If you've ever wondered where that line came from, here's the answer
for you: Snoopy didn't create it; he borrowed it from a novel
written in 1830. (The name of Snoopy, by the way, is the name most
commonly chosen by dog owners, but that has nothing to do with this
story, so we'll move on.)
The novel was titled "Paul Clifford," and it was a crime story
about judicial reform. I had never heard of the novel before working
on this story, but my research led me to an interesting fact.
In 1982, the English Department at San Jose State University
established a contest for the writer who could create the worst
opening sentence for a novel. It's called the
Contest, and it is named for the "Paul Clifford" author, Sir
Edward Bulwer-Lytton. He was the one who penned the opening line,
"It was a dark and stormy night."
Edward Bulwer-Lytton was born in London in 1803, the youngest of
three sons. His father was a general who was assigned by the British
government to help defend against a possible invasion by Napoleon
(it never happened). Bulwer-Lytton's mother was an heiress.
Writers enter the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest by writing the
worst opening sentence for a possible novel. The winner in 2000 won
with this line:
"The heather-encrusted Headlands, veiled in fog as thick as smoke
in a crowded pub, hunched precariously over the moors, their rocky
elbows slipping off land's end, their bulbous, craggy noses thrust
into the thick foam of the North Sea like bearded old men falling
asleep in their pints."
Who would intentionally write such bad prose? Well, who would
know more about writing headlines than an advertising executive?
[to top of second column]
The "winner" was an advertising exec named Gary Dahl of Los
Gatos, Calif. (which is also the hometown of Apple co-founder Steve
Wozniak, but that has nothing to do with this story, so we'll move
on). One of Dahl's claims to fame is that he is the author of the
book "Advertising for Dummies," so he knows a thing or two about
That can't be the end of the story, can it? No, we're only
Gary Dahl invented something that you either watched your kids go
crazy over (if you're a senior citizen), or you went crazy over it
yourself (if you're a baby boomer or a Gen X'er), or you heard your
parents tell you stories about this ridiculous invention that
everyone bought back in the mid-1970s (if you're a member of
Generation Y or younger).
Whenever people talk about fads, they inevitably mention Gary
Dahl's invention. In fact, whenever people talk about inventions,
they often mention the product that was invented in 1975 by Gary
Dahl -- the same Gary Dahl who won the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
25 years later.
His invention was originally conceived as a parody of a
If that doesn't ring a bell, it's because he refined it until he
had a product that people wanted. In fact, Gary Dahl sold a little
more than a million units, at a profit of $1.05 each. You can buy a
lot of rocks with a million bucks, and that's exactly what he did,
because Gary Dahl is the inventor of the pet rock!
Now this story is officially over.
Paul Niemann may be reached at email@example.com. You can learn
more about Invention Mysteries by visiting the official
Invention Mysteries website.
Copyright Paul Niemann 2006