Rules of ThumbOct 19, 2022–The Pioneer Memorial Library book sale is coming up the last Saturday of this month. If you are like me, in your annual attempt to winnow the home book shelf by donating, you perennially pass over volumes you just can’t bear to banish. One untouchable from 1983 is “Rules of Thumb,” by Tom Parker.

Parker defined a Rule of Thumb as a homemade recipe for making a guess. It’s not always right. But it is a personal tool for making things work most of the time. We all know a few:

The literal “rule of thumb” that the first joint of your thumb measures one inch.

When spaghetti is done, it will stick to the wall.

When tuning a stringed instrument, it is less apt to slip out of pitch if the strings are tuned up from flat.

Back in the days when all the world’s knowledge had yet to be TikTokked to death into “life hacks,” Parker sent out postcards from a fictional organization to everyone he could think of, asking them to contribute their finest Rules of Thumb. So many responses came back he compiled a book. Many are profound. Many are helpful. Many are useless, yet fascinating… just like TV celebrities on Twitter.

Here are a few of my favorites…

  • Eating Cheese: The quality of the flavor of cheese is inversely proportional to the thickness of the slice.
  • Planning A Dinner: Inviting more than 25 percent of the guests for a university dinner party from the economics department ruins the conversation.
  • Catching Crabs in Texas: Crabbing season in Texas consists of all the months with the letter R in them. You can catch crabs during the other months but they aren’t good to eat.
  • Calling In Sick: In half of all cases, when an employee calls in sick, he’s actually sick.
  • Testing an Edge: Any cutting edge that reflects light is in need of sharpening.
  • Giving Your Age: Odd-numbered ages seem older than even-numbered ages.
  • Recognizing The Obvious: Clients will recognize the obvious much sooner than professionals.
  • Getting Rid of Stuff: Three moves equal one house fire.
  • Not Wearing Pants: On a cold day wet jeans will draw heat from your lower body twice as fast as wearing no pants at all.
  • The Restaurant Rule of Three: The third restaurant to go into a space is the one that succeeds.
  • Using Dynamite: Wait at least one hour before investigating a charge of dynamite that didn’t go off.
  • Following Ants: Food that ants like to eat is food that people should avoid–sweets, deep-fried items, chips…

Reading these, you can’t resist tossing out your own versions. Here are a few I heard from friends or discovered myself:

  • Plugging in a USB: It always takes three tries to get the correct orientation.
  • Using a Dishwasher: If the dishwasher is more than half full, run the cycle. If you wait to fill it up, there will be too many dishes for one load.
  • Buying Groceries: When you have one left of any commodity–butter, laundry detergent, toilet paper–buy two more. You will always use them–that’s why they are called commodities.
  • Leaking Oil: When a car stops leaking oil, it’s time to add more.
  • Pleasing Clients: When a freelancer delivers exactly what the client asked for, the client will be unhappy with the results.

I guess I’ll be keeping this book for another year. Oh… one more:

  • Writing A Final Sentence: When writing, if you’re searching for a final sentence, you’ve probably already written it.