Writing Every Day in March: Day 28

Pop goes the Sir Francis Crossword.

To disambiguate some terms here, in North American English, “corn” means “maize“, whereas in British English, “corn” usually means “grain” generically.

Based on my own life experience, it’s pretty much taken for granted that when a Canadian says “corn”, they mean “maize.”

In fact, the only places I’ve ever seen “corn” used to refer to grain is in books that are either British to begin with or emulating a style of writing pre-dating the introduction of maize (and other stuff) to the Old World.

For example, When Aragorn is musing on the “tall corn growing“, he’s talking about fields of wheat. Though, incidentally, it is established that Middle-earth has tobacco and potatoes, which, like maize, are New World plants. Tolkien was aware of this incongruity and established that they were ultimately introduced to Middle-earth by Numenorean mariners.

And, FYI: I learned way too much about the history and physics of popcorn while writing this one…


“Consternation!” Sir Francis Crossword declares, relying on his own novel personal form of profanity.

Francis!” Countess Maria-Theresa Dirigible exclaims. “Are you hurt?”

“Quite alright, my dear,” he mutters, at this point in his career, entirely unfazed by things exploding. “Jut a slight mishap popping the corn.”

He stares thoughtfully at the smouldering remains of his oven as the smoke clears before turning to his trust manservant Wembley.

“Ahem,” he says. “Make a note, Wembley. Formula unstable. Not suitable for human consumption.”

Very good, Sir,” the Professor’s trusted manservant says, duly recording the Professor’s words in his notebook.

“And I do believe that we will need to replace the oven.”

“Very good, Sir. I shall make arrangements at once,” Wembley glances up from his work in the notebook.

“Oh, Francis!” Maria-Theresa cries. “You’re on fire!

“Hmm,” Francis says. “Indeed I am.”

He plunges his arm into a nearby barrel of water. Previous mishaps have encouraged the him to establish various contingencies for future mishaps, most of which involve creative ways to rapidly extinguish fires.

“Fustigate it all, Wembley,” Sir Francis mutters. “I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to properly pop the corn. It should be the heat of simplicity! A proper application of heat, and the kernel should just explode outward. What are we doing wrong?”

“Have you considered not using gunpowder, Francis?” Maria-Theresa offers.

“It is rather temperamental, isn’t it?” Sir Francis concedes.

He thoughtfully touches his chin.

“We’ll need to find a suitable alternative, Wembley,” he muses.

“Very good, Sir,” Wembley says.

“Attempting to catalyse the popping of the corn through application of gunpowder has proven thus far untenable,” he muses. “Perhaps a less extreme process of heating is called for. Suggestions, Wembley?”

“If I may, Sir,” Wembley offers. “Suppose we were to suspend the corn in a medium to which is the heat is applied and then transferred to the corn.”

“That would apply the heat to the corn more gradually,” Francis says. “That would give us more direct control over the process.”

He nods to himself.

“And significantly reduce the likelihood of explosion.”

He turns back to Wembley.

“Wembley, my good man, you’re a genius!”

“I aim to please, Sir.”

“I have an idea!” Maria-Theresa declares, bolting from the lab. “To the kitchen!”

“Don’t just stand there, Wembley,” Francis calls, hurrying after her. “Follow the Countess!”

Soon, the three are crowded around the stove in the kitchen, expectantly watching the corn kernels floating in a pot of oil.

“Do stand back, Francis,” Maria-Theresa warns. “The oil can get quite hot.”

Francis glances back to Wembley.

“Are you taking notes, Wembley?” he asks.

“Always, Sir.”

The three wait in excited, restless silence.

The fire crackles. The oil bubbles. The kernels swim.

The corn, at long last, pops.

Francis watches in wonder.

The. Corn. Pops.

“Wembley!” he cries. “Write that down! Write that down! It works!

He turns to Maria-Theresa and with an exultant whoop throws his arms around her.

“Maria-Theresa! You are a genius!” he exclaims.

“Happy to help, my dear Francis,” Maria-Theresa says.


The Swedish Chef: YouTube’s least insufferable cooking tutorial host.

FYI: Latest chapter here (also, the last chapter of this read-through of Fryte’s Gold):

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