Kim Swift reminds us in Portal 2 that potatoes can, with a little ingenuity, serve as thinking machines. Here I am reminded of the Abbott & Costello movies I saw on Channel 11 Saturdays as a child. When they were in the Army, it seemed like Lou was always getting them into potato-peeling duty.

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Uncle Nick and Kung-fu Flash Kid peel potatoes

The spuds pictured here will go into a Thanksgiving mash in a matter of moments. Meanwhile, a parade of Potato Moments Past flashes through my brain, from Buck Privates Come Home onward.

Fall 1995, I am working on Sim Panther with Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. The basic idea is this. Yes, you get to practice field stripping a rifle but you also have to know all the laws about safe distance for observing police activity, when you are allowed to have a round in the chamber and when you are not. Yes, you get to feed hundreds of Oakland kids a simple breakfast before they go to school, but you also have to give away thousands of full grocery bags on a record-breaking voter registration drive. Bobby tells the story of how volunteers suggested they not bother including a chicken in the bag since many of them were vegetarian anyway but he insisted. He continues to recount how, after all those responsible for supplying each component of the package — chicken, milk, cabbage, rice, beans, powdered fruit drink, carrots, potatoes — every team assigned to come up with one of the components was ready to deliver except the guy who chose potatoes because that was supposed to be easiest. Acting Chairman Seale asked what the problem was. The dude said, “I don’t know, man, I couldn’t find any.” Bobby comes back, “man, you ever hear of Idaho?!” The whole room busted up laughing as the dude slunk away but he returned to Oakland proud two days later with two trucks full from, you guessed it, Idaho. No sooner is the tale told but the yams are done. Throughout dinner, Bobby reels off yarn after yarn, and the hearty meal powers our work throughout the night.

We tend to favor Yukon and russet in this house but, for our purposes today, only Idaho will do.

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UN and NTG on potato detail

Fall 1996, I am working on an electronic version of Golf In The Kingdom with Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy. I propose we complicate the logistics but simplify the interface with a biofeedback peripheral. He proposes we add milk to the giant pot in our holiday preparations. After the meal, he inscribes my ninth-edition copy of his book, “to my partner in potatoes.”

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Mashed Potatoes a la Alldaddy

Neither of those titles were ever published. They never really even reached Beta development. Fast forward to Fall 2015, and I am not working on Home Free with Kevin Cancienne. I am reminded, however, that I always wonder about the origin of his Twitter handle @potatojin, but always forget to ask. Some business or other of greater importance always takes precedence. What is important now is that this plate of seconds is so good I forgot to get seconds on the perfect turkey.

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Second helping on almost everything

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