The Ballad of the Piggyback Bandit

The Unsolicited Symbolism of Amir Khan

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images Zach Parise, Ryan Suter

Minnesota Going Wild, Wedding Toast Drama, and the Pun-tastic

All that and more in the triumphant return of the Bake Shop mailbag

Welcome to the grand reopening of the Bake Shop! We’ve been closed for a few months due to the consumption of too much hockey and too many of our homemade magic muffins, but we’re back in action for the rest of the dog days of summer.

You can always send your questions, hopes, fears, dreams, concerns, one-act screenplays, or hit lists to The hours and the quality of the food may be unpredictable, and the girl behind the counter might sometimes be kind of a jerk, but hey, isn’t that part of the charm? Let’s begin.

I realized something as the Wild treated the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signings like it was the Gretzky trade or something. This is the first time ever that a professional hockey team in Minnesota actually has lofty expectations. The North Stars certainly never did — even the two years they went to the finals they were 8 seeds. The Wild have always sold themselves as underdogs, always claiming to be building toward the future.

Now that the future is apparently here, how do I act? If they go three straight games scoring only 2 goals, do I scream for Mike Yeo’s head? Do I call Parise overrated if he doesn’t score 50 next year? The only thing I have known is irrational hatred for the Blackhawks and Canucks, so any help in this matter would be appreciated.

— Tim A.

If you expect to be disappointed, should you be disappointed when your expectations are met?

— Doug M.

(I’m grouping these two questions together because I just love how the second is all existential and yet dovetails perfectly with the highly sports-specific first one.)

It’s been quite the year for fans of the Minnesota Wild, who typically had exemplified the mind-set described by Doug M. But last season, the team got off to a gangbusters start, leading the league in wins and points by mid-December. Unsurprisingly, this caused long-suffering Wild fans to — and I say this with all the love and affection in the world, truly madly deeply I do — totally lose their minds.

They scoffed at the mounting statistical evidence that much of their success was the result of luck. They went from sensibly expecting a decent, lay-the-foundation sort of year to genuinely believing they would remain the league’s best. And when the other shoe finally dropped — actually, it was more like a piano falling out of a window and landing on Santa — they refused to believe that it was for any reason other than (admittedly considerable) injuries.

In other words, they became just like the highly irrational fans of most other teams in the league.

Now, with the unbelievable and unexpected coup of getting not just one but both of this offseason’s most highly coveted free agents (here’s a great play-by-play of how the whole thing unfolded written by Michael Russo of the StarTribune; I’m sure some people are still hungover from those Fourth of July parties), the Wild and their fans are swimming in totally uncharted waters. They’ve sold thousands of season-ticket subscriptions in the past week and a half alone. They’re psyching themselves up for a dynasty.

And while they may absolutely become an incredible team, it’s not going to happen overnight. Part of what attracted Parise and Suter to Minnesota wasn’t the prospect of next season but rather five years down the road, when the Wild’s crop of prospects — one of the best in the league — really starts to ripen.

Getting there won’t be easy. The tyranny of high expectations can be far more unpleasant than the poverty of no hope. I’m a Knicks fan; I know how this goes. Free agent saviors can quickly turn into overpriced dogs in the eyes of desperate fans; coaches are all wrong; GMs are idiots; trades are demanded; on and on it goes. Couple this with the fact that there are now a lot of scorned Flyers, Penguins, and Red Wings fans who are licking their chops to start trolling the team at the first sign of weakness. Stay strong, Wild fans. Stay strong, but more important, for the love of hockey, just please try to stay sane.

Can you explain 50 Shades of Grey to me in lay(hehhehehe)man’s terms?

— Benjamin Z.

First of all, don’t click on this if you’re a struggling creative type. Those are some bonkers numbers. As for the book’s contents, I’ll defer to Grantland’s Molly Lambert — or better yet, Mitch Albom! (Actual snippet from the latter: “I want a little less p-word, a little less v-word, a little more mystery and a lot less detail.” Bar Refaeli strenuously objects.)

No, but really, what it comes down to is that it’s just … porn. Except in this case it’s not the acting that’s brutal, it’s the writing. Things the main character moans during sex, for example, include “Oh crap!” and “Oh jeez!” HOT. (Fanning self.) Furthermore, keep in mind that the book was born out of online Twilight fan fiction. Which is why I so loved this line in Adam Sternbergh’s piece about reading 50 Shades on the subway, or judging the people who do: “New York subway readers are not prudes. But, oh, boy, we are really, truly snobs.”

