Five NBA Playoff Predictions

After making preseason NBA predictions for two consecutive years I failed to do so for the current NBA season. REO received thousands of emails from distraught readers wondering why they were not getting any predictions. To be perfectly honest, I have no excuse and I am sorry for the pain I have caused. The following article is my attempt to make it up to our loyal readers. Here are five predictions for the 2019 NBA playoffs.

1. There will be an inordinate amount of close playoff series.

Each year there are a total of 15 best of seven playoff series. I am defining a close series and one that lasts six or seven games. On average, over the last five seasons, eight series per year have been extended to at least six games. I predict we will have at least 11 such series this year. The first round generally gives us several sweeps and for the last few seasons the Golden State Warriors have dominated and finished off quite a few teams in four or five games. I don’t see that happening this year. The talent is spread out pretty well around the majority of the playoff teams and we should see quite a few close series. Closer series usually mean exciting series so if this prediction comes true it will be a very good thing.

2. LeBron James’ name will be mentioned at least 874 times during NBA broadcasts throughout the playoffs.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, LeBron won’t be in the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Even more remarkable, it will be the first time since 2010 that LeBron won’t be playing in the finals. So why would a guy who is not even participating in a single playoff game this year be mentioned so many times? Many people don’t realize that the league’s television and radio broadcast partners are contractually obligated to mention LeBron’s name at least 10 times per game whether he actually is playing in the game or not.

3. Someone you interact with on social media will enlighten you with their vast basketball knowledge.

This is an easy one to predict because it happens every year. A Facebook friend will watch five minutes of a playoff game (the first actual NBA game he or she has watched all year) and suddenly become an expert on everything that is wrong with the league. He or she will then proceed to lecture all of us on the finer points of playing the game the right way. If you are really lucky your friend will take his or her basketball complaint and attempt to make a broader point about society in general. Good times for everyone involved!

4. Steph Curry will lead all players in total points scored during the playoffs.

Several factors come into play here. First, Golden State will need to advance pretty far in the playoffs for Curry to play enough games to lead all players in scoring. I believe they will and I’ll elaborate on that in my next prediction. Second, Curry himself will need to stay healthy (not a given) and lead his own team in scoring (also, not a given). I predict he will and I think the team wants him to win finals MVP so they will do their best to feature him during that series. Which leads me to my final prediction . . .

5. The Golden State Warriors will win the 2018-19 NBA title.

This will be their third straight championship and fourth title in the last five years. Many are tired of the predictability. Others celebrate their greatness and their unselfish style of play. Wherever you stand, it is foolish not to rank them among the all-time best teams. They certainly deserve to be in the conversation. With the impending free agency of several of their top players, this could be their last title run. I believe they realize this and will be ready. I don’t expect them to breeze through the playoffs, but I do expect them to win it in the end.

The Five Most Insane March Madness Runs I’ve Witnessed

March Madness is hands down my favorite playoff in sports for several reasons. It never fails to produce gigantic upsets (UMBC over Virginia!) and buzzer-beaters (Bryce Drew to beat Ole Miss!) and more emotion than an episode of This Is Us (just watch the 2017 One Shining Moment for proof). Even One Shining Moment itself is a mammoth part of March Madness’s appeal.

Another significant one is to me is when a team comes out of nowhere and catches fire, busts brackets everywhere by reeling off upset after upset and is still standing in one of the late rounds. Today I want to discuss what I consider to be the five most improbable of these runs in all the tournaments I have seen. This means that anything that happened before 1986 will not be included, so two of the premier examples in N.C. St. in 1983 and Villanova in 1985 will not be discussed. That is sad in one sense but in another those have been written about numerous times in the last 35 years. So I am happy to give some props to some others.

To qualify what I mean by improbable, I want to be clear that I do not simply mean a low seed makes it far in the tournament. I am considering all other things as well—the history of the program, the immediate context of the program, how they won their games and who they beat. To give an example, the list that I considered before whittling it down to five did not include UNC making a Final Four run as an 8-seed in 2000, Michigan St. making it as a 7 in 2015 or Syracuse as a 10 in 2016. Those are championship programs and constantly do well in the NCAA tournament, so even low seeds didn’t make their runs that big a shock to my mind. Similarly, Kent State’s run to the Elite Eight as a 10-seed in 2002 didn’t feature any truly earth-shattering wins (though they were upsets) so while it was considered, it was quickly dismissed. Similarly dismissed were a run by 10-seed Temple in 1991 and the same Temple program as an 11 in 2001, and a championship game run by 8-seed Butler in 2011 after making the same game the year prior. Finally, I add that a “run” to me is at least two games, and in the modern era, two games starting with the 64-team field and not the “First Four” de facto play-in games. So as amazing as UMBC’s victory over Virginia was, they didn’t really have a “run” in the tournament in my mind. You need to at least survive the first weekend.

But here are some other honorable mention examples of what I mean, in chronological order:

1986: 11-seed LSU’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Only team in modern era seeded as low as 11 to make the Final Four until 2006. Even more amazing they were the only team to be seeded lower than 6th in the modern era to make the Final Four until two 8s made it in 2000. Beat #1 Kentucky.

1986: 7-seed Navy’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat Syracuse in the 2nd round. Hasn’t won a tournament game since. Hasn’t made the tournament since the 90s.

1987: 6-seed Providence’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Beat recent champ and #1 seed Georgetown and hasn’t returned to Final 4 since. Didn’t return to even Sweet 16 for ten years.

1988: 13-seed Richmond’s run to Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ Indiana in the first round and Georgia Tech in 2nd Round.

1991: 11-seed Loyola Marymount’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ Michigan in 2nd Round. Only their 2nd tournament with any advancement ever. Has not returned to the tournament or even the NIT since. Pulled off the run after their leading scorer, Hank Gathers, died during the conference tournament.

1994: 9-seed Boston College’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat defending champ and #1 UNC in 2nd Round, in what I consider to be the biggest 2nd round upset ever (maybe tied with N. Iowa over Kansas in 2009 in a very similar game). Has not been back to the Elite 8 since.

1997: 14-seed Chattanooga’s run to the Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: Beat #3 Georgia and #6 Illinois. One of only two 14s to make it this far. Haven’t won a tournament game since and haven’t won one since before 1982.

