Thursday, April 28, 2011

Walnuts, Part I

By Peter Semple

2150 was the year the walnut trees died. It wasn’t just the earthbound ones either. All the transplants on Mars and Luna died off too, like someone had flipped some strange, absurdly-labeled switch.
No one knew why.

2175 was the year Russian scientists announced that they had managed to restore an entire grove of walnut trees. Walnut-lovers rejoiced, but there was a catch. Russia wasn’t doing this for charity.

By 2176, Russia held a stranglehold on the world walnut trade. They could charge anything they wanted, because there wasn’t any competition.

I, Philip H. Scrout, intrepid adventurer, bionic man, and world-class time-traveler/problem solver, was about to change all of that. You see, the walnut trees weren’t supposed to die. My superiors suspected that someone sent a genetically attuned supervirus back in time again. Thankfully, the last one only targeted Chihuahuas. Walnuts now…that was too far. In the future, a serum made from walnut tree bark saved mankind from a devastating plague. The death of the walnut trees created a future in which the Russians were the only ones to possess the serum, ensuring a thousand years of Communist Tyranny. Central Command wasn’t about to let that happen. I wasn’t about to let that happen.

I arrived in Prague on the 4th of June. I had it on good authority that a rogue Russian agent was about to hand off a suitcase full of whole walnuts into the hands of a Czech mobster known as Timmy. No one had ever seen his face or heard his voice, but it was rumored that he traveled around in a strange hovertrain and never stayed in the same place for very long. My mission was to intercept the suitcase and deliver it into British hands.

The man with the suitcase was in an aircar, moving quickly toward the outskirts of the city. I was cloaked and clinging to the top of the aircar for dear life. At the speed we were moving, the wind would have inflicted some serious damage, had I not been wearing my skin-suit. The suit made me invisible and protected me from just about anything. It also talked, which is never a desirable function in a suit.

Sir, have you realized that your blood pressure is a little high?

“I hadn’t noticed.”

Well, you may want to do something about that. Things like that can kill you, you know.


You could have a heart attack or something. What would I do without you, sir? A poor empty suit, completely free of a disgusting paras—I mean, devoid of an owner!

I’m sure the thing’s planning my demise. I’ve warned Central Command about it, but they don’t seem to think it’s worth the cost of reprogramming. “Budget cuts” or some such nonsense.
I ignored the suit and focused on the landscape unfolding ahead of me. The city had given way to small towns, farms, and rolling plains. Suddenly, the car stopped, nearly throwing me off.

We waited there for several hours before anything happened. Then I saw the hovertrain. It was a huge, chrome monstrosity, and it was coming this way. My mark grabbed the suitcase, got out of the car, and began walking calmly toward the train. I got down and followed him at a distance.

The train must have been going about 80 kilometers per hour, and it wasn’t slowing down. Just then, the briefcase man did something I did not expect. Slowly, calmly, he walked up to the train and dematerialized. Poof!

That doesn't seem fair said the suit. Maybe you should try! Take me off first, of course.

“Shut up,” I said. “We’re going to do this the hard way.”

I have implants that allow me to do things normally outside the human range of possibility. One of them involves running quite fast.

I started running, and the landscape around me gradually became a blur as I ran faster and faster. I reached the train’s caboose, grabbing onto the railing and heaving myself aboard.

There was no back entrance, so I made one. That was when the alarm sounded.

*  *  *

Find out what happens next week!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

We interrupt our normal posting schedule to bring you some shameless self-promotion! I'm a guest poster this week at "What's Wrong With...", and I'd love for you all to check it out.

"What's Wrong With..." began with the stated goal of offering "criticism with a purpose." In keeping with that spirit, this week I've set my crosshairs on "Glee." Enjoy!


Thursday, April 21, 2011


I think the reason I hate math so much is that the numbers never feel real to me. I know what they are, but being a person of words, I’m more interested in the situations in which they occur and the things they apply to. That’s why I enjoy story problems, like “A man walked into a southbound train going 50 miles an hour to sell Timmy 3 walnuts at a rate of 100 rubles per walnut. Triangulate the position of Timmy’s pet lion.”

It doesn’t matter if they’re by themselves or in equations. I’m only really interested in what they relate to.

Consider today’s gas prices, for instance. “3.99 per gallon” certainly looks very upsetting on the sign, but only because of the words the numbers are attached to, words like “I wish I could eat this week, but I’ve got to fill up my car,” or other words that are less appropriate for this blog.

Stupid lion.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jobs, Sharks, and Crisco

These days, looking for work feels more and more like shoving my hand repeatedly into a tank of shortening, instead of a tank of sharks.

I realize that statement deserves some explanation.

Before I had a college degree, every shark in the shark-tank tried to gleefully pull me in. It was simple. All I had to do was paint myself with a little chicken blood, and in I went! I've always had a summer job, even when the economy wasn't doing so well.

Now that I have a degree, no one wants me. I'm still shoving my hand in the tank, but all I do is squish around for a little bit, not realizing that the sharks have been replaced with gobs and gobs of tasteless, greasy Crisco. I pull my hand back out and there it is, like a second skin. WHAT KIND OF AQUARIUM IS THIS?!

Crisco never lets me know that it isn't interested. People used to call me or email me when I was no longer being considered for a position. Now, there's only silence. At least with sharks you can sometimes tell if they're not hungry by the remains in the water. Crisco just sits there.

I hope there's a shark hiding in my Crisco.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review Blog is Up!

