Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 23 April 2017

Grazie, Assunta!

I’m not much captivated by the mediocrity that passes for advertising these days.

But I confess that the newest ad for RAGÚ (see below) has hit me very positively in many ways: its content, its style, its tone, its message, its editing, its humanity, its insistent pacing, its homage to history and tradition, its beautifully gustatory visuals, and its tribute to co-founder Assunta Masiello Cantisano (though it summarily omits mention of her husband and business partner, Giovanni).

Assunta e GiovanniShe was a mere 22 years old, and he 28, when they emigrated to America. Here is a very brief story of Assunta and Giovanni, as told by today’s RAGÚ corporate marketing department (with my small edits for continuity):

“It all started in Italy. In 1914, Assunta Cantisano left from the port of Naples, bound for America with little more than her family’s pasta sauce recipe to her name. She and her husband Giovanni settled in Rocheter, New York, but they stayed true to their Italian upbringing by putting down their roots — literally. Their own backyard garden would ultimately inspire their fresh tomato sauce and delicious meals, planting the humble beginnings of the RAGÚ sauces on the market today.

“In 1937, during the Great Depression, Giovanni and Assunta set out to support their family by selling homemade tomato sauce right from their front porch. By 1946, the Cantisanos outgrew their kitchen and opened the first RAGÚ factory in Rochester to better meet the demands for their delicious combination of vine-ripened tomatoes and flavorful herbs. The company grew, and so did their commitment to the highest standards of quality for every single batch of fresh tomato sauce. The iconic gondola was added to RAGÚ packaging as the brand continued to grow.

“By the 1960s, RAGÚ sauce had become a centerpiece on family dinner tables across the United States. An Italian tradition turned American classic, this sauce was simmering from coast-to-coast as a staple in some of America’s most popular recipes.”

All of this appeals to me for many reasons — and it doesn’t hurt that I LOVE Italian cuisine!

Buon appetito!




Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 8 January 2017

Gobsmacked, Redux

Grover Proctor and the Raleigh Call

Well, here we go again. One more time, Gobsmacked. (British for “utterly astonished or astounded.”) This is truly unbelievable.

Right at a year ago, the HD video of my Dallas-area lecture on “The Raleigh Call” was posted on Youtube. I was pleased that Tom Keener and his staff had done such a superb job making and editing the video, and that they felt the subject matter worthy of being posted.

Fast forward exactly six months. I get word from Tom that they are amazed that the video has received over 20,000 views — a record (at that time) for any of the lectures in their series! It worked out to, on average, 120 views every day since it was posted.

I wrote all that up in a posting (here) at the time, noting that “this response is minuscule compared with Gangnam Style (2.6 billion) or any of a whole host of Taylor Swift or funny cat videos. But for a lecture (ugh; no music or dancing or feline frolics) — about a relatively small part of an “acquired-taste” subject (the JFK Assassination) — much less, a lecture by me! Well, suffice it to say I was quite amazed and very humbled.”

100,000 viewsFast forward six more months, and here’s the big news: last night the Youtube “videometer” clicked over 100,000 views!

Think about it: that’s 20,000 views in the first six months, and 80,000 views in the second six months! On average, 260 views per day since it was posted. How is that possible??

My sincere thanks to Tom Keener and his crew (again), as well as to all the people who have viewed the video and recommended it to others. (That has to be how it happened; there are not 100,000 people out there who have any earthly idea who I am — or care!) I am truly grateful that people have seen something valuable and interesting in this video.

To quote Sherlock, “My blushes, Watson!”



The first 59 minutes is my lecture on “The Raleigh Call.” The remainder is the question-and-answer session, where I was joined on stage by fellow researcher Jim Marrs, author of Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. The Q&A went on for over an hour; the audience members simply kept coming up with great questions and were eager to ask them!


Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 4 September 2016

All Good Things…

Over 600 years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer told us in his poem Troilus and Criseyde that “All good things must come to an end.” And in the immortal words of Queen, there’s “another one gone; another one bites the dust.”

Proctor Family Reunion t-shirtThe Proctor Family Reunion, until now held annually on the second weekend of September, is no more.

Until just recently, the reunion was held in Temperance Hall, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, and then it moved to the lovely Pinetops Baptist Church. (My parents were married in Pinetops by my great-granduncle George Gold Trevathan. Perhaps you have read the story of their engagement and wedding in my articles Flower Girl and Flower Girl—the Sequel.)

I didn’t know about the Reunion until my wife and I moved back to North Carolina in 2009, but I’ve been a regular attendee ever since. I met a huge number of wonderful people there (yes, virtually all of them related to me, by DNA or by marriage), and it was a veritable treasure trove of information for my Proctor genealogy research. My sincere thanks to all of those who worked tirelessly each year to make it happen!

