Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Mar 2009, 10:22 a.m.

A Quiz! And, Thoughts on Ads for Nonsensical Products

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2009 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Last night Ron came over and we played The Big Idea, the Cheapass Game where you get cards with nouns and adjectives on them and have to combine them to create products that you then pitch to your fellow players. Leonard's fond of the game, and I am too, except that we simplified the investing/IPO stuff away so we could just focus on the funny pitches.

I wish I could remember more of the products Ron did; the X-Treme Toaster launched bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini outwards at up to 60 miles per hour, with a user-controlled directional system that you could use to target your friends and enemies. Leonard made a hit with the Mentholated Drug Forklift, for use in medical injections of 50-foot monsters, and the Mechanical Machine as useless expensive status symbol: "It does nothing, because it means everything."

My inventions:

 

  • Edible High-Priority Chowder, to cure anxiety of choice at the salad bar
  • Cat Addictive Plague Virus, to get your cat to physically need you and not be quite so independent
  • Patriotic Puppy Camera, for when your snapshots aren't always cute and unbearably American
  • Herbal Natural Chainsaw, strong enough for a logger but made for a hippie
  • Networked Beer, to ensure you never feel like you're drinking alone
  • Government Alien, a standardized, tax-deductible alien for your abduction and inspiration needs
  • Electric Self-Heating Satellite Necktie Fruit, so you get your daily nutrients, heated for your comfort and whirling around your torso for your convenience, in attire appropriate to a professional office

The supposed plot of The Big Idea is that other people invest in your company and then you do a public offering, but if I were really pitching to investors I would do company pitches, not product pitches. Our pitches were like ads, not business plans. How boring would it be to bury the Mentholated Drug Forklift in a PowerPoint about the top-flight experienced management team and market projections? However, Leonard's pitches were often short "here is the problem, here is the solution" expositions, which translate more easily to investor meetings than does "Sometimes, people just can't see things from each other's point of view" (excerpt from my pitch for the Herbal Natural Chainsaw).

You learn people's styles as they improvise. Ron goes to infomercial style, hilariously repeating litanies like "bread, Texas toast, an entire bagel, or half a panini." I dreamily meander among references to theory and axiom -- Kenneth Arrow's theorem on ranked preference voting, "shared joy is increased/shared misery is diminished". Leonard uses narrative arcs, sci-fi monsters, and Veblenesque/Situationist critique.

The funniest pitches started off with a great first sentence. The best was probably Leonard's intro to the Mentholated Drug Forklift: "When you're giving injections to Godzilla or the Fifty-Foot Woman, you quickly realize that standard needles won't do the job." This reminded me of a pet project I now reveal to you. Guess whether these are opening lines for

 

This American Life or Trader Joe's Radio Ad?
  1. Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day.
  2. At [This American Life/Trader Joe's], we spend a great deal of time contemplating the great issues of the day: the economy, climate change, cheese.
  3. OK, here's something that we did not expect. Check this out.
  4. Our enemies are in hiding.
  5. Steamed food is cooked with steam.
  6. Here's my seventh grade teacher's sad fate.
  7. No matter who you are, life is all about making choices.
  8. So how many years were you an executioner in your job?
  9. Lately it seems like everyone is talking about value.
  10. It used to be, if something was big news, it got turned into a song.
  11. We don't get to use the word "jumbo" very often.

Answers in comments.

 

Comments

Sumana Harihareswara
http://brainwane.net
28 Mar 2009, 19:18 p.m.

Quiz answers:<br/>

<br/> 1. Here's a ritual that happens in millions of American families every day. This American Life, "Babysitting"<br><br/> 2. At [This American Life/Trader Joe's], we spend a great deal of time contemplating the great issues of the day: the economy, climate change, cheese. Trader Joe's, March 27, 2009.<br><br/> 3. OK, here's something that we did not expect. Check this out. This American Life, "Act V"<br><br/> 4. Our enemies are in hiding. This American Life, "Somewhere in the Arabian Sea"<br><br/> 5. Steamed food is cooked with steam. Trader Joe's, March 12, 2009<br><br/> 6. Here's my seventh grade teacher's sad fate. This American Life, "Music Lessons"<br><br/> 7. No matter who you are, life is all about making choices. Trader Joe's, classic<br><br/> 8. So how many years were you an executioner in your job? This American Life, "Human Resources"<br><br/> 9. Lately it seems like everyone is talking about value. Trader Joe's, classic<br><br/> 10. It used to be, if something was big news, it got turned into a song. This American Life, "The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar"<br><br/> 11. We don't get to use the word "jumbo" very often. Trader Joe's, March 27, 2009</br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br></br>

Sumana Harihareswara
http://brainwane.net
03 Apr 2009, 11:54 a.m.

Leonard calls The Big Idea "like Once Upon a Time, except with capitalism."