Tipply Tributes: Celebrity Beer Names

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For your typical celebrity, it’s to be expected that one day someone is going to name a sandwich or some other edible after you. Every deli menu in Hollywood boasts some kind of transubstantiation of stars into grub. In the world of cocktails, oddly, they’re usually of the non-alcoholic variety (“Shirley Temple,” “Roy Rogers”).

On the Isle of Beer, however, it’s becoming customary to borrow the names of the well-known—if often deceased—for the sake of branding a brew. Topping the list is Samuel Adams, the American statesman and founding father who is fourth down the list on his own Google search.Number one, of course, is Boston-based brewing behemoth Samuel Adams. It also numbers two and three, though I think competing for search engine optimization with a dead guy is no real triumph. A more obscure naming reference is Pliny the Elder, a super-hoppy double IPA that packs a whopping eight percent alcohol. It’s named for Gaius Plinius Secundus, which is Latin for “Unpronounceable After a Couple of Beers.”

Better known as Pliny the Elder, the philospher was quite the gadfly about ancient Rome who penned an encyclopedia of natural history and is the uncle of, yep, Pliny the Younger. Exacty why Santa Rosa-based Russian River Brewing Co. named their concoction after a dead Roman was probably lost with the brain cells spent during its first taste trials. Perhaps in an attempt to out-Ruskie the Russian River Brewing Company, Fort Bragg’s North Coast Brewing Company poached the name of Siberian-born “Mad Monk” Rasputin, ostensibly to honor the tradition of “18th century brewers who supplied the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great.” Hmm.

Though the story is about as frothy as the tan head of its Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, it certainly extends the cult of personality the creepy mystic has enjoyed since the days of the czars. The brew itself extends one’s appreciation for imperial stouts—great beefy beers that top out at nine percent alcohol and handily kick populist stouts (read: Guinness) to the floor.

Then there are the dead musicians. North Coast has a Brother Thelonious, named for Thelonious Monk, and Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery rolled out an homage to a boundary-breaking jazz legend last year with its Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. (The name had been waiting to grace a beer label since Davis’ album of the same name was released in 1970.) Petaluma’s own Lagunitas Brewing Company mounted a similar effort with a series of brews named after classic Frank Zappa albums. Of course, when the Boss croaks, we’ll raise some Bruce SpringSteins in his honor.

Groupon Public Voice Guide Fail

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Deal-of-the-day website Groupon might have passed on Google?s multi-billion dollar acquisition offer but it hasn?t forgone using the online search engine and advertising empire?s document hosting services for a memorandum entitled the ?Public Groupon Voice Guide,? which details, with embarrassing clarity, ?principles? apparently ?intended to help new and applying writers learn Groupon?s signature writing style.? No doubt, all commerce sites need web-copy but Groupon needs its copy to adhere to a house-style so purple it suggests a necrotizing soft tissue infection.

Consider this write-up for a discounted stay at Sonoma?s tony bed and breakfast MacArthur Place:

?Statistically, the home is the place you’re most likely to fall asleep under a running lawn mower, get sexually harassed by a pet, or suffer a heart attack while trying to fit into a heated oven. Escape that horrible deathtrap with today?s Groupon for a stay for two at MacArthur Place in Sonoma.?

Groupon, a portmanteau that grafts ?group? and ?coupon,? operates as its name suggests ? it partners with local retailers to offer the subscribers discounted fees when a predetermined number of people sign-up for the deal. It?s a form of assurance contract whereby all participants benefit, which, theoretically, mitigates the risk for the retailer who can leverage the coupon as a quantity discount. And, of course, Groupon takes a cut of resulting sales. What differentiates Groupon from the horde of copycats in this sector is its deft branding and user-friendly interface, which has attracted over 40 million users and as well as a salivating Google, who 30-year-old Groupon CEO Andrew Mason (a recent Forbes Magazine poster-child) famously rebuffed this month.

