Four-ply anyone?
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Hey Matt:

Why has toilet paper technology maxed out at a mere 2-ply? Bar soap is constantly reminding us about the percentage of its moisturizer cream and I believe that there are now razors with 5 blades on a cartridge. I know that toilet paper has a crappy, yet necessary job, but have the TP manufacturers fired everyone from the R&D department? Should we as consumers be satisfied with just 2-ply? If we can have 3-D TVs, why not 3-ply TP?

— Stuck in a Texaco latrine with 1-ply, via email

Hey, Grandma. I think we have a question for you.

Grandma? Yo, Grandma. It’s an easy one. No tricks this time.

“Well, Matthew, there’d better not be any tricks. The last time you asked me to help, you brought along a giant crowd of looky-loos to hear the answer, and all they did was rifle through the refrigerator and steal my towels. The dog even bit one on the ankle.”

We don’t have a dog.

“Well, no more nonsense this time.”

Sure. So, why don’t we have three-ply toilet paper?

“What? There’s plenty of three-ply around. Any supermarket. You can order it by the truckload on Amazon. Georgia Pacific invented it in 2008. Quilted Northern. Snarky bloggers hailed it as the invention of the century. GP said it was designed for softness, for women over 45 who want their bathroom experience to be spa-like. So that’s it?”

Guess the guy doesn’t do much shopping.

“No three-ply? That’s pitiful. Matthew, I keep telling you to get a real job and start hanging around with smarter people, not fools asking foolish questions.”

Just to pad the answer a little bit, Grandma, what else do you know about toilet paper?

“The Chinese invented it. Even made super-luxurious perfumed stuff for the emperor more than a thousand years ago. The average American goes through 23.6 rolls per year, according to the industry. National Geographic says we lose 27,000 trees a day to make the world’s supply. Okay, is that it?”

Weeeell, no. What about four-ply. Got any four-ply?

“Yes, of course there’s four-ply. Touted as the most luxurious you can buy. Comes in bulk from China for one to three cents a roll. Minimum order, 10 to 20 thousand rolls, depending. England’s famous Tesco market sells soft, eucalyptus-fiber four-ply. One wholesaler says the stuff is ‘safe and fun to use!’ They don’t define ‘fun.’ Users have blogged that four-ply’s ‘Soft! Amazing!’ Flickr has a pic of a sandwich board in front of a Düsseldorf Irish pub that reads, ‘Shit service, warm beer, crap music, but 4-ply toilet paper.’ Now can I go?”

Wait — five-ply? Six-ply? Grandma? Hey....

Hi Matt:

Why do light bulbs go poof when you turn them on, never while they’re turned on and burning and having been for hours? Maybe some expire in use in an abandoned garage, but I’ve never seen a bulb give up the ghost unless it happens just as I’m turning the switch on. Strange.

— PM, La Jolla

As your light bulb filament glows away in its glassy prison, minuscule bits of metal fly off it and deposit themselves on the inside of the bulb. The filament gets thinner and weaker as it burns. Finally, one day, you flip the switch, the sudden surge of current is too much for the wimpy wire to bear, and its little brain explodes. Listen closely next time. Maybe you’ll hear a tiny scream. Rarely, you might switch on a new bulb that’s not tightly vacuum-sealed to its base, and the whole filament flames out in one shot from the oxygen that’s crept inside. In either case, of course, you’re still stuck trying to decide which fixture to steal the replacement from.

Hiya Matt:

Why does Rx mean prescription?

— Wendy, San Diego

Rx is shorthand for recipe, the Latin imperative meaning “Take it!” What passed for doctors in medieval times wrote Recipe at the top of a page of instructions for patients. Eventually that was shortened to an R with a bar through it, maybe a quickly written R and E.

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Comments

deniseathome March 14, 2012 @ 1:15 p.m.

You want to know how I get 6 ply toilet paper? I fold or bunch up a wad of Costco's Kirkland brand toilet paper. Works every time. I never considered wiping ones unmentionables part of the "spa experience".

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Matthew_Alice March 14, 2012 @ 4:30 p.m.

A fine example of how clever and sensible you Alicelanders really are. Ignore Grandma. She doesn't know you as I do.

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Jay Allen Sanford March 14, 2012 @ 3:19 p.m.

Wouldn't the mandatory new "low-flow" toilets turn extra-thick multi-multi-ply paper into pipe-wrecking septic clogs? I once had a plumber tell me a little poem that has enjoyed maddening staying-power in my already trivia-overloaded brain:

"For every three wipes, twice-flush your pipes; ignore plumber's advice, it won't smell very nice."

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Matthew_Alice March 14, 2012 @ 4:50 p.m.

Yep. Big wads o' tissue are big wads o' plumbing problems. Might be one reason 3-ply is the upper limit of reasonably marketable bum wipe here. That doubly applies to septic systems. And I do sympathize that you have rhyming toilet-flush advice clogging up your pipes.

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Reader_reader March 16, 2012 @ 6:56 p.m.

There's something to be said for the quality of each ply.

There's a big difference between a quality 1-ply like Cottonelle* and the cheap 1-ply you can read a book through.

*(with or without aloe)

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