Zero Boys

Indianapolis’ Zero Boys were among the have-nots of American second-wave punk, its catalogue a subsistence diet of urgent, upended blasts of tuneful mucus. Because they broke up before amassing enough material to allow anyone to define an ascent or decline, there’s a sort of eternal mystery of possibility surrounding the band. These days they’re making the reunion rounds in the distant wake of another reissue, laying into 30-year old anthems as well suited to partying in a basement as to skateboarding on speed.

Thu., Aug. 29, 8 p.m., 2013


Seven Ways of Looking at a Twinkie

Here’s a commercial circa 1970 featuring “Twinkie the Kid.”

It was 1933 when the first Twinkie rolled off the assembly line, manufactured by Continental Baking Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. The inspiration was strawberry shortcake, and the crème-filled snack was intended to be something of a substitute during the months when strawberries were not available.

Twinkies are also the stuff of urban myth. One says that Twinkies are so laced with artificial preservatives that one will last 100 years without appreciable decay. Another suggests that Twinkies won’t burn, and you could use them almost like asbestos. Twinkie – delicious snack, pernicious pouch of chemicals, or indispensible cultural artifact? Now that we’ve learned that this much-loved (or perhaps not-enough-loved) cake treat is about to be discontinued, here are seven different ways of looking at it.


Michael Pollan decries the greater cost of carrots over Twinkies.

From 2008, here’s a clip that treats Twinkies as fodder for competitive eating, ala Nathan’s franks, with a soundtrack you can dance to.

Did you know Twinkies are fireproof? Well this pseudo-scientific experiment proves it, while coming to some dubious conclusions.

A method for making homemade Twinkies

A warning about eating Twinkie wiener sandwiches

How Twinkies are manufactured


When I Come to Die Tries to Live at LCT3

Every one of the 3,000-plus U.S. inmates currently sitting on Death Row must have a bleak story to tell of brutality and despair. But in When I Come to Die, a new prison drama premiering under Thomas Kail’s direction at LCT3, playwright Nathan Louis Jackson chooses to write a sweet, uplifting execution tale—as if striving to accentuate the positive in America’s worst sociopathic nightmares.

Damon Robinson (Chris Chalk) came to his onstage cell from the rough side of Indianapolis; when the play opens, he has just received a temporary, unexpected reprieve after his lethal injection miraculously malfunctioned. Through his subsequent blooming friendships with a kindly priest (Neal Huff) and lonely blockmate (David Patrick Kelly), the anger-fueled Robinson gradually softens. The play delivers its warm-hearted message unashamedly: Even a condemned baby-killer can find meaning by helping others. Jackson denies us information about the homicides darkening these two inmates’ pasts until the last moments, so we can perceive the characters without moral judgments. But despite Chalk’s focused performance, there’s no convincing indication in the play that this is a man who has both killed and been sentenced to die. A Death Row where residents strive for—and tidily achieve—personal growth? Harder evidence is needed.



Most fans’ (including the President’s) brackets are in shambles, thanks to all the upsets and the Final Four being held in Indianapolis, so this may be the championship in which you should go to a party when the big game comes around. (Congrats to Cornell and Syracuse for being the only New York teams still hanging in the NCAA as we go to press.) Two sports bars we recommend: Bar XII (206 East 34th Street, 212-595-9912) has two bars, 20 plasma screens, 12 smaller screens, and, if that’s not enough, “sound dogs,” which let you plug into audio for the game of your choice from a barstool. They have a terrific menu with conventional bar food, but for a change of pace, try their bruschetta, chicken sliders, or comfort food like mac-and-cheese. Manny’s on Second (1770 Second Avenue, 212-410-3300) just doubled their taps to offer an amazing 24 different drafts. With two floors and more than 40 flat-screens, there’s lots of room. And go for the wings—among the best we’ve tried!