1999: 10-seed Gonzaga’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Only 2nd NCAA appearance ever (the previous one was five years prior) and the first one with any advancement. Nearly knocked off eventual champ UConn in the Elite 8.

2000: 8-seed Wisconsin’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Only 5th tournament appearance in sixty years. First in the modern era ever going past the 2nd round. Beat #1 Arizona.

2002: 12-seed Missouri’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Remains the lowest seed to date to make the Elite 8. The program has never made the Final 4.

2008: 10-seed Davidson’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Beat Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin (easily). First time in school history ever winning one game in the tournament in the modern era. Nearly knocked off eventual champ Kansas. Have not won a tournament game since.

2013: 9-seed Wichita St.’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Beat #1 Gonzaga and popular champion pick #2 Ohio St. Program has never made another Final 4. Last Elite 8 was in 1981.

2013: 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16
Why It Was Insane: The first, and still only, 15-seed to win two tournament games and survive the first weekend. Beat #2 Georgetown. The program didn’t even begin until 2002. Still the only non-First 4 wins in program history.

2014: 11-seed Dayton’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Program’s first Elite 8 since 1981. Only 2nd time even advancing to Sweet 16 since then. Beat heavily favored Ohio St. and Syracuse.

2017: 11-seed Xavier’s run to the Elite 8
Why It Was Insane: Destroyed #3 Florida St and beat #2 Arizona. Only three E8s in program history and 0 Final Fours.

2018: 11-seed Loyola Chicago’s run to the Final 4
Why It Was Insane: Hadn’t even been to the tournament since 1985. No deep runs since 1963. Heart-stopping win over #3 Tennessee.

For various reasons, all of these were considered but not worthy of the final list of Five. Reasons ranged from Navy in 1987 having David Robinson to Xavier having many tournament runs in their history to Loyola getting to play two very low seeds in their last two wins. Now, on to the Most Insane Five:

5. 14-seed Cleveland St.’s run to the Sweet 16 in 1986

They are still one of only two 14s to make the Sweet 16 and one of only three to make it that far as a seed lower than 13. What separates their short but improbable run from Chattanooga in 97 and Florida Gulf Coast in 2015 is that they beat the next year’s champion (Indiana) and St. Joe’s, and then didn’t return to the tournament again until 2009. Additionally, those two years are their only appearances in school history. This run makes no sense. Its statistical probability is infinitesimal.

4. 7-seed UConn’s run to the National Championship in 2014

If you’re tracking with me you may be ready to cry foul (no pun) at this one since they are a championship program. But there are a few reasons I make this exception. One is that once Jim Calhoun retired, this program has bottomed out. Except for this outlier year. They have only two tournament appearances since 2011, and only one win other than this title year. Kevin Ollie, who coached this team, was fired four years later, which was almost quick enough to make Gene Chizek jealous.

Secondarily, the way they did it was mind-boggling. In their first game vs. 10-seed St. Joseph, they trailed virtually the entire final 5 minutes and were down three in the final 45 seconds and tied it on an ugly offensive rebound, put back, plus a foul and the and-one. They triumphed in overtime. Who would have guessed that a team that struggled to put away lowly seeded St. Joe’s in Round 1 would go all the way? Then there were the victories over 2-seed Villanova (the 2016 champion) in the 2nd round, Michigan St. (perennial Final Four contender) in the Elite 8, and Florida (the overall #1 seed in the tournament) in the Final 4. Each game they seemed woefully undermanned and in the Florida game, they fell way behind. Yet every time they plodded along and willed a victory to survive and advance. Finally, they faced Kentucky in the championship, who despite being an 8-seed felt like a team of destiny. UK had won game after game on late heroic shots by Aaron Harrison and seemed like the trendy pick. But UConn shut them down as well and took home the championship. Nothing about this run was normal. It was completely unprecedented for a 7-seed and in general.

3. 11-Seed VCU’s run to the Final Four in 2011

The most important facts are obvious:
–They were an 11-seed from a mid-major conference with not so much as a Sweet 16 in their tournament history
–They were the first and still only team to go from First Four to Final Four.
–They knocked out #6 Georgetown, #3 Purdue and #1 Kansas all by double digits. In fact, the only close game they had the whole tournament was vs. 10-seeded Florida St., in one of the most oddly seeded Sweet 16 games of all time. The Kansas game was the biggest shock because 11s beating 6s and 3s isn’t unheard of. 11s beating 1s in the Elite 8 had happened only twice in modern history (LSU in 86 and George Mason in 06).

Shocka Smart and crew just would not lose. Essentially no one saw this run coming. No one. To this day no other First Four team has so much made an Elite 8. And VCU has not even come close to replicating this success in the 7 years since, only winning one tournament game in that frame.

2. 11-Seed George Mason’s Run to the Final Four in 2006.

The thing that makes this run more impressive than VCU’s by a hair is the teams they beat. They rolled through #6 Michigan St., #3 UNC and #1 UConn–all championship programs–to break a 20-year drought of double digits seeds making the Final 4.

Additionally, while VCU was never a Final 4 team, they had won some games in the tournament before 2011. George Mason had three appearances before this 06 run—as a 15, a 14 and a 14 seed–and was ousted immediately each time. And like VCU, they have not been able to repeat this success, only procuring one tournament win in two total appearances since this amazing jaunt through March. And they have had 5 more years to add to that total than VCU has had. It was just an extraordinary and borderline bizarre run, both at the time and very much in hindsight.

1. 7-Seed South Carolina’s run to the Final Four in 2017

I may get pushback on this one for two reasons: First, I am a Gamecock fan in the heart, soul and blood. And secondly, how can a 7-seed from a major conference trump 11-seeds from mid-majors on the same run? Well, hear me out.

Here is a list of USC’s tournament appearance since 1975 to date (other than this one):
1989, 12-seed, out in First Round
1997, 2-seed, out in First Round
1998, 3-seed, out in First Round
2004, 10-seed, out in First Round

That’s it. The numbers are freakishly bad. Four total appearances in forty years. Zero wins despite two very highly seeded years. 13 years between their last appearance and this blindsiding run. And the team has not even come close to sniffing the NCAA in the two tournaments since.

