The Birthday Paradox

What are the odds?

July 27, 2021

The next time you are in a group of 30 or more people and you want to have an icebreaker activity, have the group line up by the day of the month they are born. Odds are 70 percent that two of the people in the group will share the same day.

This is a phenomenon known as the Birthday Paradox or Birthday Problem. It’s all based on exponents and probabilities. According to the Infallible Wikipedia (who got the information from a whole bunch of smart scientists), this is how it works:

“In probability theory, the birthday problem or birthday paradox concerns the probability that, in a set of n randomly chosen people, some pair of them will have the same birthday. In a group of 23 people, the probability of a shared birthday exceeds 50%, while a group of 70 has a 99.9% chance of a shared birthday. (By the pigeonhole principle, the probability reaches 100% when the number of people reaches 367, since there are only 366 possible birthdays, including February 29.)

These conclusions are based on the assumption that each day of the year is equally probable for a birthday. Actual birth records show that different numbers of people are born on different days. In this case, it can be shown that the number of people required to reach the 50% threshold is 23 or fewer.

The birthday problem is a veridical paradox: a proposition that at first appears counterintuitive, but is in fact true. While it may seem surprising that only 23 individuals are required to reach a 50% probability of a shared birthday, this result is made more intuitive by considering that the comparisons of birthdays will be made between every possible pair of individuals. With 23 individuals, there are (23 × 22) / 2 = 253 pairs to consider, which is well over half the number of days in a year (182.5 or 183). (snip)

The history of the problem is obscure. The result has been attributed to Harold Davenport; however, a version of what is considered today to be the birthday problem was proposed earlier by Richard von Mises.”

Personally, my brain kinda goes ‘tilt’ when I see cryptic scientific characters and formulas which show me how to calculate all of this. So I leave that to you brainiac statistics folks and share my own personal experience with this phenomenon.

The first time I encountered this was as a 13 year old in my 8th grade English class. More about that in a bit. Often, when I’m in a group situation and looking for a way to engage people in conversation, I will ask them their birthday (not the year, just the day) and talk about the paradox. This will often get others interested and soon the entire group is comparing days until, and it usually happens, we find the pair with the same birthday.

Over the years I have been the person who matches another who shares my birthday. I can think of at least five times this has occurred.

But it was that first time which I think might have the odds makers scrambling to figure out the possibilities.

Back to 8th grade English class. In the room there are probably 5 rows with six desks in each row, so 30 possible students. I do not believe we had 30, more like 24. On this particular day I was in my chair in the front row (I’ve always been one to sit in front in a class) with my friend Bonnie behind me and a girl I didn’t really know, Alice, behind her.

We are working independently on something and Mr. Albrecht, our teacher, doesn’t care if we are talking to one another. So I’m working on my project and can hear Bonnie and Alice chatting away behind me. The two of them, who had only met in that class, had taken an instant liking to one another and were becoming fast friends.

Then one of them, I think Alice, asks Bonnie her birth date. To which Bonnie replies, “August First.” Alice squeals and says, “No way. My birthday is also August First.”

By now, they have my full attention. I turn around and reply, “You’re not going to believe this, but my birthday is also August First!”

“No it’s not!” Bonnie objects, “You’re joking. You’re just saying that because Alice and I the same birthday.”

I shake my head and say, “No, it really is August First.”

The debate continues for several minutes as they simply do not believe me. Finally we all agree to bring in copies of our birth certificates to prove it.

The next class day I had mine in hand and eagerly awaited the moment when I would show them I did, in fact, share the same birthday (and in this case, year) as the other two.

We huddle together at the end of class and each produce our documents. Bonnie and Alice shake their heads in disbelief as they examine my certificate. Yes, all three of us were born on August First of the same year. It turned out, however, that I was the oldest of the trio having arrived a mere 43 minutes after midnight to make the cut.

María Laura, María Emilia and María Eugenia Fernández Roussee (born 5 July 1960). The triplets are a well known musical group in Argentina

It was a rather amazing coincidence. In all the years since I’ve never heard of another situation like it. In my Google explorations to calculate the odds of such a thing happening, it was nearly impossible to make the search engine understand what I was asking. So, all you readers out there, what ARE the odds of three random people in a group of 24 sharing the same birthday and year?

Yes, I do personally know two sets of triplets… and for the purpose of the Birthday Paradox those don’t count.

I think it is a rather slim probability and that maybe, our little unrelated trio, defied the odds. It truly is a paradox.

A few links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem

https://betterexplained.com/articles/understanding-the-birthday-paradox/

Disneyland

The Happiest Place On Earth

July 20, 2021

Where oh where to begin with this week’s topic? For those of us born from the mid-1950’s on, there was never a time when this, the ‘happiest place on earth’ did not exist.

We learned about Disneyland via Sunday night’s Wonderful World of Color which featured Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s castle against a back drop of colorful fireworks. It was an aspirational sort of thing, I suppose, instilling in our Baby Boomer hearts the desire to go to Disneyland and find our own happiness there.

The crowd running towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle July 17, 1955

It was the third week of July 1955, when the park officially opened, one year and one day from when construction began. Walt Disney’s concept came while sitting on a bench at a park one day and watching his two daughters play. Instead of parents just observing from the sidelines, he mused, wouldn’t it be great to have a place where kids and parents could have fun together?

It would be nearly 20 years before Disneyland would finally become a reality.

The Disneyland most people know today would be nearly unrecognizable to Disney himself. The first rides were, for lack of a better term, rather bland. There was not a roller coaster to be found anywhere within the park. It’s most popular early attractions were “Jungle Cruise,” “Autopia,” and “Rocket to the Moon” (later to Mars). Guests strolled along Main Street, hopped aboard the Disneyland Railroad, or sailed the raft over to Tom Sawyer Island for fun. There were a few carnival type rides but by today’s standards those would be considered ‘kiddie’ rides.