I haven't wasted anytime in expanding my domain :)
A few days ago I launched my new review blog. Stop by and check it out! Granted, there isn't much there in terms of content just yet, but that'll change. Each week (starting with next week) I will write a book, movie, game, or music review for your reading pleasure and spotlight something cool and bacon-related, whether it's a place or website devoted to bacon, a piece of bacon-related trivia, or something else entirely.
Stick with me. This should be fun.


Thursday, April 7, 2011


Ladies and gentlemen, the Institute is branching out. After a lot of thinking, I've come to the conclusion that the Institute's lack of a unifying theme is it's weakness. In short, the awesome contained within is too varied.

From now on, this blog will be almost exclusively devoted to humor. As of today, I have begun the creation of several satellite blogs to handle other types of writing, like reviews and travelogues.

Think of it as the beginning of a new era, one in which I will rule the blogosphere. :)
Don't worry. I'm a benevolent dictator. Mwahaha.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Travelogue: Canada

This travelogue has been a while in coming. It's not that I've been actively putting it off, it's just that time has a tendency to run away from me. I usually think about this blog every couple of days, but those thoughts often get buried by things like Dragon Age II and applying for jobs.

The bright side of all this procrastination is that I've had ample time to collect my thoughts about today's subject, the delightful country of Canada.

I got married several weeks ago, and my wife and I went to Canada for our honeymoon. It's not an obvious honeymoon destination, and that's one of the reasons I picked it. Also, it was a good sight cheaper than Florida or the Bahamas. I found a little cottage online at this website, and it seemed like the perfect fit.

The border crossing was a harrowing experience for my wife, who had never been out of the country before. It was still a little nerve-wracking for me, even though I had been there with my family several times in the past. There's just something about crossing in to another country that provokes all manner of frantic questions like "what if I accidentally do something wrong?" or "what if I accidentally say something stupid?" or "what if they accidentally find a body in my trunk?'

As it turns out, something must have seemed a little suspicious, because the nice border guard sent us to immigration services. We had to present proof that we were actually going where we said we were going, and that we were actually on a completely harmless honeymoon instead of the Bonnie and Clyde crime spree I had originally planned (my wife shut down that idea pretty quickly, despite my protestations that it would be a real bonding experience)

As an aside, Canadian border guards are very intimidating. The men all have what I like to call "power beards," the kind of beard that looms over you even if the person wearing it is less physically impressive than Gandhi. The women are intimidating too, but that's mostly because they're women.

Thankfully, we were able to prove everything sufficiently, so we went on our merry way. We were hungry by this time, and the car needed gas. This is when we discovered a critically important fact about Canada: everything is more expensive there.

Yes, the U.S. dollar is valued slightly higher than the Canadian one, but that ends up meaning very little. You see, while you may get a couple extra Canadian dollars at the currency exchange, everything in Canada costs LOTS of Canadian dollars.

Allow me to illustrate. We went to Burger King to assuage our hunger, and I ended up paying nearly $17 for both of us. We went to get gas, and I ended up paying $75. That is the largest amount of my own money I have ever spent in one go. By the way, Canadian gas prices may look low in comparison to ours, but don't forget that they charge by the liter. There are more liters in your car than there are gallons.

A few hours later, we finally made it to the cottage we'd rented on the Lake Erie shore (after first showing up at the wrong place and thinking we'd been played because it looked like the address we'd been given didn't actually exist). Lake Erie is beautiful, even in winter. I'd never seen such a vast expanse of frozen water before, and it was wonderful to watch the sun (when it decided to come out of hiding) glinting off the ice.

Since we were on our honeymoon, I don't feel the need or desire to tell you about everything we did. However, I will highlight some of the places we visited and the things we ate.

Most of the towns around us were somewhat small. Simcoe was the largest, and the one we visited most often, because it had the most things to do and see. On our first night there we ate out at a wonderful restaurant ironically named "Boston Pizza." Like everything else in Canada, it was a bit on the pricey side, but the food was delicious. I ordered a small "Spicy Perogy" pizza, a delightful creation topped with bacon, potatoes, cheese, and sour cream. We also visited Hagersville, a somewhat smaller town, but no less enjoyable to walk through. There we ate at "Godfather's," a pizza chain that I later found out exists in the U.S. If you have one nearby, I highly suggest you try it sometime. Not only was the pizza great (the crust was the perfect consistency and the toppings were delicious and gooey), it was one of the most affordable places we ate while in Canada.

Now that I've given you an overview of our experience, I'd like to boil it down a bit by listing some specific things you should know if you're going to visit.

-Canadian Walmarts do not sell fresh food, so don't go there expecting to pick up fruit or veggies.
-If you're looking for alcohol, go to LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) or The Beer Store. Generally speaking, you won't be able to find it anywhere else except in certain restaurants and bars, all of which are required to buy their merchandise from LCBO or The Beer Store.
-Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most Canadians will probably answer them politely.
-Don't take citrus fruit from Canada back to the U.S. It's illegal, apparently.
-If you take any food back at all from Canada, be prepared to declare it at customs.
-American debit transactions don't work in Canada. If you use a debit card, slide it as credit.
-Quite a few Canadian businesses don't accept Visa cards. Most of them do take Mastercard.
-Brush up on your knowledge of Canadian currency. Check out this wikipedia article.
-If you visit during late winter/early spring, be prepared for cold weather and/or snow.

Good traveling,

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The Institute for Circular Reasoning by Peter Semple is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.