Grand Unification and the Theory of Time

by Dave Barry

[The Billings Gazette, August 16, 1988]

I recently decided to join with other top theoretical physicists in the effort to develop a Grand Unification Theory of the universe. You may have read about this. For years now, physicists have been trying to come up with a single theory that can explain the five major forces in the universe: gravity, atomic power, magnetism, chocolate and whining. These days, when theoretical physicists get together, Grand Unification is almost all they talk about. Which is not to say that they are dull. No, they tell their share of theoretical jokes. Here's a popular one:

FIRST PHYSICIST: How many theoretical physicists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

SECOND PHYSICIST: Hmmmm, let's see. (He writes some calculations on the blackboard.)

FIRST PHYSICIST: That is correct.

But after the fun, they exchange "high five to the 27th power" handshakes and get right back to work. Because they know that whoever is the first to find the Grand Unification Theory will receive the Nobel Prize and scientific immortality, not to mention lucrative offers to endorse plastic pen pouches.

Right now the leading contender for these honors is Stephen W. Hawking, who has written a best-selling book about the search for the Grand Unification Theory, called "A Brief History of Time," which is selling like hot cakes at $18.95 a pop. Call me a dedicated Science Pioneer, but when I find out that a person can make that kind of money in the field of Grand Unification, I reach for my thinking cap.

Fortunately, I received extensive training in physics back in 1965 at the world-renowned Pleasantville High School Physics Lab under the direction of the widely respected teacher, Mr. (Something) Heideman. I was personally involved in the famous experiment where you place a 10-gram weight on an inclined plane set at a 30-degree angle, then, when Mr. Heideman is not looking, you and Joseph DiGiacinto, who is now an attorney, spit out the window on people, thereby proving that siliva is attracted toward gravity.

Drawing on this academic background, I have authored a recognized scientific classic, which is reprinted here in its entirety:


Aside from Velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can't see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upward of $45 per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.

Human beings first became aware of time during the era of the ancient Egyptians, who, while getting ready to build the pyramids, invented the fundamental time unit, which is still in regular use today: the weekend. "We'll build those pyramids first thing after the weekend," the Egyptians were fond of saying, although, of course, as soon as one weekend ended, they'd immediately start another one because it was the only unit they had. This was the Golden Age, and it was marked by the invention of beer.

The Golden Age ended tragically with the discovery of Wednesday, which led to the modern calendar featuring Friday, Tuesday, Pork Awareness Month, etc. This was followed by two major time advances:

Today more and more households are operating on Blink Time. This is when a power outage causes all the digital clocks in all of your appliances to blink "00:00," sometimes for months, because you can't figure out how to make them stop because the owners' manuals are totally unintelligible because all the actual instructions have been replaced by pages upon pages of lawyer-excreted statements beginning with the word "WARNING."

It is thanks to labor-saving advances such as this that top theoretical physicists such as myself have been able to devote our time to thinking about this pesky Grand Unification problem, which, although it took me darned near half the morning, I am pleased to report I have solved. The answer is:

(Note to Editors: Please put a grand unification theory here.)

So there you have it. Let me just say, by way of closing, that I'm sorry if my triumph comes as a disappointment to the other physicists, and I hope they understand that I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say: "Ha, ha, I get the money." And now I must go, because I see by the oven that it's 00:00, which is when I usually have a beer.