New Orleans Mensa

La Plume de NOM for December 2015

The Magazine of New Orleans Mensa Information and Entertainment


By Bart Geraci

As I’m gathering the articles to put together, it was nice and warm yesterday, but it’s freezing today. It may be warm tomorrow or later this week, though. Such is the nature of November/December in New Orleans. It’s the time of the year where I start keeping a jacket in my car in case I need it.

I wish to thank Phil Therrien for his service as Treasurer of New Orleans Mensa. He has resigned his position for health reasons. We wish him all the best.

The elections were held and here are the results:

Let’s go Pelicans and Saints!

End-Of-The-Year NOM Night Party

This month (December), Lovie and I will host the End-Of-The-Year NOM Night Party at our house. For those who have not been here before:

  1. There is no fee to attend. (Long time ago, there was, but no longer.)
  2. We do not provide alcohol, but we allow guests to bring their own (we have a corkscrew available).
  3. There is no dress code. However, most guests dress up for the occasion - somewhere on the level of attending a cocktail party or a nice evening out.
  4. It’s a buffet-style cocktail party event with real (non-disposable) plates and utensils.
  5. I get a variety of cheeses from St James Cheese Company. I appreciate the variety they have and the time they take with me to come up with a collection of cheeses.
  6. I prepare a varied mix of dishes, so there should be enough variety for everyone. If you have a dietary restriction, let me know and I’ll check it against what I have planned.

Next year, we will not have this party. Instead we will have ...

NORGY 2016 !!!

New Orleans Mensa is having a Regional Gathering in 2016 !

Dates: December 9 - 11, 2016

We need people with ideas and to help put on the RG. First meeting will be in January.

Taz Talks

By Taz Criss, Region 6 Vice Chair

It feels like 2015 started last week, but the year is already drawing to a close. For some of the 15 local groups within Region 6, elections have been happening, and new people will be holding office as of January 1. If you have previously volunteered your time or are about to embark on your first foray into local group leadership, I thank you. Mensa is a member-run organization and nowhere is that more obvious than at the local group level. If you are interested in getting involved with your local group, but are not yet ready to dive into the deep end of elected office, contact your LocSec or myself to learn about other volunteer opportunities.

This is also the time of year when many people choose to apportion donations. The Mensa Foundation is the charitable arm of American Mensa, providing scholarships and other funding for gifted youth programs throughout the year. The Foundation annually awards over 50 scholarships of up to $1,000 each. These scholarships are available to students who are not members of Mensa as well as members, so please encourage the college students in your life to apply. More information and an online donation form can be found at

Finally, it is time for another meeting of the American Mensa Committee. This quarter’s meeting will have a slightly different schedule than usual. Saturday, December 5, will be an all-day strategic planning workshop. This workshop and planning session is open to all Mensa members. It will be followed by the regular business meeting on Sunday, December 6. As the DFW area is again playing host to this meeting, I encourage all of you to consider attending. If you are unable to attend the meeting in person, please feel free to reach out to me with any feedback regarding the planning workshop or scheduled agenda items for the AMC meeting. I will be discussing any decisions made at this meeting in my column for January.

As always, I ask that if you have any questions, concerns, or general comments, please let me know. I have created a simple online form where members can offer feedback on any topic, both by name or anonymously. You can find this form at Of course, if you prefer, you can always contact me via email at

So The Story Goes Like This

By Bart Geraci

I was meeting a classmate in West Texas who I’d hadn’t seen in some time. We met at a restaurant in town. I asked him the usual questions: how was he, was he married, any kids, all the usual stuff.

I asked him about his job and he said he was hired by the government to compile economic statistics.

“Really? Plugging numbers into a spreadsheet at a desk job?”

“Actually, no, I’m out there doing field work. I go to different businesses and ask them about their perspectives and get their opinions along with some hard numbers on sales and profits.”

“Wow, I didn’t know that the government was taking such detailed information. So what have been people telling you about the economy?”

“Well for instance, I went to a garden store and a pet store this week, and it seems like on the average, the economy is just so-so, no big movement up nor down.”