Opening day was a disaster. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

Walt Disney and his grandson taking a break from the 101 degree temperatures on opening day

“Traffic was delayed on the two-lane Harbor Boulevard. Famous figures who were scheduled to show up every two hours showed up all at once. The temperature was an unusually high 101 °F (38 °C), and because of a local plumbers’ strike, Disney was given a choice of having working drinking fountains or running toilets. He chose the latter, leaving many drinking fountains dry. This generated negative publicity since Pepsi sponsored the park’s opening; disappointed guests believed the inoperable fountains were a cynical way to sell soda, while other vendors ran out of food. The asphalt that had been poured that morning was soft enough to let women’s high-heeled shoes sink into it. Some parents threw their children over the crowd’s shoulders to get them onto rides, such as the King Arthur Carrousel.

In later years, Disney and his 1955 executives referred to July 17, 1955, as ‘Black Sunday’. After the extremely negative press from the preview opening, Walt Disney invited attendees back for a private ‘second day’ to experience Disneyland properly.”

Despite the inauspicious start, Disney persevered, never resting and always looking for innovative ideas and opportunities to improve the park and thus the experience for paying guests.

The first roller coaster, the now iconic Matterhorn, opened in 1959. It was eventually joined by a second coaster, Space Mountain, in 1977.

The Matterhorn under construction 1959

Although many of the original attractions are still a part of Disneyland, the Disney company has never been afraid to update and upgrade to keep pace with the changing technology or the desires of the public. Many of the attractions kids of the 1960’s and 70’s remember fondly are long since gone.

As a child – and knowing about Disneyland – it was a place I wanted to go. For my family, however, it was not within reach. It was only after the passing of my grandmother in January 1970 that the wheels were set in motion for a trip which took my Dad, Mom, Sister, and me south to Anaheim. I chronicled my first Disneyland visit in a previous blog post https://barbaradevore.com/2020/05/26/the-great-american-road-trip/.

Having gotten a taste of the Disney experience, I was excited when – along with the Rainbow Girls – I had another day at the park in late July 1976. And much like the first visit, it was a one day visit. The rides were few and mostly I recall riding the Matterhorn and meeting the Big Bad Wolf.

My sister encounters the Big Bad Wolf

It was after the hubby and I had been married for nearly eight years when we hatched our ultimate Disneyland plan. We flew to California in January 1988 to spend three entire days at the theme park. While there, we agreed, we would ride EVERY ride they had to offer; see every show; eat all the food. We would immerse ourselves in all Disney, all the time.

A few things stand out from that trip. One, when we arrived at John Wayne airport it was probably 8 or 9 p.m. and 60 degrees. To us, coming from 40 and rain Seattle in January, it seemed like summer. We laughed at a woman standing near the open air luggage carousel who was, literally, wearing a parka, fur hat, and big mittens.

Second, we videotaped pretty much every ride. Alas, without the magic of the machine which can convert VHS those tapes are consigned to a dusty box in the Harry Potter closet. (see article here: https://barbaradevore.com/2020/06/30/winchester-mystery-house/) One of these days I do plan to get those old tapes digitized!

Third, it was truly one of the best vacations the hubby and I took. We were 30 and 31 years old, did not yet have children, could afford to pay for whatever we wanted, and for three days we got to act like teenagers but better. Not only did we go on ALL the rides (yes, even the ‘kiddie’ rides), but we did several of the best ones multiple times. Space Mountain? check/check. Matterhorn? check/check/check. Haunted Mansion? check/check/check. Big Thunder Railroad? check/check/check/check/check.

In the years since, we’ve taken our children to Disneyland a couple of times and to DisneyWorld once. The hubby and I even had a solo day at Epcot a few years ago. But I’m not so keen on roller coasters any more. Those are, sadly, more the province of the young and less fragile among us. Even so, I think it would be fun to return to Disneyland with our adult children (neither of whom have any children at this point) during a time of year when the crowds are reduced and we can once again ride any ride we like as many times as we want. That, to me, would be magical.

Hubby and me with the two littlest ones on the Disneyland railroad 1995
Hubby and kids waiting for Big Thunder Railroad roller coaster circa 1998
Disneyland circa 1998

As Walt Disney said on opening day in 1955:

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

Disneyland Map 1970

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disneyland

A Puzzle for the Ages

The Rubiks Cube

July 13, 2021

Choices, choices. That’s what today, July 13, gives us. A number of Tuesday Newsday worthy people are celebrating birthday’s today. I thought I had it all figured out until my brother, who is a disc jockey and sends me his show prep once a week, included the birthday of a person whose invention changed the toy landscape of the world.

The yummy Indiana Jones aka Harrison Ford

So what to do? First of all, I say Happy Birthday to actor Harrison Ford who is 79. Ford, for those might have been living in a monastery in Tibet, is known for multiple memorable roles: Bob Falfa in American Graffiti, Han Solo in the Star Wars films, Jack Ryan in The Patriot Games, and the swashbuckling Indiana Jones. There is much more to Ford’s career which has now spanned 51 years. There is currently another Indiana Jones movie being filmed.

To learn more about Ford and his career, the Infallible Wikipedia can be accessed here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Ford

On a personal note, the closest I ever got to Ford was during a trip to Disneyland the third week of February 1995. The Temple of the Forbidden Eye ride – based on the Indiana Jones movies – was slated to open in early March. That’s when we learned about ‘soft openings.’ On our last day at the park they opened the ride… two weeks before its official opening date. I was jazzed and the hubby and I figured out how to take turns on the attraction since our daughter was only two and not tall enough to participate.

My sister and nieces outside the brand new Temple of the Forbidden Eye attraction, February 1995

Once the ride was over, it was time to head back to the hotel for some down time and we worked our way to Main Street and the exit. Our plans were thwarted – in a good way – when a parade halted our progress. The crowd was excited and we asked someone what was going on. “Harrison Ford is in the parade,” one enthusiastic woman said. Yes, it was a parade to celebrate the opening of the newest Disneyland attraction.