At the risk of piling on, consider this as well: This Gamecock program made the Final Four of the National tournament despite the fact that they have not even made the semifinals of SEC Tournament since 2006. Read that again. The team has a Final Four more recently than a conference Final 4 by 11 years. This team has never even won the SEC tournament. All of this adds up to an anemic resume that even previously anonymous programs like George Mason and VCU could not match. And for that reason, I consider this run, in which they beat #2 Duke, #3 Baylor and #4 Florida, the most improbable of my lifetime.

What do you think? Comments, disagreements and declarations of ignorance are welcomed below!

Five Things I Don’t Understand

I’m a smart guy. Sort of. I am a college graduate (though that means less than it used to). I am a functional adult with a full-time job. I have a decently wide knowledge about stuff, yet sadly, there are still a few areas where I am completely at a loss. These are areas where I honestly cannot figure out what is going on. Here at REO, we thrive on full transparency, so here is a list of Five things I do not understand at all.

1. The Stock Market

I have a business degree. I took hours and hours of college classes on economics, accounting, statistics, and all the rest, and I still have no idea how the stock market actually works or why it matters so much. Some of you are probably shaking your heads right now wondering how someone could be this dumb. Fair enough. I’m an idiot. That doesn’t change the fact the stock market feels more like a mob mentality with a heavy dose of manipulation than anything else. Or maybe I am just too dumb to understand the intricacies of it.

2. People who are obsessed with all things Disney

What’s the deal with these people? No knock on them, but this is something I will never understand. Ever. There are good, decent people that spend almost as much time at Disney parks as they do at home. It seems like every other week, they are headed to Disney World for a week-long get-away. What am I missing? Could someone please explain this to me?

3. Why cargo shorts are no longer cool

This one makes me mad. I like cargo shorts. They are almost always long enough – reaching down to my knees. They provide plenty of places for whatever cargo you need to carry on your person. They are thicker, which is something I appreciate as I hate thin shorts that cling to my frame. Why did cargo shorts become lame all of a sudden? Who decided that? I reject their rejection of cargo shorts out of hand! Who’s with me?!?

4. Why people in the front row of a group picture always bend down and put their hands on their knees

Sometimes this is necessary if the people behind you will be blocked from view, but most of the time when I see these pictures on social media, there is literally no reason for the people in the front to strike this pose. This is another example of mob mentality in our country. At some point, a group of girls did this, the picture got shared on Instagram and other girls saw it and started doing it and they shared their pictures on social media and other girls saw it and started doing it and now everyone does it and everything is stupid.
I’ve included two visual examples of this insane phenomenon. I’ve used the latest photo editing technology to hide the identities of the people in the photos.

5. Semicolons

I write a lot. In the past few years, I’ve written over 200 articles for REO, with most of those having at least 500 words. Even so, the proper usage of the semicolon completely eludes me. Honestly, I probably should have used a few in this article but I have no idea where to put them. I aced the English portion of the ACT and I still have no clue how the semicolon is supposed to function. I am ashamed – and ignorant. Which is the worst kind of shame.

That’s a brief glimpse into my blind spots. What are some of yours? If you dare, share a few of the things you don’t understand in the comment section below. Come, let us console one another with words of encouragement. Or, we can just make fun of each other. Either way, it will be fun.

Five Things I Assumed About My Newborn That Proved to Be False

On January 18th of this year, I became a dad for the first time. To say I knew nothing about babies is barely hyperbole. I knew very little. I’d spent maybe 30 minutes total in my four-decade-life holding them. I’d never changed a diaper. I tried to read some of my wife’s books but they bored me to tears. Yet simply applying common sense I thought some things about a newborn would be true. I had fewer assumptions about the stages after that, but newborns are simple, right? Not even close. I have stood corrected and humbled but in magnificent ways. Here are five assumptions I had that have proven to be false.

1. I assumed this stage would be a little boring.

They eat, sleep, and poop. And that’s it. What else could there be? I’ll have to wait until he could talk or play before I would be stimulated by him, surely.

Wrong. As a person with zero parenting experience, I woefully underestimated how entertaining every little thing my baby does would be. I had seen this mocked on TV before, but it makes total sense why even the most mundane, normal things they do are seriously entertaining in real life. Like when my son sneezes twice and then coos. Or when he yawns. Or sighs. Or when he screams bloody murder for a bottle and then when he gets it puts on an expressionless face where you would never guess two seconds earlier he was grimacing, red, and yelling as though we were hurting him. All of these things intoxicate me and some of them make me laugh. I could stare at my son for hours, watching him flap his arms or look around or just lie there completely content. Every day floods my heart with joy, even when there are some extremely tough but fleeting emotional moments (like several nights when he didn’t sleep well and we were exasperated).

2. I assumed I would not be able to take care of him for extended stretches.

I work night shift teaching ESL to kids in China in addition to volunteering as a church pastor, so it was on the table that when my wife went back to work I could possibly take care of him during the day. I balked at that, not out of some misplaced sense of gender roles (though I will add this was going to be temporary, as I plan to end up with a job with a more normal schedule), but because I felt my ignorance about newborns rendered me unqualified and would be unfair to my son.

However, while the mental toughness aspect of parenting a newborn can be hard, much of the actual care is not. The things I didn’t know I learned quickly and some things my wife and I are learning as we go. The cliche is that they do not come with instructions and while there is a ton of wisdom out there for us to follow, there are a lot of gaps to fill through trial and error. I am fully qualified as his dad to do just about anything, and the idea of taking care of him alone for eight hours at a time isn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

3. I assumed diaper changes would gross me out beyond comprehension.

I have a very weak stomach. I do not handle gore or defecation or vomit well, in movies much less in 3D real life. The stories veteran parents would tell me about babies pooping in tubs and having blowouts so bad that it was up the baby’s back terrified me.

And while I won’t pretend it isn’t hard, and while I definitely do not take the annoying suburban mother on Seinfeld stance—“Because it comes out of your baby it isn’t gross”—it isn’t as bothersome as I would have guessed. It’s not like I’m super excited to change a bad diaper but at the same time, I can do it with a minimal negative reaction. I do have to talk to myself when the dirty diaper is really bad and my running commentary entertains my wife, but that is much different than being overly grossed out. Much like my answer when people ask how I deal with Chicago winter, I say, “I just do it. Because I have to.”

