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June 13, 2005

Las Vegas and Two Unrelated Questions

To catch y'all up one the last few days:

* We had a good time in Las Vegas. I'm not a huge fan of Vegas, but it's not designed with me in mind, since I don't drink, gamble or whore, so this is not a huge surprise. Krissy, however, enjoys two of these three (I leave it to your imaginations to guess which two, you sick freaks), and indeed, thanks to her skill at one of them, we came out with more money than we went in (that would be gambling, by the way. Jeez). Also, thanks to the single unpleasant event of the stay, which involved a jerk on the dance floor, we got about 40% of the cost of our stay knocked off our room bill. This didn't do us much good, since our stay was paid for by other people, but I'm sure they appreciated it. And since the event wasn't really that unpleasant (more like annoying), the ratio of unpleasantness to reward was a good one.

As noted earlier, we were there for a wedding, of our friends Joe Rybicki (who is my editor at the Official US Playstation Magazine) and his new bride Kim. I officiated, which is always a pleasure; there's very little I enjoy more than marrying off two people I really like, and Kim and Joe certainly count in that category. The whole wedding was lovely; it took place at the House of Blues Foundation Room, which if you've never been to is simply a gorgeous little hideout at the top of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Vegas is famous for having places that look like other places, and this place was right out of either New Orleans or Bangkok, take your pick. If you have a chance to go, I recommend it. And the wedding party and the guests were all fine and interesting folks. It's possible you had a better time on Saturday than we did, but I doubt it.

Aside from the wedding, I came to Las Vegas with only one thing in mind, and here it is:

Yes, I had me a Double-Double, animal style. Twice. And it keeps getting better each time you have one. After I was done with my first Double-Double, Krissy asked me if there was anything else I wanted to do in Vegas, and I said "Nope. I'm good." What can I say, I'm a simple man.

Also, a note to all mid-westerners who persist in trying to compare White Castle to In-N-Out: Stop. Just stop. There is no comparison between the two; it's like trying to compare potted meat food product to kobe beef. I wouldn't feed White Castle to my dog. Every time to you try to suggest that White Castle and In-N-Out are even in the same phylum of edibility, you embarrass yourself, and show your ignorance of what a hamburger should be. I beg you. Stop. Now.

Now, two absolutely unrelated questions:

* Does anyone know of a spellchecker one can use with Firefox on the Mac? I'm not finding a spellcheck extension for the Firefox browser at all (much less on the Mac), and I would love to find one since I'm writing these more on the Mac these days, and a spellcheck would make me look less like an idiot.

* Also, I've been invited to appear at Confluence, which is a small literary-oriented con in Pittsburgh (or so they tell me). It's about a month away, and I'm trying to decide whether I have time to fit it into my schedule, which is very tight these days. Has anyone been to this con in previous years? Tell me what you've thought about it.

Posted by john at June 13, 2005 02:10 PM

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Mykal | June 13, 2005 02:53 PM

Insanely jealous of the In and out burger! As a New Englander I only get to get them on rare once or twice a year trips to CA to visit my boyfriends family. They are oh so good, and nothing like any other fast food chain at all.

MAB | June 13, 2005 02:55 PM

Does Spellbound not work for you?

Scott | June 13, 2005 02:57 PM

Sometimes, I wonder if the monetary premiums I pay to live in California are justified... Then I remember that if I want In'N'Out my choices are California or desert (Arizona and Nevada).

I don't even eat there that often... but there's a delicious joy in smelling the burgers from across the street and saying, "Nah, I can get one tomorrow if I really want it then."

(Yes, this post was brought to you by petty spite and sneering boastfulness.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | June 13, 2005 03:07 PM

I like White Castle -- a fact which rightly horrifies Teresa -- but you're right, it's an entirely different order of object from an In-N-Out burger. In-N-Out burgers are actual food.

You never answered my question on your other blog, though: what bees this "animal style"?

Ken Wootton | June 13, 2005 03:12 PM

John, I use the SpellBound spellchecker for Firefox. It looks like they have a Mac port. It rocks.


Paul | June 13, 2005 03:17 PM

I do miss In and Out Burger, one of the few good things about my sojourn in Orange County, CA.

