Friday, 20 March 2009

The Artist Whistler and the Babycakes Challenge

Last year, as part of a "Secret Santa" thing at work, I was given a trivia calendar. I'm a great lover of all things triv., so it was very welcome.

One of the questions was: Why was the artist James McNeil Whistler kicked out of Military Academy? The answer was a little story that I just love and have to share....

As part of his engineering training, Whistler was instructed to make a drawing of a bridge. This he duly did, but added two little boys fishing from it. The instructor looked at it and promptly ordered Whistler to re-do the drawing without the boys on the bridge.

Whistler complied but this time, however, he drew the two little boys fishing from the riverbank instead. Annoyed, the instructor ordered him to re-do the drawing for a third time and there were to be absolutely no little boys fishing this time.

The third drawing was the one that got him kicked out: the bridge was there alright, but on the riverbank, Whistler had drawn two little tombstones.

I just LOVE the subtle defiance here. OK, the story may well be apocryphal, but who cares?

Anyway, in a similar spirit of subtle defiance against rigid-mindedness and the death-force of the workaday world, my team-mates and I once had the "Babycakes Challenge". The idea here was to introduce an unusual word (babycakes, in this case) into a conversation with someone important like a client or boss (that's the challenge part, it has to be someone who could get you in trouble). It's a fun game for all the team to play.

In yet another daring move one day, we twinned our little pod of desks with the Principality of Liechtenstein.

Then there was Pirate day where everyone was meant to talk like a Pirate (i.e. in a really crap West Country accent, me hearties). Others have also done this - there's even a website (Check it out) and a special day for it, but it remains pretty popular to this day.

There was also Truth day, where only the absolute honest truth was allowed to be spoken - it was abandoned after five minutes as the atmosphere rapidly became chilly enough to freeze a side of beef.

It's all good clean fun until someone loses an eye and it's definitely kudos to Mr W and viva la revolucion!


  1. That's really interesting. I maybe have to do that...use the word babycakes with my boss.

    There was once an episode of "This American Life" on NPR in which two journalists had a contest to see how many times they could get a specific phrase printed in the course of a year or a few months or something. I think the phrase was "baffling and often perverse" or "perverse and often baffling." Hilarity ensued.

  2. This helps me. I've been searching for ways to add more play to my everyday work life. I'm going to give it a try at our next meeting. I hope I can find someone to play with.

  3. Now i'm thinking where in the world i can twin my desk with and whether i can convince someone at the other end to twin with me!


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