4. I assumed simple tasks like feeding him would be straightforward.

Ha! That’s all I have to say to that. My son came 23 days early and that should have been a sign that he was going to do things his way and on his own timetable. Sometimes Liam will down four ounces in 15 minutes. Sometimes he will take an hour and a half to do two. Sometimes he will go for five hours without eating, sometimes only two. Sometimes he latches immediately to the bottle; other times he will fight and struggle with it. I can’t figure any of it out. The older he gets, feeding time in general has gotten easier but in the earliest newborn stage it was supremely unpredictable.

5. I assumed that I would not be overly affectionate.

I’ve never been that affectionate with any baby, including my own nieces and nephews. And with a few exceptions, I’m not affectionate with adults. But some kind of flip switched in me the day Liam was born. I kiss him all the time. I tell him I love him several times a day. Without even trying I often sound exactly like my mother, who has a very distinct vernacular and tone of voice when talking to babies. As Liam gets older I am sure I will have to seek wisdom on how to navigate some of this (I will always tell him that I love him, no matter what, but kissing him may change), but right now I am enjoying the unfiltered opportunity to be as physically and verbally affectionate as I can. All he can do in response is let me! 

I am sure that I will carry new assumptions into each stage and that my unique child created in the image of God will keep humbling me. And I am looking forward to it. The ride through eight weeks has been exhilarating.

A Cornucopia of Words: My Top Five Favorite

Today is the second to last day of National Words Matter Week. And they do so matter. Sometimes we take that for granted and start making up a lot of acronyms so we don’t have to use actual words to communicate. Sometimes we revert to just grunts and charades. I for one value my words. To the death! Who’s with Me!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Sorry. Got a little revolutionary there. Anyway, here are my personal five favorite words and why I love them (or something along those lines).

1. Cornucopia – This has been somewhere in my top five favorite words for many years. I used to say things like “a cornucopia of things” and “a veritable cornucopia” quite a bit. It was my “smart keyword.” (For more about “smart keywords” check this out.) However, I got to the point where I figured I had used it up like an overused semi-colon.

2. Ellipsis – The dot, dot, dot is just fine, but although it has its practical uses, I’m not infatuated with it or anything. What I love here is the word that describes it, Ellipsis. So elegant. It has a classic Greek name ring to it. I have decided that if I were ever to own a horse, I would name it Ellipsis. The Great Ellipsis. (Side note: In that imaginary scenario, I’m thinking about purchasing three more horses and naming them Interrogatory, Exclamation, and Declarative.)

3. Vengeance – There are some words that are just super fun to use in a sentence. They kind of flow off the tongue. This is one of those. And how! Like when we’re playing a game of Risk and you’re talking smack: “I shall plow through your pathetic Mongol hordes with a mighty VENGEANCE!” But that is just one example. I love it equally as well in other non-Risk related situations. Sometimes I just like to randomly point at people and yell, “Vengeance!”

4. Bulbous – This is so nostalgic a word for me. When I was young my brother Daniel and I latched on to the word “bulbous” with all our might. We loved it because it made everything funnier. Everything was “bulbous.” A bulbous head, a bulbous rock, a bulbous tree, etc. Sometimes we even said someone was The Bulb. Although I have matured in my usage of bulbous, it remains one of the funniest adjectives in the English language. Bulbous. Hilarious.

5. Moist – My relationship to this word is a little different than the rest of the words on this list. In fact, it is a word I most recently put on it because it is a word I truly love to hate it. Pretty sure a lot of people either love to hate it or just flat out hate it with every fiber of their being. And that also makes it a funny word to me. You know that slimy bespectacled Nazi dude in “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” So you’re eating dinner, say something using “Moist” like he might: “This cornbread is very….moist.” Do this and watch them squirm.

So there are my top words. tell us some of your favorite words and why they have this exalted position.

Five of Our Favorite “Mad Scientists” From Film and Television

What constitutes a “mad scientist”? Single-minded focus? Crazy, sometimes dangerous inventions? Wild and unruly hair? A white lab coat? If those are the qualifications, we think the five we came up with fit the bill almost perfectly. This is not a best-of list. (We give official REO Top Ten rankings when we post stuff like that.) No, these are simply some of our favorites that we felt would be fun to write about. We hope you enjoy the list and feel free to add some of your own favorites in the comment section below the article.

Doc Brown – The Back to the Future Trilogy

You know you belong in this group when actual dialogue from your movie describes you as “a crazy, wild-eyed old man who claims to be a scientist.” Michael J. Fox may have owned the 80s in some sense, but he would have just been an average teenager in these films without its other crucial piece, Doc Brown. He had some timeless catchphrases that my brothers and friends and I still quote today: “88 MILES PER HOUR!!!” and “ONE. POINT. TWENTY-ONE GIGAWATTS!!” He was, to me, the brightest star of these movies.

And we loved Christopher Lloyd for it. I was young and naive when Back to the Future was new and so I thought he looked just like Doc Brown. I remember reading in TV Guide that he was going to do a guest spot on Cheers once and I watched the episode and was stunned at how he looked. Because the crazy wild-eyed (and wild-haired) scientist was nowhere to be found. And that’s how he will always be to me, even though he had a great career outside of this trilogy. Doc Brown is an icon of the 80s and an absolute treasure of a role. (Gowdy Cannon)

Flint Lockwood – Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Flint Lockwood is different. Always has been. His entire life he has cared about only one thing: inventing things that will help others. Most of the time, his inventions end up causing more problems than they fix, but that doesn’t deter him in the least. At a young age he invented spray-on shoes that unfortunately he was never able to take off. He also invented rat-birds for some unknown reason and they have harassed his home-town (home-island?) of Swallow Falls ever since.

When we meet him as an adult near the beginning of the movie, he is working on the greatest invention of his life – a machine that will convert water into food. Any kind of food imaginable. Through some happy accidents, his machine actually works and things start to look up for Flint. He meets a girl. The town loves him – a big change from their usual annoyance. Of course, being a movie, things go wrong, Flint has to save the day and learn a few important life lessons along the way.