Just a few years back, it was decided to move the Reunion from Sunday to Saturday, and I noticed an immediate drop-off in attendance when that happened. The downward trend unfortunately continued each year, until last year’s which was sparse. And it was this drop in numbers which ultimately, I’m told by one of my second cousins, caused the decision to end it.

So, to all my newly discovered and wonderful cousins, I have two requests:
(1) Let’s don’t lose touch, as I really want to keep up with you and your families; and
(2) if y’all ever think of having a Reunion again, please be sure to let me know! I’ll be there with my covered dishes and my family history files.

Just a few additional Proctor apparel items
to leave you with a smile on your face:
Proctor t-shirts

Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 20 July 2016

Results: Your Favorite Hot Dog Chili Brand

Chili dogs t-shirtThe polls have closed, and you have chosen your clear winner for favorite hot dog chili brand.

And the winner is
Well, hang on.
Preliminaries first.

I’ll show how all the brands ranked in the voting, then discuss “The Winner… but,” and tell you “My Personal Favorite.



The results of the survey I posted last month are as follows:

22.6% said they do not eat chili dogs. Well, you may be somewhat healthier for that decision, but my goodness! you are missing out on a real treat.

25.8% said they do not have a favorite brand of hot dog chili. Okay, fair enough. Variety is the Spice Girl of Life, I’m sure.

Hot dog Chili graph 1

Now, taking the remainder of those who voted (51.6% to be precise) as a separate sample by itself, here are the results of the favorite hot dog chili brand. And it wasn’t even close.

31.3% — Texas Pete Chili Sauce. (Never mind that this brand hasn’t been made in well over a year. Or that it did not contain one speck of meat. See “The Winner… but,” below.)

12.5% — Wolf Brand Chili Hot Dog Sauce. “Since 1895” (Contains beef broth and “rendered beef fat,” but no other meat at all. It also contains pinto beans, so I almost disqualified this brand!)

6.3% — (The following brands tied for third place. They are in alphabetical order.)

  • Amy’s Organic Vegan Chili (Contains red beans and tofu.)
  • Bunker Hill Hot Dog Chili Sauce (Bunker Hill puts out two different types — Bunker Hill Hot Dog Chili Sauce which contains beef fat and soy and no other meat. and Bunker Hill Chili (no beans) which contains beef.)
  • Bush’s Homestyle Chili No Beans (Seasoned ground beef is listed second in its ingredients. PORK warning: contains “rendered bacon fat and cooked bacon.” Never mind, though, as this item also appears to be discontinued by the manufacturer.)
  • Campbell’s Chunky Chili “Hold the Beans” Beef Chili (PORK warning: even though the name on the can says “Beef Chili,” the second ingredient listed is “seasoned cooked beef and pork crumble.”)
  • Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sauce (Did you know that Manwich contains absolutely no meat, and that the second listed ingredient is high fructose corn syrup?)
  • Patterson’s Beef Hot Dog Chili (First ingredient: beef. “Patterson’s Hot Dog Chili continues to use the same recipe today as was developed by the Patterson’s family in 1942.”)
  • Tony Packo’s Hot Dog Sauce with Beef (Beef is the first ingredient. Water is second.)
  • Vienna Beef Bistro Chili Dog Chili (All-beef. Wonderful seasonings. See “My Personal Favorite” below.)
  • Zack’s Hot Dog Chili (This famous Burlington, NC, restaurant’s all-beef chili recipe was created by the original Zack Touloupas. They sell it there in both pints and quarts.)

Chili graph 2

The Runners-Up:

Chili Vote Runners-Up



The Winner… but No Longer Available

Texas Pete Chili Sauce for hot dogs clearly has a strong following. I sent out news of the survey to many family and friends in Central North Carolina, and (like me) they would all have grown up on Texas Pete Hot Sauce. I doubt there are very many native Tar Heels who don’t keep a bottle of it in their pantry. (Ingredients: peppers, vinegar, salt; an Eastern North Carolina staple)

Unfortunately, the TW Garner Food Co. of Winston-Salem, NC, announced over a year ago that it had stopped making their Hot Dog Chili Sauce “in order to focus resources on the company’s core product offerings and the development of some exciting new products.” Translation from corporate-speak, please?

So it may be the favorite of 31.3% of those who voted a choice, but at this point it lives on only in one of their better dreams.