OTOH, Culvers and Fuddruckers work well enough for the purpose.

White Castle is just vile.

Mris | June 13, 2005 03:21 PM

I can't stand White Castle -- even their hot cocoa is horrible -- and I can't see why anyone would confuse them with In-N-Out, where they slice actual vegetables before your very eyes and then put them on your sandwich.

That said, I managed to live in California for four years and never consume an In-N-Out burger. I only want a hamburger about every two years. So I'm not the person to compare the flavor, just the ingredients/atmosphere.

Emily | June 13, 2005 03:22 PM

Does "turn on spell check while typing" not work for you in Firefox? As in, the global Mac spellchecker?

Kevin Q | June 13, 2005 03:24 PM

john said:
I wouldn't feed White Castle my dog.

I think, perhaps, that what you meant to say was:

I wouldn't feed White Castle to my dog.

However, having occassionally had White Castle burges inflicted upon me, I would have to say that you are doing the world a disservice by not letting White Castle make burgers out of your dog. Such a step would increase the quality of meat they use exponentially.

Just sayin'.


Piscusfiche | June 13, 2005 03:40 PM

Never had White Castle, but of course, I've had In-N-Out, and I can certainly vouch for its tastiness. Still my two favourite burger places are joints north of the border--up in Calgary, AKA Cowtown, where they use some lovely lovely Alberta beef: Peter's Drive-In (legendary to Calgarians) and Burger Inn (less legendary but still voted among the best burgers in the city). Burger Inn also has ostrich and buffalo burgers. Mmmm. (And poutine. Fries, graNever underestimate the savoury delights of arteriosclerosis in a bucket.)

John Scalzi | June 13, 2005 03:44 PM

MAB asks:

"Does Spellbound not work for you?"

Not yet, as I hadn't heard of it before. However, now I will try it.

PNH asks:

"What bees this 'animal style'?"

Patrick, the answer and other pertinent In-N-Out nomenclature await you here:


Paul says:

"OTOH, Culvers and Fuddruckers work well enough for the purpose."

Yes, I'll second the Culvers -- not very much like In-N-Out (they pound their burgers flat, for one thing), but still a fine burger which I will happily consume (and there's one down the road from me, to boot!).

JonathanMoeller | June 13, 2005 03:48 PM

I'd just like to say that I approve of excellent cheeseburgers in general.

Why, oh, why, must something that is SO good be so unhealthy? Alas!

Phillip J. Birmingham [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 13, 2005 04:24 PM

Yes, I'll second the Culvers

Thirded, and I am pleased at the way they are springing up like mushrooms all over. I'd never seen one until a few years ago in Lake Geneva, and now you can't swing a dead cat without hittin' one.

Eliani Torres | June 13, 2005 04:41 PM

I can't bring myself to go to the In-N-Outs that have an inside seating area to them! Old school, I guess, or too nostalgic. On the drive from San Diego to SF a year ago, I insisted on stopping at my old local, the In-N-Out on San Bernardino Road. I'll be in L.A. in about a week, and looking forward to being back in the land of the Golden Arrow.


elizabeth bear | June 13, 2005 04:57 PM


In-N-Out Burger.


There are those who proclaim Fatburger to be its equal, or even superior. But they do not know the Way, and they do not follow the Path.

David Graham | June 13, 2005 05:28 PM

The only thing you have to watch with Spellbound is that you need to load a dictonary. If you don't it doesn't spell check anything and it doesn't seem to come with a dictonary.


You'll want to go there and install the dictionaries you want. Once you've got them installed properly Spellbound works great.

David Graham | June 13, 2005 05:35 PM

Also while we're on the topic of extentions if you've never used foxytunes, go and get it right now.


Puts controls for whatever audio player you happen to be using right in firefox.

John Scalzi | June 13, 2005 06:06 PM

Eliani Torres writes:

"I can't bring myself to go to the In-N-Outs that have an inside seating area to them!"

In principle I support this, although on a really hot day in the east San Gabriel Valley, air conditioning is nice. Also, as a practical matter, it's easier to fit a bunch of people inside than it is to seat them comfortably outside, given In-N-Out's standard benches. But yes, if you're gonna to it old school you shouldn't even get out of your car; you just go through the drive through, park, and snorkel through your burger.

