Lunch can be a boring time at the office. On the day of Wednesday, July 7, 2004 we faced many challenges. The carpets were being cleaned and we were subject to random power outages. At lunchtime, 6 people thirsty for competition gathered in the upstairs office with one goal in mind:
Consume 6 saltine crackers in 60 seconds.
Could any of us meet this challenge? It seems simple enough. However, no beverages are allowed during the competition. You must eat the saltines dry. Also, you must swallow the saltines. You haven’t eaten the cracker if you’ve simply chewed it up.
With the timer set and the camera at the ready, saltine crackers were distributed. Stop & Shop store brand saltine crackers served as little tokens of our willingness to risk our saliva in the interest of honest, healthy competition.
And so it began.
Competitor 1: Derek
Derek is a valiant competitor. Eager to compete, he stacked his crackers in little piles of 2 for easy access. They are arranged precisely in a configuration that inspires confidence. It represents the constellation “Saltus.” This is the most creative of the approaches. Will it create victory? Time will tell.
He is confident, but not overconfident. He is brave to go first. No one spoke up when I announced the beginning of the competition, but when I looked to Derek he grabbed the bull by the horns. Or the crackers. Or something.
Derek has internalized the fact that dryness is his enemy. Now he must internalize the crackers.
Derek shoves in the first two crackers. But a wave of dryness passes over him. He chews for 45 seconds and then swallows. He was thorough, but unfortunately not fast. With 10 seconds left, he conceded and decided to stick with a neat 2 rather than a messy 2-point-something. Derek prefers integers to real numbers, and I don’t blame him. Some of those real numbers are irrational.
Derek Consumed 2 Crackers.
Competitor 2: Ryan
Ryan pioneered the stand-up approach to saltine-eating. Here he is preparing for the challenge. He is confident, but has no illusions that he will eat 6 saltines. Well, perhaps in some secret part of his mind. Ryan can hear Eric Clapton singing:
If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues.
When your day is done and you wanna run.
It’s so dry, it’s so dry, it’s so dry;
He used a one-at-a-time approach and chewed at them methodically. After a slight hangup on the second cracker, which he bit rather than shoved, the third cracker followed, only to get stuck in his mouth. Time is running out. Ryan can now hear Clapton singing:
Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please, begging please.
But you can’t even beg when your mouth is full of cracker crumbs. Getting most of it down his gullet by the time the timer expired, Ryan has declared that he defeated more than 2.5 crackers. We place him at 2.75.
Competitor 3: Laura
Laura is a fierce competitor and though she was a little leery about the challenge, she soldiered on. She loves saltines, and she loves the thrill of the competition. Laura took 5 crackers in her hand. You can see she is eager to begin.
Laura worked hard on the first cracker, but there was a slight delivery malfunction on the insertion of the second cracker. Undaunted, she recovered quickly. However, time lost and the horrific dryness of crackers came to bear on her mouth. She completes her second cracker just as the buzzer sounds. A respectable two crackers were consumed.
Laura declared that the competition was good, but I think she felt ambushed. Still, she was clearly bitten by the challenge bug. She has encouraged us to host this challenge once again in some weeks. Intense training is surely in the schedule.
Competitor 4: Sharon
Sharon is a cool character. Sharon shows neither weakness nor anxiety. She takes 5 crackers and holds them in such a way as to say “These crackers are going down!” She doesn’t actually say this, but we know she is thinking it. Actually we know nothing of the sort, but it sounded like something someone might say if they were holding 5 crackers with intent to consume them.
Sharon is taking a careful approach. Yes, speed is important, but she knows that form follows function. She deftly places the first cracker in her mouth. If we were grading on precision, I think Sharon would be the one to beat. Unfortunately for her, there is a time limit.
The second cracker is completely swallowed and she breaks form slightly to get that third one in, but the silvery thread of her competition is cut short by the Fates.
Dryness is truly a harsh mistress. 2.5 Crackers were consumed. Sharon is unfazed and knows she has comported herself well. That is something which cannot be taken away.
Competitor 5: James
James is overconfident. He thinks he can eat 6 crackers. Look at the smug mock-serious facial expression. He has tried this before and knows he can eat saltines fairly quickly. It is clear he eats too many carbs, and he willingly adds these 6 crackers to his diet. James laughs at carbs. James is me.
Revealing his over-confidence, James tells the photographer “take a picture if I get into trouble.” After the first cracker hits, James realizes he wasn’t quite prepared. He mumbles through the cracker “I’m in trouble.” He looks like crackers may escape his mouth at any minute, but they remain inside, fighting peristalsis.
However, James chokes it back and tosses in another. In 20 seconds, he’s almost ready for his third cracker. Go James, go! Don’t choke, though.
At 50 seconds, he’s almost done with 5 crackers. As the buzzer sounds, he’s just started chewing his 6th, but he knows it is not to be. Living to fight another day, he declares that he has reached 5 and calls it quits.
Competitor 6: Sara
Sara thinks this is all fun and games. Sara has not yet experienced the desert-like arid conditions that crackers can product in your mouth. Sara is a Saltine Challenge neophyte with determination and the impudence of youth. But she also has been watching carefully and listening to the others discuss technique. Will this sly tactic pay off? Has she learned a secret? Before the competition she had scrutinized video of another eating contest and declared that there might be an advantage to “wiggling” during the ordeal. The time has come to find out whether she has an edge.
She tosses her head back and takes on the first cracker! She seems to be using gravity to help her get those crackers to the all-important back of the throat where swallowing occurs. Go Sara!
But the technique cannot overcome the power of laughter. Sara is giggling, and that may have put the kibosh on her technique. After the second cracker disappears, the third enters her mouth. But it refuses to be vanquished in its entirety. She forces half of it down as the buzzer stops her in her tracks.
Final tally for Wednesday, July 7, 2004
No one has reached the stated goal of 6! It is likely that this challenge will have to be attempted once more. It is possible that other people who were not present may want to join the challenge.
For now, we return to our work after a challenge well-attempted, and gather our strength for future challenges…