Texas Pete & Texas TailgateOne addendum:There had been a rumor that TW Garner sold the recipe to another company, who wanted to market it under its own brand name. Here are the facts; you decide. TW Garner announced in May 2015 that they were no longer going to make their hot dog Chili Sauce. Skip forward to the beginning of 2016, and the announcement from Boone Brands (of Sanford, NC; makers of Patterson’s Beef Hot Dog Chili listed above) that they would be releasing a new product in time for Memorial Day: Texas Tailgate Chili Sauce. That product hit the stores, and you can judge who they were trying to imitate by comparing their cans (red cowboys & lariats, anyone?) and their ingredients:

TEXAS PETE CHILI SAUCE: Water, Soy Grits, Tomato Paste, Spices, Natural Flavor, Sugar, Salt, Distilled Vinegar, Caramel Color, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (Salt, Caramel Color, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil), Onion Powder, Xanthan Gum, Garlic Powder, Soy Lecithin.

TEXAS TAILGATE CHILI SAUCE: Water, soy grits, tomato paste (tomatoes), dark chili powder (chili pepper, cumin, oregano, salt, silicon, dioxide, garlic). Lard type flavor (interesterified soybean oil, natural flavors), distilled vinegar (diluted with water, natural flavor, caramel coloring). Hot sauce (aged cayenne red peppers, distilled vinegar, water, salt, garlic powder). Sugar, salt, brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion power, xanthan gum, lecithin oil (liquid soya lecithin). Garlic powder, black pepper.

Not a speck of meat in either recipe!

Vienna Beef Chili


My Personal Favorite

I created this Hot Dog Chili survey for one reason only.
I had just found a chili that I thought to be the very best I had ever eaten. (My wife will verify that, on my first bite of it, I was moaning in gustatory delight!) It was a brand I had never heard of before, and so I wondered if similar-minded people as myself also had a favorite that might be even better. Surveys & Statistics in pursuit of the greatest chili dog ever. Sounds about right.

You were gracious enough to tell me your favorite(s), so here’s mine. It’s called Vienna Beef Chili Dog Chili, made by the Vienna Beef Hot Dog company of Chicago. Its founders, Austrian-Hungarian immigrants Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany, first sold their hot dogs at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It’s said that over 27 million people attended the Exposition, and undoubtedly many of them became fans of Emil and Sam’s wonderful fare. They built their first store the next year on South Halsted Avenue, and they have been a Chicago (now national) legend ever since.

BurgerFi and Freddy's

The two restaurants where I live where you can get a Vienna Beef Hot Dog, topped with
Vienna Beef Chili Dog Chili.
It is truly mouth-watering!

The best place to find Vienna Beef Chili Dog Chili is in restaurants across the nation. At one time, they packaged their chili to be sold at Costco, but that has now ended. You can order it on, but beware! They only sell it in individual 16-pound cases, containing 4 frozen 4-pound bags. The cost per case is $55, and the shipping (including packing in dry ice) brings the total to $92.50!

So I rely on two restaurants near me — BurgerFi ($4.97 for a single chili dog) and Freddy’s ($3.59) — to satisfy my Vienna Beef Chili Dog Chili craving. And that’s fine, as they are both great places to eat — despite the fact that both chains are primarily famous for their burgers. (Personal opinion: the french fries and other side dishes at BurgerFi are far superior to those at Freddy’s.) If you click on the Vienna Beef Chili logo above, it will take you to an interactive U.S. map, where you can input your zip code and find all the restaurants in your area that serve Vienna Beef products. I highly recommend it!

So that you will know what you’re eating, here are the ingredients of the Vienna Beef Chili Dog Chili:

VIENNA BEEF CHILI DOG CHILI: Beef, water, tomato paste, onions, seasongins (corn flour, spices, dehydrated onion, textured soy and corn protein, garlic powder, paprika), chili seasoning (paprika, chili pepper, spices, salt, garlic powder, silicon dioxide added to prevent caking), modified food starch, textured vegetable protein (soy protein concentrate, caramel color), barley flour, salt, brown sugar, cayenne pepper.



You may be wondering, as I did, about how all these brands vary by cost. Never fear; I’ve done the work for you. Based on research at local Walmart, Food Lion, Kroger, and Harris Teeter stores, combined with, here are the best and/or average comparable prices (retail, converted to cost-per-ounce) that I could find for these brands:

Costs per ounce of hot dog chilis


Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 26 June 2016

Our Gluttonous Spending

The U.S. Treasury reports that the nation’s current total public debt outstanding is

Let me put that into perspective for you.

  • That’s 106% of our entire annual GDP.
  • If you spent $1000 every second, it would take you 610 years 3 months to spend the amount of our national debt.
  • Imagine 10⅔ American football fields (including end zones) laid out next to each other. You’d have to cover that entire area with one dollar bills and stack them to the height of Empire State Building in order to total the national debt.