Sure enough a few minutes later both Ford and Carrie Fischer (who had no role in the Indiana Jones movie but was still there) rode by in a pair of convertibles.

Now on to the second birthday of note. Until I looked at his Wikipedia page I could not have picked this person out of a police lineup. Yet one of his inventions lives at our house and has done so since nineteen eighty something. Happy 77th Birthday to Erno Rubik, inventor of the popular cube puzzle.

For most people I imagine their cubes look like this most of the time.

Rubik is a Hungarian inventor, architect, and professor of architecture. The invention of the Rubik’s cube came about, according to the Infallible Wikipedia, when Rubik, using blocks of wood and rubber bands:

“…set out to create a structure which would allow the individual pieces to move without the whole structure falling apart. Rubik originally used wood for the block because of the convenience of a workshop at the university and because he viewed wood as a simple material to work with that did not require sophisticated machinery. Rubik made the original prototypes of his cube by hand, cutting the wood, boring the holes and using elastic bands to hold the contraption together.

Erno Rubik

Rubik showed his prototype to his class and his students liked it very much. Rubik realized that, because of the cube’s simple structure, it could be manufactured relatively easily and might have appeal to a larger audience. Rubik’s father possessed several patents, so Rubik was familiar with the process and applied for a patent for his invention. Rubik then set out to find a manufacturer in Hungary, but had great difficulty due to the rigid planned economy of communist Hungary at the time. Eventually, Rubik was able to find a small company that worked with plastic and made chess pieces. The cube was originally known in Hungary as the Magic Cube.

Rubik licensed the Magic Cube to Ideal Toys, a US company in 1979. Ideal rebranded The Magic Cube to the Rubik’s Cube before its introduction to an international audience in 1980. The process from early prototype to significant mass production of the Cube had taken over six years. The Rubik’s Cube would go on to become an instant success worldwide, winning several Toy of the Year awards, and becoming a staple of 1980s popular culture. To date, over 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold, making it one of the best selling toys of all time.”

Since that article was posted, an additional 100 million cubes have been sold which places it as THE bestselling toy of all time.

The Rubik’s cube has been a true conundrum for the average person. It’s unsolvable unless one understands and applies at least two algorithms as they move the pieces around. In fact, according to an article on Ruwix.com, there are 43 quintillion possible combinations. Another interesting note is that it took Rubik himself over a month to solve it once he invented it!

Over the years there have been books written as to ‘how’ to solve the puzzle. There are now links on the internet providing the algorithms for free.

One Felix Zemdegs of Australia holds the world record for the fastest solving time. His record: 4.75 seconds. It’s pretty amazing to watch:

As I said, we have had a cube floating around our house over the years. After our son arrived, he became fascinated with all the games we owned. It was a daily affair for the game cupboard to be unloaded. Of course the cube was of interest. When he was probably 5 or 6, he became frustrated in his cube solving attempts. No amount of telling him that adults (including his mother) were incapable of solving the puzzle appeased him.

Who knew Ford was a Rubik’s master?

Then one day he walks into the kitchen and proudly shows me the ‘solved’ cube. I was impressed until I detected that some of the colored paper stickers on each cube were a bit crooked. On closer inspection it was obvious someone found the ‘easy’ way to solve it.

But his engineering brain was not to be deterred. We got him a new cube a couple of years later for his birthday and then he set about learning the final algorithms needed to solve the puzzle.

I’ve been able to get one face and then two rows of color correct, but that’s as far as I’ve ever gone. I’m okay with that. As someone who does not have an ‘engineering’ brain I’m content to watch in awe as those that do solve the Rubik’s cube, the world’s most famous puzzle.

A couple more links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ern%C5%91_Rubik

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubik%27s_Cube

Pokémon Go

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

July 6, 2021

Until early 1999, I had never heard the word “Pokémon” which is a shortened version of the Japanese term for the iconic Gameboy creatures, Pocket Monsters, created in 1996.

Pikachu – the iconic symbol of Pokémon .

It was in the spring of 1999 when Pokémon trading cards took over the elementary school where my son was in the third grade. For a number of months we made frequent treks to the card store so that my son could buy a packet of the cards to add to his collection and, ostensibly, trade with his school mates.

Like all such fads, the trading card obsession faded and by Fourth grade year, it was over. Or so I thought.

If everyone thought the Pokémon cards were a big deal they had not, in the words of the Bachman Turner Overdrive song You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.

It was on July 6, 2016 when Pokémon Go was launched and became a worldwide experience.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The game was referred to as a ‘social media phenomenon’ which has brought people together from all walks of life. 231 million people engaged in 1.1 billion interactions that mentioned Pokémon Go on Facebook and Instagram in the month of July. Numerous media outlets referred to the surge in popularity as ‘Pokémon Go Mania’, or simply ‘Pokémania’.The massive popularity of the game resulted in several unusual positive effects. For example, the game placed players where they can help catch criminals and report crimes in progress, although it has also placed some in harm’s way, and has even aided law enforcement’s community relations. albeit with caveats. Businesses also benefited from the nearby presence of PokéStops (or them being PokéStops themselves) with the concomitant influx of people, and the intense exploration of communities has brought local history to the forefront.

The highly coveted Charizard trading card

For those unfamiliar with the game, it popularized AR – Augmented Reality –with users being able to find and capture the Pokémon which appeared as animated creatures on an i-phone or Android device. Think of it this way: when you open the Pokémon Go app on your phone, the world appears in a cartoonish form with grass, trees, water, and buildings. If a Pokémon is nearby it will materialize on the screen and provide the user an opportunity to ‘catch’ it by throwing a Pokéball at the creature. Once caught, the Pokémon is added to the user’s collection. The goal, initially, is to catch at least one of every Pokémon. These, most often, can be evolved into a new Pokémon – so long as you have earned enough points to do so by capturing many, many of the original Pokémon.

