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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

Television rules, from the formal to the frivolous. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
/ Source: msnbc.com

Five-link Friday

• I found this roundup of fun to read. Some of them are formal, such as Star Trek's Prime Directive or Gene Autry's 10 Commandments for the Cowboy. Others, such as Bob Hartley's mother's admonition to chew every bite of food 32 times, are just flat-out funny. Excerpt: "As [Hartley's] mother reminded him 'Thirty-two times keeps your tummy from danger; then you can stay up and watch the Lone Ranger.' "

• Did you see Tom Hanks in "The Terminal," the movie about a man who, due to governmental red tape, lives at the airport? The about the man who inspired that film, Merhan Karimi Nasseri, who has spent the last 16 years living at Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport. (Link via .)

• Do you know about ? It's an e-mail newsletter that provides information on the political issues discussed on shows like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." (But it also covers shows like which work politics into their episodes more than you might think.)

• KISS frontman Gene Simmons has on his official site. Gene being Gene, most of it is taken up with his various attempts to market KISS products. Look for GeneJeans coming soon to a clothing store near you.

• If you've got a lot of time to kill and you like to laugh, check out X-Entertainment's feature in which . (Says Spidey: "Hmm. 'Blue' looks a tad lighter than I remember it being all those years ago. GREEN. HOUSE. EFFEC.T.") Warning: Spider-Man occasionally swears.

Foods of the Fair

I spent Labor Day weekend relaxing in my home state of Minnesota, visiting family and attending the Great Minnesota Get-Together, a.k.a. the .

When I told people where I was going, they reacted with bewilderment. Those who grew up outside the Gopher State's borders don't really comprehend what a major event the Fair is. Maybe they've attended county fairs, or seen them on TV, and think I'm headed for a tiny event where a hog-calling contest is the highlight of the week.

The Minnesota State Fair is nothing like that. The huge event (1.6 million attended the 12-day event this year) attracts urban, suburban and rural Minnesotans. There are rock concerts and talent shows, Ferris wheels and parades. The major political parties have booths — John Kerry and Dick Cheney both visited the Fair this year (though not together). Radio stations broadcast from the Fairgrounds, television networks do their nightly news from there. Almost everyone in Minnesota, it seems, goes to the Fair.

So much of my love for the Fair is wrapped up with memories — being guided around the grounds by my parents as a kid, scoping out cute boys while in high school, working at a technology booth in my 20s. The wonder of it is that so much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same. If you went to the Fair 20 years ago and haven't been back since you could still find your way around, still find familiar things in familiar places, but you'd also find a boatload of new exhibits and goodies.

The Fair is most famous for its food, which would never pass muster with a nutritionist. Mini-donuts, made fresh in front of you by a goofy little machine and tossed hot with sugar and cinnamon, are one of the most popular items. Cheese curds, gooey little cheese byproducts battered and deep-fried, have to be right up there, too. But those aside, a food just isn't Fair food unless it's on a stick. As of this year, there were 42 foods served on sticks at the Minnesota State Fair, and every year, a few more join the crowd. Between the two of us, my husband and I have sampled at least half of them (one year a friend and I decided we'd only eat Fair food that was on sticks).

Here's a roundup of some of the best, just in case you come across them at a Fair near you.

Deep-fried candy bars. I thought these were disgustingly sweet, but my husband disagrees, and wishes to inform the populace that Snickers, with its peanuts and caramel offering a bit of different texture, is the candy bar to choose.

Deep-fried Twinkies. Aren't Twinkies already deep-fried? OK, OK, , I guess they're baked, but as with the candy bars, I think this is overkill. Twinkies are already on their way to being the perfect food, why mess with junk-food perfection?

Pickles. The Fair does offer but they're sliced and served with dip, not on a stick. But the same stand offers what's called The Naked Pickle, enormous pickles on sticks for your sour snacking nirvana.

Macaroni and cheese. I admit, I had to order this just to see how the stick part of this dish was handled. From my dissection, it appears that they use large pasta, smear it all up with cheese, bread it and deep-fry it before skewering it with a stick. Doesn't translate well, and this is coming from a huge fan of the Kraft blue box mac and cheese. (Kraft Dinner to your Canadians.)

Chocolate-covered bananas. Anyone who's had a banana split knows that bananas and chocolate go great together. These treats are dipped in chocolate and frozen before being stuck on a stick: Kind of a bananas split without the ice cream, and with less muss and fuss.

Pork chops. I remember the year that pork chops on a stick first showed up at the Fair. The stick is really just a holding device (it's easier to eat the chop if you take it off the stick and hold it by the bone), but it's the tasty, peppery spices on the meat that make the lines at these booths wind down to Wisconsin.