If the Treasury Department is correct in its prediction of what the national debt will be next January on inauguration day, here’s how much the debt will have risen during the terms of the last three Presidents:

  Clinton:  $1.5 trillion increase
  Bush:  $4.9 trillion increase
  Obama:  $9.4 trillion increase

The U.S. Census says the nation’s population is 323 million. Divide the U.S. Debt by that number, and the current Debt can be thought of as $50,206 for every man, woman, and child.
When can we expect your check?

The national debt could likely destroy this country more surely (and perhaps more quickly) than ISIS, men in women’s bathrooms, rogue police shootings, gang bangers, illegal/undocumented aliens, all the NRA guns, and bad comb-overs or Armani pantsuits COMBINED.

So name me one candidate, running for ANY office, from ANY Party, who has issued a serious, comprehensive, feasible, non-self-destructive, reality-based plan for reducing the National Debt. I’d be on that bandwagon in a flash!

Wake up, America!


US National Debt, June 2016The black line on the graph above maps 5,893 day-by-day data points, showing the movement of the U.S. National Debt from January 1993 until now. The green line maps the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP). At present, our National Debt exceeds GDP by 6%, and is widening the gap. The blue and red lines at the bottom of the graph show the years that Democrats and Republicans were [P] in the White House, [S] a majority in the Senate, and [H] a majority in the House of Representatives.


Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 24 June 2016

What Is Your Favorite Hot Dog Chili Brand?

What is your favorite hot dog chili brand? Please take the 10 seconds necessary to tell me your preference for this all-American food.

In this petite (one-question!) study, please consider only those brands which:

  1. are available in grocery stores or grocery online sites (canned or frozen);
  2. do not contain beans; and
  3. one could use to make chili dogs (even if the package doesn’t say so).

The survey provides a list to choose from. I would prefer you to give one single answer as your favorite. However, if there are two that you just can’t decide between, you may enter both. And if your favorite isn’t in the list, there’s a choice for “Other” so that you may write it in. Your vote will be counted

There are also selections that say “I do not have a favorite” and “I do not eat chili dogs.” Even if you use someone’s (your?) homemade hot dog chili, might you have an opinion about the best commercial brands?

Also, I’d love it if you’d use the Comments section to tell me why this is your favorite. (Look WAY down at the bottom, where it says “Leave a Reply / Enter your comment here.”) Remember though: I will not know which brand you voted for. So if you give me reasons why your favorite brand is best, tell me which one you’re talking about! 🙂

The only benefit I’m getting for doing this is your help in finding the very best hot dog chili on the market for my own enjoyment. The survey is totally anonymous, and I promise you, no one is trying to sell you anything!

Thanks for participating! The poll will be active through JULY 1. I’ll report the results here after July 4.

Chili Dog

If you know anyone who is a chili dog lover,
please feel free to send them the link to this page so they can vote!


Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 19 June 2016


The Oxford Dictionary says “gobsmacked” is a Britishism meaning “utterly astonished or astounded.”

They could add “See also: Grover’s reaction when he learned that the Youtube video of his most recent lecture in Dallas has now registered more than 21,500 views!”

I quickly did the math and discovered that’s an average of 120 views every day since its posting.

Now, I recognize this response is minuscule compared with Gangnam Style (2.6 billion) or any of a whole host of Taylor Swift or funny cat videos. But for a lecture (ugh; no music or dancing or feline frolics) — about a relatively small part of an “acquired-taste” subject (the JFK Assassination) — much less, a lecture by me! Well, suffice it to say I was quite amazed and very humbled. Gobsmacked.

Below is the video, as produced, edited, and posted by Tom Keener, Director of the lecture series that hosted the event, and his excellent staff. The first 59 minutes is my lecture on “The Raleigh Call.” The remainder is the question-and-answer session, where I was joined on stage by fellow researcher Jim Marrs, author of Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. The Q&A went on for over an hour; the audience members simply kept coming up with great questions and were eager to ask them!




JFK Lecture Poster (Dallas)The lecture content comprised the research I’ve done since 1980 about a telephone call Lee Oswald attempted to place from the Dallas jail to a man living in Raleigh, North Carolina. My first two articles were published by Spectator Magazine, appropriately in Raleigh, which also happens to be my home town. (The story of working with my friend, co-researcher, and mentor, Spectator‘s founder and publisher Bernie Reeves, would make an entire and very interesting article in itself. Thanks, Bernie!)

In my lecture, I present the subject as two concentric stories: (1) the actual phone event on the night of November 23, 1963, surrounded by (2) how what we knew about the call at various times since 1963 has influenced what we infer about Oswald himself. In 1964, when the Warren Commission was investigating, we (and the members of the Commission) knew absolutely nothing about the call. In 1968 and for ten years thereafter, a very few people had some information about it, but several key “facts” later proved to be incorrect.