What makes Flint Lockwood so memorable is that he is not at all like any other heroic lead I’ve ever seen in a film. He is weird. He has very few social skills. He narrates all of his actions in his laboratory as he performs them. He has a pet monkey named “Steve.” Flint is odd, funny, unpredictable, and full of unexpected humor and heart. He stacks up with the best of the mad scientists out there. (Phill Lytle)

Doc Heller – Mystery Men

Doc Heller fits right in with his clientele, the oddball wannabe superheroes on the 1999 superhero comedy, Mystery Men. Doc Heller has a genius mind which he uses for all manner of insane inventions for things such as aromatherapy, laser hair removal, carnival rides, and a chicken rental business. He’s also an inventor of non-lethal weaponry for The Mystery Men team. This includes things like Canned Tornado, the Blame Thrower, the Shrinker, the Hair Dryer, and Glue Grenades.

Heller first garners the patronage of the Mystery Men after they fail to stop the Red Eyes from robbing a nursing home. Fortunately, Doc Heller is there on the scene romancing a resident and witnesses the whole incident. It is then that he tells The Shoveler that he has the non-lethal weapons they need to come out on top. Good ol’ Doc for the win!

While Heller is never actually made an official part of the team, his mad scientist-ery is instrumental in the final defeat of the archvillain, Casanova Frankenstein. (Ben Plunkett)

Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz – Phineas and Ferb.

You could argue that the appropriately named Heinz Doofenshmirtz is only one of three “mad scientist” in this fantastic Disney television show. Both Phineas and Ferb are master scientists in their own right. I would not classify them as “mad” as they don’t seem to be consumed by their work. Heinz, on the other hand, is completely consumed. His tragic (and hilarious) backstory sheds some light on how he turned into the crazy and power hungry inventor we see in the show. His inventions (“inators” of various kinds) are always far too convoluted for their own good and his end-game goal of conquering the entire “tri-state area” is incredibly limited in scope, which only adds to his charm.

Doofenshmirtz is full of one-liners, comic pratfalls, and running gags. His epic fights with Perry the Platypus are a thing of legend. (Seriously, if this doesn’t qualify him for iconic status, I don’t know if anyone qualifies.) While his failures are numerous, he keeps on trying, giving all future mad scientists a perfect role model. There are very few TV characters that make me laugh more than Dr. Doofenshmirtz, and that is enough justification for including him in this list. (Phill Lytle)

Frederick Frankenstein – Young Frankenstein

Frederick is of this infamous Frankenstein family line. He is so ashamed of his mad scientist ancestry that he pronounces it Fronk-en-steen in order to hide this embarrassing fact. At the beginning of the movie, Young Frankenstein (directed by Mel Brooks), Frederick has successfully spent years in adamant denial of his mad scientist family lineage. All of this changes after he inherits the castle of his great-grandfather, Baron Beavort von Frankenstein, the father of the infamous Victor Frankenstein, the creator of the even more infamous monster. (Many incorrectly know this monster by the name of Frankenstein when it was really Frankenstein’s Monster. Come on!)

In the end, Frederick (played to comedic perfection by Gene Wilder) returns to his family home, to his grandfather’s laboratory, and learns to embrace his inner mad scientist. With Wilder’s perfectly disheveled hair and mad eyes, one truly believes he has transformed into the mad scientist role. Verily, it is his destiny. He is assisted by the buffoonish yet well-meaning Igor (pronounced Eye-gore), a descendant of a long line of hunchbacks who have served the Frankenstein family; the beautiful Inga (Teri Garr) and Frau Blucher (Cloris Leachman), the Frankenstein castle housekeeper and possessor of a number of dark family secrets.

Frederick’s mad scientist antics do not end with the famous “It’s Alive!” moment. Oh no. Indeed, he is so obsessed with his creation, he loves it so deeply that he takes it to the stage where the two perform “Putting on the Ritz” for the masses. (Ben Plunkett)

REO Top Ten: Church Potluck Items (Part 2)

There are few things that are more emblematic of Southern Evangelical culture than the church potluck. Many jokes (some funny) have been made at the expense of faithful churchgoers enjoying a smorgasbord-type feast after service. Deal with it, we like to eat and we like to eat with our friends and fellow believers. Of course, when you open up the menu to any item that any person wants to bring, things can get a little tricky. It takes wisdom and quick decision-making to ensure that your plate is filled with only the best foods available. That’s where REO comes in. We’ve spent the last few months meticulously sifting through every potluck food imaginable to create our top ten. These are the ten items that consistently rise to the top – the cream of the crop, if you will. Unless something in the preparation process goes horribly wrong, these are the ten items that will not fail you. Today, we bring you the best of the best. We crown our victor and celebrate with all our fans.

Recap: 10-6:

10. Meatballs
9. Velveeta Rotel Dip and Chips
8. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
7. Mexican Cornbread
6. Pigs-in-a-blanket

5. Ham N Cheese Hawaiian Rolls

Hawaiian Rolls were created by the King’s Hawaiian Company in the late 1950s. By 1960, California man Joe Cooper had taken an entire bag of these delicious rolls, cut through the middle, and melted ham and cheese inside them. They were a huge hit with Joe’s family and friends, but Joe was an atheist so his creation never made it to a church potluck. It wasn’t until 1983 when Edna Clarkson took Ham and Cheese Hawaiian rolls to an event at First United Methodist Church in Starkville, Mississippi that the phenomenon was truly born. Lives were changed that day and the church tripled in attendance. The rest, they say, is history. (Mike Lytle)

4. Chili

Picture this…you’re standing at the front of the food line and you’ve just grabbed a styrofoam plate and your plasticware. You scan down the tables of glorious food spread out before you, but something catches your eye…wait…is that??? No…it can’t be! But it is! Someone has haphazardly thrown a bunch of meat, beans and peppers together into a crockpot, added a bunch of spicy chili powder to it, and proudly set it out for all to enjoy. (Rarely have I had a chili that I didn’t like. And when I did eat a chili that wasn’t great, a little extra Tabasco sauce or cheese is all it took to kick it up to a normative level again.) You reach down and pick up a styrofoam bowl as well. Time to feast. (D.A. Speer)

For something so delicious the recipe for chili is actually quite simple (look at me pretending I know how to cook!). Despite its basic ingredients, a pot of chili can taste very different from one potluck to another. Yet nearly every kind of chili is delicious. Unless it’s canned chili which is an affront to nature! I’ve read that many churches have amended their bylaws to include the following, “Thou shalt not bring canned chili to church potlucks”*. I digress. Plain chili is wonderful. But when cheese and crackers/corn chips are added it transforms into something divine!

