With many a cunning plan

Cidu Bill on Aug 7th 2017


Filed in Argyle Sweater, Bill Bickel, CIDU, Scott Hilburn, comic strips, comics, humor | 70 responses so far

70 Responses to “With many a cunning plan”

  1. Rick Aug 7th 2017 at 12:48 am 1

    A pun on “adder” and his apparent inability to count?

  2. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 01:09 am 2

    Rick has it @1. Aside from the (not geezerish, but still rather dated) reference to Rowan Atkinson’s character, that’s all there is.

  3. John Small Berries Aug 7th 2017 at 01:18 am 3

    Is there a reason to believe it’s a reference to the British sitcom, and not just driving the snake theme home for people who can’t put two and two together?

  4. Pete Aug 7th 2017 at 01:24 am 4

    Les Blackadder’s best cunning plan is to take 20 items through the 10 item lane. All the Edmunds through history are embarrassed by him.

  5. Ted from Ft. Laud Aug 7th 2017 at 01:26 am 5

    I don’t think there’s any reference - it doesn’t seem to fit or add anything. Blackadder was an imbecile in series 1, but was (almost) always the smartest person in the room in the rest of the series. I actually wondered about this panel when I saw it in the paper - it seemed a big stretch for a small joke, so I thought perhaps there was something I was missing. Apparently not?

  6. fleabane Aug 7th 2017 at 01:52 am 6

    If your name is Les, you’re pretty much destined to be a failure as an adder.

    This would be easier to understand if the caption was just “adder” and not “black adder”.

  7. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 02:08 am 7

    I agree with Ted @5 & fleabane @6 - there’s no good reason to include the reference to the series, but there’s no good reason to use the adjective at all unless the reference was intended. There is a subspecies that may be known (regionally) as a “black” adder, but it doesn’t seem common enough to make it iconic.

  8. James Pollock Aug 7th 2017 at 02:23 am 8

    “there’s no good reason to use the adjective at all unless the reference was intended.”

    I don’t think it’s a reference to the TV show.
    Black adders were snakes before they were TV characters.

  9. Arthur Aug 7th 2017 at 02:25 am 9

    It’s possible Hilburn was mistaken: He knew that there was a
    snake called an adder, but had heard Blackadder so often that he
    thought the snake was called a black adder.

  10. Ted from Ft. Laud Aug 7th 2017 at 03:35 am 10

    And of course, while Blackadder is iconic in the UK, I don’t think it counts as such in the US (in the wider audience), as it only played on PBS stations and various streaming services. OTOH, it’s almost certainly known to Hilburn, and he has used somewhat esoteric references before. On the gripping hand, it still doesn’t seem to add anything to the joke, so I’ll still go with not a reference.

    Though as Arthur points out, the show could well be why Hilburn says “black adder” - while some adders are black, I don’t think there is actually a variety called black adder, so he had to get that from somewhere.

  11. Ed Aug 7th 2017 at 04:13 am 11

    HIS NAME IS LES. He can bring as many items as he wants!

  12. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 04:52 am 12

    @ Ted (10) - While I would never advocate Wikipedia as an authoritative source, the variation “black adder” is buried within a long list of over 50 different local names for the “eastern hognose snake“. This doesn’t seem be evidence that the name is better known for the snake than it is for the TV character, rather the contrary, I think.

  13. Cidu Bill Aug 7th 2017 at 04:56 am 13

    Even if it’s a reference to Blackadder, what’s the actual joke?

  14. Pete Aug 7th 2017 at 04:58 am 14

    “Blackadder was an imbecile in series 1, but was (almost) always the smartest person in the room in the rest of the series.”

    Not really. He was more charming and witty, but no smarter. His schemes kept going wrong because he’d overlooked something obvious.

  15. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 05:01 am 15

    @ Bill (12) - Rick already nailed the joke @1: Les cannot add.

  16. narmitaj Aug 7th 2017 at 05:01 am 16

    Is it a (feeble) pun on Les/Less? The apparently incompetent “adder” also can’t completely correctly identify his own name in writing, so he thinks the sign says “10 items or Les”. (If it was “10 items or fewer” then possibly Herr Feuer would be similarly confused).

  17. Cidu Bill Aug 7th 2017 at 05:16 am 17

    Shouldn’t it just be “adder” then?