PokéStops can be found in every community, and when accessed give the user rewards in the form of additional Pokéballs and other game enhancers.

Despite many of the initial players not continuing, the game’s early success garnered a number of firsts. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The game was awarded five Guinness World Records in August 2016: most revenue grossed by a mobile game in its first month ($206.5 million); most downloaded mobile game in its first month (130 million downloads); most international charts topped simultaneously for a mobile game in its first month (top game in 70 different countries); most international charts topped simultaneously for a mobile game in its first month (top grossing in 55 countries simultaneously); and fastest time to gross $100 million by a mobile game (reached in 20 days on July 26). By September 2016, Pokémon Go had been downloaded over 500 million times worldwide, and became the fastest game to make over $500 million in revenue. Pokémon Go was awarded the App Store’s breakout hit of 2016. Pokémon Go was reported to be the most searched game on Google in 2016.

The crowd which descended upon us in search of Charizard on August 21, 2016 in Bellevue.

Pokémon Go arrived at my house about a month after its release. I’d been in Yakima and arrived back in Kirkland about 7 p.m. one August evening and just as I turned down our street I notice my son out walking. I pull to the curb and ask him where he’s going. At that moment he admits his friend Vincent had gotten him started on Pokémon Go.

Curious, I went out walking with him the next night to see how it all worked. This went on for two weeks and then I cracked and loaded the app on my phone. Soon my son and I were venturing out in search of rare Pokémon, making trips to parks and other places to ‘catch them all.’

The ‘oldest’ creature in my collection is the Charizard I caught on August 21, 2016. AR allows one to take ‘pictures’ with your Pokémon

The most amazing Pokémon day of all was on August 21, 2016. We had driven to the Downtown Park in Bellevue (across from Bellevue Square) and there – with hundreds of our ‘best’ friends – wandered about the park capturing digital monsters.

And then it happened. The rarest of rare Pokémon, the ONE everyone had coveted from way back in the card collecting days of 1999, pops up on our screen and we are standing – literally – a few feet away from the GPS location where it spawned.

A collective roar goes up across the park and – I kid you not – the pounding of hundreds of pairs of feet headed our way shake the ground like an earthquake. My hands are trembling as I attempt to capture Charizard (I’m still a very green novice at this point), ignoring the masses who are descending upon us in their frenzy to capture the beast. Of course I am attempting the same thing. On the third attempt, the elusive fire dragon is locked in my Pokéball and the son and I emerge from behind the bushes to an unreal scene. I did have the presence of mind to snap a couple of photos of the massive crowd that evening.

Since that day both my son and daughter have quit playing the game. I admit it has lost a lot of its appeal; it was a fun way to spend time with my adult children. Even so, I still play it as it gives me something to do when a passenger on a trip. But nothing will ever replace the thrill of the hunt on that August night in the summer of 2016 when Pokémon ruled the world.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Go

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon

The conversation is between my son and I after the great Charizard spawn and capture on August 21, 2016

Answers to the FB post: Machop, Chancey, Eevee, Grimer, Drilbur

Olympic National Park

Rhode Island has nothing on this place

June 29, 2021

At 922,649 acres – about 1,411 square miles – Olympic National Park (ONP) is roughly the same size as Rhode Island. Comparing something to Rhode Island is, of course, what American’s do.

The Olympic mountains dressed up for summer with wildflowers.
Photo from ONP official website

Beyond the fact that Rhode Island borders an ocean, that’s where the similarity ends. Its highest and lowest points range from sea level to just over 800 feet. Olympic National Park, on the other hand, ranges from sea level to just under 8,000 feet with 7,965 foot tall Mount Olympus in the heart of the Olympic Mountains, the center of the park.

While one could traverse all of Rhode Island in a short span of time, to travel around Olympic NP requires planning for a variety of terrains with summer, fall, winter, and spring all possible this time of year.

It was on June 29, 1938 when the area became a National Park, the 13th largest U.S. National Park and the seventh largest in the contiguous US.

The Olympic Marmot

ONP is a true gem in the National Park system. It has a number of distinct animal species found nowhere else in the world including the snow mole, Mazama pocket gopher, Olympic chipmunk, and Olympic marmot. The Hoh River rain forest looks like a scene from a fantasy film with its moss draped trees – the result of receiving 150 inches of rain a year – making it the wettest National Park. The park also features glaciers in the mountains and over 60 miles of pristine beaches.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The beach has unbroken stretches of wilderness ranging from 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km). While some beaches are primarily sand, others are covered with heavy rock and very large boulders. Bushy overgrowth, slippery footing, tides and misty rain forest weather all hinder foot travel. The coastal strip is more readily accessible than the interior of the Olympics; due to the difficult terrain, very few backpackers venture beyond casual day-hiking distances.

Tree framed sea stacks.

The most popular piece of the coastal strip is the 9-mile (14 km) Ozette Loop. The Park Service runs a registration and reservation program to control usage levels of this area. From the trailhead at Ozette Lake, a 3-mile (4.8 km) leg of the trail is a boardwalk-enhanced path through near primal coastal cedar swamp. Arriving at the ocean, it is a 3-mile walk supplemented by headland trails for high tides. This area has traditionally been favored by the Makah from Neah Bay. The third 3-mile leg is enabled by a boardwalk which has enhanced the loop’s visitor numbers.”

Unlike its Washington State counterpart, Rainier National Park, Olympic is not overrun with visitors each year. One can visit Olympic and encounter the occasional hiker and a handful of intrepid souls who trek to the beach for its incomparable vistas. One often feels as though they are an explorer from another century, viewing the landscape in much the same way those first settlers saw it.

I first went to ONP as a teenager on a day trip up to Hurricane Ridge. Most of what I recall about that trip was my dad stopping the car in a wide spot so we could get out and visit with a local – that is a deer – who was unafraid of people.

