Brief book reviews - Hatch's Orders of Magnitude

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''Hatch's Orders of Magnitude: Methodical Rankings of the Commonplace and the Incredible for Daily Reference, by a Man of Extraordinary Genius and Impeccable Taste'' by Michael Hatch; Writer's Digest Books; 228 pages; $15.

Just how badly I botched my seventh-grade Science Fair project is beside the point here. What's done is done (however poorly), it didn't go into my permanent record (which was soon to be dicey enough, thank you very much), I got through it (damaged, but still ...)

But the past being prologue, a confluence of events has brought me full circle.

The first was the recent and reluctant realization, after years of plotting, that I would not be able to achieve retroactive redemption by commandeering my daughter Zoe's seventh-grade Science Fair project (now in progress) and forcing her to implement the brilliant idea that came to me about two weeks after I received a gentleman's D for my non-efforts.

The second was the arrival on my desk, last week, of "Hatch's Orders of Magnitude: Methodical Rankings of the Commonplace and the Incredible for Daily Reference, by a Man of Extraordinary Genius and Impeccable Taste."

The book is a spinoff of My Brilliant Idea: To chalk in, on the schoolyard asphalt, the relative size and distances of the sun and the planets. If I made the sun 3 feet in diameter, I calculated, the Earth would be a third of an inch in diameter and 107 feet away. Pluto (not yet disbarred) would be about a tenth of an inch in diameter and roughly two-thirds of a mile away, a logistical problem I never quite solved.

One of Hatch's witty, erudite, joltingly imaginative and unapologetically subjective lists took my relative-size-of-objects idea and sprinted with it: He came up with 57 sizes, from infinitesimal, string scale and nano scale through elfin, tiny, Lilliputian and small, upward through tremendous, zizic, gigantic and Brobdingnagian, winding up with interdimensional, omnidimensional and, finally, bulkous, one of the many delightful neologisms (see "zizic," above) that pepper the fanciful glossary at the back of the book.

See also his Caliber Caliper. The lowest caliber, is - naturally! - spitwad. Next comes Nerf arrow. Hatch notes 21 calibers, working up to 40.06, mortar, howitzer and battleship main gun, culminating - inevitably, when you think about it, which you no doubt haven't but Hatch, thankfully, has - in "the Death Star's tributary turbolaser."

The list for Enthusiasm runs from "The look on scientists' faces when I show them my perpetual motion machine" all the way to "The look on everyone else's face when I show them my perpetual motion machine."

As for Hatch's Obscenity Continuum, as well as a few other entries, let's just say that the book's subtitle is inaccurate: He is, in fact, a Man of Questionable Taste. Which is, in some circles - this one, for example - something of an endorsement.

- Arthur Salm
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