Petri Dishes: The Purity of Hydrox

Sep 08, 2020

Humor columnist Alexandra Petri will be online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern for Petri Dishes, where she'll offer a lighter take on the news of the day. Chat now about on her columns and any other questions you might have. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

Read Alexandra Petri's columns or catch up on past chats here.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter here.

Good morning! Happy Tuesday! The sat cat has departed back to its former abode after a week of being a generally welcome presence and making various intriguing sounds, and I am all yours! How were your weekends? Is it Fall yet?

I was really surprised to see candy corn and plastic skeletons on offer at my local grocery store on Saturday. But fear that if I buy all that candy now, I'll only eat it myself before Oct. 31.

I saw a plastic skeleton in the window of my neighboring CVS yesterday! Tis the season! I think candy corn is fair game before Halloween; it is not easy to distribute to trick-or-treaters unless you get it in smaller sub-bags, and thus is intended for the householder. 

1. Can if really be a holiday if you aren't working? 2. Can I still wear white, anyway? Esp. since I usually just walk around the house in sweatpants and a white tee shirt.

1) Sure! A holiday is a state of mind.  2) I am wearing white right now! I think we can wear as much white as we want! No one will see us or know, unless we tell them in, say, an anonymous online chat where there is every incentive to disguise who we are and what we are truly wearing. 

I hate to be alarmist, but the Shadow People are getting bolder. Just yesterday I noticed one out in broad daylight, following me and mimicking my every move. I did everything I could to shake him (or her, it was hard to tell). As fast as I ran, the Shadow Person was just as fast. When I jumped, I was able to temporarily startle him, but as I landed, this demon always, ALWAYS landed at the same time. These Shadow People are able to morph into different sizes. The one following me was monstrously long in the morning, and yet nefariously short at noon. At nightfall, I thought I had shaken him, but by morning, this vile Shadow Person was stalking me again. What can be done? How can they be defeated?

You would think that the only way to defeat these nefarious foes would be by the application of a brighter light, but you would be mistaken. Much depends on which side of the light you find yourself on, and it is too risky. Instead, to defeat the shadow, you must become one with it. Lead it somewhere dark, and then leave in the dark; it will be stuck and unable to follow you. But just in case, do not look back. 

You've read "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut," haven't you?

Yes I have! 

I will not be on chat. This is just a request for you to write a piece. My husband just called me while on his lunch break. This time he was ranting about the media's use of "Law and Order" to describe our fearless leader's presidential style. He said their use of this term is both lazy and unimaginative. And could it be farther from the truth? We have not read your last book. We are saving it for when we need some comic relief in mid-October. Or maybe we should save it for after the election, if things do not go well. We will need something to read while we are drinking liquor and smoking cigars.

This is funny, because I have been working off and on on a Law & Order concept for weeks now! If you see it soon, know you were the push I needed! 

Hello! My birthday is coming up, and I'm not sure how to (or if to?) celebrate. I'm not really in the celebratory mood, if you can believe it. Any ideas or suggestions? Hopefully something that doesn't involve awkward silences in a zoom call...

I recommend an actually socially distant gathering with some people you trust to know what that means. The weather is still pleasant for being outside, and if you can seize enough park area for folks to set up some picnic blankets, the boost of actually seeing people compares favorably to even the best of Zooms. Otherwise, give yourself the gift of imaginary travel? Pick a place you would like to go and find something you would enjoy doing there, and sign up for it! Browse through a virtual museum gift shop! Everything is online now; the world is your virtual oyster!

cats get covid... is that why they left it?

I hope not! 

there is no more canned soup in my cupboard! But do those cans of beans count? Beans can go in soup. Are they fellow travelers or actual dangers? Help!

Goya beans are fellow travelers, but beans are what you make of them. Most of them transform into hot air, which seems suspicious. Proceed with caution.

Your colleague, the great Miss Manners (and of course her wonderful children), recently published a column begging people to stop complaining to her about the no-white-after-Labor-Day rule. Go ahead and break it if you want, she says, but quit fulminating to her about the rule's existence.

Because we're all at home, I can hear my 4th grader's zoom class going. The teacher started with an ice breaker asking which candy bar was each kid's favorite. The large majority? The Milky Way. WHAT. I didn't even know people would eat this, let alone pick it as a favorite. My child chose Take Five, a worthy choice for sure. But Milky Ways, really?

Wow! Kids these days! I knew they were different, but I didn’t realize how different! Maybe they don’t get as much candy as previous cohorts of kids did and they are judging it on the name alone? On the name alone, it’s the best! 