    Of course logically, it should be “counter”: who adds in this context?

  18. Mitch4 Aug 7th 2017 at 08:03 am 18

    Anyone else recall an early lesson on logic circuits, where the first goal was to sketch a “half adder”? I always expected to see a snake

  19. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 08:21 am 19

    Q: What’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?

    A: Finding half of a worm.

  20. Bill A Aug 7th 2017 at 08:36 am 20

    I think Ed @11 has it right. The snake is reading the sign as saying the lane is for ANYONE who has 10 or fewer items unless your name is LES(S), then you can check as many items as you want. The Blackadder TV series is not applicable, Les’ inability to get the rationale of the sign is.

  21. Melqart Aug 7th 2017 at 08:39 am 21

    Lessons? Yes. Snakes? No, but I do recall something along the lines of:
    What do you get when you add two half-adders?
    A little less then half an adder.
    Of course, its exact side-splitterness depends on which era you studied (tubes/transistors, gates, ICs, draggable elements, etc).

  22. fleabane Aug 7th 2017 at 09:05 am 22

    I think the name Les was just an intentional common touch but not the punchline. I think the joke is he can’t add very well. I think the use of “black adder” rather than simply “adder” was an unnecessary mistake without significance.

    The adjective I tend to put in front of “adder” without thinking and assume is just the basic form of the word is “puff adder”. I do this because when Churchy LaFemme was put on a diet of dried apples (so he could gain enough weight to lose 10 lbs– he only weighed 9) Pogo commented that eating only dried apples and water he’d swell up like a puff adder.

  23. Ian D Osmond Aug 7th 2017 at 09:32 am 23

    Pete — I’d say that he WAS typically the smartest person in the room. However, that was usually more an indictment of the room than a compliment to him. I’d say most versions of Blackadder were of average intelligence — which made them geniuses by comparison to everyone else around.

  24. Kilby Aug 7th 2017 at 09:37 am 24

    @ fleabane (22) - Do you have any idea in which year (or decade) that “puff adder” incident took place? I never had a chance to read Pogo in the newspaper, only in books, and my family’s collection wasn’t anywhere near complete (probably less than a third of Kelly’s entire run). However, judging from the style of the humor and the language, my rough guess would be late 50’s.

  25. ja Aug 7th 2017 at 01:22 pm 25


    The first thing I thought of when I saw this comic was that it was an attempt to make a joke about a binary half adder…

    Perhaps Les is some sort of snake hybrid, and he’s only a half adder.

  26. Minor Annoyance Aug 7th 2017 at 04:00 pm 26

    Old college math joke:

    The ark has landed and Noah orders all the animals to go forth and multiply. A couple a snakes look embarrassed.

    “We can’t multiply. We’re adders.”

    Noah points at a fallen tree.

    “No problem. Adders can multiply on a log.”

  27. Kevin A Aug 7th 2017 at 07:36 pm 27

    For a moment, I felt I’d witnessed the end of civilization as caused by Wikipedia, who, when presented with “black adder” as a search, returns 2 pages of references to the TV show even if you respond to Wikipedia’s question by saying that you want “black adder”, not “blackadder”.

    I think it’s important to point out that black adders (the American ones, maybe) are (were?) pretty well known in the U.S. when I was a kid.

    My feeling is, that to make the strip funny (and I saw it this morning and didn’t get it until I came back HERE this evening), the strip had to say black (or puff) to momentarily (or eternally) send the mind down a different path (”what’s so special about a black adder?; hmm”). Black adders are famous (for some reason). I “knew” Blackadder was a reference to snakes when the show first appeared.

  28. James Pollock Aug 7th 2017 at 07:51 pm 28

    “For a moment, I felt I’d witnessed the end of civilization as caused by Wikipedia, who, when presented with ‘black adder’ as a search, returns 2 pages of references to the TV show even if you respond to Wikipedia’s question by saying that you want ‘black adder’, not ‘blackadder’.”

    This is because the title of the show’s first season was “The Black Adder”, and didn’t become “Blackadder” until the second series.

  29. fleabane Aug 7th 2017 at 08:28 pm 29

    Kilby. It was January 17, 1968. The Puff Adder was said by Howland Owl. On January 18th, Pogo said he’d swell up like a dirigible.

