The episode: “The Incredible Melting Man,” ep. 704
The riff: Sarcastically riffed by Mike as a very complicated-looking network of dishes and piping attached to a building is shown.
The explanation: The Very Large Array is a huge sequence of 27 separate large-scale radio transmitters/telescopes in the New Mexico desert that together function as one large receiver. It was built in the mid-1970s to aid in research into the mysteries of the universe, including radio galaxies, black holes, pulsars and quasars. In 2011 and 2012, the technology of the dishes was exponentially upgraded and the name was changed to the Karl Guthe Jansky Very Large Array in honor of the pioneering father of radio astronomy. It has been featured in many sci-fi movies such as “Contact,” where it was erroneously implied to be involved in the search for extra terrestrial intelligence.
Novelty factor: I’ve always chuckled at this riff. My inner sci-fi nerd knows all about the Very Large Array, although I was unaware it had been renamed.
The episode: “Bloodlust,” ep. 607
The riff: Quipped by Tom in the style of a 1950s movie title after a couple kiss messily and Mike notes “Ew, he’s unhinging his jaw.”
The explanation: Lamprey are an order of jawless fish that are common throughout the world. The most famous species such as the sea lamprey are somewhat feared and reviled for their eating method, which is to attach to the side of a fish with their sucker-like jaw of fangs and drink the blood as a parasite. They have become invasive species in many of the Great Lakes, killing fish with no natural predators. The famous episode of “The X-Files” called “The Host” featured a monster-of-the-week called “Flukeman” that was largely inspired by lampreys.
Novelty factor: I first heard about these guys when news reports discussed the problems they were posing in Lake Michigan.
The episode: “Invasion of the Neptune Men,” ep. 819
The riff: Grumbled by Mike after a nuclear reactor explodes, sending up a big mushroom cloud. Tellingly, it follows a riff where Crow says “Ah, the mosquito spraying program is off to a great start.”
The explanation: Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and conservationist who was one of the major figures of environmentalism in the United States. Her 1962 book “Silent Spring” was one of the first to explore the dangers of pesticides, eventually leading to the nationwide band on DDT pesticides. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.
Novelty factor: I hadn’t heard the name before, but she sounds like quite a remarkable woman.
The episode: “A Young Man’s Fancy,” the short in front of “The Violent Years,” ep. 610
The riff: Sarcastically inserted as dialog after a young girl ironing clothes begins a question with “Mother…?”
The explanation: More accurately, it’s spacetime and not space that is supposedly curved. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the curvature of spacetime describes the connection between physical, three-dimensional space the fourth dimension, time. He theorized that as one approaches the speed of light, it becomes easier to see the link between space and time. He also theorized a few other things that I would have great difficulty understanding or summarizing on a blog dedicated to jokes from a 25-year-old TV show.
Novelty factor: I got the general gist of what they were asking. I can’t pretend to be an expert in Einstein field equations, but I get as much as the average layman.
The episode: “Commando Cody pt. 8,” the second Cody serial in front of “Project Moonbase,” ep. 109
The riff: Spoken in an oddly Canadian-sounding accent by Crow as a crew of rocket pilots attempt to navigate somewhere in the vicinity of the moon.
The explanation: This is definitely a geeky riff, at least in the first part. “L2” is a reference to Earth’s “Lagrangian points,” which are essentially areas of the planet’s orbit where a small object can stay up and orbiting indefinitely, caught in stasis between the gravitational effects of the three relevant bodies: the earth, the moon and the sun. Because of this, important space stations and equipment have been stationed in these areas. The second half of the riff, though, is totally different. I could be wrong, but I think it’s a reference to an old Cheech and Chong bit called “Dave’s not here,” which plays like a much stupider version of “Who’s on first?”
Novelty factor: Let’s just say I learned a lot in the course of looking this one up.
The episode: “Here Comes the Circus,” the short in front of “The Day the Earth Froze,” ep. 422
The riff: Chimed in by Tom Servo as a woman climbs on top of a man’s shoulders as part of the circuses tumbling routine.
The explanation: “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales” was a groundbreaking 1985 book by psychologist Oliver Sacks. It collects some of the oddest stories and occurrences of his career in abnormal psychology, such as the title character, who suffered from visual agnosia. Many of the stories have been adapted or sampled in films such as “Memento.”
Novelty factor: I was made to read this book in a high school psychology course and found it very interesting. I’ve also noted how its stories have been used in the media–I remember recognizing when a first-season episode of “House” used one of the bits from the book about an old woman re-experiencing syphilis that had come out of dormancy after 50 years. All in all, it’s an interesting book.
The episode: “Mr. B Natural,” the short in front of “War of the Colossal Beast,” ep. 319
The riff: Whined by Crow as the short’s dumpy little central character, Buzz, trudges up the stairs past his mother, who asks if he wouldn’t rather go outside on this lovely day.
The explanation: Rather a unique use of the word “sebaceous,” which is typically found in the medical world to describe the sebaceous glands located under the skin. These glands produce skin oils called Sebum and contribute to acne, especially around the face and scalp. Crow, however, seems to be referring to the less often used adjective form of the word, calling Buzz “resembling tallow or fat, greasy.”
Novelty factor: I had a general idea from the context of what they meant, but I can’t claim to be a gland expert.
Thank me for choosing to upload this image and not one of the sebaceous cyst removal videos I was tricked into watching on YouTube.