When looking at only individual Summer Olympic sports, would you rather be a 3-time bronze medalist in a really popular Olympic event like swimming, gymnastics or track and field, or a 1-time gold medalist in one of the obscure events like canoeing, archery or badminton?

— Tim D.

I pored over this 38-page report by Goldman Sachs on “The Olympics and Economics” hoping to find the definitive answer, but unfortunately all I got were more questions, like this one: “Is there anything in that description of water polo that you believe can be used to improve the strategy of an investment plan?” (To that, I say yes: the part where everyone kicks each other in the balls.)

Anyway, I’ve decided I’d rather win a gold than three bronzes (she writes while chomping on a handful of Cheetos and washing it down with some wine). The biggest case I can see for the latter — and I’ll assume for argument’s sake that they’re won in three different Olympics — is that you could probably make lots of endorsement money if you’re a repeated medalist, particularly in a popular sport.

But for me it’s all about goose bumps and bragging rights, the very two pillars upon which the modern Olympics are built. (The third pillar, athlete-village sex trend pieces, has little to do with results.) I can’t imagine anything better than standing up on the podium while your national anthem plays just for you, even if it’s taking place next to a badminton court. U! S! A!

Plus, there’s just something badass about entering the fraternity of people described as Olympic gold medalists. For one thing, it would get you into the New York Times wedding section, easy. And if/when the hard times hit, there’s no to turn to, you know?

How would various members of the NBA Superstar-landscape fare in the Marshmallow Test?

— Andy R.

Ah, the Marshmallow Test, the most glorious scientific study of all time. (As background, I wrote about it at length here — basically, a little kid is placed in a room, given a marshmallow, and told he (or she) can eat it now if he wants but if he can wait until the reviewer returns in a few minutes he’ll be given TWO marshmallows. It’s been shown to be a useful predictor of whether someone will become President or wind up in jail. OK, I’m exaggerating a little, but only a little.)

As I see it, there are four basic personality profiles that children exhibit during the Marshmallow Test:

1. Perfect angels who sit and wait patiently for the supervisor to return and give them a second treat for their obedience (Kevin Durant, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan).

2. Conflicted mortals who look like cartoon characters getting swayed back and forth between the angel and devil on their shoulders (Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Chris Bosh).

3. Devious sociopaths who try to game the system — a lick here, a nibble there, eyes darting around the room for hidden cameras (Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant — ALTHOUGH Kobe is masterful enough that I think he could easily pretend to be no. 1 but then when the researcher returned with the second marshmallow he’d kill him in cold blood and then make off with the rest of the bag, and Pat Riley).

4. Impulsive little hedonists who chow down unapologetically before the door has even closed. (Carmelo Anthony with that shit-eating grin on his face, Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee.)

I am coming off back-to-back weddings that had 12+ rehearsal dinner speakers and here is my issue: the guys are almost always good — short, focused, crack a joke or two, seriouslythoughiwishyouguysthebest — while the ladies, more often than not, really drag on. (Rule of thumb: when the bridesmaid starts with a story of the bride before she was 10 years old, you’re looking at 10+ minutes of speaking). Is this just my group of friends, or are guys rehearsal dinner speeches generally better than girls? Am I allowed to say that without sounding sexist, and can you back me up?

— Duncan C.

[Lowers voice to a whisper.] You’re not wrong.

I was at a bachelorette once where we did the game where the groom is sent a questionnaire about him and his fiancée and he has to answer things ranging from “What is the best thing she cooks?” to “What is your favorite position?” and then the bride-to-be has to guess what he said, and if she’s wrong she drinks, and if she’s right everyone else drinks. (The game always takes forever to finish because after each question, someone inevitably yells out “STORY!!!” and soon it’s 90 minutes later and you know everything there is to know about the first time one of them said “I love you” and also you’re late for your table at the clurrrb.)

I tried to imagine a bunch of dudes playing the game — sitting around on a circle of chairs in someone’s house or hotel room giggling over, say, the origin story of two people’s shmoopy nicknames for one another — and it was impossible. There’s just no way, unless somehow there are strippers involved.

Listen, we ladies — and I’m grossly generalizing here, I realize that — love to talk. And talk. Andtalkandtalkandtalk. That’s not a bad thing; we’re verbal creatures with keen eyes for detail, we have excellent memories, and we ferociously love one another (except when we’re in the midst of “having a falling-out”). We’re all too happy to parse the minutiae of our lives for hours on end, and then go home at the end of the night and immediately draft e-mails with subject lines like “Three things we forgot to discuss.”

