Boldly Going Forward ‘Cause We Can’t Find Reverse


Today’s newsletter isn’t about trivia: it’s about Star Trek. (If you’re not a Star Trek fan and want to start, I wrote up a guide in 2015; I don’t think it’s aged well, but it kind of works.) This is a review, of sorts, and it’s spoiler-free.

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point in the last few years, I became a really big fan of the franchise. I’ve always liked the shows and movies (well, not Star Trek V, but you can’t blame me for that), and I watched almost all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes before streaming services made it easy to do so. I didn’t watch much of Deep Space 9 when it came out but found it on Netflix, I think, I rediscovered it, and that probably made me the Star Trek fan I am today. I watched all of Voyager and Enterprise, discovered that I had somehow missed (!) an episode of ST:TNG, and watched all of the Chris Pine alt-universe movies. Was it all good? Not even close. (The Next Generation episode I missed and discovered was “Masks.”)

But all of it was Star Trek, and I couldn’t really get enough of it. I had become a die-hard fan. Only took 30+ years. 

And if you’re like me but you haven’t watched Star Trek: Picard yet, you need to. The third season of the series is my favorite show in years, even if it isn’t really great storytelling. It’s a love letter to fans and a blueprint for how every franchise should treat its audience. 

My experience with the original cast of Star Trek — the Shatner/Kirk crew — is almost entirely anchored in the movies. I was born after the show was long off the air but the movies started coming out during my childhood, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was one of the first movies I explicitly asked to see when it came out. The last original-cast movie, Star Trek VI: The Final Frontier, may be my favorite of all of the Trek films, with apologies to Wrath of Khan. I won’t go into that movie too much except to say that it ends perfectly, with Kirk quoting Peter Pan (“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning”) as the cast boldly goes forward one last time. Even the credits are great, as each of the actors’ signatures appears on screen as they sign off from the franchise as a crew. They deserved it — and we, fans, deserved it too. 

The Next Generation cast didn’t really get a proper send-off in its mostly-mediocre movies. (First Contact is pretty great; the others are, well, not.)  Star Trek: Nemesis, the final film of the Picard crew, is not a good movie and doesn’t feel like it should be the end of their story — but for nearly twenty years, it was. Star Trek: Picard promised to fix that problem, and unfortunately, the first season didn’t really deliver on it. The second season, which I really liked for other reasons, also didn’t. But the third season? Perfect. Not only did we get to see all of the characters we loved a generation ago (well, one wasn’t there, but he made an appearance at the end of season 2, so that’s fine), but we also got to see them exit in a pitch-perfect way. Would I like to see more of these characters? Sure — but I don’t feel like I’ll be missing anything if they never make it to screen again. And I think that’s the perfect way to end their story.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Problem With Sudoku: A few people wrote in to tell me that something similar happened just last year during a high-profile trial.  I’m sure it’ll happen again. Sudoku is just that dangerous.

TuesdayThe Customers You Wish You Didn’t Have: For some reason, I found this one VERY difficult to write. A few of you wrote in to say you really liked it — thank you for that. Getting good feedback, parituclarly about ones I struggled to write, is always great.

Wednesday: Orange Balls of Justice: I really like this idea.

ThursdayMr. Never Shower: The bonus fact talks about a rare condition — and multiple people wrote it me about either having the condition of knowing someone who does. It’s a reminder, to me at least, that even though my stories are often about trivia, there are real people who experience these things first-hand.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “The Search for the Lost ‘Jeopardy!’ Tapes Is Over. The Mystery Behind Them Endures.” (The Ringer, 22 minutes, May 2023). The subhead: “In 1986, Barbara Lowe Vollick won five games of ‘Jeopardy!’ in a row. Her episodes were then taken out of circulation. What followed was a nearly 40-year hunt for the missing tapes—and a quest to find out what really happened between the show and its most enigmatic champion..”

2) “Taco Bell’s Innovation Kitchen, the Front Line in the Stunt-Food Wars” (The New Yorker, 30 minutes, April 2023). A fun quote:

Taco Bell’s food-innovation staff, which includes sixty developers, focuses on big questions: How do you make a Cheez-It snack cracker big enough to be a tostada? What are the ideal Cheez-It dimensions to guarantee that the tostada won’t crack inconveniently when bitten into? Or consider the Doritos Locos Taco: What safeguards can be implemented to prevent the orange Doritos dust from staining a consumer’s hands or clothing? Can fourteen Flamin’ Hot Fritos corn chips be added to the middle of a burrito and retain their crunch? Can a taco shell be made out of a waffle, or a folded slab of chicken Milanese? These are all problems of architecture and scalability; fast food is assembly, not cooking.

3) “If You Stop Mowing This May, Will Your Lawn Turn Into a Meadow?” (New York Times, 7 minutes, May 2023). What happens if you stop mowing your lawn? Not this — but it could, with some work. 

Have a great weekend!