Me and the kids at Heart of the Hills campground in 2004

Although I’ve made the foray into the park a number of times, I still feel as though I don’t really know it. Of the 60 miles of beaches I’ve only ever seen the areas near Klaloch, Ozette, and Rialto. There is a stunning beauty when you stand at the Pacific Ocean’s edge and see the sea stacks, crashing waves, and hundreds of birds soaring overhead.

During a 2004 trip with the kids and hubby, we found ourselves communing with a herd of elk – again the elk were unconcerned at the human’s among them – an event which I’m certain the kids still recall. We marveled at the Hoh river rain forest, and all of us got a little bit fatigued at the driving required to traverse the sheer distance between places.

Even so, we still only experienced a tiny portion of the park.

The hubby and I have had on our bucket list to visit every National Park and although we’ve been to Olympic several times, it definitely deserves another trip or ten.

But don’t tell anyone – us Washingtonians like having Olympic all to ourselves.

The kid’s on Rialto Beach summer 2004

The links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_National_Park

https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm

Dairy Queen Days

A summertime tradition

June 22, 2021

Dairy Queen’s famous soft serve vanilla cone

Nothing says ‘summer’ to me more than a trip to a drive in burger restaurant on a warm afternoon for something cold and frosty. Back in 1960’s Yakima, Washington there were only two places our family went when we wanted an ice cream based treat. The first was the A&W root beer stand for a float. The second was Dairy Queen. McDonald’s didn’t come to Yakima until the 1970’s and I’d never heard of Burger King or Wendy’s during my childhood.

Dairy Queen was the quintessential fast food joint for a hamburger, fries, and a milk shake. But more than that it was the only place one could get a soft serve ice cream cone.

It was the development of soft serve which led to the founding of the first Dairy Queen, in Joliet, Illinois, on June 22, 1940.

The Infallible Wikipedia shares:

“The soft-serve formula was first developed in 1938 by John Fremont ‘J.F.’ ‘Grandpa’ McCullough and his son Alex. They convinced friend and loyal customer Sherb Noble to offer the product in his ice cream store in Kankakee, Illinois. On the first day of sales, Noble dished out more than 1,600 servings of the new dessert within two hours. Noble and the McCulloughs went on to open the first Dairy Queen store in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois. While this Dairy Queen has not been in operation since the 1950s, the building still stands at 501 N Chicago Street as a city-designated landmark.

Since 1940, the chain has used a franchise system to expand its operations globally from ten stores in 1941 to one hundred by 1947, 1,446 in 1950, and 2,600 in 1955.”

On the Dairy Queen website they list 4,421 locations in 49 states. Texas boasts the largest number of restaurants with 594 stores. It continues to be a popular chain throughout the Midwest and the South with between 130 and 260 stores in each state. The only state without a DQ is Vermont. Washington State has the largest number of Dairy Queen restaurants of the Western states with 101 locations. Any way you scoop it, that’s a lot of ice cream.

When I became a teenager my friend Karen and I would sometimes walk to the Dairy Queen which was less than a mile from my house – and only four blocks from hers – just for one of those soft serve cones or, even better, one dipped in chocolate.

The summer my kids were 9 and 6 I dubbed it the Dairy Queen summer. Once a week we’d go through the drive through at the Redmond Way Dairy Queen for those same soft serve cones. In those days I would often just get a Dr. Pepper. What was I thinking?!

In the last year of my Dad’s life his world grew smaller and smaller. But some things never changed. One of those was the joy he got from getting a chocolate chip Blizzard from Dairy Queen. He’d been having increasing difficulties swallowing and the treat seemed to help soothe his throat.

One afternoon in August of 2019, I decided to take him on an outing to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. This was no small task since getting him to the car, settled into the passenger seat, and then stowing his walker, was always an ordeal.

As we were headed to the restaurant located out in West Yakima he grew more and more agitated, questioning where the ‘he**’ I was taking him and proclaiming the adventure as ridiculous. “Dairy Queen,” I answered him, but he was not to be placated. That was NOT the right Dairy Queen.

The west Yakima Dairy Queen which caused so much angst

At the time I didn’t realize there were actually a half dozen stores in the town. I only knew of two. One in downtown Yakima and the one where I was heading.

Those were the longest 5.2 miles I’ve ever driven; eventually we arrived and got the treat but he carped about the amount of time it took all the way there and then the 5. 2 miles back again to his adult family home.

A few weeks later I had the chance to redeem myself. Off we headed to Dairy Queen, but this time I was taking no chances. I headed to the one I was sure he wanted; located in downtown Yakima it was a much closer 3.2 miles.

We were stopped by every traffic light in town (it was late afternoon and folks were headed home from work) and the carping started up, with a repeat of the previous trip. When we FINALLY got to the Dairy Queen some 20 minutes later. There was a bit of a line for the drive through. I figured the car ahead of us must have been ordering for a family of 15 based on how long it took. But I was desperate. No way was I exiting that line and driving anywhere else without that Blizzard. Eventually he got the treat and was placated for a few minutes while I needed a nap.

It was only after we were back – nearly an hour later – and he was dozing in his chair that I put Dairy Queen into the map application on my phone. I was dismayed to discover that the nearest store to where he lived was… 1.4 miles away. Next time, I promised, we would go there. Alas, the weather changed and the Dairy Queen trips were done for the summer. By the end of October he was gone.

One of these warm June or July days I think I will splurge and raise a chocolate dipped cone in a toast to Dairy Queen for its place in our family history. Maybe I’ll even try a chocolate chip Blizzard in honor of Dad. Naw. I’m a chocolate dipped ice cream cone girl all the way. Some things never change.

The link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dairy_Queen

The Lion King

The Circle of Life

June 15, 2021

An often repeated conversation in my household goes like this:

Hubby: “What movie would you like to watch tonight?”

Me (Scrolling through the list showing up on the TV): “How about __________________ (picks some random 1990’s era movie). We haven’t seen that one.”

