The first order of business was training my intern (referred to as A# in the future) and my post-bacc (referred to as J# in the future) in the ancient and delicate art of potato chip evaluation. Wine tasting has nothing on potato chip evaluation for complicated steps and subtle nuances. I started their training with a lengthy PowerPoint lecture on the evaluation scale (1-10), its background, development, variations, etc. Then I gave them a very basic chip (Lays Salted) to try and asked them to evaluate it and then talk the class through the steps they used for their evaluation. I chose this chip because to me it is a middle-of-the-road chip, a true *****(5), in short – the anchor for the evaluation scale. It tastes ok, and has a nice crisp bite. A# gave it a *****(5) as well, and J# gave it a ******(6). My personal assistant (referred to as D# going forward) asked to participate and gave it a ******(6) as well. I was quite pleased to see the scores lining up closely, that gives me hope for A# and D#’s futures in potato chip research.
I followed the Lays Salted with Lays Oregano. When I originally tried them a few years ago, I gave them an ********(8). Upon tasting the chips, A# gave it a *****(6), J# gave it a ******(7), and D# gave it a ******(8). I myself gave it only a *****(5)! I was surprised at the differences between my two evaluations, because my random double-checking last year showed that I was usually very consistent in my evaluations, not an unexpected result. This time, though, the oregano was really harsh tasting and not delicate, it tasted very artificial. Could this difference be due to tasting one in Greece and one in Cyprus? I will need to check that out next month when the Global Potato Chip Research Institute moves its mobile lab to Cyprus. Now that I have given the beginners some basic flavors, it is time to rachet up the flavors and get down to the serious business of evaluating potato chips.
So, this past week was the first for our ceramic work at Isthmia for the summer of 2023. I arrived last Thursday and then Bill arrived last Sunday. This meant that we were able to get our work started on Monday, and by Wednesday Richard had arrived – our team is complete. Our goal for the first week was pretty simple and straightforward. We wanted to familiarize ourselves with the material we were focusing on this season, the Slavic Ware (seen to the left here).
So, first we found some space to set up our computers and pottery equipment (drawing items, rim gauges, Munsellator, etc.) and then identified a place where we could set up a table to sort the ceramics on, and yet be out of everyone’s way. Next, we found some space to set up our computers and pottery equipment (drawing items, rim gauges, Munsellator, etc.) and then identified a place where we could set up a table to sort the ceramics on, and yet be out of everyone’s way. Then we poked around in a few boxes and looked at pottery from various parts of the sites, and from various levels. A little slow, but I like to ease back into the pottery reading since I worry that I am going to forget everything I know about ceramics between seasons – fortunately, I had not. Then an important first step, the choosing of the music for the pottery reading. When I learned ceramic identification from Tim, he always had music on when we analyzed the pottery, so I have to have music anytime that I work with ceramics. My potato chip intern for the summer had helped me create a new pottery playlist for the summer, so I went with that and the opening song was Rock of Ages by Def Leppard – a good start in my opinion.
My 2023 archaeological field season has arrived and it is going to be a busier one than usual, with two main areas of research. First, I will be in Greece and Cyprus researching, analyzing, and cataloging ceramics from the Roman period through the end of Late Antiquity. This will provide me the opportunity to collaborate with a number of archaeological projects and colleagues over the next few weeks, including a few new ones. I will be starting this summer’s work in Greece and finishing up my season on Cyprus. Second, and perhaps more importantly, I will be not only continuing my potato chip research but will be expanding it in several key ways.
After a lot of thought over the winter, I have decided to expand the Global Potato Chip Research Institute’s work in several key areas. First, when we started our ground-breaking research into potato chips so many years ago we focused exclusively on the island of Cyprus – for a host of technical and logistical issues. The time has come, however, for us to expand the geographical parameters of our research and we will now be researching potato chips in other countries – starting with Greece. Second, due to our overwhelming success in potato chip grant writing and securing donations from chip enthusiasts, the GPCRI is expanding and we have added a curricular element to our work focused on chipology – a new and exciting STEM field. To jumpstart this initiative this summer, the GPCRI’s Board decided to offer a post-bacc and an undergraduate internship in Potato Chip Studies. Despite only limited advertising for the two positions we received hundreds of thousands of applications from around the world. The lucky two recipients of these positions both chose Greece as their area of specialty for their summer research work and have been working hard.