    These were collected in Equal Time for Pogo which covers the 1968 election.
    This was the first Pogo book I bought with my own for $1.50 in 1970.

  30. Mark in Boston Aug 7th 2017 at 09:33 pm 30

    You don’t have to be able to add to be able to count.

    I wonder if the joke would work if it were a counter at the counter instead of an adder.

    “Les was an embarrassment to counters everywhere.” And of course the other counter, the one with the groceries on top, would be making an embarrassed face.

  31. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 12:32 am 31

    “You don’t have to be able to add to be able to count.”

    Uh, yeah you do. If you count by 5’s each number is the previous one plus 5. If you count by 2’s, each number is the previous one plus 2. and if you count, each number is the previous one +1.

    (No, the letters of the alphabet, which can be “counted” off in order, do not count (see what I did there?). Once you run out out of letters, you have to stop counting. If you have to stop counting, you don’t have an algorithm for counting, just one for creating a 1:1 association with a static set. Which is not counting.)

  32. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 12:35 am 32

    You could make the joke work, using the alternate punchline suggested by Ed upthread, by making Les into a regular person, and having something that has temporarily obstructed on of the two “S”s in “Less”. Then the joke is that he thought this register lane was for ((10 items) or (Les)) rather than 10 (or less) items.

  33. Meryl A Aug 8th 2017 at 02:42 am 33

    I go along with the sign was read as 10 items or Les (spelled wrong in his tiny mind) which meant that anyone with 10 items could use it or Les could use it.

    On the other hand, having worked as a supermarket cashier while in college (back when each item had to be rung up by hand - and the coupon subtracting key was brand new and had to constantly be explained to customers) many people have strange ideas of what an “item” is for the count. 12 bottles of Coca Cola - one item. Food - one item. Really, truly, this is how some people think. After all, if one buys 6 oranges that one has put in a bag they are one item - right?

    Thank goodness that job only lasted a month of training and 2 months before they stopped giving me hours. (Odd thing to do after offering me a promotion to front end manager.)

  34. Kilby Aug 8th 2017 at 04:21 am 34

    Thanks, Fleabane. That’s one of the Pogo books that I only know from backflap ads. I should dig up a copy somewhere.

  35. Kilby Aug 8th 2017 at 04:23 am 35

    @ Kevin A. (27) - “…end of civilization…

    Then today’s SMBC should be right up your alley.

  36. Wendy Aug 8th 2017 at 09:58 am 36

    Meryl, are you saying that a 12-pack of coke or a bag of grapes should render you ineligible for the express lane? I would consider 6 oranges in a bag* (even if the customer put them in one of the clear plastic bags as opposed to a pre-done mesh bag of oranges) or several bananas as one item, but 6 cans of soup are 6 items. I have always counted by how many bar codes (or PLU codes) need to be scanned/entered to meet the rule. And, yes, I spent about 18 months working as a cashier at the grocery store for my first job.

    *The ones who annoyed me were the people who bought 1 red apple, 1 green apple, 2 oranges, and 1 onion, and put them all in one produce bag. That does NOT count as 1 item, and no, it doesn’t matter if they are all the same price per pound, I still have to ring them separately for inventory!

  37. mitch4 Aug 8th 2017 at 10:04 am 37

    Meryl points out: many people have strange ideas of what an “item” is for the count. 12 bottles of Coca Cola - one item.

    Well, quite seriously I don’t know how they count a 6-pack (of soda or pop or sparkling water or flavored seltzer) bound tightly with a 6-ring plastic thing. They only have to scan once, and bag once, but do hit the multiplier because the scanned price is for one can. So you can see different bases for calling it one item or six items, in terms of the small-order line rules.

    Also note, “10 items” is not universal. Some places it has been 15 or 12. That always leaves me wondering if there are observations and calculations behind that (how many people with intermediate orders are switching lines, etc), or some person’s random sense of fairness and compromise.

  38. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 10:41 am 38

    I, like a lot of people (I suspect) spent a lot of time working out “rules” of what constitutes an “item”.

    Then I (unlike a lot of people, I suspect) decided I didn’t care. The POINT of an express lane is to allow those who have quick transactions to avoid being caught behind people who have long, complicated checkout. Thus, if my checkout is much less time-consuming than everyone else’s, I consider the spirit of the “item count” to be met, and if it isn’t, it isn’t, even if some intricate logic can somehow turn my purchases into “X items or less”. While there certainly are people who abuse the express lane, it’s STILL faster to just process them through than to make a big deal about counting their items, and moving to a regular checkout.