Corn dogs, Pronto Pups, Poncho Dogs. There are two kinds of Fairgoers: People who swear all three of these breaded hot dogs on sticks taste the same, and people who have a definite favorite and insist upon its superiority. My husband insists that the cornmeal in the corn dog breading makes it the preferred pooch, but admittedly, they're all the same to me: And I like them with ketchup, not mustard.

Deep-fried Reubens. This new Fair food item is one of those items you have to see to believe . . . and even then, you might not believe your eyes. When I first saw a deep-fried Reuben on a stick, I confused it with a chocolate-covered banana. It's as dark as chocolate and about the same shape. But it turns out that the dog is dark because of a pumpernickel or rye bread coating, which covers the corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut filling. (Russian or Thousand Island dressing, I'm not sure which, is provided for dipping.). I didn't try this, but a friend said it needed more sauerkraut.

Cob dogs. For years, the Fair's Corn Hut has been a hit. It offers up freshly roasted corn on the cob dipped in a barrel o' butter. But this year, the deep-fried passion got to it: The fresh corn is still offered, but another booth offers up corn cobs that have been lightly battered and fried. My husband enjoyed it, but to me, the batter added a corn fritter-like sweetness that overwhelmed the fresh corn taste. Hmm, I guess the Cob dogs aren't really on sticks, but then again, cobs are like sticks.

The Fair was fabulous, but I admit I feel a little bit like after his 30-day McDonald's diet: Perhaps it's time to detox, until next year.

Five-link Friday

Have a restful Labor Day weekend!

• The new season of "The Apprentice," the Donald Trump-headed reality show that was such a surprise hit last year, returns Sept. 9. The new "Apprentice" contestants . You have to be a Friendster member to view them — that membership is free, but obviously, Friendster and NBC put together a deal. Link via .

• Speaking of cheesy promotions: Have you see the ? Trade you a Marge for a Milhouse. (They have Milhouse, right? Right?)

• Maybe I should save this for next Mother's Day, but eh, forget it: I'm Shirley Partridge, apparently.

• Proof that one can always take a TV show entirely seriously: Fun essay on , of "Gilligan's Island." I never actually wondered about why the castaways still considered Mr. Howell's money important — I was too busy worrying about why the Professor could make a radio out of a coconut but couldn't fix the darn boat. Link via .

• Think you could be the next Tolkien or J.K. Rowling? Here's a fun page of . Link via .

Test Pattern Book Club: "Friday Night Lights"

At a movie theater last week, I caught a glimpse of a poster for the movie due out in October. It's a — showing the Permian Panthers' football helmets all hanging in front of their lockers — but it made me miss the .

The original cover featured three players holding hands as they walk out on the football field, and I imagine the filmmakers wanted to use an image from the movie rather than of the real players for their poster. But I'm hoping that the movie reflects the book's brave, moving story more than the usual Hollywood offering does. (And , does in one scene reproduce the cover I love — another good sign.)

"Friday Night Lights" is one of those books you just want to push onto everyone you know, urging them to read it. "Sports Illustrated" agreed, adding it to the magazine's list of top 5 sports books of all time.

Journalist H. G. Bissinger left the Philadelphia Inquirer and moved his family and his life to Odessa, Texas in 1988. There he delved into a life that seemed perfectly normal to Odessans, but bizarre to those not raised in the West Texas devotion to football. The Permian High Panthers played to crowds of 20,000, taking chartered jets to games. Cheerleaders went crazy catering to the players' every need.

Da Capo Press

Bissinger chronicled not just the Panthers football season, but life in a racially divided area struggling to stay afloat economically and socially.

That's the formal version. But he also told real stories of real people, and even those who don't care about football will be sucked in to the drama. Perhaps the book's most memorable character, Boobie Miles, is a star who has everything going for him — until an injury threatens his future before it has even begun.

Bissinger was seemingly everywhere in Odessa — on the practice field, in the locker room, in English class, at players' homes. His honesty painted Odessans as human, some with glaring flaws that only seemed bigger and brighter when they were spelled out for all America to read. And the town was not exactly thrilled with being held up to a mirror: Bissinger was threatened after the book was published, and many in the town refused to believe the portrayal.

But news stories are starting to trickle out now, in advance of the film, that paint a somewhat different picture. It seems that Odessans, or some of them, have come to grips with the book. An article in the New York Times this spring talked to residents who say they've changed, and the town has changed. Quarterback Brian Chavez, now a lawyer, says that the book was extremely accurate.

"Friday Night Lights," the movie, will get its share of attention when it hits theaters — Billy Bob Thornton plays Permian coach Gary Gaines. But ths book could get overshadowed once the movie becomes the definitive image. If you can, do grab a copy. Being 10 years old, it's easy to find a library copy or paperback, and it's well worth the time.