Which is why, so often, our attempts at rehearsal dinner toasts fall so flat. (Keep in mind that I’m pretty much strictly discussing rehearsal dinners here, and not the actual wedding; some of the best wedding-night speeches I’ve seen have been made by the maid of honor, while some of the most horrifying have come from the groom’s side, particularly if there’s a wayward, loose-cannon younger brother.) We perform for ourselves rather than for the room.

We go up in large groups at a time and break out novelty speeches that might as well be ripped out of the magazines we read and the TV shows we watch (“25 Reasons Why Molly and Matt Are the Best Couple EVER!” featuring a rotating five-person panel of talking heads). We assume that the inside jokes that make us cry with laughter when we’re poolside or at brunch are going to appeal to everyone — anyone — else. We think that the more obscure the memory, the more it proves how strongly we’re BFF4evs. (The scene from Bridesmaids with the engagement party toast one-upmanship is a good example of that.)

The guys’ speeches, on the other hand, while always imbued with the crackling danger of marriage-ruining downside — if you find yourself about to utter the phrases “former man-whore” or “never remembered their names,” for the love of God STOP — are generally shorter and sweeter and less grandly conceived. They come a lot closer to following the simple “3-1-2” format recommended at the very end of this useful guide to giving good toast. They do a better job of sticking to what I’ve always considered to be the best rule of thumb: If you’re not going to be funny, be brief.

Of course, it’s a little unfair, because the guys have this distinct advantage: Literally the only thing they have to do to bring hands to hearts and tears to eyes is to tell the bride she’s so beautiful and she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to their buddy. Seriously, next time someone says this, look around and watch the room literally melt. It’s not fair.

And now, to prove my own point, I’ve rambled on quite long enough. Just like all my wedding toasts. I LOVE YOU GUYS! [Bursts into tears.]

Is there a more mortifying song for a 26 year old straight male to accidentally post to Facebook (from Spotify) than “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?”

— Aaron R.

I bet you get less criticism from that than I do every time Backstreet Boys or The Fray shows up on mine. I refuse to apologize for either: “Incomplete” is a modern masterpiece and Kelly Clarkson NEEDS to cover it; The Fray reminds me of important beach breakup scenes in those halcyon early seasons of Laguna Beach.

But to answer your question: Probably you should steer clear of “Hit Em Up Style” by Blu Cantrell (self-defeating), “Bailamos” by Enrique (needs no explanation), or anything by Dido (suggests you’re wallowing post-breakup, although if you’re going for the whole “injured fawn” thing maybe it could work to your advantage). If I ever see “Too Little Too Late” by JoJo come across the transom, on the other hand, it’s pretty much instant love. That song is the best.

You know what’s hands-down the most embarrassing cross-platform auto-post, though? Those Foursquare badges that show up on your Twitter account. The other day I innocently checked in at Shake Shack and the next thing I knew all my followers were being spammed that I had just earned the “Flame Broiled” badge for checking in at, like, 10 different burger joints. That service is worse than a loudmouthed sibling.

I imagine that I don’t have to tell you that goalies are weird people. My friend, the most normal goalie I know, tries to compare the position to that of quarterback in football. I find that ludicrous.

I argue that goalies are more akin to kickers. The similarities are many.

1. They are both weird
2. They both really don’t play the same game as everyone else
3. They both can lose games on a fluke play (missed extra point vs mishandled dump, for example)
4. They can both win a game on an amazing (and often lucky) play (50+ yarder vs blind save)
5. They are often ostracized in the locker room
6. They both overestimate their importance
7. They can’t wheel biddies


— Matthew S.

Well, there is one major way in which goalies and quarterbacks are very alike: They’re both the default championship MVP. If there’s no clear-cut other player like a running back who goes for 200 yards, or a forward who scores five overtime goals over the course of the playoffs, then you can 100 percent bet that it’ll be the goalie or quarterback getting the nod.

On the other hand — and I’m kind of terrified to comment on this, given reason no. 1 — I would add a no. 8 to your list: Fans tend to remember the fuck-ups of goalies and kickers with waaaay more clarity and intensity than they do their successes.

I still don’t really trust Lawrence Tynes after his misses in the Giants-Packers NFC Championship game back in 07-08, even though he ultimately won the game and has been pretty rock-solid ever since. Roberto Luongo won a gold medal and was one game away from a Stanley Cup, and yet all anyone thinks about is his play during a few games in Boston.