    I mean, even if you have only ONE item, but you want to pay for it with an expired coupon and hundreds of pennies, nickels, and dimes… karma will catch up to you, and there’s no point in my thinking unkind thoughts about you. Now, when you want to pay with a handful of small change, and you drop said handful on the floor as you’re trying to hand it to the cashier, some unkind thoughts may still erupt.

  39. mitch4 Aug 8th 2017 at 11:18 am 39

    Good point, James, and I think one that is appreciated at the friendlier supermarkets in my neighborhood. When an express lane has no customers, the cashier will invite someone over from another line.

    Still, there will always be “counters”, and for someone who hasn’t made it into the “I don’t give a hoot what randos think of me” corps, it just feels prudential to count up one’s own order and feel secure against the counters’ microaggressive glances.

  40. Wendy Aug 8th 2017 at 12:21 pm 40

    Mitch, that’s interesting. Around here, if the sodas are bound by a plastic into a 6- or 8-pack, then the price scanned is for the pack, not an individual can, so there’s no multiplier. And I suppose I was assuming that the oranges or bananas were sold by the pound, not priced per each, but still, with fruit, you usually have to type in a code to activate the scale, or you type the code and it asks how many if it’s per piece, so something like that would still be one item in my book. It’s different than scanning 6 cans of soup, at least to me.

    James does have a good point about the spirit of the express lanes. Around here there is a trend toward having some self-checkout lanes, with the intention being that they are like express lanes, but they are not. They don’t have limits, and they are not very user friendly, as they require you to scan, put the item in the bag (or just on the table, which is a scale), and then you have to wait for it to actually realize you’ve done this before you scan the next item. This is fine for cans of soup, not so much for very light items like a greeting card. And you can’t just scan several things and then bag them, as I used to as a cashier. If I have a lot of stuff, or a lot of produce, or coupons, I just go to the regular lines, as it’s less stressful than having the stupid thing either fuss that I didn’t bag something or that there’s something extra on the scale, usually because I picked up the thing it didn’t register the first time and put it down again, or because I made the mistake of moving the full bag over to start an empty bag before it was done weighing the last thing I scanned. My husband won’t even put anything in any bags before he pays, to limit that issue. And bringing your own bags is another can of worms that we just don’t attempt.

    Sorry that turned into a rant. I guess those things annoy me more than I realized.

  41. Winter Wallaby Aug 8th 2017 at 12:45 pm 41

    I also would consider 12 bottles of soda (bound together) or 6 oranges (in a bag) as single items.

    Wendy, I never got the impression that self-checkout lanes were intended to be like express lanes. Many people might prefer not to use them if they have a lot of items, but I always took that as an individual preference, not an intention of the store.

  42. Brian in STL Aug 8th 2017 at 01:33 pm 42

    “No problem. Adders can multiply on a log.”

    The version I heard had snakes copulating on a rustic wooden table, so “even adders can multiply on a log table.”

  43. Brian in STL Aug 8th 2017 at 01:39 pm 43

    “Wendy, I never got the impression that self-checkout lanes were intended to be like express lanes.”

    Locally, they are Express lanes, labeled as such.

  44. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 01:48 pm 44

    “I never got the impression that self-checkout lanes were intended to be like express lanes.”

    If it isn’t faster to use a self-checkout, why else would you? Let’s see, I can stand here and laugh at the cover stories of the National Enquirer and its ilk while the checker scans and bags all my items, or I can do all that myself.

    Here’s a side rant which I am 100% certain will trigger moderation (I know, it’s hard to be 100% sure, but… I’m 100% sure).
    Take a look at the National Enquirer. Note that their cover stories are biased very, very heavily towards being positive towards the current President. Now, current poll numbers suggest that the President’s fans are outnumbered by, well, not-fans, by a 2:1 margin or more. It seems like they’d be smarter to play towards the 2/3’s of the population. Unless, the REAL telling statistic isn’t how many of them there are, but how many of them there are who are stupid enough to pay U.S. currency for a copy of the National Enquirer… Is there some solid market demographic research behind this editorial choice?

