Dorothy Parker is famously quoted as saying, "If you took all the girls who attended the Yale prom and laid them end to end, I wouldn't be at all surprised."
I often use that quote when I teach humor writing. It's a great example of using surprise to get a laugh. When the quote starts, people expect it to be about distance, but they're surprised by something else, and that's where you can find a laugh.
Once, after I had given that talk at a conference, the organizer told me a woman had complained about that particular line.
"Tell her to take it up with Dorothy Parker," I said.
I didn't think it was a problem, but I haven't been asked to speak at that particular conference again either. Some people must really love Yale.
But I've always wondered, what if we actually made the quote about distance? How long would a line of all the girls who attended the Yale prom be? So I did a little investigating, made a few estimates, and came up with this.
According to a 1939 issue of the New York Times, 400 couples attended the snooty Ivy League affair that year, so let's assume that many attended in 1934, which means there were 400 women. And let's use the average height of a woman in 1934, which is 62 inches, or 5'2".
400 women x 62 inches = 24,800 inches, or 2,067 feet. In fact, let's round up to 2,100 feet because I'm sure a couple of the women were exceptionally tall, and most of them wore heels.
We'll call this a Parker of measurement in honor of Dorothy Parker.
Also, because calling it the "girls who attended the Yale prom" over and over will get tedious.
Next, I visited a website called The Measure Of Things, which lets visitors put in a specific measurement — like 2,100 feet — and compare that measurement to other objects.
For example, the Eiffel Tower is 1,060 feet tall, including its flagpole, which means it's one-half of a Parker in height.
Also, the Kentucky Derby is 6,600 feet long, or 3.14 Parkers in length, which, by a staggering coincidence, is the exact formula for pi. That is, you can reduce the fraction 6600/2100 down to 22/7. Divide 22 by 7, and you get pi. Once I realized that, I expected my phone to turn into an inter-dimensional portal.
There's the Beast rollercoaster at Kings Island in Ohio, which is 7,359 feet long. Which means if you took all the girls from the Yale prom and laid them end-to-end 3.5 times, you could ride The Beast, and now I see why that woman got so upset.
There are 5,280 feet in a mile or roughly two-and-a-half Parkers, and the world record for running 2.5 Parkers is held by Hicham El Guerroouj of Morocco, who did it in 3:43.13. The Olympic equivalent is 1,500 meters or 2.34 Parkers, and the world record for running that far is 3:26, also held by El Guerrouj.
Other interesting measurements? It would take 400 Napoleon Bonapartes to equal one Parker, but only 300 Andre the Giants. It would also take 1,550 16-inch pizzas to equal one Parker, or what Andre the Giant called "a light snack."
The Marianas Trench is 17 Parkers deep, while Mount Everest is 15 Parkers tall. The Grand Canyon is 700 Parkers long, and if you laid 13,800 Parkers end-to-end, you'd have the Great Wall of China. Dorothy Parker would still not be at all surprised.
And, you would need almost 20,000 Parkers to circle the Earth.
Let's change things up a bit. Shaquille O'Neal is 7'1". You would need 292 Shaquille O'Neals to equal one Parker. (Actually 291.76, but what's a quarter of a Shaquille among friends?)
He also weighed 325 pounds during his playing days, so we'll call that measurement a Shaq.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, it would take nearly 22 15-pound turkeys to equal a Shaq, or 89.5 pumpkin pies, which, if it were up to me, is what Thanksgiving would look like next year, and you'd all be invited. We'll skip the green beans.
We'd also need a Shaq's worth of beer, which equals two full kegs, or what my fraternity would call a slow weekend.
This year, Travis Glenger of Anoka, Minnesota, won the world pumpkin growing championship with a 2,350-pound pumpkin, which equals 7.23 Shaqs. We could also make roughly 783 pumpkin pies out of Travis' pumpkin, but my wife will probably make me share.
However, the world record pumpkin is 2,624.6 pounds, which is just a tiny bit over 8 Shaqs, or nearly 875 pies, so I guess you could have a couple. Bites. A couple bites.
At 990 pounds, a grand piano weighs roughly three Shaqs, and you would need three-and-a-half Shaqs to equal one polar bear.
In the world of sports, you would need 232 basketballs, 900 hockey pucks, or 1,014 baseballs to equal one Shaq.
Meanwhile, a blue whale's tongue weighs roughly 20 Shaqs, while a hippopotamus weighs 25 Shaqs. A stegosaurus weighed approximately 6,800 pounds, which is equal to 20.9 Shaqs, and now I'm wondering who would win in a fight between a hippopotamus and a stegosaurus.
The winner gets to eat one of my pumpkin pies. I'm sharing the rest with the girls from the Yale prom.
Photo credit: Paul Smith (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)
My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.