“So what makes you think that?”

“Well, talking to them I learned that...:”

“...cactus sales have spiked, while aquarium sales have tanked.”

News and Notes for Young Mensans

From the National Office

Happenings & Celebrations


It’s Your Birthday!

If you were born in December, you share your birthday month with:


Paige D

Gifted Youth Intern, American Mensa |

get resources: |explore:

New Orleans Mensa ExCom Meeting

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Home of Bart Geraci

Mensa ExCom Members present:

Bart Geraci, Claudia D'Aquin, Robert Myers, Summer McKnight, Kevin Chesnut, Gerry Ward

Meeting called to order at 5:10 p.m.

Old Business:

New Business:

  1. Bart has checked with Sharon Kirkpatrick about taking over as historian; waiting for a response.
  2. Treasurer's report: treasurer was not in attendance. Summer McKnight presented the report: $10,738.03 - current balance. Kevin Chesnut presented receipts for the newsletter mailing.
  3. Update on Krewe du Vieux research: The Krewe is currently not accepting new member groups. We will continue to pursue other ideas for Mardi Gras participation in the future.
  4. RG update: Booked and confirmed at the *** on 12/9/16-12/11/16. Planning meetings for organizing the RG will begin in January. Bart will check with national about whether they will have their meeting with us again. We will discuss options to encourage local members to attend. (Possibly 50% discount in exchange for helping with the event).
  5. Testing day - we tested 6 people.
  6. The fun and games day in the park brought in a few prospects.
  7. We are still in need of an ombudsman. Bart will ask Sharon about this, too.
  8. Kevin mentioned that the newsletter is still available by regular mail. There are some people who requested electronic delivery, but did not provide an email address. Kevin will write to them to address this.
  9. Our treasurer, Phil Therrien, has resigned his position for health reasons. We will proceed with the elections as planned this evening. Rene' Petersen has accepted the nomination to run for treasurer. His name will be added to our list of candidates. All offices are unopposed.

First RG planning meeting will be in mid January. Bart will host. He will send us a date.

Next ExCom meeting 2/13/2016, 5:00 p.m., Bart's house.

All business being concluded, the meeting was adjourned at 6:00 p.m.

Submitted by Claudia D'Aquin, Secretary

BrainFork: A Mensan Talks About Food : Red Tuna Fruit (Prickly Pear)

by Bart Geraci
“Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.”
- T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” -

So what happened was that I was in a Latin American grocery store the other night and I saw signs saying “Red Tuna / Tuna Rojo” with a price 4 for $1. Now I saw this in the produce section and I was wondering what they were referring to. So I did a quick google search and found out they were talking about the fruit known as prickly pear. So I decided to buy some (both red and green varieties) and play around with them.


”Look at me... I'm a prickly pear.”
-Leaving Las Vegas -

Okay, we’re looking at you and your taxonomy:

Kingdom Plantae
(unranked) Angiosperms
(unranked) Eduicots
(unranked) Core Eduicots
Order Caryophyllales
Family Cactaceae
Genus Opuntia
Genus Opuntia
Species O. ficus-indica

As you can see from the family name, we’re talking about a cactus plant. This is the variety of cacti that has these large paddles and the fruit grows on top of it is the size of, well, a pear. Both the paddles and fruit are depicted on the flag of Mexico.

The genus is named after the ancient Greek city of Opus (and not the cute adorable penguin drawn by Berkeley Breathed). When Carl Linnaeus first named the genus, it was “Cactus”. Philip Miller of Scotland split the family into several genera, including “Opuntia” and distinguished the differences based on the forms of the flowers and fruits.

And the Ficus-indica means “India Fig”. Like the turkey, prickly pears are native to the Americas (and they don't come from India). One characteristic of this plant is that the different species can readily combine with other species. So while the Europeans believed it to come from Asia, its ancestry derives from Central Mexico. They are currently called “Indian Figs” in other locations such as Portugal and Libya.

And the word “tuna” refers to the fruit of this cactus. The paddles are called “nopal”. Why “tuna”? Its origin is from Taino, which was the main language of the Caribbean, which in turn was adapted by the Spanish. The fish that we call “tuna” is called “atun” in Spanish, which turns out to be an anagram.