Nat Lanza | June 13, 2005 06:56 PM

I've been to Confluence. I'm not really much of a convention person or all that into fan culture, but it seemed nice enough. Kinda sleepy, but polite and friendly. Generally a kinda laid-back literary crowd that wanted to talk about books instead of dress up like Klingons, but there were at least a few very out-of-place-looking people in costume.

One downside is that it's not technically in Pittsburgh itself -- it's about 20 miles out, between the airport and the city. This is fine if you just plan to fly or drive in and spend your time at the convention, but you end up in a big anonymous commercial/industrial park in what could be pretty much anywhere in the US. You'll need to drive a ways to actually see the city or anything interesting other than a big mall store.

Anyway. I only went for an afternoon, and it was about seven years ago, but I left unharmed, so I guess that's worth something. Hopefully there's someone from the Pittsburgh area here who's more convention-positive and can be more help.

Byron | June 13, 2005 08:39 PM

To the earlier question about "animal style:"

It is the One True Way to get your Double Double (or 4x4 or 6x8 or whatever---you can actually order an arbitrarily large collection of meat and cheese), thats all you need to know. Ingredients, cooking methods, these are all secondary to the fact that the Gods (yes, all of them) want you to eat your burger that way.

Tom Nixon | June 13, 2005 09:14 PM

But yes, if you're gonna to it old school you shouldn't even get out of your car; you just go through the drive through, park, and snorkel through your burger.

Yep. That sounds just like the one on Arrow Highway in Covina, CA.

Erbo [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 13, 2005 09:51 PM

Ah, In-N-Out...one of the things I left behind when I left California. When I was in college, my parents would take the inland route to get me between home in San Diego and college in Santa Barbara...and we'd always stop off at the In-N-Out in Pomona for Double-Doubles. Here in Colorado, we have a chain called Good Times, which is almost as good as In-N-Out but just isn't the same. (They do serve frozen custard though. Yum!)

Plus, of course, you could vandalize their bumper stickers so they read "In-N-Out Urge." :-)

Bowler | June 13, 2005 10:40 PM

I finally had my first In-n-Out when we went to check out some motion capture hardware out in Orange earlier this year.

I have to say, that while it was a damn fine burger, it is not my end-all-be-all burger, as many Californians insist (i.e. the guys who took us there). I guess I'm spoiled living in Chicagoland. Not only did Culvers open up all over the place out here (the third good thing Wisconsin has brought the world), but we have our very own Portillos chain (John, next time you come to Chicago please eat there if you haven't already when at UIC). Then there's the countless mini-chains like Snoopy's, or even the gourmet burger restaurant Ed Debevic's where they'll even insult you 50's style while you eat. So we're fairly well versed in the realm of the damn fine burger (and no, White Castle does NOT count. Ugh. Steam cooked meat is for, well, it just should not be).

I wouldn't necessarily call them Nirvana, but In-n-Out is as close as any of them will come. I enjoyed it, and would eat there again.

mythago | June 14, 2005 12:06 AM

White Castle doesn't even have the excuse of being a regional specialty that locals love, and outsiders ask "How the hell can you STAND that stuff!", cf. Vernors, Yoo-Hoo, nato. As a teenager in the Midwest, a rite of passage was to actually go to White Castle and order a five-burger meal (and, yes, eat it).

John, you forgot that whoring is technically illegal in Las Vegas itself.

Dan Blum | June 14, 2005 01:31 AM

I've never had an In-n-Out burger but I would be very surprised if it were not better than Ed Debevic's burger, which is nothing special. Likewise Culver's - it's a decent burger, but I wouldn't go out of my way for one, nor the custard neither.

Of course, I have yet to understand what is so great about custard - yes, it's nice and dense and creamy, but I never managed to find any that had anything like as good a flavor as a good homemade ice cream (or Haagen-Dasz or Ben & Jerry's, for that matter). Having tried not only Culver's but also Kopp's, Omega, and just about every other major Milwaukee custard purveyor - give me Herrell's or JP Licks any day.

