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On Roaches, Coffee and All Those Credits at the Start of a Movie

On Roaches, Coffee and All Those Credits at the Start of a Movie

What’s happening, Curious Cats? This is The Sassy Lass, your friendly neighborhood brainiac. In this edition, I tackle tough questions about cockroaches, coffee and the Hollywood system.


Dear Sassy Lass: Why do roaches lie on their backs when they die? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dead roach on its feet.

The average citizen – i.e., neither a gross-out-obsessed child nor an entomologist – would probably prefer to never see another cockroach again, living or dead. That’s because when we see them, it’s in a space we’d like to believe is sanitary (our homes), and we associate roaches with filth.

To combat their presence, we use everything from diatomaceous earth (nontoxic to people but it shreds bug exoskeletons) to hazardous chemicals in insecticides. Most insecticides are organophosphate nerve poisons that inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the nerve-to-muscle neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). This leads to tremors and muscle spasms.

Roaches are pretty much all thorax and abdomen teetering around on three pairs of skinny legs. Those spasms and tremors lead to loss of muscle control, then loss of balance and the roaches fall over on their backs. If their legs don’t work, the roaches can’t grab on to anything to right themselves and they die flipped over.

Some insecticides affect respiration, which can also kill a cockroach by making it too weak to move, resulting in the roach’s legs collapsing underneath itself and it dying on its abdomen.

It’s important to note that in the wild, few cockroaches die on their backs. Roaches are snacks for bats, birds and other small creatures, which means they’re dying in the mouths and tummies of these beasts. So the next time you spy cockroach carcasses with legs folded into their thoraxes, remember: they didn’t lie that way. They died that way.

Dear Sassy Lass: Why is there a coffee called Chock full o’Nuts? It sounds weird to have nuts in coffee.

There’s often a lot more than meets the eye in product brand names, but in this case it is just a name. There are not now, nor have there even been, nuts in Chock full o’Nuts Coffee.

The original business name comes from a New York chain of 1920s shelled nut shops founded by William Black. In 1932, with the Great Depression in full swing, Black converted his 18 Chock full o’Nuts shops into lunch counters, where diners could get a sandwich and a cup of coffee for a nickel. It’s from here that the Chock full o’Nuts coffee brand was born.

Speaking of hard times, it does makes sense that someone would assume there’d be something other than coffee beans in coffee – there’s historical precedent for it. Due to bean shortages during the Civil War, ground roasted chicory root was used as a coffee substitute. Café Du Monde, a blend of coffee and chicory, remains a New Orleans favorite.

The most well-known coffee substitutes during WWII were German Ersatzkaffee (roasted chicory, rice and peas), and all-American Postum (roasted wheat bran, wheat and molasses).

A few years ago, Chock full o’Nuts added the slogan “NO NUTS! 100 percent Coffee” to its packaging – presumably to both dispel confusion about its contents, and to assuage nut allergy fears. Thanks to reader E. S. H. for submitting this question.

Dear Sassy Lass: Every movie starts with all these credits. First there’s the studio – Paramount, Universal, etc. – then a boatload of company names: Bad Robot, Lionsgate, Village Roadshow, Dreamworks. Sometimes there are a half dozen or more. Who are these companies and what are their roles?

My dear Film Fan, these are examples of film studios, film production and/or distribution companies.

A film studio, Paramount Pictures, for example, has its own privately owned studio facilities used to make films. It is a subsidiary of U.S. media conglomerate Viacom.

Production companies (Bad Robot) handle the actual production process: money, scheduling, scripting, hiring talent and staff, the actual production, post-production, distribution and marketing. Movies are produced under business entities that finance films. There may also be several different production companies that all contribute to the making of a movie, which is why you see the phrase “In Association with …” in the credits.

Film distributors are responsible for marketing a film, and are usually different from the production company. It is the company that sells the movie to theaters, television, DVD, etc.

Got Qs? The Sassy Lass might have some As! Send your questions to thesassylass@freeabq.com today. Your question could be next.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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