Hubby: “Yes we have.”

Me: “Maybe you have. I didn’t see any movies in the 1990’s.”

This statement is not, however, entirely true. I did see movies in the 1990’s but most of them were rated “G” or “PG” and the main characters were animated.

On June 15, 1994, when The Lion King was released, I had a four year old and a one year old. It was one of the rare movies we went to the theater to see. More on that in a bit.

The Lion King is the story of Simba – a cub born to parents Mufasa and Sarabi. Mufasa is the king of the lion pride much to the consternation of his younger brother, Scar. Jealous of Mufasa, Scar convinces a pack of hyenas to trap and kill Mufasa but pins his brother’s death onto his young nephew Simba. Simba is driven from the pride and ends up in an unlikely friendship with a warthog and meercat (Pumba and Timon).

Eventually Simba grows up and, with the help of Pumba, Timon, and lioness Nala, battles with Scar. Victorious, Simba assumes his rightful place as the heir to Mufasa’s kingdom, ascending to the top of Pride Rock.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

“The Lion King was released on June 15, 1994, to a positive reaction from critics, who praised the film for its music, story, themes, and animation. With an initial worldwide gross of $763 million, it finished its theatrical run as the highest-grossing film of 1994 and the highest-grossing animated film. It is also the highest-grossing traditionally animated film of all time, as well as the best-selling film on home video, having sold over 30 million VHS tapes. (snip) The Lion King garnered two Academy Awards for its achievement in music and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. (snip)

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.  It is, as of December 2019, the only Disney film to have been dubbed in Zulu, the only African language aside from Arabic to have been used for a feature-length Disney dub.”

The film appealed to both children and adults. The script was full of subtle jokes aimed at the grownups and lovable characters to inspire the imaginations of kids.

Soon after its release our family of four went to the theater to see it. Both our children loved the animated Disney movies. Peter Pan and Robin Hood were particular favorites of our four year old son. But as soon as he saw The Lion King, it took over his imagination.

‘Pride Rock’ was in the thick of play time from this March 1995 photo. The evil “Scar” is literally hanging from the edge.

That summer we would drive from our home on the east side of Lake Sammamish clear to the Burger King on 85th in Kirkland. Every week we made the trek in order to collect The Lion King figures from the Kid’s meals. Soon each child had their own Mufasa and Simba and all the rest of the characters. The two lion brothers would frequently engage in battle through the imagination of my child.

When The Lion King was released to VHS on March 3, 1995, the obsession really ramped up.

Our four year old had some other interests as well, of course. Chief among these was to build things. He was obsessed with hammers and nails and would spend hours pounding nails into Dad approved boards. The child even had his own workbench with real tools.

Getting in touch with his inner Simba in a Mom created costume for Halloween 1994

The acquisition of the VHS movie, however, turned into a daily viewing of the film. Soon there were elaborate sets constructed for the Burger King toys including a version of Pride Rock. Of course it really looked nothing like the Pride Rock from the movie. It was about 18 inches tall and built from 2 x 4’s and plywood. But in my son’s eyes it WAS Pride Rock.

I don’t recall when the obsession ended. What I do know is that I heard the songs so often that I know all the words and can sing every one. Eventually the wooden Pride Rock was disassembled and he moved on to new interests which included, at various times, dinosaurs, rocks, coins, Pokemon trading cards, Legos, and video games, to name a few.

For a parent there is a particularly poignant moment in the movie when Simba – still a cub – is frustrated by having to follow his father’s rules and declares, via song, I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. It is the oft heard child’s lament, in a hurry to grow up, not knowing just how special it is to be a ‘cub’ without real world worries.

For me, I think it was okay to not see the majority of ‘grownup’ TV shows or movies from the 1990’s. It’s one of the best things about having kids – one gets to immerse themselves in the child’s world – and, for a short time, see the world through their eyes. It’s the circle of life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_King

Picture Perfect Postcards

June 8, 2021

No doubt if someone who lived in the 1870’s were alive today, they would be in awe of the instantaneous nature of an email or a text message. People then had equivalent forms of communication but without it being instant. A letter was very much like email, used to expound on longer subjects. It was the postcard, however, which served the purpose of a quick communication and, literally, cost only a penny to send; the text message of its day.

It was on June 8, 1872 when the US Congress endorsed the penny postcard. What this meant is that the US postal service began printing blank postcards with the postage paid… all for a penny.

The idea originated in Prussia, but was initially met with skepticism. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“A Prussian postal official, Dr. Heinrich von Stephan, first proposed an ‘open post-sheet’ made of stiff paper in 1865. He proposed that one side would be reserved for a recipient address, and the other for a brief message. His proposal was denied on grounds of being too radical and officials did not believe anyone would willingly give up their privacy. In October 1869, the post office of Austria-Hungary accepted a similar proposal (also without images), and 3 million cards were mailed within the first 3 months. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, the government of the North German Confederation decided to take the advice of Austrian Dr. Emanuel Herrmann and issued postals for soldiers to inexpensively send home from the field.

The rest of the world followed suit and post cards soon became standard. Novelty post cards featuring some sort of image on one side can be traced to 1870, but they cost 2 cents to mail plus the cost of purchasing the cards. The first souvenir ‘picture’ post card is believed to have been a scene from Vienna sent in 1870.

As more and more people became literate, sending letters and post cards served as a way to keep families and friends connected. 1890 to 1915 was considered the ‘Golden Age’ of postcards. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Cards showing images increased in number during the 1880s. Images of the newly built Eiffel Tower in 1889 and 1890 gave impetus to the postcard, leading to the so-called ‘golden age’ of the picture postcard. (snip) …the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 excited many attendees with its line of ‘Official Souvenir’ postals, which popularized the idea of picture postcards. The stage was now set for private postcard industry to boom, which it did once the United States government changed the postage rate for private cards from two cents to one in May 1898.

