“Mr Allen? I’d like a word with you…”

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the Allen wrench is the worst-designed hand tool ever created.

In the interest of transparency, I’ll confess that I decided this shortly after dismantling a canopy frame that was held together by approximately five thousand Allen bolts. I removed about three quarters of them with the “wrench”. The rest were torn out of the frame by twisting the metal back and forth until they ripped out of their holes.

What’s wrong with good old-fashioned screws (flat head or Phillips, I’m not picky)? Or just bolts with nuts and washers on the end? Connectors that can be attached with a screwdriver you can wrap your palm around, or a nut that can be tightened with a socket wrench?


But, no. It makes MUCH more sense to require a tool consisting of a skinny piece of polished metal that constantly slips between the fingers and bounces off the steps of a ladder into grass still awaiting the first mowing of the spring. (I realize that’s a pretty specific complaint, but, you get the idea.)

As documented elsewhere, I’m not the ablest home improvement/repair guy around. My motto has always been, “Don’t let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘Good enough to hold until next weekend. Probably”. So I don’t need the added frustration of a perfidious little scrap of metal making everything take five times as long.

Based on my extensive research of the available literature (Wikipedia), the first patent for a hex key system was recorded in 1910. A man named Howard Hallowell (which sounds fake) apparently wrote a book documenting the adoption of the tool during World War II.  The tome is quoted as follows:

“the transition from a square head set screw to a hexagon socket head hollow set screw, for which had to be developed special keys or wrenches for tightening or loosening the screw, was the cause of more profanity among the mechanics and machine manufacturers than any other single event that happened….. I am sure that the old-timers who read this book will remember this period vividly.”

Which may be the least surprising paragraph ever written. Because I can safely say Allen wrenches are in my top three profanity generators. The other two being Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasters (#FireJeffBrantley) and people who insist on crowding around the baggage claim carousel in airports.

Airport Bromma

I can just picture this Allen guy sitting around with a bunch of other lowlife industrialists, cheating each other at poker and drinking bathtub gin. Suddenly, it occurs to him to scam all of the exhausted working people dragging themselves home after a long day who just want to put something together. Like an icebox or furniture from Ikea. Chuckling to himself as he pulls an ace from his sock, he says, “Boys, I’ve got an idea that’ll make us and all of the mechanics in the world a fortune. Convince everybody to eschew (I’m thinking he was a Yale man; just go along with me on this, for once) regular screws and bolts, and make a tool so clumsy, so inefficient, so……French…..that they’ll never want to fix anything themselves again!”

They all laugh cruelly, drain their glasses, and play cards until somebody gets shanked.

I don’t ask for much. Give me good craft beer and a late afternoon sunset at the grill or smoker and I’m a contented man. But I’m begging manufacturers here. Enough with the hex keys. I’ve only got so many trips up and down the ladder left in me.

Enough with the sports commentary; let’s talk leaf blowers

I’m often accused of being a cranky old man. Sometimes, the charge is not entirely without merit. But on this one issue, I’m not angry, just mystified.

Why does my leaf blower have more than one power setting?

I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I’d find lower power useful. If I have to use a leaf blower, I’d like the chore to be over with as soon as possible. It’s hard for me to envision standing in the yard during a bright, sunny, autumn day, wearing a flannel shirt and blowing leaves as slowly as possible as a wisp of smoke from the chimney curls up to the cloudless sky. I mean, I’m not making a Lowe’s commercial here. I want to dispatch these leaves quickly so I can get back to the couch.

All I can figure is that the manufacturer put the lower setting on there to make me think I’m getting more power than I really am.  

Scene: A large, windowless room, filled with electrical equipment and tools, parts of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and tractors lying inert on brightly-lit tables, each with an electrical engineer in a white lab coat and safety goggles peering intently at its insides.

Suddenly, an obese, middle-aged man in a brown suit bursts through the double doors, leaving cigar smoke, a secretary, and a vapor trail of impatience in his wake.

“Peterson! Peterson! Where’s Peterson?”, he barks. One of the lab coats turns and tentatively raises a gloved hand.

“Um. Right here, sir.”

“Peterson!” The big man wheels in the aisle, knocking a can of lubricant off a table, and races over, taking long, quick strides.

“It’s almost June, Peterson! We need to ship the new Articulated Scoop N’ Suck Leaf Blowers by July! Where are we?”

“Almost – almost there, Mr. Spacely”, Peterson stammers. “Last step is this power switch, then it’s ready to go to production.”

“Hmmph. Hmmph,” Spacely grunts. He yanks the leaf blower away from Peterson, knocking a glass beaker to the floor that shatters. A long-suffering maintenance man walks over with a broom as Spacely turns the blower upside down, right side up, then sideways.

“How many power settings does it have?”

Peterson looks at him quizzically. “How many? Well, um, just the one, Mr. Spacely. We call it ‘On’”

“One!? Are you kidding me, Peterson? How are we going to sell leaf blowers with only one setting?”

“Well, market research tells us nobody ever uses anything but maximum power anyway, sir. And besides, it’s already blowing 600 cubic feet per minute. That’s enough to knock a passing paperboy off a Schwinn.”

“Dammit, Peterson! The actual performance has nothing to do with it! We’re not selling the steak, son; we’re selling the sizzle! What self-respecting suburbanite is going to stand around the gas grill on a Saturday and brag to his neighbors that he has a leaf blower with one setting? That guy’ll be running to the drugstore to fill his Viagra prescription in minutes! He’d be a laughingstock, boy, a laughingstock!

“Now here’s what you’re going to do, Peterson. You’re going to add a lower power setting to this thing ASAP. We’re going to call the lower setting “High” and call the regular setting “Road grader”. Got it? ABC, Peterson, ABC. Always be closing.”

Spacely jams his cigar back in his mouth and turns away quickly, his suit coat knocking a can of soda off a table as he bulls his way out the door. Peterson turns glumly back to his work.

“Well,” he mumbles to himself. “I’m glad I didn’t show him the Breast Cancer Awareness model.”        


Now that we’re getting into basketball season, the signing events are picking up for Thirty-Two Minutes in March. On December 2, I’ll be signing and selling copies during the Southport game at Center Grove.

On December 10, I’ll be at the Southport Shootout for most of the day at the fabled Southport High School Fieldhouse. It’s the tenth largest gym in the state, seating over 7,000. Southport has put together a strong lineup for the day. I’m looking forward to seeing Romeo Langford (probably the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball and a high-level D-1 recruit) in person. The schedule is:

Castle vs. Mt Vernon (Fortville)………………………..12 noon

New Albany vs. North Central (Indianapolis)………..2:00 PM

Cloverdale vs. Park Tudor……………………………4:00 PM

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Hamilton Southeastern……..5:40 PM

South Bend Riley vs. Southport………………..…….7:20 PM