  45. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 01:48 pm 45

    Yep. Triggered moderation. quelle suprise.

  46. Wendy Aug 8th 2017 at 02:15 pm 46

    The main reason I say they are intended as a type of express lane is that often, the scale/platform where the bags go can only hold about 4-6 bags of groceries, and as I mentioned, the system gets mad when you remove bags, so you can’t really do a large shopping load at those stations. Some stores do have larger self-check areas, sometimes labeled to encourage people to use an appropriate lane. At our Walmart, there are about 8 stations, but they have 2 or 3 different size scales, so if you have a larger load, you need to watch which station you use, but even the largest doesn’t hold more than about 8 bags.

  47. Winter Wallaby Aug 8th 2017 at 04:14 pm 47

    Wendy, yeah 99% of the time, if I have a lot of stuff, I would rather use a human cashier, for the reasons you said. I just meant that I didn’t get the impression that they were only supposed to be used when you have a small amount of stuff. i.e. if the human cashiers all had long lines, I wouldn’t feel guilty about using self check-out with a lot of stuff, and wouldn’t give the stinkeye to someone ahead of me with a lot of stuff. Although Brian@43 now has me wondering how my checkout lanes are labelled.

  48. mary Aug 8th 2017 at 06:29 pm 48

    Everybody is overthinking this. It’s like Ed said. His name is Les so he’s allowed to be in that line. The other black adders are embarrassed because it looks like he can’t add. That’s it. IMHO.

  49. Mark in Boston Aug 8th 2017 at 08:15 pm 49

    “’You don’t have to be able to add to be able to count.’

    Uh, yeah you do. If you count by 5’s each number is the previous one plus 5. If you count by 2’s, each number is the previous one plus 2. and if you count, each number is the previous one +1.”

    Oh, that’s the problem! The snake is counting by 5’s.

  50. Kilby Aug 8th 2017 at 08:16 pm 50

    @ Wendy (40) - They have those automated checkouts in Germany, too, but only in very large supermarkets. I tried one out once, and it annoyed me so much that I’ve never (ever!) tried it again. In addition to all of the defects you mentioned, the system had no mechanism for purchasing a case of beer. I had to scan every %$@# bottle separately, and the stupid computer asked me to confirm that I was of legal drinking age for every single one. I’m sure (or at least I would hope) they’ve corrected both defects by now, but I don’t care: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

  51. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 08:46 pm 51

    “In addition to all of the defects you mentioned, the system had no mechanism for purchasing a case of beer.”

    You can’t buy beer at all with self-checkout in the States. The computer isn’t any good at checking ID.

  52. larK Aug 8th 2017 at 08:56 pm 52

    “Fool me once…”

    Is that how it goes? George W. Bush made me permanently forget how it goes, but if that’s it, it doesn’t make much sense to me: I get the sentiment, and what it’s trying to say, but I have more sympathy for George, ’cause it just doesn’t seem to make much sense. You’re bad if you fool me once, but I’m bad if you fool me again? I think I’m bad if you manage to fool me once, but now that you’ve established that you can fool me, you’re bad if you insist on continuing to do so, being as I’m such an easy target — shame on you for picking on the moron.

    ‘Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.’ –George W. Bush

  53. James Pollock Aug 8th 2017 at 09:21 pm 53

    Fool me once, shame on you. (=for being deceptive)
    Fool me twice, shame on me (=for not learning from my previous experience)

    Fool some of the people all of the time (=formula for Fox News profitability.)

  54. Winter Wallaby Aug 8th 2017 at 10:57 pm 54

    Kilby #49: “the stupid computer asked me to confirm that I was of legal drinking age.”

    So was it just on the honor system? Here, when I buy alcohol a store employee has to come over, and confirm my age (either by ID or by eye), and use their employee access to let the system know that I’m old enough.

  55. Kevin A Aug 9th 2017 at 12:24 am 55

    @Kilby Thanks. I liked that the housemate said “beans”.