(snip) Demand for postcards increased, government restrictions on production loosened, and technological advances (in photography, printing, and mass production) made the boom possible. In addition, the expansion of Rural Free Delivery allowed mail to be delivered to more American households than ever before. Billions of postcards were mailed during the golden age, including nearly a billion per year in United States from 1905 to 1915, and 7 billion worldwide in 1905. Many postcards from this era were in fact never posted but directly acquired by collectors themselves.

Changes in tariffs put a damper on postcards as the cost of producing them became much more expensive – or, perhaps, they were being replaced with newer technology. Coincidentally the first US transcontinental telephone network was completed in 1915.

Postcards today are primarily the province of tourists, purchased in gift shops and sent to friends and family back home to let them know they are being ‘thought’ of by the sender.

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with postcards. Like many vacationers, I have purchased them in gift shops with the intention of writing a short greeting and mailing them off. My office supply collection contains more than a few which were purchased but never sent. I admire those who actually mail the cards they buy!

The postcard sender award goes, hands down, to a good friend of my son’s. I first met Jim when he was 12. A gregarious kid, he took an immediate like to my more reserved child. They were going to be best buddies regardless of what my son might think. Soon they were hanging out together, sharing common interests and intellects. Jim was a frequent visitor to our house and he loved to talk. His brain retained everything and he was a voracious reader, especially of historical topics.

Then the unthinkable happened. His father got a job. In another state. Clear across the county. Junior year of high school, Jim moved to Virginia.

But Jim was undaunted, determined to not let his best friend or adopted family forget about him.

The first postcard from Jim arrived shortly after he moved. And then another arrived. And another. It started to feel a bit like the Dursley’s mailbox with the letters arriving from Hogwarts for Harry Potter. (see clip below)

Unlike the Dursely’s, however, our entire family looked forward to those postcards. We enjoyed seeing what interesting places Jim visited and reading the witty and funny things he would write. Every card was concluded with his signature close of “Cheers, Jim.” This went on for years.

Jim went on to college, got his degree in history and has turned his love of the subject combined with his natural oratorical abilities into jobs. He worked as a costumed history tour guide for the National Parks during the summers he was in college; he eventually became a professor.

It’s been quite a while since one of those postcards arrived but we have saved every one. At first I was the one who kept them and then my son, recognizing that there was something very special about them, took over the job.

Perhaps historians of the future will look back on earlier times and see the value of the written word on paper. It imbues our records with a personal experience that electronic communications cannot match. Jim’s postcards prove that it doesn’t have to be a fancy five dollar card to be special. A few lines on a postcard are more than enough and just as meaningful. Cheers to you, Jim, and that unique place you hold in our hearts.

The two postcards are from my grandmother’s things. The top one is probably circa 1915 as is the one of her 7th grade class in Selah, Washington. I have vintage postcards from the 1940’s onward… too many to share. The stack of postcards are ALL from Jim!

A link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcard#:~:text=The%20first%20commercially%20produced%20card%20was%20created%20in,%22Lipman%27s%20Postal%20Card%22.%20These%20cards%20had%20no%20images.

Sonic Boom

A great day in Seattle History

June 1, 2021

Dennis Johnson. Jack Sikma. Gus Williams. ‘Downtown’ Freddie Brown. Paul Silas. Lennie Wilkens.

On June 1, 1979, these were the names on the lips of every Washingtonian as the Seattle Supersonics won their first and only National Basketball Association championship.

The 1979 Championship Team

The team was formed as part of the NBA expansion in 1967. The early years, while perhaps full of hope for the team, found the franchise consistently finishing near the bottom.

But the team and the fans were undaunted because Seattle was a basketball kind of town. It was the arrival of Bill Russell in 1973 that started the team on the path to glory. The next year the team made its first entry to the playoffs, losing in the Conference playoff round to the San Francisco Warriors.

For the next three years the excitement grew. At least until the disastrous 1976-77 season. The following year Bill Russell was gone as head coach and replaced by Bob Hopkins (who was, coincidentally, an assistant coach and Russell’s cousin). Hopkins was a catastrophe, being fired mid-year in the wake of a 5-17 start.

What happened next was, perhaps, a miracle. Lennie Wilkens, who had been a Sonics player and then head coach for a few years prior to Russell, returned and took the fairytale team all the way to the NBA finals.

The team lost the 1978 title in the 7 game series to the Washington Bullets.

Seattle SuperSonics’ Dennis Johnson (24) soars to the basket past the Chicago Bulls’ Mickey Johnson, right, on March 17, 1979. (seattlepi.com file)

Basketball fever, however, now gripped Seattle, the team and fans alike certain that the championship ring was within their grasp. At the close of the 1978-79 regular season, Seattle was atop the Western Conference and entered the playoffs with a 52-30 win/loss record.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“In the playoffs, the SuperSonics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Semifinals, then defeated the Phoenix Suns in seven games in the Conference Finals to reach the NBA Finals for a second consecutive season in a rematch of the 1978 NBA Finals, facing the defending NBA champion Washington Bullets whom they had lost to in seven games. The Sonics would go on to avenge their NBA Finals loss and defeat the Bullets in five games, winning their first and only NBA championship. Dennis Johnson was named the NBA Finals MVP.

This was Seattle’s first professional sports championship since the Seattle Metropolitans victory in the Stanley Cup in 1917.”

It was a moment never to be repeated. The Sonics did, in 1996, once again reach the NBA championship game where they lost the series 4-2 to the Chicago Bulls.

In 2008 the unthinkable happened. Seattle’s beloved team had been sold to an Oklahoma City consortium led by businessman Clay Bennett (ie – the most hated man in Seattle, perhaps tied with Ken Behring, former owner of the Seahawks who attempted a similar move with the Hawks). When unable to produce the blackmail money funding to build a new arena, professional basketball left Seattle.