White Castle, now, is in a class by itself.

smith | June 14, 2005 02:09 AM

While I can't say a great deal the great hamburger debate, I know a bit about the Burgh. It has a very good literary scene for a city of its size. I don’t know much about Sci-Fi, so I can’t really speak to that specific conference, but I doubt if you’d be disappointed.

Mr. Scalzi was right; the area around the airport is pretty destitute and far from the city. If you decide to visit, I recommend staying at least one night so you can drive through the Fort Pitt tunnels. Even during the day, it is one of the most spectacular cityscapes you will see, and at night it is absolutely stunning.

Oh, and if traveling great distances for large slabs of meat on bread is your thing, check out Primati Brothers in town.

Jeff Porten | June 14, 2005 02:28 AM

I hate to change the topic from pounded meat patties, but call me curious -- exactly what gambling is Krissy good at? Ya see, to mathematically precise me, you can only be good at blackjack and poker (and a few video poker machines), whereas at most other games you can only be less bad.

And to be good at a $5 blackjack table requires about $30,000, hence my confusion. 'Cause if you've got a poker-playing wife and you haven't mentioned it before, shame on you.

uhura | June 14, 2005 04:26 AM

Dude, White Castle vs In N Out Burger is like Apples vs Oranges, really. I LOVED White Castle as a kid growing up, and was happy when they started making them frozen so I could buy them way out west.

But like Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds, it's highly possible that White Castle just isn't like it was when I was a kid. And it's not just me growing up...I *remember* the old Original style chicken as well as before McD's changed their cheeseburger and bun type.

And now I realize just how sad it is that I can potentially chart my youth by the menu and quality change in fast food establishments.

Sue | June 14, 2005 09:24 AM

Fuddruckers makes a damn fine burger and also a useful fake curse word. Try it for yourself: "Oh, Fuddruckers."

Q | June 14, 2005 11:42 AM

I'd never even heard of an In-N-Out before this post... but it sounds a bit like a drive thru whorehouse... Ironically, so does Hot-N-Now, which is a little burger chain from back home... Course ,those burgers were nothing special on taste, fairly McD's like... but cheap cheap cheap for the college student.

Fuddruckers and Culver's though... definitely tasty.

Eliani Torres | June 14, 2005 12:20 PM

"Yep. That sounds just like the one on Arrow Highway in Covina, CA."

I'm blurry on the Arrow Hwy one, but grew up in Covina (between in the square between Vincent, Cypress, Irwindale, and San Bernardino). I think the San Bernardino Road restaurant is actually just over the line in West Covina. Circa 1949 to 1954—somewhere in there; I just wish I could remember exactly. I specifically looked for the date last time I visited. Ah well.

Just saw this interesting bit online:

"In-N-Out is one of the very few fast food chains in the United States to pay its employees significantly above the government-mandated minimum wage level — at least an additional 2 or 3 dollars per hour — and to also offer complete fringe benefits, which are almost unheard of in the industry. All employees are invited to attend an annual company picnic, given gifts at
Christmas, and participate in a variety of other company-sponsored activities. Thus, In-N-Out enjoys lower employee turnover, so its workers tend to be better trained and more efficient when compared to other fast food restaurants. Furthermore, In-N-Out is generally more highly selective in the hiring process of its employees. It is one of the few chains to receive a positive mention in the book,
Fast Food Nation."

I just remember the cutest guys worked there in high school, with those little white hats.

justfred | June 14, 2005 01:22 PM

Haven't been to In-N-Out in a while, since the one near me (Culver City) is always too crowded - even the drive through line blocks traffic. But lately when I visit, I have the "Carnivore Style" - Animal Style + Protein Style. All the mess, only a few of the carbs. Ironically, when I was trying to be vegetarian (foolish) I enjoyed their "grilled cheese animal style" - everything but the meat.

And I don't really believe you got tattoos. In any case, please keep us appraised when you get anything pierced.

BTW, the other day I saw your "Dumb" book on an endcap in Borders (La Cienega + 3rd, LA). My girlfriend was less impressed than she should have been with, "Hey, I know him!"