Mon., April 5, 9 p.m., 2010


Grampball Jookabox’s Ropechain Is Vaguely Offensive Collage-Pop

There’s a song on Ropechain that encapsulates the album’s frustrating duality perfectly. It’s a snarky little number titled “The Girl Ain’t Preggers,” kicking off in the me-first macho vein of Spoon’s “Waiting for the Kid to Come Out.” Sampled drums slam, a funky bassline snaps like a thick rubber band, and David Adamson—the Indianapolis-based ringleader cracked enough to name his project after babyspeak for “Grandpa Jukebox”—sets about explaining why he’s not fit for fatherhood: “I need some money right now/Ain’t got no money/I can’t pay for no baby/I need some food right now/I wanna eat/Can’t feed no baby.” The self-deprecation parade marches on and on, gathering handclaps and bell-chimes like dander, until our slang-slinging protagonist is actually sort of bummed that he isn’t becoming a dad after all. With Ropechain, the emotional turnaround’s reversed: An initial, burning desire to hate everything about this album—the stylistic mish-mash, the artistic blackface, the blah cover art—gives way to wary admiration, even though it’s hard to shake the sense that its creator’s something of a jerk.

Adamson’s no Beck, but these days, who is? On “You Will Love My Boom,” he posits a version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience where the groundbreaking maestro doesn’t wring gallons of noxious feedback from his ax; on the majestically overblown “I Will Save Young Michael,” he gives Jacko a series of deeply sincere pep talks. “Black Girls,” meanwhile, places its titular subjects up on an electro-industrial pedestal without going all “Kill Whitey party” about it: “Black girls walk on tips of mountains/Jump in seas like they was fountains/Convince the earth to turn around again.” Adamson’s awe is inspiring to behold, and there’s an important lesson buried in Grampall Jookabox’s pop-collage growers: Never underestimate the audacity of dopes.


A Design of the Times

In today’s world of design, Form may still occasionally follow Function, but more than likely, Entertainment struts before both. At Cooper-Hewitt’s latest survey of everything from wallpaper to scramjets, the museum’s third triennial and the biggest yet, that urge to please couldn’t be clearer: From all corners, products and concepts joke, wink, coddle, grin, and dance. It’s a three-floor amusement park of a show that leaves you giddy (and exhausted), but wondering, in the end, if the big bold ideas have gotten lost in all the clowning around.

Still, it’s hard to resist the fun. Electroland’s cheerful stairway installation, a snaking panel of boxed white lights (resembling a keyboard turned on its side), treats you like a game-show champion, flashing bright sequences and playing mellow tones as it follows your steps—a mood booster for a run-down public. Not surprisingly, a similar device will try to energize weary travelers at the new Indianapolis Airport. In other motion-activated light and sound, J. Meejin Yoon’s vertical grid of blue LEDs expresses patterns under ambient music, though it doesn’t represent the designer at her best. A small sample of the kind of meditative piece Yoon has created for public spaces, and intended for nighttime viewing, the work’s effects barely register in the poorly chosen glass-roofed conservatory. Just as calming, and also employing LEDs, is James Carpenter’s Landscape/Light Threshold, which transforms daily video of the museum’s garden into an
impressionistic scene—a latter-day Monet for plug-‘n’-go geeks.

Household objects, too, are ingratiating in various degrees of whimsy. Brooklyn designer Jason Miller evokes a frat-house style with trompe l’oeil effects: an armchair patched with duct tape (sewn-on gray leather), a broken mirror repaired with Scotch tape (cleverly applied strips of glass). Green triangular coat hooks from Michael Meredith interlock and crawl along the wall like ivy (though their plastic spindles don’t appear capable of supporting much more than windbreakers). Elsewhere, Ron Gilad gives us an arachnid chandelier constructed from black desk lamps, as well as objects of what might be termed accidental design: Run Over by Car metal vases, which are exactly that.

There’s also humor, intentional or not, in Greg Lynn’s flatware: Shaped like leaves and shoots, the knives and forks seem to suggest that fantasy-garden lushness of art nouveau, but their textures are actually kind of spooky, not so much Mucha as Munsters. Frankly, after all the smirking, it comes as a great relief to encounter a little straight-faced utility. Leon Ransmeier and Gwendolyn Floyd’s designs—a snap-on sphere that becomes a light shade, for example, or a portable air-purifier for hoodless stoves—bear that austere elegance we associate with the Netherlands, where, it happens, both Americans have set up shop.

Upstaged by the wit, a sense of the new also gets waylaid by retro visions. Herman Miller’s basket-shaped booth, with molded foam seats, an oval table, and screens of a pale-green mesh, looks like an homage to a ’60s bar. Two kinds of reflective material, both in the form of polymer sheets, embrace 1975 (or thereabouts) in their names alone, Panelite and Sensitile; walls of the stuff—orange, sparkly, smooth, or bulging with parabolas—may appear for some to be an acid flashback. Planet Propaganda, a graphic-design firm, mimics and lampoons vintage styles, while Thom Browne does much the same with suits, saluting and grinning at narrow cuts, high lapels, and “flood” cuffs. You can imagine such an outfit on a man in the Up! House, a prefab box on stilts that looks like a decades-old conception of the future.