  56. Ted from Ft. Laud Aug 9th 2017 at 02:28 pm 56

    Around 1990, the main local supermarket chain (Publix) installed a few self-checkout lanes in one store to test - coincidentally, my “local” store at the time, so I experienced it. It seemed to mostly work OK, but the error/problem rate was likely too high to really be viable. One (non-technical) issue was that aside from my neighborhood (and a number of other “regular” neighborhoods/developments), right near the store was a huge “over 55″ (read “retirement”) community - 8500 condos - named Century Village (they insisted the average age was somewhat under 100, but probably not by much), and the residents shopped there too. A few could figure out the self checkout lanes, but way too many got into those lanes and then were completely lost - requiring almost one employee per lane all the time to sort out the problems. That would probably have been ok had it only needed to be for a couple of weeks, but many of those shoppers never figured it out but refused to stop going in those lanes. Eventually (despite claims that they were happy with it) Publix pulled the self check lanes out of that store, and moved them to a different city, about 10 miles away. By happenstance, that was more or less where I had moved in the interim, so (although at that point it wasn’t the Publix I shopped at most often) I encountered it again relatively frequently. And again, it mostly worked (and had fewer - though far from no - issues with problematic customers), but the error/problem rate was still too high - I think the technology just wasn’t there yet. I think the experience was so negative that in the subsequent 20+ years, they’ve never installed any more self checkout lanes in any of the (multitude of) Publix stores around here (though I understand they do have some in other places), nor do any of the other markets (aside from Walmart and Target) have them. Home Depot and Costco (amonst others, I’m sure) doand they are heavily used there - and anytime I don’t have items that would require a cashier, I use them too. (And at least the ones at Costco don’t require item at a time bagging - they use some sort of visual validation - in addition to a scale? - so can have multiple things on the belt at once.)

    As far as what goes at a “10 item” express lane - I cope if someone has 11 or 12 items, but I get irritated (and don’t hide it) for people who have 25 items, but “I was in a hurry…”. I consider each scan an item, so a multipack that is scanned once, or a bag of produce that is weighed as a unit are each 1 item to my thinking, but 20 bottles of baby food (each of which need to be separately scanned for inventory purposes) are 20 items - I don’t care if “they are all the same thing”. Of course, I am as or more irritated at people who go into the express lane and then buy cigarettes (which requires the cashier to stop and make a trip to the Customer Service counter to get the cigarettes), but I think that one is at least partly on the store - I don’t think they should allow cigarette purchases in express but should require those purchasers to make the trip to the service counter themselves. (And yes - I don’t like kids on my lawn - why do you ask?)

  57. James Pollock Aug 9th 2017 at 03:01 pm 57

    There’s an argument that 20 jars of baby food is 20 instances of 1 item.

    As I said before, though, I don’t think it does any good to get uptight about how other people are using the express lane. Even when the store employee puts their foot down on abusers, that STILL takes longer, and it’s out of my control. I try to avoid getting angry at things that are beyond my control.

    Similarly, I don’t much care what other random customers in a store think. I don’t abuse the express lane, but if I did, and you didn’t like it, well, uh, bummer for you, I guess. You should have gotten to the line before me if you wanted to get out before me.

  58. Winter Wallaby Aug 9th 2017 at 03:37 pm 58

    Ted #56: Both of my grocery stores in the downtown area have a large cluster of 9 to 12 self-checkout stands, and a single employee who oversees all of them. When I run into issues needing an employee (e.g. ID check for alcohol, removing bags), they usually able to come right away. So there’s not a big queue of people having problems.

    Re: 20 bottles of baby food. “each scan is an item” sounds right, and at my store they scan each of multiple items separately. However, I have been at places where they just scan a single item and then hit “20″ on their register. Which makes “20 bottles of baby food” a more intermediate issue - they only have to scan once, but they have to take the time to count to 20. OTOH, if it was 3 identical items, the count is near-instantaneous.

  59. Ted from Ft. Laud Aug 9th 2017 at 04:44 pm 59

    Like I said, these problems were 25 years ago, when both the technology and the comfort level of “older” people with technology were both less than they are now. The places that do have self checkout now successfully run a bunch of lanes with one employee.

    As far as bunches of baby food (or cat food, or little yogurts, etc.)- the problem is that for those sorts of items, it’s never 20 of the exact same thing - it’s 20 similar things. So for inventory purposes, they actually need to scan each one, even though they are the same price. For things that are clearly identical that they can just count and ring up with a single scan, it’s slightly different. Of course, the cashiers are generally good enough that they can scan those sorts of items about as fast as they could count and bag them anyway, so almost no additional time.

