The Commuter Challenge

2 September 2007

The September 2007 Challenge

by CC @ 00:05

Write a set of three double dactyls. (Consult Wikipedia for a concise explanation of the constraints of the double dactyl.) You can pick anyone and anything for your subjects. However, what you do not get to choose are the nonsense lines, and the single-word lines. Instead, you must use the ones given in these lists:

Flibberty gibberty Inferiority
Thurible durable Investigational
Insulin globulin Characteristically

Use each one only once, so that you use all the selections in course of your trilogy. (Of course, it is still up to you to decide which nonsense lines goes with which word, and in which line in the second stanza your word should be placed.)

The Results

Eric Waldow

Three Recent Departures from the Administration of George Bush the Younger


Flibberty Gibberty
Attorney General
friends in high places took
him to the top
he was a flop


Insulin Globulin
White House press spokesperson
said he was leaving to
follow the cash
His chemotherapy
ran up his medical
bills in a flash


Thurible durable
Deputy Chief of Staff
leaving to spend time with
his kith and kin
Proved that a candidate’s
isn’t an obstacle
he can still win
Brian Raiter


Insulin globulin,
Corp’ral Napolean
dreamed to be king of all
Europe proclaimed.
Ninety years after his
death the eponymous
complex was named.


Thurible durable,
Otto von Guericke
loudly proclaimed horror
vacui was dumb.
Magdeburg Hemispheres
made a great quod erat


Flibberty gibberty,
Antoine Lavoisier
showed that phlogiston was
just a tall tale.
efforts were ended when
Antoine discovered his
head in a pail.
Ryan Finholm



Flibberty gibberty,
Dante of Italy
wakes up to find himself
stuck in a curse;
Virgil takes him on an
tour throughout Hell, still he
thinks Jersey’s worse.


Insulin globulin
Emily Dickinson:
all her biographers
got her all wrong —
cloistered herself ’cause she
stressed certain syllables
four letters long.

A Place …

Thurible durable
Samuel Coleridge
spins in his grave as he
battles his own
complex — Olivia
Newton-John’s Xanadu’s
much better known.

September Senators

September 1, 2007

Insulin globulin,
Craig the Republican
Idaho Senator’s
latest reports
say he’s not gay; it was
only a playful and
tap dance (of sorts).

September 18, 2007

Thurible durable
Chalmers the Senator
tries to sue God, but a
hitch interferes
re: jurisdiction, and
of any court or a
jury of ‘peers.’

September 28, 2007

Flibberty gibberty,
Sen. John Sabini (Queens)
caught D.U.I. and he
loudly espoused,
I best identify
with my constituents
when I’m most soused.”


  1. I think this challenge turned out to be easier than I had predicted it would be. People seem to have an easier time with humorous poetry. (Maybe we should do this sort of thing more often?) Eric sent me his submission during the first week of September, and of course Ryan was inspired enough to do a second set. My favorite is Ryan’s double dactyl on Senator Craig; the internal rhyme in the second half really works well.

    Of my three, the third one is my favorite, and the first one that I wrote. It’s the only one that really has a good punchline. The execution of Lavoisier is often presented as one of the great tragedies of the excesses of the French Revolution, so the irreverent abruptness of the last line manages to eke out a bit of black humor.

    One thing I enjoyed about creating my double dactyls is that I finally had to sit down and learn the proper pronunciation of things like phlogiston. (I’d always assumed the accent was on the first syllable, and wrote my first draft accordingly, forcing a minor rewrite after I looked it up in the dictionary.)

    After Lavoisier, I went through a list of other famous scientists, and Otto von Guericke’s name immediately popped out as a double dactyl. I had read about his famous experiment before, of course, but didn’t remember any of the names. When I saw that “Magdeburg Hemispheres” was also double-dactylic, I knew I had to use it. The Wikipedia article on the experiment had a cf link to “horror vacui”, and that gave me the idea of misusing the Latin phrase QED for a punchline. It actually wound up being a pretty weak punchline, but everything else about the poem was just so pat, I couldn’t bear to throw it out. I did consider changing the seventh line to: “made for great quot erat” — as being a sort of play on the phrase “[it] made for great theater”. It would have made it incrementally more punchline-like, but at the cost of disrupting the meter. And I really didn’t want to disrupt the meter (or at least not disrupt it further — the eighth line was already a stretch). A double dactyl has a single couplet rhyme, so the meter is almost the only thing preventing it from becoming prose.

    After that, I hoped to make a theme of famous scientists, but I couldn’t find anyone with a double-dactylic name, and I never came up with a subject that would invite use of the word “inferiority”. What I really wanted was to write about a molecular biologist, to go with “Insulin globulin”. (You’ll note, by the way, that the Mageburg Hemispheres could be thought of as a durable thurible. As for “flibberty gibberty”, the phrase always reminds me of the word “gibbet”, so that connects indirectly to Lavoisier’s execution.) As the month waned, I was forced to punt on my grand scheme and cast my net a little wider, upon which the inferiority complex quickly suggested itself.

    by breadbox — 20 February 2008 @ 07:43

  2. When the challenge was first suggested, I had been a little intimidated. I was worried about the six-syllable DD words; most of the examples of DDs I’d seen before used obscure scientific and/or latin words for it, and at the time I hadn’t been able to think of any on my own. I was glad that the words Brian chose were so common. But I thought that the first lines were traditionally supposed to be nonsense – the only nonsense words chosen were “Flibberty gibberty,” and even that is probably from ‘flibbertigibbet’ (see Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’). Though uncalled for, I tried to link my first lines with rhyming or similar-sounding second lines (when I could).

    ‘Characteristically’ was a particularly easy word, too. Since the word’s definition is, ‘[the subject] tends to be the way that he/she/it is,’ more or less, you could wedge that into just about any DD on any subject. It was a gimme.

    It’s interesting that we all picked themes to write on: recent administration departures, science/psychology, poets and senators. And I was afraid that everyone was going to use the phrase “inferiority complex”, so I’m happy that it was only in two of the four sets.

    I like that Eric did all three of his DDs around such a very specific theme. The challenge itself didn’t call for it, and ostensibly simply writing three DDs on disparate, unrelated subjects should have been enough of a challenge, but I’m impressed that he made that effort. I’m also impressed at how quickly he popped them out.

    His Attorney General one is great – that grouping of three DD words in the second stanza, including the mandatory one, deserves extra credit points. However, “Attorney General” isn’t a DD, is it? I know I can’t complain – “Sen. John Sabini (Queens)” isn’t one either, or if it is, then it’s a really clumsy one.

    It’s clear that both Eric and I were outclassed (and exponentially outgeeked) by Brian’s submissions, which are much better crafted. He obviously took more care with the wording. My own choice of words is clearly bent more towards cramming the necessary info into the form than producing a pleasing flow. But his DDs really sound right.

    The only one of Brian’s that I completely ‘got’ on the first reading was the Napoleon one. I knew the phlogiston theory, but didn’t know that it had been Lavoisier that had disproved it (or, more likely, I’d known and forgotten – I remember seeing an excellent PBS special about him, but only recall the bits about his ultra-careful and methodical experimentation, his supersensitive scales, and his execution). And I knew nothing of Guericke until I Wikied him. I didn’t know that horror vacui meant “nature abhors a vacuum” until I Wikied that. And Magdeburg Hemispheres? Geek. I suppose that he should get extra credit for using Latin, though. But the Guericke one seems mostly free of the irony/humor that is present in his other DDs. Anyhow, they are all great, concise, clever, 44-syllable biographies.

    As for my submissions, I started playing around and getting comfortable with the form early in the month, and I think my first set of DDs was done within the first week of September. I wanted to do a second set because I thought the form was fun, and because I wanted something creative to do for the rest of the month. I chose my second topic because of the two wacky senator stuff that was going on that month, but then I started sweating near the end because it didn’t look like any other senators were going to do anything weird. Sabini’s DUI was as close as I could get, but I think it made for a halfway decent punchline. Take that, New York!

    It wasn’t until after the submission that I remembered that in the Inferno, Dante didn’t really literally wake up to find himself in his situation, but was instead presumably already awake and lost in a forest. I’m not sure how I’d correct that, and hope that people simply interpret ‘wakes up’ figuratively as ‘comes to realize and understand the sort of situation he is in’ (hooray for creative license).

    So I’m really happy with the results of this challenge.

    by RyanF — 20 February 2008 @ 10:37