So how is it that Mason felt confident in turning down $6 billion dollars after a mere two years in business? Perhaps the answer lays in the glib lingo his company prefers over the more sober corporate-speak that defines the parlance of Silicon Valley. According to the document, Groupon has a sense of humor, or, at least, something it believes is humor. Under the title ?Humor Devices that work well in Groupon Voice? are such axioms as ?absurd images,? ?sweeping, dramatic nonsense,? and ?the absurd narrator.? These are buttressed by examples like ?Humankind has been playing with fire for years; now we can harness the bronzing essence of the fiery sun in a gentle mist, proving once and for all our dominance over the weak, inanimate solar system.? Why? Because one person?s absurdity is another?s marketing copy and Groupon has diligently codified their secret sauce of lest applying writers misinterpret the meaning of ?absurd.? Others include ?hypothetical worlds/outcomes? such as this chestnut, ?Without goals, no one would unicycle the Appalachian Trail or train a flock of carrier pidgins to deliver meat pies to unsuspecting haberdashers.?

Though Groupon?s ?signature writing style? might challenge one?s definition of both ?writing? and ?style? its fake proverbs, mixed metaphors and intentionally errant take on history (?When strongmen of the past wanted to show their superhuman brawn, they coddled kettlebells or other, potentially stronger strongmen?) are arguably ?signature? if not downright annoying to other online scribes.

On her blog The Conical Glass, Bay Area indie record label owner Sue Trowbridge has rued the ?Grouponese? as nausea-inducing and ?yucky.? In a post entitled ?The Worst Writing Job in the World,? Trowbridge recounts researching the genesis of Groupon?s tortured prose only to discover a help-wanted ad on its site that invites applicants to submit a sample write-up for a shot at a $40,000 salary and possible relocation to its Chicago headquarters. Ever game, Trowbridge even attempted her own Groupon-styled translation of a favorite restaurant newsletter but gave up after some twisted verbiage to sign-off ?Ugh, I feel dirty now. I think I?d rather make my living writing those fake letters to Penthouse.?

For some, including Trowbridge, penning garrulous crap for a web discounter might epitomize the death of modern prose. For others, it might be a dream job with full-benefits. Though Andrew Mason?s business might be changing the face of local commerce its colorful product plugs likely won?t affect the world of letters anymore than jingles have affected music. That said, if Mason added stock options to his benefit package and courted another multibillion dollar acquisition deal, be assured more than a few professional writers might consider tossing his salad with the croutons of capital whilst forging phonemes on the velveteen anvil of loathsome lingo.

Starbucks Digital Network froths Content at the Cafe

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Remember when cafes were limned with disheveled books and the scattered innards of newspapers, all free-for-the-taking? Cafes have long been a haven for browsers of both of the literary and digital sort, which has not been lost on Starbucks. Now you can get your media and caffeine fix at the same time, thanks to the Starbucks Digital Network. (Cue frothing noise.)

Our local Starbucks, a popular roost for people-watching and other anthropological studies of Sonoma culture, redirects its Wi-Fi users to the new content network whenever one logs onto the system. The network effectively rejiggers the front-page experience one will (digitally) unfurl with the morning cuppa ? as a recent release explains, the venture will be ?Serving up a collection of hand-picked premium news, entertainment and lifestyle content along with local insights and events.? This, of course, is Phase Two of Starbucks? recent ?Free Wi-Fi? initiative, which, no one understood until now.

The model goes something like ye olde ?give ?em the razor, sell ?em the blades? but with ?eyeballs? somehow in the mix, if you will forgive the macabre mixed metaphor. What?s germane is the fact that the SDN experience can only be had when in an actual Starbucks store (or least while poaching their Wi-Fi while having a burrito next door).

Of their customers, Stephen Gillett, Starbucks executive vice president, chief information officer and Digital Ventures general manager, said, ?They?re connecting with the brand digitally in numerous ways.? For that matter, Gillet should connect his title to Bit.ly and get it a little more tweetable. Moreover, until I can download my soy ?misto? Pike?s Place brew, I?m not sure just how digitally-connected I am to the brand.

The project?s PR made a big to-do that the network boasts ?hand-picked premium content,? which is a demure way of saying a human, not a Google algorithm, will be shaping one?s experience. Or more specifically, someone who once worked at a newspaper is really, really happy to have a job. The network boasts six ?channels,? which include ?News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business & Careers, My Neighborhood and Starbucks.? Yahoo Sports will be buried somewhere in the News department with other ?snackable content,? which suggests someone over there has been reading Nick Bilton?s?I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted

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and makes a case for content served in ?bytes, snacks and meals,? which is sort of like tall, venti and grande but slightly more confusing.

