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According to Grandma Alice, the Christmas theme at our house this year will be Homeland Security. She's registered at the local army surplus store so we'll know exactly what to put in her stocking. The elves were hoping to get giant-screen TVs, but I overheard Grandma on the phone negotiating a group rate on tiny gas masks. She's even developed her own color-coded terrorist threat system and posted it on the refrigerator:

-- If she's wearing the pink apron with the ruffles, we should remain tranquil and centered but mindfully alert.

-- Red plaid apron: Appear polite, but be vaguely suspicious of all strangers, and let them know you don't trust them.

-- Blue apron with embroidered bunnies: Within the next week, a probable threat might exist in some place at some time, but we can't tell you what, where, or when that will be; and, trust us, it's in your best interest that you not know any details.

-- Green apron she got last Christmas: Don't answer the phone or use your own name.

-- Green apron she got last Mother's Day: Leave the house only if necessary; keep radios tuned to phone-in talk shows.

-- "Kiss the Cook" apron: Grandma is having a bad day; do your own laundry, do not ask for pie.

I've been mindfully putting together our end-of-the-year review. As much as you all complain, I know you'd miss it if I didn't. In these troubled times, we'll be grading on a curve. Best of all, actions that in the past we might have called cheating will now be relabeled public cooperation in the interest of national safety and patriotism. But Grandma has asked that each of you show two picture IDs and register in her book of potentially suspicious people so we can keep an eye on you just in case you do something potentially suspicious.

1. True or false: The game of craps was invented by John Crapper, the same guy who invented the toilet; and parchesi used to be played with real cheese.

2. In her book on how to duplicate junk food in your own kitchen, Gloria Pitzer's recipe for Twinkie filling requires whipping together: (a) mineral oil and powdered sugar; (b) blow-in foam wall insulation and powdered sugar; (c) shaving cream and corn syrup; (d) none of the above, though they probably would work too.

3. When El Centro was named, it was in the middle of: (a) nowhere; (b) a get-rich-eventually plan in which a city was built with the hopes that people would eventually find it and come up with a reason to move there; (c) yeah, really, the b. story is mostly true and only a slight exaggeration; really, we wouldn't kid you. The answer is b. Really. (d) Oh, well, now that I've said that, maybe the answer is c.

4. Which of the following are true in regard to the unbelievably stupid 143 (I Love You) thing?

(a) 143 multiplied by 1000 is how many emails M.A. got explaining that 1-4-3 is the number of letters in I Love You and is part of a larger dictionary of pager shorthand, and well, duh, Matthew.... (b) Matthew Alice is unrepentant for not knowing this. (c) Actually, Matthew Alice is proud to have not known this. (d) Consider Matthew Alice a grumpy old so-and-so for not knowing and not caring? Hey, 245...(can you tell that's Spanish?).

5. Rank these real events in the order of their uselessness to practical living: (a) California names West Coast Swing its state dance; (b) California passes a law (VC 23114) that essentially requires a motorist filing a broken-windshield claim against a dirt-hauling company to prove the offending rock came from the truck's cargo, not its tire treads or the road surface; (c) Rob Weller, ex-U of Washington cheerleader and Entertainment Tonight tube boob returns to his school for a 1981 football game against Stanford and invents the wave; (d) Neil Diamond receives full sports scholarship to NYU (fencing).

6. Essay question: Ten years ago, a survey of Matthew Alice questions revealed that the subjects that baffled you most often were bugs and beer. We've evolved to the point where the most frequently asked questions in 2002 had to do with bugs and underwear. Offer some rational explanation for why this should be. Speculate on what this says about all of you. Present well thought out arguments for why I should continue this charade for another year in the face of that kind of evidence.

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