REO pro tip: Chili holds heat better than most foods. So, at potlucks where the food is prepped well before the designated meal time always go for the chili as it will still be hot. (Mark Sass)

*I read this on the internet so it must be completely factual.

3. Fried Chicken

I could be wrong, but I suspect that if potluck chicken was as consistently good and hot as freshly made fried chicken, this would be higher on this list. Maybe this would be the case. However, Number 3 is still very respectable and is well earned. I do know that it is my close second favorite behind deviled eggs. It is so close that it is pretty much a tie. Yeah, sure, potluck chicken is often a mite on the coldish side—maybe lukewarm—but I still love it. It and deviled eggs are always my go-to potluck foods. (Ben Plunkett)

I have deeply fond memories of Homecoming Sunday every October at Horse Branch Free Will Baptist as a child in the 80s and 90s. It meant I got to see the late NFL games since there was no Sunday night service. But it also meant this extravagant, bountiful smorgasbord of a buffet right after church. And every year I made a beeline for the chicken. It was often cold but it was still so good. Other than Uncle Remu’s at Walmart, I’ve never had a bad piece of fried chicken. And those Church potluck dinners in my childhood were no exception. (Gordy Cannon)

2. Sausage Balls

A well-made sausage ball is hard to beat. Unfortunately, I have developed a weird pork allergy/intolerance so I am now deprived of all the wonderful pork related foods, including sausage balls. Still, even with my new-found ailment, I cannot deny the glory and the wonder of the classic sausage ball. You can eat these things hot, cold, warm, or lukewarm. You can dip them in a sauce or you can eat them just as they are. While they do vary in taste depending on the spice level of the sausage used, they are pretty great in any form.

REO pro tip: The spicier sausage used the better. Also, do not use too much breading. You want these to have a nice balance of meat, cheese, and breading. We don’t call them bread balls, after all. (Phill Lytle)

1. Deviled Eggs

Many ill-advised haters of deviled eggs love to point out that it has “devil” in the name and that therefore it is obviously a thing of great evil. However, back in the 1700’s when deviled eggs first became a thing, “deviled” meant “spiced.” That’s not a joke. Look it up. Anyway, that makes deviled eggs a thing of great good. And indeed, it is, my friends, this soft and supple culinary masterpiece deserves to be in here in the upper reaches of the potluck top ten. Its haters be boggled. They’re the ones of great evil, so there. (Ben Plunkett)

There is nothing devilish about these delightful creations. Look. I get it. If you don’t like eggs, or mayo, or deliciousness, you might find these little bite-sized beauties a bit repulsive. That is entirely your loss and entirely okay with me as that will leave more eggs for me to eat. At any church potluck, one of the first items to be completely eaten are the deviled eggs. Mark it down. That is why they finished number one in our bracket. They might be polarizing but for those of us that love them, they are the go-to item at any potluck dinner. A church potluck without deviled eggs is a truly horrific thing. We want no part of that. (Phill Lytle)

To me the beauty of the deviled egg is the balance of the two main ingredients. I used to watch my mom make the yolk mixture and then eat the leftovers and it was so good, but not nearly as good as when it was with the white of the egg. The two together are just sublime and hence, #1 for this group. (Gordy Cannon)

That’s our list. We’re sure everyone will completely agree with all of our choices. Be sure to post your kind and encouraging reactions in the comment section below. We look forward to reading them and celebrating all these great potluck foods together.

In Earnest Praise of the Multitalented Knife

This February, I am bringing to you the next installment in my hotly anticipated kitchen utensil series. This year I introduce to you—drum roll, please…and Triangle, if you don’t mind—well the title already spoiled the surprise so never mind. Anyway, “multitalented” is just one of the many attributes that describe this little sharp slice of silver. It is in equal parts wise, knowledgeable, sober-minded, and lethal when needed. Here are the top five awesomenesses of the kitchen knife:

The Knife has More Use Than You Can Shake A Stick or Knife At.

Like the fork, there are quite a few different kinds of knives. And that’s all I’m saying about that. I am not learned in the many intricacies and various genres of the kitchen knife. There may be a dozen different varieties in our utensil drawer at home. I don’t know. They are all butter knives to me. And then there is the sharp knife holder thingy. As long as I can butter a piece of bread or cut a slab of meat. I’m good, I’m good.

The Knife and Fork are Soul Mates; They is BFFs, Yo!

Last year I named a few of the greatnesses of the royal fork. The fork and spoon are sort of friends, but more like frenemies. The knife and fork, now there is a pair that has chemistry. There is a pair I call true BFFs. The two don’t always work in conjunction with other utensils. However, when there is a silverwarey team-up to be had, its most often betwixt the fork and the knife. Say you have a steak or something that you need to cut. Admittedly, sometimes a piece of meat can be cut with a firm fork push, but sometimes that doesn’t work. In such times, the first utensil the fork calls for help is not the spoon or tongs. No, nor chopsticks or skewers. No, its first call is the knife. It is perfect for the job. Stick that fork in your steak and the knife glides perfectly through those slender prongs and gets the job done. Some are naturally gifted, others were trained by the Central Utensil Agency.

The Knife is the Perfect weapon for the Utensil-Based Superhero.

It has always astounded the utensil superhero world that the Blue Raja[1. The Blue Raja is a hero in the criminally underrated film, Mystery Men. He fights crime by using forks and spoons.] adamantly refuses to wield the greatest of all utensil weapons, but after all, as he clarified for The Shoveler he’s not Knifey Boy or Stab Man. While that does make some sense, the cardinal rule that the CUA teaches all of their superhero students is that the kitchen knife should always be their primary weapon. While it is true that not all kitchen knives are as lethal as a gleaming steak or butcher knife, the serrated butter and table knives can also be worthy servants in daring do.