Other partners include permutations of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal a couple of book clubs, Foursquare, GOOD, LinkedIn, New Word City and The Weather Channel, as well as iTunes, Nick Jr. Boost and docs culled from SnagFilms. Where?s SonomaNews.com in this mix of content suppliers? The network?s My Neighborhood feature has apparently been outsourced to Patch.com, which proffers community news via a ?full-time, professional journalist who acts as reporter, editor and all-around manager.? Seeing as Sonoma is listed under the site?s ?Coming Soon? section, apparently that professional journalist has yet to be found. Hmm. Well, I?ll contribute by writing on the bathroom walls ? digitally speaking.

Magic 8 Ball Sees its Future in Film

Toy Stories

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In the early days of the web, circa 1997, there was a plethora of Magic 8 Ball applications online that enabled users to make queries about the future without risking a repetitive motion injury from shaking the real deal. Among them was Marin-raised Jake Donham’s incarnation, which received a “cease and desist” notice from Tyco Toys Inc., then makers of the octo-oracle. “The purpose of this letter is to advise you that the use of the trademark Magic 8 Ball and of the game marketed by Tyco under ‘Magic 8 Ball,’ whether online or by any other means constitutes willful infringement of our trademark, copyright, trade-dress and other intellectual property rights,” read the letter. Donham, a computer science grad from Yale who created the application as a lark to demonstrate common gateway interface scripts, was not impressed.

Instead of kowtowing to a company that printed vagaries on icosahedrons suspended in purple water, the programmer, in an act of sublime simplicity, rotated the ball 90 degrees and rechristened it the “Magic Infinity Ball.” For kicks, he added a link to Tyco’s legalese. Soon, thousands of Magic Infinity Balls littered the Internet.

A decade later, those who want to prognosticate about the future can now use their iPhones?yes, there’s an app for that?though none are officially licensed Magic 8 Ball apps. There’s the Fortune Ball, the Magic Banana and even a Magic Toilet, which one flushes for one’s fortune. (Apparently, there’s a crap for that.)

None of these knock-offs, however, could predict that Hollywood would start raiding the toy chest to slake its voracious thirst for the “high concept.” Thus, coming soon to a theater near you, Magic 8 Ball?the movie.

Remember when the toys would follow the release of a successful film? At worst, marketing dollars were leveraged across channels with toys and sundry other choking hazards licensed to the purveyors of Happy Meals? These days, toys are more apt to precede their movies, arriving onscreen as vetted properties with existing market awareness, ready-made for adaptation.

Hasbro, the multinational toy and board game company, raised eyebrows, and its stock price, with the roll out of several toy-themed film franchises in recent years. Among them were the profitable Transformers flicks and the recent G.I. Joe origin myth. It stands to reason then that Mattel, which acquired Tyco in the late ’90s (after dropping a bid to acquire its “perennial rival” Hasbro, according to the New York Times), would also stake its claim in the sandbox. As the producer of the beloved Barbie and Matchbox lines, Mattel’s gambit would seem a no-brainer. But the Magic 8 Ball? No one saw it coming.

Thank Hasbro for setting the bar so low. After having shot its wad with its A-list properties, it reached deep into the collective closet of American youth to bring Candy Land, Battle Ship and (gulp) a Ridley Scott?directed Monopoly to the silver screen.

“Well, Stretch Armstrong will probably be our first movie out,” Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner told media and tech blog Collider.com last year. Since then, principal cast has been announced with teen-wolf Taylor Lautner of Twilight fame playing the fantastic elastic dude for a Universal Pictures release in 2012.

Meanwhile, Paramount, who partnered on Hasbro’s aforementioned G.I. Joe and Transformers and perhaps felt a tad jilted, doubled back and joined Mattel on the Magic 8 Ball movie. Meanwhile, Shady Acres, the company that brought you middle school marvels Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty (and their respective sequels and spin-offs), has had its own “Magic 8 Ball” film listed in development since September of last year. Is this the same film? Or will they have to turn it on its side and produce the Magic Infinity Ball film instead? In which case, has anyone called Jake Donham?

Donham says no, so it seems the ball is in Mattel’s court. Fortunately, a film about an oversized fortune-telling billiard ball couldn’t be any worse than Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, in which a foreseer opined, “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” Or as the laconic ball might say, “You may rely on it.”

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