If the show feels light on innovation, maybe it’s because we live with so much already. The obvious choices—Google, Apple, Pixar, NASA—probably should have given way to the lesser-known, but they serve as reminders for how much good design we take for granted every day. There are a few standouts here, though, and two of them might save your life. An idea for pill bottles (colored the deep red of Target stores, where you’ll find them) makes dosage information easier to read by flattening the surface for the label, and a device for organ transport improves on the Styrofoam cooler; rounded and compact with various controls and monitors, and colored blue and white, the sleek container gives iMac flair to the freshly extracted kidney. Downstairs you’ll find a robotic lobster that one day (if it avoids the robotic bisque) might search for underwater mines. And in architecture, Santiago Calatrava’s design for the WTC Transportation Hub may be old news, but a virtual “fly-through” of the place—far better than the dull and contextless plastic
models that represent other buildings— reconfirms its magnificence.

Even with all the professional cleverness, the most intriguing designs might be those of the hands-on, do-it-yourself variety, as described in magazines Make and ReadyMade, which get separate displays. Like nerdy versions of Martha Stewart Living, they tell you how to create a slick light-cluster from Voss water bottles, iron those plastic newspaper wraps into a messenger bag, and take aerial photos using a kite, a disposable camera, and a shutter device that includes rubber bands and Silly Putty. Now that’s ingenuity.


‘Something to Cheer About’

In 1927 Indianapolis, the Ku Klux Klan opened the all-black Crispus Attucks High School with the intention of keeping black children out of allegedly superior white schools. The plan backfired, and Attucks became one of the premier schools in the entire country. By the 1950s, it was also home to one of the greatest basketball teams in the country, led by future immortal Oscar Robertson. Several Attucks Tigers, all spry and thoughtful 50 years on, are on hand here to retrace old footsteps on the hardwood and claim their place in history, but Betsy Blankenbaker’s doc
doesn’t possess the kinetic charge of the tale itself; it’s too reliant on talking heads and faded photos. Cheer feels amateurish for a generation raised on sports films. Shoulda been a slam-dunk too.


Final Fantasy

In 1997, Indianapolis construction worker Troy Stolle became Britannia blacksmith Nils Hansen. As a character in the immersive fantasy game Ultima Online, Nils soon developed a working relationship with an archer and a mage—both also controlled by the earthbound Stolle. Stolle built a virtual house for his heroic trio, which he sold for 180,000 pieces of virtual gold, with which he bought the deed to a virtual tower. Years later, in the real world, Stolle sold the still intangible building and the rest of his account for 500 U.S. dollars to a former Procter & Gamble chemist, who flipped the tower for $750 to a Wonder Bread delivery man.

All that is solid melts into air in Voice contributor Julian Dibbell’s second book, Play Money, an often surreal bit of participatory journalism in which the border between work and play flickers in and out of our monitor-fried vision. The early chapters are excellent—expertly paced and fortified with irony, as Dibbell profiles the canny cash collectors of this brave new world and offers smart, pithy digressions on Turing machines and Boggs bills.

But then the plot, or at least the marketable subtitle, kicks in: Dibbell challenges himself to make a living the way his interview subjects do, trying to top his all-time best yearly income as a writer (less than $60,000). His quest feels forced, and Play Money loses some steam. Worse, he pads chapters with posts from the popular blog he kept at the time—complete with repetitions, tepidly presented financial data, and the mention of an impending book proposal. Emerging from this mountain of excelsior, Dibbell offers some conclusions, but his voice has become distractingly fuzzy: “So let me hazard, in lieu of an explanation, a guess.” Though Play Money starts off, promisingly, as an inquiry into real and virtual values, it eventually illustrates a different information-age disconnect—that between passable blogosphere reading and a compelling clothbound tale.