In 36 years no one has asked to SEE my college degree. Now for a temp job at a company I have temped for three times previously they want to see my college dioplmna. I have not idea where it might be. it w as 36 years and eight moves ago. That's all Just wanted to mention it.

Can you offer them a 1000-word verbal description? Legally, this is the equivalent of a picture.

The writer above says that cats get COVID. My cat keeps me from going stir-crazy, so I need her. So for the sake of her health as well as mine, I have sewn masks for her to wear. Unfortunately, they fog up her glasses. What should I do?

That is an unfortunate downside of cat preparedness. I think they may have a special fabric with the properties of copper that claims to solve this issue, but in the interim, you have to make do. Maybe urge her to listen to podcats instead of reading for the time being. 

I have been sending postcards of exotic places to my friends as a pick-me-up. I haven't been to most of them, but I have plans! To go places! And do things! I do not know where all the places are because the cards came from China and the descriptions are in Chinese, but I have some good guesses!

Today's Guardian has an essay written by an AI program; It says we shouldn't be scared of robots taking over the world. In fact, it says that if we humans carry on fighting and killing each other, it will just stay back and watch us do our thing. I feel very reassured.

Oh, boy! I wish that AIs would get better at tasks that *aren’t* my livelihood first; this makes me nervous! Can’t they start by mastering uh watering plants and returning emails in a timely manner before coming directly for me like this?

My husband brought home two cakes for my birthday - a raspberry chocolate and a red velvet. They helped!

Hope you find it - this probably means they're thinking of hiring you full-time! Your school should be able to send you a duplicate or some kind of paperwork that you can prove you graduated.

I have to reorder diplomas for people. It is the hot new trend to not trust anyone's graduation without that very expensive piece of paper in hand. Which is super fun to deal with these days with regards to mail.

I can't see them. I can, however, see diplomas. Perhaps your employer could go on line at your alleged college and check whether your name appears on the lists like 'Class of 1984'?

I would have said Snickers was the kids' favorite, judging by what they grab first in a bowl of proffered Halloween candy. Milky Way seems like an odd choice.

Yeah, I would beeline straight for the Snickers myself, if Paydays weren’t an option. Or Starbursts, for a different sort of satisfaction. 

My wife celebrated one of those significant birthdays last month (you know, the kind that ends in a zero). Instead of the several trips and family visits, she was pretty distressed about feeling celebratory. But two things lifted her spirits. Our son set up a zoom party with her siblings and a couple of nieces and nephews around supper time, so we could all enjoy cake and ice cream. And our daughter spent a few days soliciting video "greetings" from her friends and associates using The resulting video brought tears of joy to my wife's eyes. We still have hopes of rescheduling the trips, once life gets back to "normal."

Aw, that sounds lovely! What thoughtful moves on your daughter and son’s parts! 

Since we’re talking favorite candy, can we talk cookies? Do you remember Hydrox cookies? Much like Oreos, but more flavorable cookie than Oreo I thought, and less shortening in the filling. Yum, I miss them!

I know about them but I don’t remember them, personally! 

Most beautiful, intriguing, or ironic virtual background you've seen? Since I'm not going inside Starbucks these days, I've been using a photo of my favorite Starbucks. What is the etiquette on virtual backgrounds?

I like the idea of a Starbucks background! That’s a good one. 

A few weeks back there were reports warning of the dangers of blowing out the candles (and thus possibly spreading germs). So there's that to worry about too.

... actually were around before Oreos.

I have heard of them, but I must admit that if I had seen them in a store, I would think they were a prank. Why would a cookie be named Hydrox? What's next? Chlorin-o's?

I agree! It really sounds like the name got waylaid on its way to another product to which it was better suited. 

Seems like oreo is the answer to a clue in half the crossword puzzles I work. All those lovely vowels...

Sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison was a passionate Hydrox partisan and wrote a diatribe about his contempt for Oreos, which he hated as much as Gene Weingarten hates dark chocolate. About which essay Peter Sagal tweeted "I Have No Filling And I Must Cream."

I learned three things from this post! 

Funny, I was just thinking about them a couple weeks ago. Had a friend who swore they were soooooo much better than Oreos. (I myself felt that whichever cookie I was eating at the time was quite fine, thank you). But sadly, I have not seen Hydrox on my grocer's shelves in years. However, a quick detour to Wikipedia provides encouraging information about their continued existence, despite a couple of corporate takeovers, branding re-registrations after Kellogg's abandoned the name, and surprisingly, a marketing strategy that touted Hydrox as "all-kosher."

and in the requisite four letters! Alee! Ainu! Omoo! or is it Oomo? Eria! and an old favorite I never see anymore, Anoa!


