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Monday, November 8, 2021

The Cafeteria Plan Challenge


As you might expect from a lawyer, for this Pete Wood Challenge Pete came up with a real doozy. He calls it The Cafeteria Plan Challenge.

1. Characters

a. A sarcastic robot who is itching for an argument

b. A vegan waiter who hates working at the steakhouse

c. A door-to-door salesman who can’t accept that the days of the door-to-door salesman are gone

d. An heir to the throne who likes doing “grunt work” with low- or no-pay for the local color

2. Setting

a. A sinking boat

b. A rest area on the North Carolina interstate

c. The chocolate chip cookie capital of Mars

d. An archaeological dig run by incompetent political appointees

3. First lines

a. The time traveler from 1977 didn’t even try to fit in.

b. The process server I’d been dodging for months spotted me.

c. The worst thing about being an apprentice had to be negotiating with the demons.

d. There is one indispensable item you need for every quest, and trust me, it’s not what you think.

e. Everyone at the faculty meeting told Professor Gupta not to trust that intern to deliver the schematics to the patent office. 

The Challenge:

Write a flash piece, up to 300 words long, that takes one element from each of the above categories: that is, one character, one setting, and one first line. Any genre is acceptable. The story can use more than one character or setting, but the ones you pick from the menu must be integral to the story. You can’t zip over one of the settings in a flying car or have the chosen character make a cameo appearance in line at the coffee shop behind your protagonist.

Ready? Set? Start writing!

And the Winners are: 

Beginning tomorrow and running through Friday, with links going live at 0700 CST daily:

  • “King of Chrome,” by Travis Burnham
  • “Out with the Old,” by Eric Fomley
  • “Bargaining Power,” by Mary Berman
  • “When Good Salad Bars Go Bad,” by Gustavo Bondoni


Publisher’s Comments: 

As always, the participating writers responded with an impressive display of creativity. The astute reader will note that “An archaeological dig run by incompetent political appointees” proved so popular that Pete decided to spin it off into its own challenge, which resulted in last week’s batch of challenge stories, and if you haven’t read them, feel free to do so now.

The Incompetent Archaeology Challenge Winners

Note also that the opening line “The time traveler from 1977 didn’t even try to fit in,” proved too restrictive and Pete decided that 1977 could be acceptable as either a point of origin or a destination. I mean, “The time traveler from 1977 didn’t even try to fit in, but arrived in style in his tricked-out time-traveling AMC Gremlin, wearing four-inch tall platform shoes with a plaid double-knit polyester leisure suit and ready to par-tay!” Please, no.


Special Note to Ray Daley: 

Yes, a Gremlin. The DeLorean wasn’t introduced until 1981 and it was a terrible car, overweight and underpowered, with laughably bad performance, handling, and build quality. The only reason it’s remembered fondly now, and not considered an automotive joke right up there with the Edsel, the Pacer, or the Yugo, is because one was used in Back to the Future.

Actually, six DeLoreans were used in the Back to the Future series, and the only reason they were used was because the film was running over budget and over schedule. They didn’t have the time or money to do the time-travel effects originally scripted and could pick up DeLoreans cheap because hundreds were sitting unsold in Long Beach.

And thus another science fiction legend was born…  

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