It has been a busy few days. We are working hard to finish up our analysis of the small area known as E.F1. We have been working at the museum and apotheke, and writing at the hotel. Seems to be coming along pretty well. We are hoping to be done with this part soon, and then move on to some other projects. The weather is getting a little warmer, and the gnats have been particularly bad. But the sunsets can make up for that.
Since I couldn’t sleep the other night, I used the opportunity to do some work on my potato chip research. It turns out that I have evaluated 64 different flavors, with an average score of 4.57. I used the opportunity to go back and re-evaluated two flavors I tried early on Lay’s Prawn Cocktail that I originally tried in 2010 and rated as a 10 – the only 10 given so far. The other was Lay’s Feta flavored potato chips which I evaluated in 2013 and gave a 1 – so, complete opposite ends of the spectrum.
First up, Prawn Cocktail. No surprise here. Good crunch, great flavor – the chip by which all other chips should be measured…..and probably be found lacking. A clear **(10) again. Just a great chip. Not much else to say, other than why can’t I get these in the US? The Herr’s Old Bay Bay flavored chips are somewhat close, but not really. I like the Old Bay, but they are a step down.
For my second re-evaluation, I am trying Lay’s Feta flavored chips. I am a big feta fan, I even like the feta in the US which usually isn’t even very close to tasting the way that feta should. Fortunately, I can get real feta from either the Strip in Pittsburgh or from my local Italian supermarket. I don’t really remember what these chips tasted like, all I can remember is what Bill said after trying them – “They taste like cat vomit.” As a cat owner, or really as the servant of two cats, that really strikes home with me. Anyway, the crunch was good. The flavor was ………..hard to describe. It was certainly very salty, and sort of musty. I would say that this time I would give it a **(2). So slightly better, but still pretty close to my original evaluation.
It has been a busy week. We took a trip to Larnaka on Tuesday to pick up Amy and Nassos from the airport. We also worked in a visit to Kourion for Bill to take some photos of the basilica, and a visit to the Larnaka Museum. It has undergone an update and looks great. The displays are really well-done. And of course, we also made sure to visit our favorite souvlaki restaurant on the island for lunch – and it was as good as I remembered.
Back at Polis, during the rest of the week we managed to work at the apotheke, at the museum, do some writing and data analysis at the hotel, and go visit the site. It looks like our work on EF1 is actually coming close to being finished, or at least a completed rough draft.
And of course, I also did some potato chip research. First up, Tyrell’s hand-cooked English crisps, Mature Cheddar and Chive flavor. As with the other bags of Tyrell’s chips, the crunch was perfect. The flavor was interesting, it reminded me a lot of Lays Cheese and Onion, but a bit more subtle. As a result, it scored better than the Cheese and Onion which had scored a three, this one scored a *****(5). Better, but not great, at least in my opinion. The Munsell for this chip was 2.5Y 6/4.
Next up, Handy Snacks Cyprus Potato Chips Vinegar and Oregano flavored. I was excited to see these. I like vinegar chips and I like oregano chips, so this would most likely be a great pairing. Unfortunately, no. The crunch was good, but the vinegar and oregano pairing didn’t work. The vinegar was very faint, but it seemed to make the oregano harsh and a somewhat bitter – not good, at least to me. I gave them a **(2). And the Munsell reading was 5Y 7/3.
We did not go to the apotheke on Saturday or Sunday. We did do some computer work on Saturday. and Sunday was a day off. So today (Monday) we returned to the apotheke and continued working our way through the ceramics from E.F1. Our goal is to make sure we had looked at all of the sherds, even the ones from less than secure contexts. We finished that today, which means I get to do some drawing of profiles. The art gene skipped me – both my mom and daughter have amazing skills when it comes to art, me not at all. With a lot of practice though, I can draw and then ink on the computer a relatively reasonable profile. Well, mainly reasonable, let’s say…it’s accurate.
