Sesq on the Brain

150 years of statehood? That calls for a quiz!

If you don’t have may 11 circled on your calendar—preferably with heavy black Sharpie, with hearts and exclamation points and smiley faces lovingly inked all around the date—then you clearly do not have Sesquicentennial Fever, and I’m not sure I even want to talk to you. Sesquicentennial? No, they ought to call it Sasquatchcentennial; it’s that big a deal. The 150th anniversary of the glorious day Minnesota was admitted to the Union—I don’t mind telling you it gives me goose bumps, weak knees, sweaty palms, dry mouth, and the vapors. I’m not crazy about that phrase, however. “Admitted to the Union”: It makes us sound needy, like common applicants, or even supplicants. As if any Union in its right mind wouldn’t have been falling all over itself to have us join!

Because most of you are no doubt planning gala Sesquicentennial picnics, dinners, or entire themed weekends (at our house, we’re digging up most of the backyard turf to create an authentic “soddy,” which we’ll later use to store our John Deere X700 Ultimate Tractor and our lawn chemicals), I’ve put together the following quiz, which I hope will entertain your guests while you and your life partner are getting into your Henry Sibley and Ignatius Donnelly costumes for the “Early Gopher-State Gubernatorial Goings-On” pageant. First one with all the right answers gets an extra helping of castor-oil flan!

1. The state’s name comes from the Dakota word mnisota, meaning
a) “sky-tinted water”
b) “cloudy water”
c) “milky water”
d) Hmmm. “Sky-tinted water” sounds lovely, but I suppose if it were a cloudy day, then sky-tinted water could be cloudy water. It sounds gloomy, though. And “milky water”—ick. Could the water have been milky way back then? How? Did mother buffaloes feed their calves too close to streams and rivers? No, that sounds idiotic. Still, you never know. Nature can be weird sometimes. It’s also possible that mnisota has no simple translation. Maybe it means something like “I stood on a hill and saw water and sky, and they were completely different but looked the same, and somehow this difference/sameness spoke to my soul, and moved me deeply, but if I try to explain this to the guys they’ll just laugh at me.” Or maybe it means “I sure did like this place better before all the Eurotrash showed up.”

2. The term “Minnesota nice” refers to
a) an innate, ineffable goodness shared by all true Minnesotans; an instinctive behavioral kindliness that bespeaks a moral superiority over the citizens of the other 49 states.
b) mere surface politeness, which is used to mask an abiding chill toward any human being with whom one did not go to elementary school.
c) big honkin’ hunks of ancient stone. The correct term is “Minnesota gneiss,” gneiss being, according to the United States Geological Survey, “a coarsely crystalline, foliated metamorphic rock.” Some Minnesota gneiss dates back 3.6 billion years, placing it among the oldest rock on the planet. Is that cool, or what? And by the way, when was the last time you heard anybody talk about “Wisconsin gneiss”?

3. Some pop-culture pundits have observed that Minnesota celebrities can be “eccentric,” “Garbo-esque,” “freakish idiot savants whose creative genius is rivaled only by their social hamfistedness,” and “downright hostile to this reporter.” Choose one of the following statements and write a 3,000-word essay in support of its central theme.
a) Amen to that, brother. Prince, Bob Dylan, the Coen brothers, Bud Grant—none of them, despite my slavish devotion, has ever given me the time of day.
b) Nonsense! Think of all the celebs—from classy Arlene Dahl to perky Tippi Hedren, from statuesque Loni Anderson to fresh, spunky newcomer Diablo Cody—whose grace, talent, and winning smiles make us proud to hail from the North Star State.
c) I think there’s a syndrome in this state whereby a lot of young people, not just future celebrities, bump their heads on Minnesota gneiss and end up wacky.

Did you know that an anagram of “Diablo Cody” is “A Coy/Bold Id”? For an erstwhile ecdysiast who became the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, isn’t that just precious? And did you further know that anagrams can be scads of fun, especially in a ceremonial/historical context? They absolutely can. For instance, the word sesquicentennial anagrams to “Nice Tennis Squeal” and “Insane Quilt Scene,” among many others. Or consider the Jazz Age legend who is arguably the greatest writer in Minnesota history: F. Scott Fitzgerald is an anagram of “Crafted Soft Glitz,” and the title of his masterwork, The Great Gatsby, can be rearranged as “The Tasty Beggar,” “The Baggy Taters,” and “Get Thy Stage Bra.” Nobel Prize—winner Sinclair Lewis, known to be a bitter alcoholic as well as a literary lion, becomes “I Swill Arsenic.” Thorstein Veblen, author of the landmark economic tome The Theory of the Leisure Class and coiner of the phrase “conspicuous consumption,” is a lot more fun when you think of him as “Nine-Volt Sherbet.” Edina’s very own Southdale, the first fully enclosed shopping center in the nation, is simply another way of using the letters in “Soul Death.” And the Pillsbury Doughboy, America’s best-loved pastry huckster, has all sorts of anagrams, including “Boorish Pudgy Bully,” “Boyish Doll Guy (Burp),” and “Bulgy Boudoir Sylph.”

Back to the quiz. Match the following Minnesota governors with their anagrams:
a) Tim Pawlenty
b) Jesse “The Body” Ventura
c) Arne H. Carlson
d) Rudy Perpich

i) Carnal Nosher
ii) Chirpy Prude
iii) Seedy Shaven Turbojet
iv) Wimpy Talent

Incidentally, Harold Stassen, who served as Minnesota governor from 1939 to 1943, is better known for having run for U.S. president nine times without ever coming close to winning. His anagram? “Sadness Harlot.”

5. Which of the following is the genuine, honest-to-goodness Minnesotan?
a) The suburban mom in the gigantic, brand-new luxury SUV, heading for a massage, facial, and pedicure after dropping her twins off at lacrosse practice.
b) The older guy from what used to be called “outstate,” the guy who uses the term “uff da” without a shred of irony, tooling along in his mint-condition 1993 Buick LeSabre, en route to have his prostate checked out by a big-city doctor.
c) The young immigrant, green-card-carrying or otherwise, in the rusted-out Corolla, returning home from his job cleaning office suites in a downtown Minneapolis high-rise.
(I should interject here, before you answer, that when you encounter each of these people, it is via your rear-view mirror. Each is right up on your back bumper, flashing his or her headlights at you, leaning on the horn, mouthing obscenities, flipping you the bird with both hands while cradling a cell phone between chin and shoulder and balancing a 64-ounce fountain drink in the ever-popular groin ’n’ thigh cup holder.)
d) All of the above.

Okay, now you can answer.

When asked to name Minnesota’s best all-female musical trio, contributing editor Jeff Johnson says it’s a toss-up between Babes in Toyland and the Andrews Sisters.