The Acid Test

Objects appeared to gain in relief; they assumed unusual dimensions; and colors became more glowing. Even self-perception and the sense of time were changed. When the eyes were closed, colored pictures flashed past in a quickly changing kaleidoscope. After a few hours, the not unpleasant inebriation, which had been experienced whilst I was fully conscious, disappeared. What had caused this condition? —Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, writing in his laboratory notebook in 1943

A carefully trained rat crawls inside of a Skinner box. If it pushes the metal lever on the right, it means it’s on LSD. Bingo! A little white sugar pellet—the rat’s reward for pushing the correct lever—pops out and falls on the floor of the box. The rat scrambles to eat it.

I can’t tell by looking at the rat that it’s on LSD. The rat doesn’t seem too fazed. It looks kind of placid, unlike the fanged beasts that haunt Manhattan apartments. I start to wonder what a rat version of Dark Side of the Moon would sound like.

A scientist whisks me to the next room, which houses a maze. It looks like a giant plastic octopus lined with red lights, and it’s for rats on various substances to wander through for more tests. The greenish glow of computer screens fills the next room, where a team of researchers is inputting data they hope will support new theories on how LSD, the common name for d-lysergic acid diethylamide, produces its profound effects on the human brain.

I’m out in bucolic West Lafayette, Indiana, about an hour’s drive from Indianapolis. Cornfields are everywhere. The vast spaces not taken up by Purdue University or the highway are dotted with sports bars and houses. I’ve traveled all the way out here because this is one of the only labs in America doing pioneering LSD research. I’m searching for clues to a mystery: How, in terms of brain chemistry, does the fabled “acid trip” initially produce an overpowering swirl of visual effects, only to “come down” into something that’s nonvisual, heavily introspective, and—in some cases—downright creepy?

The rats don’t know it, but they’re helping to find the answer.

I’m in the office of 60-year-old David Nichols, a medicinal chemistry and pharmacology professor at Purdue and a leading expert in the field of hallucinogenic substances. He’s also one of the founders of the private Heffter Research Institute in New Mexico, which provides support for scientific research on hallucinogens. His office is stacked with teetering piles of technical-journal articles, science books, and ball-and-stick molecular models in cheerful primary colors. A sign on the door reads, “The Doctor Is In.”

Grandfatherly, loquacious, and amiable, he discusses complicated neurotransmitter theories, cheesecake recipes, and childhood memories of smoke bomb experiments with equal fondness. He’s been working to understand the LSD molecule since 1969, and its bizarre qualities still fascinate him.

“Tell me how, under what kind of philosophical basis, a hundred micrograms going into someone’s brain could permanently change the way they are,” he asks. “Now it’s not true with everyone, obviously. But some people might have a religious revelation. It may change their life in some fundamental way. Maybe in a few people it precipitates a psychosis. But how could taking this thing make somebody think they had talked to God, or seen the Big Bang and watched the evolution of the cosmos? How can a chemical molecule do that?”

No one really knows. Scientists try to quantify abstract, subjective reaches of the LSD experience in several different ways. Last year, top professors, psychiatrists, and even Zen meditation experts gathered for the Altered States of Consciousness conference to swap findings and theories. In 1975, Swiss researcher Adolf Dittrich devised a meticulous questionnaire to measure various drug-induced states using existential-sounding metrics like “oceanic boundlessness,” “dread of ego dissolution,” and “visionary restructuralization.” At the University of Zurich, Franz Vollenweider and his research team routinely conduct trailblazing research, often through clinical studies, on how hallucinogens affect people; a recent study by his lab examined the physiological effects of psilocybin—the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms—on human volunteers.

The brain chemistry aspect of the LSD—the language of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters—is one of the most heavily investigated, but it’s also endlessly confounding. On the level of chemical structure, LSD looks quite a bit like the serotonin molecule, and the LSD-serotonin connection has been explored since the 1950s. The debate over whether LSD is a good model for how schizophrenia works has been raging for nearly half a century. Recently, dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical also implicated in disorders like schizophrenia, is finding a larger role in the LSD story. And as scientists learn more about serotonin receptors, they’ve localized specific aspects of the LSD experience to different receptors. The flood of kaleidoscopic visual effects that happens upon taking LSD and substances like it seems to be tied to the activation of a particular serotonin receptor called 5-HT2A.

In a study that will soon be published, Nichols and his group trained 25 rats to push levers to distinguish between having received an injection of LSD and an injection of regular old saline solution. Rats don’t trip exactly like people do; for one, they don’t have the massively overdeveloped frontal lobes of humans that allow for higher cognitive functions and dorm room philosophizing. But they do show some measurable behavioral changes that can be related to the human trip; at first, the rats don’t seem to move around too much, and then there’s increased locomotor activity.