It is a wonderful bridge for the Tiny Crackeletti.

Not long ago I briefly referred to the relatively unknown sidewalk crack dwelling Tiny Crackeletti Tribe. I mentioned that today they most frequently employ themselves by manning rarely seen sidewalk crack bridges all over the world. One of the of the most famous of these bridges is The Great Butter Knife Bridge, which can be found in a dark alley in New York City. (It’s exact location is a closely guarded secret known only to the Crackeletti world.) Crackeletti from all over the world take a yearly pilgrimage to this gleaming silver structure. It is widely considered to be one of the five Crackeletti-wonders of the sidewalk world.

Certain Knives Are the Most Intelligent Knives in the Kitchen Knifey Kingdom. Nay, of the Entire Utensil World!

You have probably heard the saying in reference to a dim-witted individual, “he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” These days just about everyone takes this as a clever turn of phrase likening ones mental sharpness to the knife’s literal blade sharpness. Oh no, no, no. The knowledge has been lost in the deeps of time that this particular idiom is actually referring to the great intelligence that exists in some knives in the kitchen knife culture. Some are pretty dull, hence “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” Truly, some butter knives are so intelligent that they (and some butter and toast) were instrumental in the many visionary innovations of Leonardo da Vinci.

Five Amazing Songs I First Heard On TV Episodes

It is a beautiful thing when I am watching a TV show and a song I don’t know plays behind a significant moment, especially a climax, and I am so blown away by it that I immediately look it up on the internet. It’s cool when music and TV scenes come together with marvelous synergy and it’s a song I already know. Yet when I do not know the song it is even better, as I love being introduced to new music. And when this collision of an unfamiliar song overlaying a TV moment rocks my world, the two will forever be linked in my mind. The song then becomes more than music and lyrics; it becomes part of TV lore.

This has happened dozens of times in my life. Here are five that rise to the top of the list.

[Note: There are major spoilers revealed in these scenes.]

“Not As We” (Alanis Morissette)
TV Episode: House M.D. 04:03 “97 Seconds”

This is my favorite House episode as it chronicles House’s argument against the idea of an afterlife. His mind is not changed after he goes to extreme lengths to find the truth but the fact Wilson cleverly and articulately pushes back against House is a huge part of why I loved this show.

The song itself plays when House, after being told by a man who was legally dead for 97 seconds that there is something amazing on the other side, tries to replicate this experience by electrocuting himself in the hospital. Where he knows he will be revived quickly but not immediately. Honestly, the song lyrics do not match the scene to me and would play far better behind a person trying to move on after an intense break-up or a death. But the music does match the tone of the episode and I’m sure that is why they chose it.

The song reaches deep in its emotion and really pulls me in. Alanis Morissette did this for a lot of people many times over, especially women. This one time she got me as well. I’ve listened to it dozens of times.

“One October Song” (Nico Stai)
TV Episodes: Chuck 03.18 “Chuck vs. the Subway” and 04.07 “Chuck vs. the Fistfight”

Chuck is a sleeper show to me, one that doesn’t have a huge following in my circles but was surprisingly good and very versatile. An action-comedy at heart, it had plenty of romance and drama and heartstring-pulling. It also had some epic guest spots that gave tribute to the 80s, including Dolph Lundgren in a one-off and Linda Hamilton and Scott Bakula in recurring roles as Chuck’s parents.

Perhaps the most tear-jerking plot development in the series is when Stephen suddenly gets killed by Shaw at the end of Season 3. This song plays alongside that moment and enhances the emotion and has compelled me to listen to it over and over again. Which in turn lets me relive this Chuck episode. The song plays again at the end of a Season 4 episode and compliments it as well.

“Boston” (Augustana)
TV Episode: Scrubs 05:19 “His Story III”

The Janitor on Scrubs had a pretty simple role on the show: to give J.D. an extremely hard time and to make super weird off the cuff comments that bordered on disturbing. So when we got a chance to peel back the curtain a little and see him as a human being, as we do in this episode, it is special. Make no mistake–the ending moment with the song is set up by the Janitor kidnapping J.D. and making a bunch of random hilarious declarations to a man in the hospital who needed a computer to talk but could not for a while as his computer was broken.

Since no one else would talk to him and because everyone else was busy insulting the janitor for having a menial job, the janitor utilizes this man’s forced silence to vent to him. And, as a result, to bond with him. It’s very subtle and doesn’t really pay off until the very end the conversation when Dr. Cox comes in with the sick man’s new computer and the first thing the man says is “Thank you”. After Dr. Cox accepts his gratitude the man says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” before the camera pans to the Janitor mopping up the floor with a look of humble satisfaction at this small victory in his monotonous work life. At that very moment, the line from this song, “No one knows my name” is heard. Which is just perfect, since the Janitor’s name is never given in this show and since the whole point of this subplot was to highlight his invisible job in a place where the most important life or death jobs are on display.

Honorable mentions for Scrubs would include “Closer” by Joshua Radkin and “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hay. This show mastered music and climaxes so well I had my own “Scrubs” playlist on iTunes.

“I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” (Band of Horses)
TV Episode: Psych 04.16 “Mr. Yin Presents”

This is my favorite TV episode of all time, of any genre, and this song helps it achieve that lofty accolade.

The Yang trilogy is truly exceptional entertainment, from the heightened stakes, to the villain’s acumen, to Mary’s presence, to everything that Shawn and Gus say and do. And at the climax of the second part–the episode that honors film Part 2s like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather II by being the apex of the series–we get a mind-blowing and goosebump-shattering cliffhanger. And the song that James Roday chose to play along with it was, in his words, the only song he could have chosen that would work for this ending.

It begins with Abigail telling Shawn that unless he can give up Psych and having psychopaths wanting to hurt the people he loves, she can no longer be with him. Then it cuts to a series of poignant scenes without words that melt my heart every time: Juliet finally breaks down in Lassiter’s arms after trying to hold it together after her traumatic experience, Henry cleans the paint off of the Psych office door that Yin used to taunt Shawn, Shawn and Gus attend Mary’s funeral dressed in full racquetball attire, Yang stares ahead from her padded cell and Yin comes home as the camera pans to a picture on his table of….Yang and young Shawn? WHAT???