It’s kind of like Twitter — people can say kind things to you all the time and you’re momentarily like, “Aw, that’s so nice,” and then some dude with 10 followers is all “YOUR AN IDIOT” and it haunts you for weeks. I probably shouldn’t have admitted that.

If I am buying tickets to Jay-Z’s opening shows in Brooklyn in September, should I buy for opening night or closing night of the three-night set?

— Irving C.

Great question. Have you seen the old-ish commercial for Ally Bank where the one girl gets a toy pony and the other gets a real live one and the look on the first girl’s face is totally priceless? That’s how I preemptively feel when trying to buy concert tix.

What if I end up at the meh show and the other night has, like, five encores and an unannounced cameo from Beyoncé and Prince? It’s so stressful. So I turned to Grantland rainmaker David Cho, a veteran of live music, for his advice on minimizing risk in this particular case. Here’s what he had to say:

Unclear. When they did three Watch the Throne shows in L.A., the first show was the fan show that was (for me) the most fun, and the third show was the famous-person show, which is a lot more “I’m very cool” and significantly less fun — unless you like watching Peter Berg dance awkwardly, in which case, you know. If you can go to any of the three nights, I would opt for the first one, because going to a Jay show for the first concert of the brand-new arena for the basketball team he partially owns seems like a very exciting thing.

I wonder what happens on the second night? Nobody talks about that. If he doesn’t bring Prokhorov and David Stern up onstage, he’s making a huge mistake.

I recently went about a huge transformation, nothing of the “changing my genitalia” or “converting to Islam” type (I am quite fond of my man-parts and bacon, respectively) but working out more, spending on clothing, and actually utilizing my college education. As a result I’ve lost about 125 pounds and gotten a fairly lucrative job.

Prior to this, I had a very large infatuation with a girl who viewed me as “just a good friend.” However, she’s recently indicated that her intentions with me are no longer just scrapbooking and drunken heart to hearts, but that she seems to have acquired feelings. I’m somewhat hesitant to pursue it now though, because it seems like weight loss and a little more money should not be reasons to gain feelings for someone and she should “like me for me”. Should I give her a chance?

— Brian K.

So basically you’re the opposite of this gal? SORRY SORRY I KID I KID I JUST NEEDED AN EXCUSE TO SHARE THAT CRAZY STORY, I’m sure you understand. Seriously, sooo many congratulations on going through what I can only imagine was a ton of hard work and discipline. I know how nearly impossible it can be to truly break certain cycles in life, and it’s totally kickass you were able to do so!

It sounds like you’re kinda hesitant about this lady friend, though, which tells me that maybe she’s someone you should try to move on from, at least for the time being. Whether or not there’s anything wrong with her newfound interest, you’ve made so many difficult changes in your life that getting romantically involved with someone who has such strong (and complex) ties to The Old You seems like it could prevent you from really continuing to move ahead with your life.

Will you always be remembering those frustrating nights she complained to you about her own boy problems, as if she didn’t know that you had such a crush? (And trust me, she knew.) Will you always be slightly resentful or suspicious about the reasons behind her change of heart? You may feel that she “knows you better” than anyone else, which is valid, but I think it could be worthwhile to give someone else a chance to get to that same point — someone who hasn’t held a confusing place in your psyche for years.

On the other hand, hey, if this is your dream girl and she’s all into you now and it’s everything you’ve ever wanted, well, git ‘er done! But just be sure that you’re doing what feels best, and right, for the person you are now, rather than the one you were months or years ago. (And make sure her friends won’t give terrible wedding toasts.)

I’m new this year to the whole following the NHL every single day thing, but one of the most striking things I have noticed is the abundance of’s wonderfully awful headline puns.

A few of my favorites are: J-POM’S NAPALM (about Jason Pominville), AS THE WORLD TURRIS (Turris’s Game 4 OT winner for the Sens), and PONI-ED UP (Ponikarovsky’s Game 3 OT winner for the Devils). I love the use of the hyphens to stick the puns right in your face, because we wouldn’t have already noticed that Ilya shouldn’t be in the word “killer”.

Who comes up with this stuff? Is it out of the question to say wizards are at play here, because some of this is magical!

— Kirk M.

The headlines are one of my favorite things about covering hockey. (They’re one of this guy’s favorite things, too, even if he tries not to admit it.)

