The Weekender, January 31, 2020


I really wanted to titled today’s email something like “It’s better to have an ending than to just, well, not.” But that’s a very long title and, more importantly, I didn’t want anyone to think I was shutting down the newsletter or anything like that. I’m not! Don’t worry.

This is, however, about endings.

As I write this, I’m watching the final episode of The Good Place. It’s a really great TV show, and I’m a latecomer — I binged the first two seasons on Netflix before watching the third one when it debuted — so if you’re not a fan right now, let me attest that you can catch up quickly. But I’m not here to (just) make an endorsement. 

The Good Place ran for only four seasons and, based on ratings and, I bet, revenue, it could have gone on for at least another two or three more. It was the showrunners’ choice to end the show — to go out on top, if you will. That wasn’t their motivation, though. The goal was to tell a story.

That sounds simplistic, I know, but it’s true. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When it comes to TV sagas, all too often, we don’t get to experience the “end.” In one situation, the show is canceled before it gets to tell the whole story. In another one, the show just goes on for too long — the showrunners tell the story they wanted to tell but then keep having to make more episodes, ultimately taking away from the intended experience. 

What I struggle with most when writing Now I Know articles is the end. The lead up I typically find to be a pretty easy thing to put together, and the middle is usually where the actual trivia hits. But the end? All too often, it feels like it hits a cliff. And sometimes, the whole thing feels like it goes on too long. 

I don’t think there’s any fixing this, either, nor do I think it’s so broken that it needs fixing. But I have a great deal of respect for storytellers — like the team behind The Good Place — who know how to end the story.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Behold the Power of Dried Plums — This has nothing to do with plums and everything to do with smiles.

Tuesday: Why Do Bakers Have Bigger Dozens? — A few people asked why we have base-12 stuff (eggs, roses, baked goods) to begin with, given that almost everything else we do is base-10. I don’t have a good answer, but my son ventured a guess: it’s easier to divide things in halves, thirds, and quarters in a base-12 situation.

Wednesday: How Matthew Broderick Helped Shape American Computer Law — It’s a good Matthew Broderick story, but this is the best Matthew Broderick story. 

Thursday: A Frank-ly Kind Act — I had the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse song in my head all day because of this one.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Family Vice” (ESPN, 13 minutes, January 2019). The Super Bowl is on Sunday and I expect many of you will place a bet, likely among friends, on the game. Here’s a story of a sports betting family that teetered into the dark side of such things.

2) “Why Are Cops Around the World Using This Outlandish Mind-Reading Tool?” (Pro Publica, 23 minutes, December 2019). The title alone is worth the click, right?

3) “Mysterious Circumstances” (New Yorker, 45 minutes, December 2004). The subhead is a better descriptor: “The strange death of a Sherlock Holmes fanatic.”

Have a great weekend!