Just a phenomenal three minutes of TV. It messed with my head for days. And I quickly found the song on iTunes, put it on my iPod Nano and listened to it 50 times the next few days.

“Easier to Lie” (Aqualung)
TV Episode: Lie to Me 01:01 “Pilot”

Lie To Me didn’t have the best series premiere of any show ever (Lost and Friday Night Lights would be shows on that short list) but it was still excellent. And after a twist ending where Cal lies to get a girl to tell the truth, this song helps close the episode over a montage of scenes that gave me chill bumps and let me know this was going to be my kind of show. I also love the added touch of Dr. Lightman telling Rita: “Believe what you want to believe. Everyone else does.” This has never been more obvious than in the social media age.

So that is my list. What are some of yours?

Five Lessons Learned from F. Leroy Forlines

Let me tell you a story. I am one of many who grew up under the ministry of Leroy Forlines, long-time theologian and professor at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College). There are few people who have had as great an influence in shaping me than Mr. Forlines; my mother, my pastor, and a handful of others.

Mr. Forlines was a teacher, mentor, example whose personal integrity and godly life touched many of us. Now in his 90s, Mr. Forlines is a national treasure to our denomination, and to the entire body of Christ. A few months ago, an REO contributor wrote a tribute to him. My thoughts here are somewhat a tribute as well, obviously, but I want to be more personal and talk of how he influenced me in several ways, both big and small. I hope to follow this article with another that will focus on one of his sayings or approaches to finding the truth: his well-known “poles of tension” that I first heard articulated in the 1970s.

1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.
2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.
3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.
4. Mr. Forlines was important in our movement as a theologian.
5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years – bearing fruit even unto old age.

1. Mr. Forlines was intentional in teaching good manners.

It was my first or second year at Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1969 or 1970. I asked a young lady (not Judy; it was before we started dating) for an on-campus date. These consisted of either sitting in the student lounge, outside in certain designated areas or walking around one of the approved blocks on or near the campus. This particular day the young lady and I were walking, probably around Richland-Bowling, and met Mr. and Mrs. Forlines who were approaching from the opposite direction. He greeted us, and then pulled me aside and said: “a gentleman walks on the outside of a lady on the sidewalk.” I hadn’t even thought about it. I learned a lesson in etiquette I remember to this day.

2. Mr. Forlines was insistent in teaching his students to accept responsibility.

Every week, usually on Wednesdays, we men students had an on-campus meeting. Usually, Mr. Forlines met with us. Some guys found the meetings boring and a waste of time, but my friend Seldon Buck and I had a ball, listening and laughing (not out loud) as Bro. Forlines shared with the guys. There was always Scripture, some sort of devotional thought, but so much more, especially as it related to living responsibly in a campus dormitory situation. Things like flushing the toilet, knocking on a fellow students’ door before entering, keeping your room neat; things of that nature that some of the guys didn’t do too well. Occasionally, Mr. Forlines would do some entertainment, such as his famous trick of standing on his head and drinking water. Amazing! I don’t know if we realized it at the time, but he was helping us grow up as young men, and even when it was emphasizing rules, it had its value. I personally am grateful for those “Boy Scout” meetings, as they were known.

3. Mr. Forlines was inexorable in emphasizing a commitment to holiness.

I don’t recall the first time I heard him utter the phrase “a passion for holiness,” if it was during my student years or shortly after graduation when I heard him speak at a National Convention or Bible Conference, but I do know that it became a passion of his to stress the importance of striving after personal holiness. It came up frequently and reminded us of how far we often fell short, and how our hearts needed to be focused on holiness. He drove it home every time he could, and I am thankful.

4. Mr. Forlines was importantisimo in our movement as a theologian.

That’s a Spanish word which conveys a little more than any English word could: he was of the greatest importance as the theological voice in our movement. After Bible College, he spent nearly a decade in institutions of higher education, earning multiple degrees, and studying under some of the finest minds in the world. Not only did he shape our movement by training hundreds of pastors and missionaries, he was able to influence others who came to the college who weren’t Free Will Baptist. Additionally, his articles in CONTACT magazine provided theological insight to many more who did not study at the college. His years of service on the Commission on Theological Liberalism was a voice of warning about dangerous trends that threatened the evangelical faith once delivered to the saints. His works such as Systematics, and later The Quest for Truth, showed how he remained current and relevant in theological debate, and did so with grace, kindness, and an irenic spirit, even while standing for the truth boldly.

5. Mr. Forlines was involved in ministry in his later years, bearing fruit even in old age.

Amazingly, while still teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College, Leroy Forlines and his wife Fay were able to travel to Russia and spend considerable time there teaching Russian pastors. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it immediately became possible to travel to Russia, and the Western evangelical world began to do just that. Russian Baptists have always been historically Arminian in theology, but most of those going from the West were Calvinist and brought a strong Calvinist emphasis. Our brothers there were so thankful to learn of Arminianian theologians from the West who were virtually identical in their viewpoints with them, and Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, Garnett Reid, Thomas Marberry, and Ron Callaway were able to spend much time with them. The Forlines stayed for several months, and covered the entire country. Mr. Forlines also spent time in India with veteran missionary and former college classmate, Carlisle Hanna. I well remember him sharing with me, with tears, the impact the India trip made on his life. I think it was tremendous to see someone his age expand his horizons, and no doubt at great personal discomfort serve His Lord in that way.

I suppose someone might ask, “feeling as you do about F. Leroy Forlines, he must have been your favorite teacher.” Actually, I never had one class under Mr. Forlines! The reason is, I had not determined my area of study my first two years, and when I was called into missions I had to cram a number of missions courses into three semesters, and I was not able to include Systematic Theology or Biblical Ethics.

However…in subsequent years I devoured everything Mr. Forlines wrote. I taught Systematic Theology no less than five times in Spanish in Panama, and Ethics at least four times. Mr. Forlines’ works and thought are so embedded in mine, that I think it’s safe to say no other theologian or thinker has influenced me more. I am truly thankful for his life.

*Image courtesy of ONE Magazine.