I also have some chip reviews to share, I realize that I haven’t posted any lately. First up is, Pipers Biggleswade Sweet Chilli Crisps. I generally like chili peppers, so I had high expectations for this chip. The bite was pretty good, though not as crispy as Tyrells. The flavor, though, was …….. hard to describe. It started off in a way that me think that I was going to taste paprika, which I like, but then it became muted and heavy…..and didn’t get any better. Just not good, so I gave them a **(2).
In an effort to have a positive potato chip review after the the last two chips, I decided to try another chip, also by Pipers. This was Pipers Burrow Hill Apple Cider and Sea Salt. The crunch was like the previous Pipers flavor, pretty good. The flavor was also pretty good. It was a bit muted, unfortunately. It tasted good initially, but the vinegar was a very delicate flavor that you had to focus on to be aware of it. It was easy to forget about the vinegar and almost believe it was a plain salted chip. Since I am a vinegar fan, I wanted more vinegar, much like more cowbell. I gave them a *****(6). I also added another step to the process, since the other night a fellow archaeologist in Polis pointed out that I really should be Munselling the chips, and since I have my Capsure X-Rite rm200 with me, I figured why not. Plus, it is always good to go high-tech, right? In case you aren’t familiar with Munsell Soil Color Books, they are a way for archaeologists to standardize their vocabulary for describing soil and ceramic colors.
These chips are 2.5Y 7/3 (pale brown). It will be interesting to see if there is much difference across the potato chip spectrum, though I doubt it.
I also intend in the coming week to provide some numeric analysis of my data, as well as some fancy charts and graphs, etc. All in the name of science.
Hundred of people have emailed or texted or tweeted or called me saying that “yes, it is great you are studying Roman ceramics, but when are you going to get to the main point of your research trip – your ongoing study of the potato chip on Cyprus?” Today is your lucky day if you are one of those people deeply concerned over the hiatus in my potato chip research. Never fear, when Bill and I went to the store Monday, I was able to snag some chips to evaluate.
The first contestant is Tyrrells Sea Salt and Cider Vinegar. This was a brand I had not seen before on Cyprus. The bag says that they are hand-cooked English crisps and that the company was established in Herefordshire, England. The bag’s design was not bad-looking and it was about average priced when compared to the other chips available. As for the taste, it was nice and crispy. The flavor was a really nice blend of salty and sour. I am a fan of vinegar, and especially apple cider vinegar since it is the base flavor in my barbecue sauce – the proper sauce for barbecue in eastern North Carolina, which is the best barbecue (I know everyone should know this, but it is always worth repeating in case someone reading this is unaware of the undisputed best barbecue in the world.) I score this a *********(9) – a very good score. So good, in fact, I had to run some analytics to check and see where this placed this chip in the overall record of my research. This chip received the second-highest score I have ever given, behind the prawn cocktail chips which achieved a perfect score. In case further confirmation is needed about how I scored them, I finished the whole bag.
To celebrate my return to my chip research, I also evaluated a second flavor of potato chip, Lays Baked Tomato & Basil. It came in a very typically designed bag for Lays, with a very busy design. As for taste, it was very crispy as expected of a baked chip. My first thought on tasting it (regarding its flavor) was that it tasted like a lasagna, which was quickly followed by a growing presence of basil….and then even more basil….and then too much basil. This was something I didn’t expect, I really like the way basil smells, and I use it in my cooking a lot. If I was worried that my evaluation of the cider vinegar chips was inflated due to my eagerness to continue my research, this one demonstrated that wasn’t the case. I gave this a *(1).
So, quite a range in scoring today – from my second-highest score (9) to tied to the lowest score ever (1). This really sums up the field of potato chip research and the way the journey progresses, from the heights of culinary satisfaction to the depths of taste buds’ despair.