John Scalzi | June 14, 2005 01:24 PM

Yeah, The Books of the Dumb don't get much respect, they just sell. Lots.

.sara | June 14, 2005 02:16 PM

Seconding Ellen's tidbit: In-N-Out's a wonderful place to work (2 1/2-year stint, myself). I still have my ginormous apron pins, even. (:

I know it's described in the link above, but here it is anyway:

Animal Style: mustard is cooked into the patty (put on to it before it's flipped on the grill), grilled onions, pickles, extra tomatoes & cheese & spread. See also: YUM.

The largest burger I ever saw made was a 13 x 13. And the guys didn't eat it-- well, I mean, one guy didn't eat it on his own. There were 4 of them and they took sections. (We didn't even bother trying to wrap the thing; we just stacked it in a small "in your car" box on end.)

Jeff Zugale | June 14, 2005 02:25 PM

Oh, me loves the In-N-Out Burgers. I haven't had one in a while, which I need to rectify.

Great that you've experienced some of the best burger on earth, John!

I also love White Castles, but then again I'm from New Jersey originally, which tells you a lot. BTW, Harold and Kumar didn't have to drive all the way to Cherry Hill, there's a perfectly good WC on Rt. 22 in the Kenilworth area. And the one in Verona is still there, but isn't 24/7 anymore. Sigh.

(disclaimer: .sara is my friend and often co-consumer of INO double-doubles)

Mike Kozlowski | June 14, 2005 08:30 PM

Likewise Culver's - it's a decent burger, but I wouldn't go out of my way for one, nor the custard neither.

Crazy! Of course, when I lived in Wisconsin, I was all blase about Culver's; but now that I can't get it except on trips (although they're edging east along I-94, so I have hope for the future), I think it's one of the world's great burgers.

A Bacon Butterburger Deluxe with cheese curds is a powerful force for culinary good and dietary evil.

Of course, I have yet to understand what is so great about custard - yes, it's nice and dense and creamy, but I never managed to find any that had anything like as good a flavor as a good homemade ice cream (or Haagen-Dasz or Ben & Jerry's, for that matter). Having tried not only Culver's but also Kopp's

It's the texture, really. It's got the soft creaminess of soft-serve ice cream without being vaguely icky the way that soft-serve is. (And Kopp's is one of those awful "good local place" scams, where they get by on some bizarre kind of positive vibe despite selling horrifically awful food. My coworkers back in Milwaukee always wanted to go there for lord knows what reason, and it was just stunningly bad every time.)

andrew | June 15, 2005 05:35 AM

I was going to say that Emily said it first: control-click in any text box, select Spelling/Check Spelling as You Type. Works fine. Except it works fine in Safari, not Firefox.

Dan Blum | June 15, 2005 06:03 PM

It's the texture, really. It's got the soft creaminess of soft-serve ice cream without being vaguely icky the way that soft-serve is. (And Kopp's is one of those awful "good local place" scams, where they get by on some bizarre kind of positive vibe despite selling horrifically awful food. My coworkers back in Milwaukee always wanted to go there for lord knows what reason, and it was just stunningly bad every time.)

That's not how I recall custard texture at all, but in any case I don't much care about the texture as long as it's not slimy or too tough to chew. For taste, custard is certainly a cut above some supermarket brands of ice cream, but definitely below the "superpremium" brands, and far below what you get from a good ice cream shop.

As for Kopp's, I don't know that I ever ate any of their burgers or such (I have at Omega - they're average). If their custard was distinguishable from that at Culver's or anywhere else, the differences were too subtle for my palate.

Nat Lanza | June 15, 2005 10:06 PM

Actually, to connect the burger discussion and the Pittsburgh one, if our host *does* end up going to Confluence, he should try and find his way to Tessaro's in Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood, which has stunningly good burgers. Big juicy slabs of beef grilled over hardwood with tasty toppings.


jaime | June 25, 2005 01:49 PM

don't know much about confluence, but i'm a relocated pittsburgher, and i have to say, there are indeed a large number of sci-fi geeks with your sort of dry wry sense of humor, so you'd prolly have fun. and tessaros is good, but the bloomfield bridge tavern is MUCH better.

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