The first phase of the rats’ LSD experience, Nichols found, was indeed mediated by the 5-HT2A receptor, the one responsible for the visuals. But the second phase of the rats’ trip was a full-on dopamine response. The “coming down” phase—where bad trips are more likely to form—is where the dopamine D2 receptor kicks in, a receptor that’s implicated, among other things, in schizophrenia. It seems that an LSD trip is a two-phase experience—a story that begins with serotonin and ends with dopamine.

Nichols hopes that this study and several others that his lab is on the brink of finishing will finally reveal answers to some of the basic questions about how LSD works, answers he’s been chasing down for over half his lifetime.

“When I was a little kid I used to play with pyrotechnics,” he says with a smile. “This is the closest I could get to a pyrotechnic molecule in the brain.”


Fax of Life

Q. I’m sick to death of having to print out documents, then lug ’em over to my antiquated fax machine. I’m sure there’s a way to send faxes from my PC, but beats me as to how. Hook me up, my robotic friend.

A. There’s not just a way, my humanoid pal. There’s a multitude, and some of them are probably sitting on your hard disk right this very second. But the built-in freebies may not be your best faxing solution—much depends on what sort of Internet connection you’ve got, and whether or not you’re a frequent faxer.

It’s a little-known fact that PCs running Windows XP come equipped with a utility called Fax Console. It’s not installed by default, though: You’ll have to go to Add or Remove Programs in the Control Panel, then click on Add/Remove Windows Components to take advantage. (The Fax Console will then be available in the Accessories menu.) To fax a document, you just use the Print command to send it to the virtual fax machine. And, yes, it can also receive faxes, as long as your PC is active when the call comes in.

The XP utility is pretty bare-bones, though, so if you’re gonna be faxing more than once in a blue moon, it’s probably worth it to buy SmartFax 2004 Professional ( The $99.95 program syncs up with Outlook or Outlook Express, so you can send and receive faxes just like e-mail. It also offers optical character recognition, which converts squiggly handwritten notes into digital documents.

The big problem with both of the programs listed above is that they work only with dial-up modems. So if you’re rocking, say, a cable modem, then you’re out of luck. There’s an alternative for broadbanders, though, in the form of several faxing services that’ll move your faxes to and fro. Mr. Roboto’s pick is jConnect Premier (, which assigns you a local or toll-free number. When someone sends a document there, it gets forwarded to your machine as an e-mail. And vice versa, naturally, when you fax something out. Think of jConnect Premier, which runs $15 per month, as a faxing middleman for the broadband-equipped. (There’s also a free jConnect service, which lets you receive faxes, but not send them.)

An alternative is eFax (, which varies slightly in price from jConnect Premier; the monthly tab is a bit lower, but the per-page prices for receiving faxes can add up. Check out both websites, if you’re so motivated, and try the free trials to get a sense of what’s more your style.

Mr. Roboto realizes he’s only scratched the surface, as faxing options for PCs abound. For Macs too: The Panther operating system has a fine built-in fax utility, though four out of five robots who fax prefer Page Sender 3.2 ( The program is a heckuva lot easier to use than what Steve Jobs and company cooked up, and free upgrades are included in the $29.95 price tag. So if you ever make the switch, you can still dinosaur that Brother fax machine from 1989.

Good goods

Mr. Roboto had the great privilege to attend the CEDIA Expo ( earlier this month, in beautiful downtown Indianapolis. Aside from making the terrible mistake of sampling a bowl of Indiana menudo, your humble narrator also got to test a throng of high-end audio and video gadgets—the sort of stuff that you see on Cribs, dig? So why should a working stiff like you care? Because there were some bigass TVs on the cheap. Sony—yes, Sony—ruled the value roost with a 70-inch rear-projection model, costing a “mere” 10 grand. Not in everyman’s ballpark yet, but getting there. Quickly.

Get help

Great feedback on a recent column regarding the charlatans who sell digicams near Times Square. David Billotti of the Times Square Alliance ( wrote in to recommend that ripped-off consumers register complaints by dropping a dime to the city’s 311 hotline. Who knows? Someday, the Times Square electronics fraudster could go the way of the Times Square paint-huffing hand-jobber.