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The Pretzel: Twisted Villain or Misunderstood Snack?

January 16, 2002|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the wake of a pretzel's attempted asphyxiation of President Bush, snack food industry officials have rushed to defend the beleaguered baked treat.

Less than 24 hours after Secret Service agents wrestled the deranged pretzel to the ground, Ann Wilkes of the Virginia-based Snack Food Assn. told reporters: "We're grateful the president is OK, but pretzels are not usually singled out as being a choking hazard. Any solid food can be dangerous."

Wilkes noted that her group hosted its annual Pretzel Seminar in November and nobody detected any hints of violence from the 1,400-year-old snack. The seminar, which is described as "an opportunity for salted snack producers to exchange technical and marketing information," usually features speakers from the Salt Institute or similar organizations.

At the most recent gathering, pretzel makers heard a presentation by Penn State University's food sciences department on "crystallization problems in pretzels."

Nobody knows if the pretzel that attacked President Bush was afflicted with crystallization. But evidence is mounting that Sunday's incident isn't the first time a pretzel has stalked the president.

On May 22, a Los Angeles fifth-grader who was touring the White House found a pretzel inside the residence and had the presence of mind to pocket it, according to an article in The Times' Travel section. Colin Hansen, who now attends a private school in Los Feliz, still has the snack in a plastic bag in his refrigerator, but so far the FBI hasn't sought his pretzel for questioning.

However, late-night talk-show hosts immediately recognized the twisty treat as a national security threat. David Letterman noted that Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge "issued an all-points bulletin for Mr. Salty."

And comic Argus Hamilton lamented the fact that "Dick Cheney is now just a pretzel away from the presidency."

Friends of the accused snack expressed shock at its alleged role in Sunday's attack. "He's just a mixture of wheat flour, yeast and salt, bathed in sodium hydroxide," said Mr. Peanut. "I can't believe he would go postal. Sure, he was a bit of a loner, but never this twisted."

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, British commentators suggested that the pretzel incident would boost President Bush's popularity.

The Daily Telegraph wrote: "This is exactly the sort of accident that befalls Homer Simpson, night after night, in 'The Simpsons' cartoon series [with the exception that Homer is more likely to choke on a doughnut than a pretzel]. What is so comforting is that here is a president who finds himself conducting an international war against terrorism, with great competence, but who still finds the time to while away his Sunday evenings in front of the box, watching football and munching pretzels. He has shown himself, once again, to be completely in tune with the tastes and instincts of the people he leads."

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