The paddles are edible as well. Once the barbs are removed, they are cut into strips and can be canned, bottled, cooked with eggs and prepared in a variety of ways.

All Over the World

Baloo [singing]: “Now when you pick a pawpaw / Or a prickly pear / And you prick a raw paw / Well, next time beware / Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw / When you pick a pear try to use the claw / But you don't need to use the claw / When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw / Have I given you a clue?”
- The Jungle Book -

The plant can be found and used all over the world:

Curl Over and Dye

The wind was driving in my face
The smell of prickly pear
- Steely Dan, “My Rival” -

What Charles Darwin noticed about the plant is their thigmotactic anthers. Which means that if they are touched, the anthers curl over and deposit their pollen.

So we can eat the fruit and the paddles of the plant. There’s one more feature of the plant: we can extract a beautiful red dye from it. But it’s actually not part of the plant …

The Cochineal Insect

“A Route of Evanescence
With a revolving Wheel --
A Resonance of Emerald --
A Rush of Cochineal --”
- Emily Dickinson -

The cochineal is an insect that feeds on the cactus plant. The female is about one-fourth of an inch long and the male is smaller, but it has wings. The most interesting thing about the insect is that one-fifth of their body weight is carminic acid (C22 H20 O13), which can be used to produce a vivid red dye that can be used in food, clothing, and beauty products. It was so valued that it was the second most important export from Mexico (behind silver) to be sent back to Europe.

The quality of the dye depends on whether only the dye is extracted or if the rest of the insect is also used. Once synthetic red dyes were made, there was less of a demand for the cochineal. Then a new problem arose: these synthetic red dyes were determined to be carcinogenic (remember how red M&Ms disappeared during the mid 70s?). So now there is interest in the cochineal-based dye again.

So how many of these insects do you need for the dye? It is estimated that you need about 40,000 to 50,000 to produce one pound of dye, which in turn fetches about $25-40 per pound. There are farms where baskets are attached to the cactus paddles and a fertile female are placed in the bottom of the basket (and here I wonder how can they tell that a one-fourth inch insect is both a female AND fertile). The females then wait for the males to come and together they produce more cochineals. For processing, these insects are harvested by hand, so imagine picking 40,000 quarter-inch insects in order to get around $25.

The downside of using the insect is that it’s not kosher, halal, or acceptable for vegetarians.


“Kevin Quinlan and I usually agreed on everything. We had been best friends since arriving in Arizona the same week for four years before. We both thought the prickly pear cactus looked like Ping-Pong paddles with whiskers, and that saguaros looked like dinosaur mittens.”
- Jerry Spinelli, “Stargirl” -

You’ll find prickly pears in colors ranging from green to purple. The differences are mostly due to betalains, which is a complex molecule that, unlike anthocyanins found in say blueberries, contains nitrogen. The betalains in prickly pears, like beets, are not metabolized, so they will pass through in urine and tint it a bit more red (this condition is called beeturia) and is harmless.

So are the green ones unripe? Well, a lot depends on the particular species - in some cases, they remain green when ripe.

Any differences in taste? Well, the green ones seem to taste more like cucumbers, while the red / purple ones taste more like watermelon, a little bit sweeter. But like the colors, the sweetness may vary, so in all cases, you’ll have to determine how much sweetener to add.

To extract the juice, you can cut them down the middle, scoop out the insides and put them into a blender. Once blended, you want to strain it and then you can use it.

The simplest recipes are probably the best ones. So here are some drink recipes, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Miss Blyden

An alcoholic drink from the British Virgin Islands.

Mix tablespoon of sugar, 1 jigger of rum, top with prickly pear juice.

Succo di Fichi D’India

From Italy

Mix prickly pear juice with lime juice, grated ginger, and honey. Adjust for taste.

Agua Fresca de Tuna


Mix prickly pear juice with water, sugar, lime juice. It’s better when served cold.

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Last edited: 30-January-2016. Webmaster Bart J. Geraci can be reached at