I did some minor sleuthing to locate two of the masterminds behind the gloriously groan-worthy homepage puns (as I type this, there’s a “TEE YOU LATER” splash page about Teemu Selanne’s decision to re-sign for another year; not their best work, but still better than anything you’ll find on any other sport’s site), and two of them — Frank Marrone and Michael Blinn — agreed to answer a few questions about their creative process. I salute them both.

It’s late in the third period of a tied game. Do you try to preemptively come up with ideas, or do you wait until someone scores, and then get to work?

Frank Marrone: In that situation, you just have to wait and see what happens. The worst is when you have a really good headline and someone ties the game in the final seconds and wipes that out.

Michael Blinn: We’ve become pretty good at thinking on our feet and reacting to game scenarios. We do keep a running mental list of stuff we’d like to use if the right situation comes up, though.

Any you’re most proud of? What makes the perfect headline?

Blinn: I thought I really hit my stride when I came out with “JONAS SMOTHERS” for a Hiller shutout, but Frank reached a whole new apex when he busted out “DUCK, DUCK, BRUCE” for the Bruce Boudreau signing in Anaheim. That was absolute genius.

Marrone: My favorite of all time is “DUCK, DUCK, BRUCE.” It just popped into my head right away. Those are the best ones; something just clicks. And when we come up with a pun headline, we usually just say it aloud in the newsroom and gauge the reaction. We’re our own worst critics.

Duck, Duck, Bruce.

Blinn: Some of the players with more mundane, less punny names give us the toughest tests, and that’s when the fun starts. We work in a room filled with funny, creative people, so we’re not afraid to crowd-source or ask for ideas from whomever is working that night. And everyone loves to see their handiwork hit the front page.

Who are some players with particularly fruitful names? Do you secretly root for those guys to score game-winning goals?

Blinn: A lot of goalies have more easily pun-able names: Pekka Rinne, Carey Price, Ilya Bryzgalov, just to name a few, but we may have gotten to a point where we’ve used them all.

Marrone: We got a good run out of Jaroslav Halak during the Canadiens run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2010 (“HALAK AND ROLL,” “HA-LAKDOWN,” “HALAK STAR,” and so on). I don’t really pull for certain players for headline-writing purposes, but I always hope Alex Semin is not the guy scoring the game winner. That’s just dangerous.

Blinn: I just remembered how great of a pun name Brooks Laich is — we’ve done “LAICH A BOSS” and “LAICHE-ED STATUS” for that guy.

I see that often you solicit ideas on Twitter. Approximately what percentage of the responses are either phrases you’ve already used, or phrases you’ve already thought of and rejected?

Marrone: That’s more Blinn than me, but I’m always open to headline suggestions from my Twitter followers. The people who follow us aren’t shy about letting us know if they like or hate one of our headlines.

Blinn: Really, Twitter is a blessing and a curse. Some people send us headline idea that have been totally abused, aren’t that great, or are completely inappropriate. (Don’t get me wrong; the inappropriate ones are oftentimes the best, but I like what I do and would prefer not to get fired over a headline pun.) I’d say somewhere in the 90-95 percent of headlines sent my way, at least, fall into these categories, with the other 5 percent being incredibly specific or put away for later use.

Do you do the video headlines too? (My personal favorite remains “JANSSEN IN THE DARK.”)

Blinn: We did the video headlines to start out with, but as more work was put on our plate, our video-cutting guys in the Hockey Factory took over, and they’ve picked up where we left off and run away with it.

Marrone: There are a lot of creative folks on the night staff, lots of TV junkies and music fans, and that’s what makes for great pun headline writing.

Does your job invade your personal life? Do you find yourself making puns out of restaurants or the names of couples at weddings? If so, how do your loved ones cope?

Marrone: For me, it’s not so much in my personal life, but if I’m watching a game on one of my nights off, I’m always thinking headlines. You never know when the next great pun headline is going to pop into your head.

Blinn: I wouldn’t say this job has invaded my personal life, but I think it’s the other way around. My sense of humor has always been a little bit off, and I’m positive that my family is glad that I’ve not only found a job in hockey, but also that I’ve found somewhere my jokes are mostly appreciated. Really, it comes down to the fact that our job is too awesome for words — we get to watch hockey and make corny jokes all night long. I couldn’t have imagined it better when I was growing up.

Filed Under: Bake Shop, NHL, NHL Playoffs, NHL Viewing Guide, Series, Sports

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes