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Back Buzz - April 8, 2005

pumping heart Vittles Cafe, 501 Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

The first time I wandered into Vittles was on a Friday at lunchtime. For a long time I had been curious to try out this bustling Broomhill cafe which is always full of students and locals. The impression I always got was of a simultaneously relaxed and animated place -- just the sort of venue where you might want to meet friends for lunch or else sit on your own and sip an espresso while you slowly devour your newspaper.

Because the place was packed on this particular day it was steamy and warm inside, which was a nice contrast to the misty cool outside. I had an appointment nearby and was a bit pressed for time; but after spending the morning walking I was in desperate need of some quick energy.

After I ordered my espresso I perused the massive sandwich list, which includes cold and toasted selections, and finally decided I was in the mood for the Stilton walnut sandwich. Besides a wide variety of lunch choices they also serve breakfast: fry-ups, omelettes, etc. With such an emphasis on the food menu I was pleasantly surprised with my La Vazza espresso. It was very basic -- the type of espresso you'd expect from a sandwich shop -- but it was just strong enough and did the job. The next time I visit hopefully I'll have time for a macchiato or a cappuccino so I can see what sort of finesse they're capable of. Or perhaps I'll try one of their cafetiere coffees, particularly the Costa Rican or the Old Java.

As I sipped my spro and nibbled my sarnie I ruminated on what a goldmine Vittles must be, especially since it's located on such a visible corner smack in the heart of Studentland. The cacophony of the friendly chatter backed by clinking kitchen utensils reminded me of the breakfast places I used to frequent when I was growing up in Long Beach, California and in Seattle -- the sort of places my friends and I would end up on Saturday and Sunday mornings after long nights out. In fact, this could well be Sheffield's Pacific Coast weekend breakfast-style cafe! Perhaps they should consider advertising themselves as such.

Ah, yes, the memories of those late weekend nights...after the pubs, bars, and live music clubs closed, and after the parties died down, we would either end up at the local 24-hour breakfast cafe, or else fall into a deep slumber and head out at noon the next morning for breakfast, in either case consuming massive quantities of coffee to clear away the hangover and lack of sleep, resulting in some very interesting and unique conversations.

Speaking of interesting caffeine-induced conversations reminds me of the following three-way e-mail discussion from a year ago with my uncle and my Bay Area friend:

As the resident Historian of Dithonomics, do you know if the Fizzie phenomenon had any effect on the market value of the letter Z? The following is from yesterday's Dr. Science column:

"Dear Dr. Science,
What ever happened to Fizzies?
from Donna Marmorstein of Aberdeen, SD

"Is it mere coincidence that Fizzies hit the market at the same time our manufacture of nuclear warheads was at an all-time high? Or that radioactive waste disposal suddenly became less of a problem when the bitter, fizzy pills became the latest consumer craze? No, there are no coincidences when the Military Industrial complex and the Marketplace meet. I had the good sense to stock up on Fizzies, and have warehoused several hundred thousand of them in my lab storage areas. Whenever I need a cheap source of radioactive Iridium, I simply pop open a raspberry flavored fizzie, and drop it in a beaker of hydrochloric acid."


Dear JC and all Dithonomic Kultur Workers:

As is not commonly known, embedded in the lower case z is powerful quarkic resonance code that, when packaged as in consumer products like Fizzies, tends to increase the aggregate flux in consonant background. Random monitoring of this background has detected these in places such as "Physics" labs and other places where helium is being breathed under uncontrolled conditions, but it is suspected that this is only part of the spectrum. In higher proton nuclides the small nuculer (current usage during this administration) binding energies hold sugar molecule quarks at equilibrium in approximate balance until mixed. Iridium especially will become unstable and will release in the gaseous state masking z release with burps and farts. This unauthorized and undocumented addition to the z supply will of course diminish the current impact of double z (zz) words due to a rise in the supply curve.

Doez zees mean zat we all will zztart (oops! pardon me) turning into old TV ztarz like Zza ZZAAA-- (oops! sorry) Gabor, or perhaps into azletic ztarz like ze French zzoccer--- (sorry -- must have been ze dinner) ztar Zinodine Zidane?

It's clear that Dr. Science was on the right track when he noted the correlation between the atomic age in America and the rise of Fizzies. The name makes it clear that Fizzies were a by-product of nuclear fission, probably in breeder reactors. The country that can manufacture Fizzies is on the verge of possessing the Bomb. (In fact, if you pack a dense enough matrix of Fizzies into a projectile and integrate a triggering device, you'll have the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.)

A similar, but virtually unknown, food product was ready to hit the market during that brief period about 15 years ago (we were working at Northrop, as I recall) when scientists in Utah announced that they had conducted an experiment demonstrating the feasibility of nuclear fusion at room temperature. "Cold fusion" was the buzzword of the day, and fruit flavored "Fuzees" were patented. They were capable of reacting even when dropped onto shaved ice, making instantly fusing snowcones. When the cold fusion experiment turned out to be a hoax (or an honest mistake), Fuzees were quietly relegated to the scrap heap of gimmick foods.

Unkletom's observations are astute, but they don't answer the question why Fizzies disappeared entirely in America. A large number of nuclear power plants are still in operation, so what does the government expect to do with all that fizzing waste? (It's unfortunate that Scully and Mulder never investigated this mystery.)

But there are other nuclear powers in the world, and others on the verge of developing at least a "dirty" Bomb. Inspectors failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but were they looking to see if Fizzies could be found on the shelves of liquor and convenience stores? Do we even know the Arabic word for "Fizzies"? (Altavista doesn't offer translation into Arabic, but I did learn what they would be called in Korean.)

Maybe we can still get them in the Archie McPhee catalog.

Whatever happened to Pop Rocks?

As you may recall, when I was in university my friend David Martell visited friends in Arizona where they were test marketing the explosive little candies, and he brought back a couple of cases. I remember taking Pop Rocks to my classes, amusing my friends by giving them samples which would disrupt lectures and exams almost as much as the Laugh Boxes also popular at the time. Within ten years everybody knew about Pop Rocks, although I think they might have been renamed.

If one were to combine Fizzies and Pop Rocks, perhaps in a bath of vinegar and baking soda, what would happen? Perhaps I shouldn't even be mentioning this, as potential terrorists probably trawl e-mail servers looking for new ideas...