Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Honkbal, Root Hog, and other Wikipedia oddities

Children of the 1950s loved Davy Crockett’s taste in headwear—but did they pick up his vocabulary, too?
Children of the 1950s loved Davy Crockett’s taste in headwear—but did they pick up his vocabulary, too?
Photo: Photo by Harry Kerr/BIPs/Getty Images (Getty Images)
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,211,842-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

Advertisement

This week’s entry: Quick hits

What it’s about: Lots of things! Over the years, we’ve come across Wikipedia articles that fascinated or amused to some degree, but were too short to write a full column about. So for the next few weeks, we’re going to shake up the format, and move through our 6,211,842-part series a bit faster by tackling multiple subjects in brief.

Honkbal Hoofdklasse: The crack of the knuppel, the smell of a freshly-oiled handschoen, Dutch baseball isn’t that different from our own national pastime, except their major league has the delightful name Honkbal Hoofdklasse. The eight-team Hoofdklasse plays from April to September, ending in the Holland Series—although they play only 42 games per season, mostly on weekends. The two main things that set Honkbal apart from Major League Baseball: The team nicknames are usually related to corporate sponsors, and there’s Premiere League-style promotion and relegation, meaning the last-place team gets sent down to the minors, and the best team in Honkbal Overgangsklasse moves up to the bigs the following season, which means there’s just as much at stake at the bottom of the standings than at the top.

Personally, we’d love to see the Detroit Tigers play their hearts out to avoid being replaced by the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, although we’d be less inclined to root for the New York GEICOs.

Root Hog Or Die: The hippest catchphrase of the mid-1800s was “Root hog or die,” used by Davy Crockett in the 1830s, and the chorus to Civil War songs on both sides. The catchphrase professes self-reliance—in essence, a hog must root in the dirt for food or starve. It’s an odd phrase to modern ears, but people in the 2090s will no doubt wonder why so many people were spilling tea in the 2010s.

Tommy Westphall: We’re as astonished as you are that we’ve never discussed Tommy Westphall in seven years of Wiki Wormhole. Acclaimed 1980s medical drama St. Elsewhere ended with the surprising revelation that all of the goings-on at St. Eligius Hospital took place in the mind of Tommy Westphall, the autistic son of Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders)—whom his son only imagined to be a doctor.

Advertisement

In 2002, the late comics and television writer Dwayne McDuffie posited the existence of the Tommy Westphall Universe: Since executive producer Tom Fontana brought characters from St. Elsewhere over to Homicide: Life On The Street, that show must also have taken place in Westphall’s imagination. After Homicide was cancelled in 1999, Richard Belzer continued his role as Detective John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where he stayed for 15 seasons, later making guest appearances on everything from The Wire and The X-Files to Arrested Development and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which means… all of those shows were also Tommy’s creations. As were the shows those shows crossed over with. As Fontana has said, “Someone did the math once… something like 90 percent of all television took place in Tommy Westphall’s mind. God love him.”

Advertisement

List Of Games That Buddha Would Not Play: The world’s fourth-largest religion, Buddhism’s precepts of overcoming our selfish desires and finding inner peace are universal. But Buddhism also has lesser-known principles, including game reviews from The Buddha himself. In the 6th or 5th century B.C., someone compiled a list of games that Gautama Buddha supposedly discouraged his disciples from playing, “because he believed them to be a ‘cause for negligence’.” This is the oldest known list of games in any context, and is weirdly specific.

No playing with toy windmills made from palm leaves, or toy ploughs, carts, or bows. Dice games are out, as are ball games, but so are, “games where players either remove pieces from a pile or add pieces to it, with the loser being the one who causes the heap to shake,” which we suppose in modern terms means Jenga.

Advertisement

The list gives some fascinating insight into what types of game were played in Buddha’s time, as one involves dipping one’s hand in dye or flour-water, smacking the ground or a wall so that it leaves a mark, and challenging your friends with, “What shall it be?” as they have to identify the shape, in a game halfway between Pictionary and a Rorschach test. Also discouraged are “games on boards with 8 or 10 rows.” While this predates the invention of chess, scholars believe this general rule is aimed specifically at ashtapada and its variations, making it the earliest recorded subtweet.

The games get pretty abstract, as guessing a friend’s thoughts, or guessing “letters traced with the finger in the air or on a friend’s back” are both frowned upon. The last item on the no-no list is “imitating deformities,” which brings us back to universal truths.

Advertisement

Further Down the Wormhole: Another material used for making a mark in the “what shall it be” game was lac, the resinous secretion of lac insects (also known by their scientific designation, kerriidae). Lac is used as a resin (it’s the source of the word “lacquer”), dye, and in folk medicine.

We’ve used products created by insects since the first person tasted honey, and we keep hearing that world hunger and all sorts of ecological problems can be solved if we start eating insects in large quantities. This practice is called entomophagy, and while it may be the way of the future, we’ll stick to mystery meat, thank you very much, a lot of which is no doubt present in List Of Sausages—it features the most mystery-filled meat of them all, the good old American hot dog. Hot dogs, in fact, get their own category, with all sorts of regional variations, places hot dogs are sold, and the surprisingly contentious title of World’s Longest Hot Dog. We’ll be taking next Sunday off for the Christmas holiday, but have your ketchup and mustard ready for the first Wiki Wormhole of 2021 on January 3.

Advertisement

Host of the podcast Why Is This Not a Movie? His sixth book, The Planets Are Very, Very, Very Far Away is due in fall 2021. He tells people he lives in New York, but he really lives in New Jersey.