In 1908, the creators of the cookie sought a name that would convey "purity and goodness" and derived their choice from the component elements that constitute the molecule of water (hydrogen and oxygen).

And that is sure what I look for in my cookies! Purity and goodness, those properties I associate instantly with the chemical components of water. 

Last week's chat got me intrigued about the movie, so I searched for it and found nothing streaming. So I went to (where else?) Amazon and found it at a quite decent price, for a "Collector's Edition." I tried to post this information in the Comments section following the chat, but it wouldn't post. Is there some reason why the Post wouldn't want to let through a nod to Amazon?

The Founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post! 

Give the kids a chance- their tastes will mature. I went from 3 Muskateers to Milky Way to "it must be dark chocolate or I don't care". And in England the Milky Way is called Mars Bar.

It used to be saying I was in high school when 9/11 happened was a sign of my youth and it's now becoming a sign of how old I am. Guess the kids of the pandemic will have that one too.

It happens to all of us! We are alive during a time period! We get to look out on the events of the world through a window briefly opened between two random points in time, along with a whole raft of other people doing the same thing. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. 

To get duplicate I have to download, fill in HAVE NOTARIZED and scan back a request pay 50 bucks for which would not be here until 2 or 3 weeks. ( not going to hire me full time- this is ongoing seasonal thing the company is moving almost all the work over to contract workers or India. )

Oof, what an unmitigated pain, then! 

I always thought it was a terrible name for a cookie. Not a bad name for laundry detergent, a scouring powder, or a state of dehydration, but it doesn't sound like something I want to eat.

I've always that that Timonium, home to the Maryland State Fair, sounds like a chemical element. Also, my hairdresser recommended an expensive shampoo called Nioxin, which rhymes with Dioxin, which is a poison.

I agree with you about Timonium! 

I don't just remember Elvis dying, I remember the Saturday Night Live sketch where people talked about what they were doing when they heard COL Sanders died.

I have sometimes wondered whether someone named Tim invented an improved harmonium and marketed it as the Timonium.

With the properties of his special element! 

I always thought that Hydrox cookies were infinitely inferior to Oreos. And since they removed the trans fats from Oreos they don't taste as good as they used to.

I remember when I was a kid, I might get a little bit of soap in my eye and it would sting like the dickens. I haven't experienced that in decades. I've wondered if that's because 1) body soap is gentler than it was back then, 2) I've gotten much better over the years at not getting soap in my eye, or 3) at my age, my eyes are less sensitive than they were when I was young. Your thoughts?

I have no useful thoughts on this except that, although my rate of getting soap in my eye has also decreased, my rate of getting sunscreen in my eye has gone way, way up. Now that is agony!

While I was unable to locate a free streaming source for this cinematic gem, I am happy to report that some of the episodes can be found on YouTube. And since the film is a collection of sketches, you won't have to worry about order or continuity.

In the United States, the *transcript* is the official document that employers and agencies should use to confirm degree receipt. The diploma is just a ceremonial thing to hang on your wall. In other countries, the diploma is a credential you can carry in your wallet. Sincerely yours, a college registrar.

The Idaho Spud! (Hard to find away from Boise. available on Amazon though.)

Colonel Sanders is dead??? Since when?

Only one chatter remembers and can tell us!

Mine was Kennedy's assassination and the Vietnam War. Ok Boomer....

Hydrox is real. So is Oreo. If you grew up with one, you will generally despise the other. This is just another illustration of how badly polarized our society is.

... are also both vegan (but they may be produced in a facility that also makes non-vegan products)

Not so! The continuity is essential to show how laughably unreliable those old movie tapes used on small local TV stations late at night were. And some of the sketches are progressive, too.

My husband took a picture of his office and uses it as his virtual background, just to freak out the compliance people at work

My mother bought them for us out of true love. She grew up poor on a farm and had only home-made cookies if any. One of the things she bought when she got her job teaching was a bag of Oreos. She ate the whole thing with predictable results and couldn't stomach them (pun intended) ever after.

Hydrox sounds like a sure-fire cure for covid-19: Take 6 hydrox after every meal with a glass of milk. I think people must be stockpiling / hoarding them because I haven’t seen them in grocery stores since the pandemic started (or for years, for that matter.)

Agree, it sounds like something the President would recommend! Hydrox, and light from within, and all shall be well! 

which tells me that Col. Sanders died in 1980.

And on that(?) note(?) I should skedaddle! Have a great week, all, and see you back here next Tuesday, on the blog, and on Twitter in the interim! 

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
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