred specifically because the world had a problem and it needed the inventors to step in and solve it. And, of course, I have to assume that when I say “important”, your mind jumps immediately to silly putty.

In WWII Japan rushed to seize rubber plantations throughout Southeast Asia. This made a lot of sense strategically because rubber is an important resource for armies which need it for tires, rafts, boots, and all kinds of army type things. But this created a big problem for the US that got 90% of its rubber from Southeast Asia.

The call went out to the American public to conserve and to donate any spare rubber they may possess. The public responded, turning in old boots, rain coats, and garden hoses. The Boy Scouts of America chipped in by collecting 54,000 tons of scrap tires in just the first few weeks of the shortage.

It's possible that this boot could be put to better use.    photo credit: runran via photopin cc

It’s possible that this boot could be put to better use. photo credit: runran via photopin cc

But conservation alone couldn’t solve the problem and so the word was sent out to the inventors that we needed a good, cheap, synthetic rubber material and we needed it fast. Industry in the US and around the world had been working on a synthetic rubber for about fifty years with some small scale successes, but nothing that could supply the wartime need. It was Waldo Semon of B.F. Goodrich that produced a substance that could fill the gap. And if this blog were as practical as it claims, this post would probably be about him.

Instead it’s about a General Electric scientist by the name of James Wright who in 1943 made a rubbery putty that bounced even better than natural rubber, that stretched if pulled slowly, broke if twisted quickly, and picked up petroleum-based newspaper ink. And if left on a lab table, it puddled. This last characteristic made it unlikely as a candidate for use in effective tires, but Wright still thought it was pretty cool.

Frustrated that he couldn’t find a good use for it beyond impressing his friends at parties, Wright consulted with fellow inventors throughout the world who all said it also impressed their friends at parties.

Eventually the substance came to the attention of Peter Hodgson, a marketing specialist who had worked with a toy store owner that briefly, and somewhat successfully, included the substance in her catalog.  Hodgson saw potential and bought the production rights from General Electric for $147.

Stringy. Bouncy. Gooey. Not good for making tires.   photo credit: Hometown Beauty via photopin cc

Stringy. Bouncy. Gooey. Not good for making tires. photo credit: Hometown Beauty via photopin cc

With Easter coming up, Hodgson named the stuff “Silly Putty,” packaged it in small plastic eggs and waited for his millions to roll in. Before long silly putty was enjoying worldwide success and it even launched into space with Apollo 8, where it finally proved useful as a means to hold down tools in zero-gravity. By the time of Hodgson’s death in 1976, his estate was worth $140 million in silly putty money (even so, all of his checks bounced—get it?).

So I may not be able to provide a great deal of inspiration for my budding inventor, but it still seems to me that he’s onto something. The world has lots of problems that need solving. And if that doesn’t work out, it also has lots of party-goers that need impressing.