From 1977 until 1980, a government agency (the House Select Committee on Assassinations) finally and thoroughly investigated the “Raleigh Call.” They came to these conclusions: that Oswald did, indeed, attempt to place the call, and that it did not go through for mysterious and unknown reasons. They found the event “real … substantiated … very troublesome … [and] deeply disturbing”; and that it raised questions that remain “unanswered,” makes inferences which are “ultimately inconclusive,” and is therefore an “unanswerable mystery.” Having decided all of that, the Committee completely ignored the Raleigh Call when writing their final Report, and promptly classified all of their internal investigation documents related to it.

Achingly slowly, these documents are being declassified, and I have been harvesting them over the years. I have written a 15,000-word manuscript which I believe contains everything we now know about the Raleigh Call, and what it implies about who Lee Oswald was.

I’m the first to say that this topic does not speak to the who, how, or why of the assassination itself. But the implications are huge of Oswald attempting to place a call, while incarcerated for the killing of a U.S. president, to a former Special Agent of U.S. Army Counterintelligence.

As I have done for over 40 years, I’ll leave my writings and lectures to speak for themselves in the marketplace of ideas. I would be most eager to know what you think about it all.


Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 4 June 2016

Title Bout: Sanders vs. Friedman

It’s not an idea that ever occurred to me, but it is a truly great one. What if we could arrange a debate between democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders and the late Nobel Laureate economist Dr. Milton Friedman?

Turns out, the people at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) had that idea, and made it into a 2:30 video reality.

I have no illusions that this tightly edited give-and-take will change Left/Socialist minds to Right/Capitalist or Right to Left. But on reflection after having watched it twice now, I think perhaps those divisions are not really what this debate is ultimately about. What I hear is one speaker (Sanders) basing his assertions on what he wishes were true, and the other (Friedman) basing his on what demonstrably, historically has been proven to be true.



Kudos to FEE and its President Lawrence Reed for making this clear distinction of philosophies available in such an immediate and accessible manor.

I am pleased to be able to call Larry Reed a friend and former colleague, as he and I taught at the same university in Michigan. At that time, he founded and was President of the Mackinac Center (pronounced “MACK-ih-naw”), still a thriving and vital think tank.

Larry’s research and writings are important documents for our times. Fortunately many are made available on the FEE website. Here are a few that I particularly recommend:

Lawrence ReedExcuse Me, Professor: Challenging the Myths of Progressivism (2015) “Each of the 52 chapters of Excuse Me, Professor is a stand-alone rebuttal to a myth that ‘progressives’ promote, as well as its many associated slogans and false premises. Imagine thousands of students emboldened by the information in this book, raising their hands in class to declare, ‘Excuse me, professor, but what you’ve just offered as fact would seem to be completely false in light of what I’ve just learned in this book.’ True, many ‘progressive’ professors are incorrigible. They may dismiss what the student says and even intimidate the class into silence. But just one student, well-armed with powerful arguments, can make a big difference with the other students. This is how we win the future for liberty.”

5 Ideas at the Heart of Socialism: Liberty and the Power of Ideas (2016) “The good news is that more millennials are skeptical of economic intervention than trust the government to improve anything. The bad news is that a growing minority of young voters embrace the term socialism, which has an increasingly positive connotation even with those who don’t identify as socialist.”

Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus A Socialist? (2015) “I first heard ‘Jesus was a socialist’ and ‘Jesus was a redistributionist’ some forty years ago. I was puzzled. I had always understood Jesus’s message to be that the most important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was to accept or reject him as savior. That decision was clearly to be a very personal one — an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to well-being than material things. I wondered, ‘How could the same Jesus advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give it to others?’ I just couldn’t imagine him supporting a fine or a jail sentence for people who don’t want to fork over their money for food-stamp programs.”

Are We Rome? (2013) “Monumental sums for bailouts. Staggering increases in public debt. Concentration of power in the central government. A mad scramble by interest groups with endless claims on the treasury. Mushrooming regulations on enterprise. Demagogic class warfare appeals. Higher taxes on the productive. Decline of virtues once widely embraced as essential for strong character. These things ring familiar in 21st century America just as surely as they dominated the ill-fated Roman welfare state of two millennia ago”

Great Myths of the Great Depression (2012) “Old myths never die; they just keep showing up in college economics and political science textbooks. Students today are frequently taught that unfettered free enterprise collapsed of its own weight in 1929, paving the way for a decade-long economic depression full of hardship and misery. President Herbert Hoover is presented as an advocate of ‘hands-off,’ or laissez-faire, economic policy, while his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, is the economic savior whose policies brought us recovery.”

Books by Lawrence Reed

Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 27 April 2016

The King & the Curmudgeon

Adrianne and I went to the movies last night and saw Elvis & Nixon, a truly marvelous little film. Except by word of mouth, I fear it unfortunately won’t get much publicity. I mean, had you heard of it before now? But for sheer entertainment value, I give it a 9 out of 10.

