I have been told by someone who claims to know that you can preserve the carbonation in a half-consumed bottle of champagne by hanging a silver spoon upside down in the neck, with the handle suspended in the contents. As a none-too-convincing explanation for this miracle my source mumbled something about electrolysis. Any truth to this? --Joe Ryan, Chicago
Cecil hears a lot of weird theories like this. Sample: you can tell if someone has used LSD because an X ray of their jaw will show a glowing line. We decide what to check out on the basis of what sounds like the most laughs. Not having any great desire to have our jaw x-rayed (strictly as an experimental control, of course), we opted for champagne.
I asked the Champagne News and Information Bureau in New York and Paterno Imports, a champagne importer in Chicago, about the silver-spoon idea. The responses from various parties: (1) never heard of this; (2) heard of it but think it's a crock; and (3) whatsamatter, these people never heard of stoppers? The folks at the CN&IB, in fact, were kind enough to send me a reusable stopper made of stainless steel.
We then moved to the experimental stage. Cecil obtained three standard (750 ml) bottles of champagne at the bargain price of two for $5--not stuff he would care to drink, but adequate for the lab provided one took suitable precautions.
We uncorked all three bottles and attempted to insert a silver spoon into one. Here we ran into our first complication: none of our silver spoons had a handle skinny enough to fit. In fact, the only spoon of any description that would fit into a bottle was a long-handled stainless-steel baby-feeding spoon. Mighty suspicious, and definitely inclining us to think that nobody promoting this theory had ever actually tried it.
Spurning the baby spoon on the ground that stainless steel was not sufficiently reactive, we accepted Mrs. Adams's offer of a silver chain. We noted that when we placed the chain in the bottle, suspending it from the neck with a paper clip, bubble production in the champagne greatly increased--mainly, we guessed, because the chain provided an abundance of nucleation sites where bubbles could form. We put the bottle with the chain in the fridge, along with a second opened but chainless bottle plus a third that had been opened and immediately capped with the CN&IB stopper.
Next morning we tested for carbonation. We did this by covering the mouth of each bottle with a, uh, condom. OK, maybe they don't do it that way at the National Science Foundation, but when you're on a budget you take certain shortcuts. Condom in place, we gave the open-but-chainless bottle a couple of vigorous shakings. The condom inflated fully. After only a single shaking the condom on the stoppered bottle not only inflated, but champagne bubbled up into it and began leaking out the bottom. However, no amount of shaking would cause the condom on the bottle with the chain to inflate more than partway. Conclusion #1: not only does silver not preserve carbonation, if anything it will make the champagne go flatter faster. Conclusion #2: if you want your condom to inflate when things get shaking, keep the stopper on the champagne.
My grandmother was named Margaret. She, and every other Margaret I know, has the nickname "Peg" or "Peggy." None of them can tell me how the two are connected, or how one arose from the other. Can you? --Michael Hix, Redlands, California
Never underestimate human ingenuity, chum. Margaret has spawned an amazing variety of names, some of which you wouldn't connect with the original in a million years. For example: Margot, Marguerita, Rita(!), Greta, Gretel, Gretchen, Marjorie (originally Margery), Margie, Maggie, Madge, May, Mimi, Maisie, Daisy(!!), Maidie, Meg, and Mog. As for Peg, one historian writes, "the nicknames Mog and Meg later gave rise to the rhymed forms Pog(gy) and Peg(gy)." Can't say as I know a lot of Poggies, and can't say as I want to. But you see how Grandma Margaret wound up with Peg.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.