The hubby – then the boyfriend – and I had been dating for less than a month on June 1, 1979. I had come over to Seattle from Yakima and was staying with my older brother and his wife in Ballard. That evening, all four of us had dinner and then we all watched the game.

It was a perfect late spring day. The temperature by 8:30 p.m. was an ideal 75 degrees, down from a high of 84 that day. When the final shot dropped through the net and the Sonics were the world champions it was as if the entire city of Seattle erupted in celebration.

Massive crowds came out for the Sonics

Like everyone else, we went outside and on to the back deck of their house which sported a territorial view to the west. In the distance we watched as aerial fireworks burst above downtown Ballard; a cacophony of honking horns – both car and air – marked the moment.

Never had I witnessed such a shared joy as in that moment. We sat on the deck steps for quite some time as the festivities continued. It was well past sunset when the final horns and fireworks faded away.

The Sonics were our team, our guys. By then we had the Seahawks but it would be decades before they won their championship. The only real game in town in 1979 was basketball. It was glorious. And no slick Oklahoma City flimflam man will ever be able to steal that moment from us.

A couple of links for those who want to know more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1978%E2%80%9379_Seattle_SuperSonics_season

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_NBA_Finals

The Facebook answers: Seahawks (blue and green), Mariners (A different blue and green), Sonics, UW Huskys (purple and gold), WSU Cougars (crimson and gray), and the Gonzaga Bulldogs (blue and red)

Star Wars

“I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This”

May 25, 2021

From the moment these words first scrolled up the movie screen – along with the dramatic opening chords of John William’s soundtrack – moviegoers were immersed in a fictional world full of drama, conflict, intrigue, good vs. evil, and – ultimately – a cliffhanger ending to the first of what was to become, arguably, the most successful franchise in movie history.

Star Wars: A New Hope was released on May 25, 1977. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“After a turbulent production, Star Wars was released in a limited number of theaters (snip), and quickly became a blockbuster hit, leading to it being expanded to a much wider release. The film opened to critical acclaim, most notably for its groundbreaking visual effects. It grossed a total of $775 million (over $550 million during its initial run), surpassing Jaws (1975) to become the highest-grossing film at the time until the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). When adjusted for inflation, Star Wars is the second-highest-grossing film in North America (behind Gone with the Wind) and the fourth-highest-grossing film in the world. It received ten Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), winning seven. In 1989, it became one of the first 25 films that was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. At the time, it was the most recent film in the registry and the only one chosen from the 1970s. In 2004, its soundtrack was added to the U.S. National Recording Registry, and was additionally listed by the American Film Institute as the best movie score of all time a year later. Today, it is widely regarded by many in the motion picture industry as one of the greatest and most important films in film history.”

It was, in many ways, the quintessential ‘cowboy’ movie but updated for an audience which had watched men land on the moon in 1969. It appealed to, particularly, the male need for adventure. Its heroes were simultaneously recognizable, yet also fresh, characters: Luke Skywalker – still a boy – who chooses to leave his boring home and seek out adventure; Obi-Wan Kenobe, the sage elder who takes Skywalker under his wing and teaches him the ways of the freedom fighting Jedi; Princess Leia who redefines the idea of a damsel in distress; and, especially, the bootlegger Han Solo whose swashbuckling antics left millions of women with serious crushes.

Rather than recount the plot of the movie for those who have never seen it, the Infallible Wikipedia offers a summary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars_(film)) or you can Google ‘Star Wars A New Hope’ which produces 24.9 million results.

Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher in their roles as
Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia.

Personally, I think every person should watch at least the 1977 movie through the lens of the classic American cowboy movie. The weapons and horses may be different but the formula is still the same.

I must also admit that I did NOT see the first movie that year. At 19, I thought the movie was for kids. In fact, I cannot say for sure when I did eventually see the film. The second movie, The Empire Strikes Back, arrived in theatres on May 19, 1980 and the third, The Return of the Jedi, on May 25, 1983.

All of this is mentioned for one reason. As far as I’m concerned, episodes IV, V, and VI ARE Star Wars. The original cast, the campiness, and the fun of those movies were not to be replicated.

By early 1983 pretty much everyone had seen the first two movies and eagerly awaited the release of The Return of the Jedi. The hubby and me were no different.

R2D2 and C3PO

Finally the day arrived. Of course it was a Wednesday and with work and jobs we were not going to be a part of a midnight showing. Instead we waited a couple of weeks for when Microsoft reserved the ENTIRE UA150 theatre in Seattle for an exclusive showing for its employees (of which I was one).

That’s when the hubby and I hatched a plan. Across the street from that venue on 6th and Blanchard in downtown Seattle was the UA70 which was showing both of the first two movies. On the day of the event, we arrived that morning – like at 9 a.m. – to view movie number one. We may have been two of only a handful of people present when the place opened. This was followed by the second movie and then, after grabbing a bite to eat, we joined the Microsoft crew for Jedi. Now, we were not quite as crazy as some of the Microsofties who arrived dressed in costume and sporting light sabers. Although some people thought the marathon Star Wars day was kinda nuts.

I still experience the event in my mind when, as soon as the iconic ‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,’ appeared on the screen a cheer rocked the theatre. For the next hour and half the venue was filled with cheers and gasps and applause as our heroes eventually won the day.

The UA150 in Seattle during the 1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back. From the Seattle Times archives

We loved doing the Star Wars triple and learned a few things: Harrison Ford is much sexier than Mark Hamill; the line ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’ repeats multiple times throughout all three movies; the hubby can ‘talk’ like a wookie; and ewoks are cute but totally annoying.

Eventually we purchased VHS, and then DVD, versions of the three movies and introduced our kids to them. We also watched subsequent Star Wars movies in the theaters but, truly, it was never the same. After enduring the obnoxious Jar Jar Binks character we quit watching and were content to revisit the three originals from time to time in that galaxy far, far away from the comfort of our living room.

The answer to the Facebook question is: all three- Han, Leia, and Luke – said it at one time during the three movies.