talking turkey


With Christmas almost upon us it’s the perfect time to start unwrapping the stories behind some of the trimmings and traditions of Yule.

Some of these customs, like the wearing of silly paper hats drawn from the obligatory bon bon along with a bad joke and useless plastic novelty are relatively modern practices.

It was while sitting by a crackling fire that British confectioner and cake decorator Tom Smith decided to reinvent the bon bon – originally a French creation of sugared almonds in pretty paper twists – and blow away the competition.

After some experimentation he created a friction strip coated with a small amount of saltpetre which when pulled apart created a bang.

Smith’s “Bangs of Expectation”, which went on the market in 1860, were high end works of art containing wax dolls with whole wardrobes of clothes, jade buddhas, real ivory elephants and real jewellery.

By the turn of the century Smith’s company, now run by his three sons, was producing crackers for every occasion. There were crackers for royal tours, crackers to celebrate the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, crackers for store openings.

And Christmas would never be the same.

Less straightforward is the story behind the annual fight over who gets the wishbone from the chicken or turkey

Like why would anyone think snapping the clavicle bone of a dead bird was lucky?

But this tradition predates Christmas, going back to about 900 BC and the Etruscans, who believed hens could divine the future.

Priests would scatter a circle of 20 wedges of grain, each corresponding to a letter of the Etruscan alphabet, and the chicken would then be placed in the middle to peck out messages.

When a bird was killed – possibly because of some failure of communication on its own part – the furcula, to use the proper name given to the fused bird clavicles, was dried in the sun. It was thought that by holding it people could still draw some good fortune from the avian oracle.

This practice was adopted by the Romans who, in turn, built roads to disseminate it across Europe, where at some stage, lucky bone-holding turned to snapping the thing in two and regarding only the bigger half as being blessed.

The Pilgrims took this tradition and started breaking bones not just at Christmas, but also Thanksgiving.

But being America, it was inevitable someone would decide it was possible to improve upon the turkey’s one wishbone.

Ken Ahroni, the founder of the Lucky Break Wishbone Company, came up with the idea of cheap plastic wishbones so that everyone at the festive table, including vegetarians, could share the luck in good conscience.

Ahroni’s idea proved a winner and he was soon exporting plastic wishbones to Europe, Australia, even Turkey, ranging from fun packs of four to 400 bulk for big occasions.

All was well until the retail giant Sears, Roebuck and Co ordered 1.3 million Lucky Break Wishbones for a holiday promotion and in a birdbrained decision reneged, deciding they could get them whipped up offshore by a Chinese company far cheaper.

Sears’ lawyers argued that a wishbone was a wishbone and they all looked alike, but didn’t reckon on bird experts, who identified points of difference between a real wishbone and Ahroni’s copyrighted design.

The resulting $1.7 million award to Ahroni proved he wasn’t talking turkey.


on the tiles


I never promised we’d be exclusive.

It wasn’t even a conscious thing.

Really, I just found that one partner wasn’t enough any more.

The fatal date is etched in my memory.

It was the morning after November 14, 2014.

You remember the date. The day the Scrabble Mattel app went down

It was crippling. There was nowhere to turn.

I cried out on Twitter, but everyone was so busy no one one heard my call for h-e-l-p with ‘H’ and ‘P’ on triple letters.

Facebook wasn’t much better. My oldest friend offered to send me the actual board game which “is always dependable and never crashes” while my ex-sister-in-law made sympathetic noises, but clearly couldn’t fix the problem.

So addicted had I become to you, the thrust and parry of your lexicon, that I struck out.

First I asked my husband and he refused to oblige me. “It’s beyond pointless to pursue this kind of activity in the same house over two computers on two separate floors,” he said.

It’d barely been three months since I joined Facebook and you sent the message.

Hey, Sarah you want to play?”

It’s funny that whole Facebook thing. I always liked you but we moved in different circles. Yet when our paths did cross I appreciated your razor wit, your super-thin sassiness, your Dorothy Parker-esque observations.

And there you are asking me to play Scrabble online.

The first game you murdered me.

Indeed those first few games you trounced me, using all those sneaky two-letter point-grabbing words known to true Scrabble fans and never actually included in any real world conversation.

Words like qi, za, xi, xu, sh.

But gradually I learned.

The day after the great Scrabble Mattel app crash I returned to the uncompleted game, but you weren’t there and I badly needed a fix. So I hit the button for a match with a random player and got “Killer”, which was somewhat disconcerting

Turns out he should have called himself something else, for I dispatched him, mercilessly racking up two seven-letter words in a row. It was like blood lust.

I started a new game and then another and another and another.

At one point I had 15 different scrabble matches on the go, with players from Kenya to Quebec.

It was interesting to discover how different people had very different styles of playing. Some were exceptional word stackers, maximising the number of points by placing words horizontally or vertically alongside existing ones to make multiple words.

Then there was poor Lisa who just kept placing her words within easy striking reach of the triple word space. What could I do, ignore them?

Neelo somehow managed to create a perfect cube out of high-scoring letters which counted in multiple directions and whooped my sorry b-u-t-t by more than 300 points.

Kym seemed a pretty even match, but she had a way of lulling you into a sense of complacency by trailing then overtaking you by 80 points in one swoop.

Why am I telling you all this?

To show what you turned me into – a hopeless, pitiful Scrabble addict who raced back to the computer every time she heard the siren sound of a word put into play.

I’m sorry, I hope you can forgive me but feel I must spell it out for you: it’s o-v-e-r … that is until the next game.