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Hey:

Do the Keebler elves have names? Are they related to your elves?

-- Skitch, Solana Beach

To Matthew Alice:

Recently I bought a box of crackers, specifically a 16-oz. box labeled Krispy original. The crackers have 16 pinholes each. Most saltines for years have had 13 pinholes, Krispy (formerly Sunshine) included. Why the change? The pictures on the box show the old 13-hole cracker. I called consumer service, which invites questions but is a bit short on answers, although with a helpful attitude. Your attitude is not unhelpful, but is definitely something special.

-- Mary Krimmel, the net

Special enough to take your question seriously, Mary. Any legitimate journalist would have stuck it up on the office bulletin board with all the other crackpot mail-- the interstellar-radio-hat, the psychic-cat ladies, and the rest. But for some reason I can't explain, the buzz about Universal Alice LLC is that we actually solicit crackpot letters, so I feel obligated to deal with them. Though I still reserve the right to suggest that some of you very badly need to go back and get that GED, or learn welding in your spare time, master 3-D Scrabble, take many vigorous walks, or something,...anything.

No one was more amazed than I was when the research elves tracked down someone who knew the answer to your question. Or, anyway, someone who knew someone who knew the answer. Close enough for me. But first, let's take a field trip of the imagination to the Keebler kitchens and follow a typical Krispy saltine. An endless ribbon of dough squeezes onto a conveyor. It passes under a roller that pokes in the pinholes and the dotted lines that separate each cracker unit. The conveyor rumbles through the oven, and baked golden squares appear at the other end. So what critical function do those pinholes serve? They allow steam to escape as the cracker puffs up (making it crispy), and they keep each cracker unit from blowing up into a cracker pillow as it bakes.

According to Deep Dip, our appetizer informant, Keebler makes both 13-hole and 16-hole saltines. They come from two different bakeries with slightly different conveyor mechanisms. (We have no hard data to suggest 16-hole Krispys are any crisper than 13-hole Krispys.) Anyway, the picture on the package only promises you 13 holes. So when you opened the box and found you had three extra holes per cracker unit at no extra cost, I assume you were pleased.

And now on to a touchier subject. The Keebler elves: Ernest J. Keebler, Ma Keebler, Zoot, JJ, Elmer, Fast Eddie, Professor, Roger, Doc, Leonardo, Sam, Buckets, Casey, plus Zack and Flo, Keebler's elves of color. Yes, they're related to the research elves, though nobody likes to talk about it. The Alice elves actually tried out for that Keebler gig. Practiced for weeks, went to the audition, sang and tap danced their little hearts out, only to lose the job to cousins in the Midwest branch of the family, true snobs who love to talk about how their ancestors came to America on a very tiny replica of the Mayflower. But don't feel sorry for the Alice elves. They're just as happy that they don't have to live in a hollow tree.

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