The trailer (below) nicely sets the stage for this 87-minute gem. Kevin Spacey is phenomenal (when is he not?), and Michael Shannon (General Zod in the Superman movies; film debut as Fred in Groundhog Day) gives a portrayal of Elvis that I think even the King himself would have approved.

Anyone with memories of either Elvis “the King” Presley or Richard “I am not a crook!” Nixon should make an effort to see it.

As a former student of the Watergate affair, I was also entertained by the film’s portrayals of soon-to-be-convicted-felons Egil “Bud” Krogh (Colin Hanks), Dwight Chapin (Evan Peters), and H.R. Haldeman (Tate Donovan). After Elvis has come to the White House seeking a meeting with Nixon, Krogh and Chapin fly into Haldeman’s office, telling him he’ll never believe who just showed up. Haldeman demands, “Who?” “The King,” says Krogh. Ever-literal Haldeman barks back, “He doesn’t have any meetings with royalty today!” Krogh: “No. THE King!”

The soundtrack was a joy, as well, pulling original songs from the period with subtle meaning for the plot. At the beginning of Elvis’ quest to meet the President, Sam and Dave alert us to “Hold On, I’m Coming!” And when word comes back from the White House that Nixon had initially denied the request, Elvis announces he needs to go out for some air. That poignant moment happens to the voice of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing “There Will Be Peace in the Valley For Me.” Elvis’ cover of that recording became my mother’s all-time favorite song of his, and one of his most highly acclaimed records. Did you know that the only Grammy Awards Elvis ever won were for his Gospel recordings? Just another example of attention to detail, demonstrating that the filmmakers certainly did their homework.

Elvis & Nixon (real)

The film captured this moment so accurately in detail that I had to look twice to be certain if this photo was the real encounter or its re-make. Of course, it’s real.

The critics have been somewhat mixed in their reactions to Elvis & Nixon, but with an obvious lean toward the positive. It has a 59 (out of 100) Metacritic rating, but a significantly higher 76% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

My usual go-to critic, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal, seems (in my opinion, at least) to have missed the caricaturish, political-fairy-tale-like point of the film. He wrote that “it’s a reasonably clever contrivance built around a pair of droll, skin-deep performances that are smart and entertaining, yet oddly lacking in intensity.” In the entire time I was watching the film, I never once pined for more intensity.

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film its strongest accolades: “How was this not a movie before now? The good news is, it was worth the wait. Elvis & Nixon is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year — a whip-smart slice of strange history bolstered by pitch-perfect period-piece references, two excellent, offbeat performances and a brisk sense of pacing. Even the screenplay credits are appropriately surreal.”

(A small warning: it’s rated R for “some language” — mainly, I think, for Bud Krogh’s quietly, frantically, and comically dropping the f-bomb under his breath when reacting to Nixon’s eccentricities.)

Posted by: Dr. Grover B. Proctor, Jr. | 15 March 2016

Cracker Barrel Conundrum

Cracker Barrel logo

Have you ever eaten at one of the Cracker Barrel Restaurants that dot our Interstate Highway system?

If so, you’ve no doubt spent at least a few minutes contemplating (maybe even trying) the peg puzzle game that is found on every table. For the longest time, I never actually won a game on one of those things, leaving me to feel woefully intellectually deficient. Phooey.

KEEP READING. I got very curious about the puzzle, and over the last few weeks I put my computer programming skills to work and have uncovered some very interesting things about it, which I’ve shared below.

Peg Puzzle GridBefore My Findings, Here are the Rules. The rules are simple enough. You are asked merely to “jump each peg and remove it” from the board, staying in a straight line for your move. Obviously, you must have a single empty slot at the start of each game (else, where would your first jump land?), and you may select whichever slot you desire to be empty. (This, as it turns out, will be crucial for a greater chance of winning.)

In the game board shown here, there are actually only 2 possible first moves. You may pick up the peg in slot D, jump over E, place the peg in J, and remove the peg from slot E. Or, you may pick the peg in slot B, jump O, and place it in slot J, removing the peg from slot O. Either way, there are now 2 empty slots — either D and E or B and O.

To win the game, you must continue to make similar moves until there is only 1 peg remaining on the board. Simple, eh? Well, not so fast. The rules of the game are simple, but a winning strategy is anything but simplistic. Maybe you need to know a little more about the game.

A Little More About the Game. I started by wondering if there was some sort of pattern or “secret knowledge” that would help solve the peg problem. So I wrote a computer program that generates every possible unique game (that is, every sequential set of legal moves), then plays each game, and finds out how many of them lead to a “win.” (If you’re interested in the logic I used to generate every move and to analyze every game, I’ve added a slightly more technical postscript to the bottom of this post.)

Here’s what I found about trying to end the game with one single peg on the board after 13 moves:

  • There are 7,335,390 possible, unique games.
  • Of those, 438,984 produce wins. That means 6% of all possible games result in a win.
    (Yes, I have a complete, move-by-move list of all 438,984 winning games. If you are interested in seeing that list, send me your email address and I’ll post a .TXT file back to you. But be careful what you ask for; it’s a 27.7-meg file!)
  • Which initial empty slot should you select? Choosing the middle slot on one of the outside line of slots, (C, H, or M, as labeled in the graphic above) greatly increases your chance of winning. 58% of all possible wins started with one of those three slots empty. 20% of all possible wins started with an empty slot in one of the corners, A, F, or K.
  • The least effective choice for the first empty is one of the interior slots (E, J, or O). These positions account for only 1% of all wins — so it’s possible, but highly unlikely. Are you challenged to try to find one or more of the 4,650 winning games that start in one of those interior empty slots?

By the way, my program took a mere 2 minutes 15 seconds to create, play, and analyze all 7+ million games on my six-year-old Dell laptop. That works out to 54,084 games played per second and 3,237 wins per second. That surely beats sitting there and pulling up and pushing in pegs for 7 millions games!

Other Ways to Win? Ending with only one peg on the board is the “official” way to win the puzzle. But who says we can’t define our own ways? While researching online what others thought of the puzzle, I came across one man’s post which said: “Leaving one peg is easy. I’m looking for the solution to leaving one peg in all three corners. Anyone know how?”

Well, never let it be said I shied away from a challenge. I only had to make two changes to the program I had already written in order to get his answer. (First, change the number of moves from 13, which leaves 1 peg, to 11, which leaves 3 pegs. Then, change what constitutes a “win” — from 1 peg anywhere on the board to 3 pegs, 1 in each corner.)

I began with the “3-Corner Win” challenge (number 1 below). Afterwards, I invented some more of my own alternate “win scenarios” (illustrated by the other grids) just to see what possibilities each might present. Since all of these “new ways to win” end with 3 pegs on the game board, each of them has the same number of possible, unique games — 6,765,402.

Here’s what I found out about these alternative games. (Each item in the numbered list refers to the corresponding numbered peg board graphic shown below.)

Peg Problem - 11-move games

  1. 3-CORNER WIN. This is the challenge put forward by the peg game enthusiast above — one that results in “leaving one peg in all three corners.” I was sad to have to report to him that the computer proved there are no ways to play the game and end with 3 pegs in that configuration.

  2. 3-MIDDLE WIN. Here, the goal is to leave a peg in each of the three middle or interior slots. As in the 3-Corner game, there are no ways to win.
    3-MIDDLE-EMPTY WIN. However, if we change this definition of a “win” slightly, we are rewarded with a much simpler game. What if, instead of wanting to finish with all three of the interior slots filled, we play trying to leave all three interior slots empty, with three pegs anywhere else on the board? Of the 6,765,402 possible games, a whopping 4,055,706 will produce a win! That’s just a whisker under 60%!
    Where should our initial empty slot be in order to insure the greatest likelihood of success? Once again, selecting the middle slot on one of the outside line of slots is best, as 28% of all winning games started that way. The next most successful pick would be one of the three corner slots. They account for 14% of winning games. By far the least successful are any of the three interior slots.

  3. 3-OUTSIDE-LINE WIN. Here’s the first of a series of definitions for a “win” which actually provide three possibilities for a win. The goal here is to leave 3 consecutive slots filled on the outside of the grid, not including one of the corners. Graphic 3 above shows one of the possibilities. A win could either be there, or across the top, or down the right side. It doesn’t make any difference, however, because once again there are no ways to win.

  4. 3-CORNER-CLUSTER WIN. As before, there are three possibilities for meeting the objectives of this “win.” The goal is to leave a peg in the 3 slots clustering at the tip of each corner. Shown is the upper left corner, but one could win in the upper right corner or the lower corner. Too bad if you had your heart set on doing this one, as, (say it with me) there are no ways to win.

  5. 3-LINE-BISECTER WIN. Cheer up! We’ve found another winner, though it will give you a true challenge. In this one, you want to finish with a straight line of 3 pegs, starting at a corner and going straight across to the middle slot of the opposite line. Since there are 3 corners, there are three possible ways to win this. Out of the 6,765,402 individual games, there are an even 30,000 winning games. That’s a measly 0.4%. Do you think you can find one of those 0.4%? (In the technical notes at the bottom of this post, I have given you the move-by-move solution for 1 of those 30,000 winning games, which I pulled randomly from the list.)

  6. 3-CORNER-LINE WIN. This final “win” definition calls for three pegs in a row at the base of one of the corners. The illustration above shows the upper right corner, but it could equally be the upper left corner or the bottom corner. For one last time, I am forced to tell you that there are (wait for it) no ways to win.

If you have any other possible “win” configurations — any pattern / any number of pegs left — that you would like me to submit to my computer program to see if there really are any wins possible, just write it in a comment. I’ll get back to you with an answer.

Good luck with your Peg Puzzlements!


Peg Game - Cracker Barrel instructionsIf you’re just itching to get a winning 13-move game, leaving only 1 peg on the board, here’s your booster seat. These are the instructions Cracker Barrel provides when you buy one of their wooden Peg Game boards — or the “Old Fashioned Peg Game,” as they call it.

Remember, there are 438,983 other ways to win. (Cracker Barrel understates it by saying there are “many more ways to work this game.”) So start now, and maybe by Thanksgiving you’ll find ’em all.

Below is a screen shot of my computer program after completing the testing the 3-Corner win scenario. (Click on the image to see a larger version, for easier reading.)
Peg Problem computer screen


A Few Slightly Technical Notes About Testing the Peg Problem

Each Peg Puzzle game you play starts with choosing an initial empty slot. Based on that, I began with empty slot A, calculated what the legal moves were from that point, and had the computer “make” each of those moves. That was “move 1” of all the empty-slot-A games. Next, the computer branched out from the “move 1’s” and calculated and made all the possible “move 2’s” from there. Then the “move 3’s,” “move 4’s,” etc., for whatever total number of moves was required for the problem I was solving. If a “win” leaves 1 peg remaining, that requires 13 moves. If 3 pegs are needed for a “win,” that requires only 11 moves. (Of course, many games end before the maximum number of moves is met because there are no more legal moves.) This succession of move 1’s, then move 2’s, 3’s, etc., creates an expanding branching or tree effect for each initial empty slot location. When the program completes the entire full set of moves and games that began with empty slot A, it moves on to slot B, then slot C, etc. and completes the same tree-making process for each. When the computer runs through all required initial empty slots, it has generated and played every possible game. The program then reports to me how many possible games there are and, more important, how many wins arise from those games.

The program I wrote does 3 major things: (1) it generates and counts all possible, unique games (i.e., series of legal moves) for the board, based on where the initial empty slot is placed; (2) it plays each game strictly by the rules to its logical conclusion; and (3) it counts the number of wins achieved (however “win” is defined) and records each winning game’s moves. All other numbers, statistics, and conclusions are derived from these three processes. The backbone of all of this comprises several algorithms I created, including one to test the game board, whatever its current configuration of pegs and empty slots, and identify how many legal moves there are and what those moves are.

Peg Problem - 3-Mirror GridYou may have wondered about the seemingly haphazard way I assigned letters to the slots on the game board. (See graphic at the top of this page.) Because the game board forms an equilateral triangle (all three sides equal in length), you can turn it 120 degrees to the left or to the right, and you are looking at an identical grid of slots. Using that fact, it was easy to divide the 15 slots into 3 groups that also mirror one another, no matter which way you turn the board. This is shown by the areas colored in yellow, blue, and green in the graphic at the left. Let’s consider the move where you pick up the peg in A, jump the peg in B, place it in the empty slot C, and then remove peg B. Turn the game board 120 degrees counterclockwise. Note that the move pick up F, jump G, place in H, and remove G is identical to your previous move. It will be the same for the slots K-L-M. What this fact means for testing games of the Peg Puzzle is that you only have to test one-third of the initial empty slots. (For convenience, I choose to test initial empty slots A-E.) So in almost all cases, I merely have to find all the possible games that have slots A, B, C, D, and E as initially empty, find out how many winning games we get from those games, and multiply by 3 to determine results for the entire board.

3-Peg ProblemThis is the sample winning game I promised from the “3-LINE-BISECTER WIN” (number 5) section above. If you want to test it, to see how it gets to the desired “win,” here’s what you do. Label the slots on your peg puzzle board the same way shown in the graphic at the top of this post (A through O) — it won’t work otherwise. Then, put the 14 pegs in, leaving the C slot empty. Each group of 3 letters below is a move, and you play it this way: the first move is FDC, which means take the F peg, jump the D peg, and place it in the C slot. Remove the D peg. Keep going with each 3-letter group through the end.


Using the set of moves I’ve given you above, the final 3 pegs are in slots C, J, and K, the same as shown in the graphic. Of course, you could win with either of the other “Line Bisector” possibilities: A-O-H or F-E-M. Can you find the remaining 29,999 winning games? 🙂


Older Posts »