Today was our first full day of research in Polis. We did a bit of cleaning, mainly sweeping and cleaning the tabletops before setting up our stuff in our usual places. The first day at the apotheke is always a bit like the opening day of baseball, a lot of ceremony and tradition. Since we had stopped at the bakery on the way to the apotheke, Bill and I each ate our inaugural vanilla glazed doughnut. Then we discussed a plan of action for the day. For me, that meant grabbing some pottery trays to analyze our work in the area known as EF1. Before I could begin studying the pottery, I needed to decide on which songs would be selected as this field season’s opening songs from my pottery playlist – a great honor for those selected. After a few minutes pondering the issue, my opening day selections were:
Once the music started, then it was just a matter of looking at pottery for the next few hours. It is always a little slow getting back into the groove, and after missing the last two summers, it felt a little harder to get things moving at the correct speed. But, by the end of the day, things felt pretty normal.
So, COVID shut down our work in Cyprus for two summers (2020 and 2021). This year, however, we are pushing ahead and trying to get our work back on track. It has been an unusual few weeks getting ready for the trip. In the past, I never really worried about packing or making sure I had what I needed for the field season, but after a few summers of not doing any international travel, I adopted a new approach to my travels – sudden and frequent panic. This technique resulted in frantic buying on Amazon, trips to stores, and waking up one night at 3:30 AM and realizing my rolling duffle had broken down on its last trip back from Cyprus and spending the next two hours reading reviews to order a new duffle.
The trip was relatively uneventful. My Pittsburgh to Philadelphia leg had a large number of Pittsburghers who were on their way to Las Vegas, including the older woman sitting next to me who called me “Bro” every time she talked to me. My Philadelphia to London leg was nice and quiet since the flight was only about 50% full resulting in me having a row to myself. The London to Larnaka leg was very crowded with only one empty seat – fortunately, it was next to me. This flight was on time allowing me to get the rental car and then pick up Bill. We spent the night in Larnaka before driving to Polis this morning. The weather in Polis is sunny and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and is expected to be like this for the next week to ten days.
We are set up at our usual place, Renos – and it looks like nothing has changed – still nice and quiet. We are staying in the same room we have stayed in for the last two trips. Our balcony looks out into a neighboring house’s backyard, which has always been a pleasant view because of the large number of flowers they grow. This year, the flowers have grown so high that you can’t see into the yard. The village looks almost the same, though one of our favorite places to stop by for something to eat or drink has closed.
We ran some errands this afternoon in an attempt to hold off the jet lag which was noticeable – a lot of nonsensical statements and long pauses in an effort to recall names, places, etc. We made a grocery run, and visited with the museum staff to discuss our plans for the summer. We then started discussing our plans for the summer and gathering computer files together to make sure we have everything we need. Since I mentioned going to the grocery store, let me assure you that I did find some potato chips to try out. Thousands and thousands of you have emailed me concerned over the pause in my potato chip research. Well, it starts back this week! Bill is trying to get me to go back through the chips I have already tasted and regrade them, to see if my tastes have changed – we will see if I am up to that. Meanwhile, a quick review of my past work (55 reviewed) will help set the stage for this season’s work.
The Potato Chips of Cyprus: An Exhaustive Study:
Argentinean Steak — ***** (5)
Baked Lays with Mediterranean Herbs — *****(5)
Barbecue — ******** (8)
Brazilian Mango and Chile — **** (4)
Caramelized Onion and Balsamic Vinegar — ******* (7)
Summers have become quite strange. I had spent every summer since 1995 in the Greece or Cyprus with exception of the brief period of 2000-2001, when I was finishing up my dissertation and looking for a job. Then last summer (2020) the pandemic shut everything down, but I was on a committee making plans for how my university was going to manage classes in the fall. This involved a wide range of activities, such as meetings, spacing chairs, putting down stickers, etc.) and as a result, even though I didn’t get to go to Cyprus, it was so busy that it distracted me. Not going this summer has really felt different. While there are a fair number of activities going on at IUP due to a reorganization, it doesn’t have the same feeling that 2020 had. As a result, I really find myself thinking a lot more about Cyprus and worried about getting back there. I noticed that I have been cooking a lot more of the foods I normally eat in Cyprus. For example, I made souvlaki, schawarma, tzatziki, and hummus in the last few days and am thinking about cooking Tavas this weekend.