  60. Mark in Boston Aug 9th 2017 at 09:13 pm 60

    I was at the grocery store in Central Square and the kid in front of me had like 25 items on the “10 items or fewer” line.

    The clerk said, “You must be from Harvard or MIT.”

    Kid: “Yes, how did you know?”

    Clerk: “Either you’re from Harvard and you can’t count, or from MIT and you can’t read.”

  61. Brian in STL Aug 10th 2017 at 01:17 pm 61

    “You can’t buy beer at all with self-checkout in the States. ”

    At my supermarket, there is (as mentioned elsewhere) an employee that attends to all the self-check lanes. They confirm ID when needed. At Walgreens, there is sometimes an issue when buying alcohol because the cashier isn’t old enough. They have to call someone to deal with. That’s by announcing, “Code 21 at Register 1″.

    I don’t use the self-check often. Usually I shop later on Saturday evening, so the lines aren’t too long. Also, I buy a fair amount of produce each time, some of which needs to have a code looked up and weighed. I don’t want to bother with that.

  62. Meryl A Aug 16th 2017 at 12:58 am 62

    Sorry I was not clear - 12 SEPARATE 2 ltr bottles of coke is one item to many people. The oranges placed in the bag had to be rung up as an item each. Similar to what James Pollock said about the baby food jars. People think it is all the same, if I am buying 20 separate cans of soup (even if they are not the same soup)that is one item. I kept waiting for someone to come with a large order and tell me - food, one item.

    What I learned in my brief period of working a supermarket register (in addition to the fact the supermarket I worked at was overpriced, small loaves of white bread were 4/$1 and large ones 3/$1 - a fact of no value, but I can’t seem to get permanently out of my head, one has to remember to punch in and out when one comes in - if you forget the managers get upset at signing your card)the line at the express register takes longer the regular line register unless there are a lot less people on the express line. It takes longer to ring up, collect money, and bag several orders over and over than one large order.

  63. Meryl A Aug 16th 2017 at 01:17 am 63

    Back then there was no self registers. Husband insists on using them, but there is always some problem. On the rare occasion when I am shopping alone if there is more than one person on the self line I won’t use it as the wait will be too long compared to a cashier line.

    The biggest annoyance is the fact that they go by weight to check what has been rung up. We constantly get (both at the supermarket mentioned below and Walmarts in general) get messages that what we just put in the bag is not in it or the items we just had to fix in the bag (such as a box that fell over) is an “unexpected” item in the bag. The plastic bags do not open and even “futzing” with them to open one can result in unexpected item. Of course in BJs, the items go down the belt and then get returned to you at the register as for same.

    Our local supermarket used to have 4 self check lanes with regular register setups - register at near end, long belt, and bagging area at the far end. Each lane had its own line. Easy to ring up order and then bag it - we had a system - he rang them up, I bagged them and ready to put in the cart and go by the time he was done paying. No not bagged/unexpected item warnings.

    Then they switched to 4 registers with no belt and room for 3 shopping bag holders for bagging next to each. There are 2 registers on the left of the are, 2 on the right, and the store employee’s register in the middle. If someone is at one of the first registers (on either side) with a cart and one also has a cart, one cannot get to the second empty register on that side. If the reverse is true and a front register is open, one cannot get one’s cart past the cart at the second register - why? There is barely room for one cart to pass the employee’s register on each side. There are now constant item not bagged/unexplained item at these registers. Also no one is ever sure if there are 2 lines - one for the right 2 registers and one for the left two registers - or just one for all 4 registers. For a short while there was a SMALL hand written sign that there is one line - but there was no sign when this started and none now.

    Today we were in line and he decided to run to Walmart next door as we needed something there (okay, it was over $1 cheaper there than in the shopping market). So I was left on the self checkout line alone - as I was figuring I would be better off going to a cashier register (and maybe see Cathy - who used to work for decades a register at the store I liked which chain went out of business), I was suddenly the next person. I rang up the order - we had 10 bottles of diet soda - they were on sale and we stock up - knowing the system I started putting the bottles at the bag holder which had no bags, 5 bottles will fit there. I then started putting the remaining bottles at the bag holder where the bag was not started (it is hard to open an unstarted bag and each store’s bag have a different secret to do so). I then went to ring up the items I was going to bag. “Overweight, remove all bags.” Now if I had moved the bags it would be telling me that there was unexplained items. Just so —–ing annoying.

    Then there are always problems with coupons - today it rejected the coupon and the employee had to come and ring it in for me. Other times the coupons ring up, then we drop them in the slot when it says to - one at a time - and it continues to tell us that we need to drop the coupons in - and again, the employee has to come and reset it. Let alone trying to use a rain check.

    I really hate self service registers (plus I want people like Cathy to have jobs - I was so glad she showed up here.)

  64. James Pollock Aug 16th 2017 at 04:20 am 64

    “12 SEPARATE 2 ltr bottles of coke is one item to many people.”

    Yes. There’s an arguable case for this. Particularly if the person doing the checkout is efficient, you have 1 item… 2 ltr coke… 12 times. Do you consider “rent” to be 12 items, because you have to pay it 12 times during the year? Or is it one “thing” that you pay 12 times?

    If it’s self-serving to do so, you can even extend this to 12 different 2 liter bottles… 1 coke, 1 sprite, one diet coke, one Fanta orange, etc… because it’s one item… 2 liter soda… 12 times.

    Of all the things to get anry/annoyed about, this would be pretty low on my list. The “whoops, I’ve been carrying this bag of flour around for half-an-hour, and just now noticed that it’s got a hole in it that is spilling flour. Stop the checkout process and let me switch to a different bag of lour, while everybody in line waits” is annoying. The “Oh, you totalled my stuff. Here’s eleven coupons I forgot to tell you I wanted to use. Make the computer give me all the coupon prices.” is annoying. The “Let me pay with a handfull of change, even though the total was more than $5 and I don’t seem to have any quarters” guy… he doesn’t belong in the express lane no matter how many items he has, no matter how he counts them.

  65. Olivier Aug 16th 2017 at 07:43 am 65

    When I go to the self-check lane, I try to find new ways to get the supervisor to do the work for me (item without a bar code are fun).
    Also, one of the first times, I showed my cousins that these things accept pennies (vending machines don’t).

  66. Meryl A Aug 23rd 2017 at 02:31 am 66

    James Pollock - yes, I consider the rent checks to be 12 different items. The total is one item listed on a P&L statement, but each check is a separate item to be dealt with. Each has to be written, has to be mailed, and has to be included in a reconciliation separately.

    12 -2 liter bottles of soda are 12 items not one item. In the old days when I worked a register One could not even ring them up as one item and generally now the clerk will slide each one over the scanner separately if they are all placed out on the belt for her/him. Certainly when one is self-ringing up the items they have to be rung up separately.

  67. James Pollock Aug 23rd 2017 at 12:26 pm 67

    “yes, I consider the rent checks to be 12 different items.”
    OK. But that wasn’t the question. I didn’t ask “do you consider rent checks to be separate items”. I asked whether “rent” was 12 items.

    “12 -2 liter bottles of soda are 12 items not one item”
    A bouguet of roses, too, I assume.
    You missed the point.
    Suppose I come down to the checkout with 12 Hershey bars, 3 bags of marshmallows, and 4 boxes of Graham crackers, and proceed to the express line. “Not so fast”, you say, “12 items or less”, you say. “No biggie”, says I. “I have three items… Hershey bars, marshmallows, and Graham crackers. three is less than twelve.”
    What I am saying is that both are correct at the same time.
    (Also that it just doesn’t matter.)

    “now the clerk will slide each one over the scanner separately”
    A new clerk, maybe. The experienced one takes the first one, waves it under the scanner how ever many times needed, and then bags them all.

  68. Meryl A Aug 30th 2017 at 02:12 am 68

    James Pollack - In the days when I worked at a supermarket there were no scanners - the coupon key had just been invented to subtract the amount of the coupon for us. Each item had to be rung up separately. This was such an ancient time that we could not ring up an item (as in a single, separately packaged item) that cost over $9.99 as the register would not take it as they were so rare - very occasionally a roast would be cost more than that and the manager would have to come and ring it up in 2 transactions - one for $9.99 and one for the balance of the price.

    When one is ringing up items at the self-serve each item (as described above) has to be scanned separately.

    And, yes, around here the cashiers do not tend to group the duplicate items together and scan them separately - even the long time ones - as it the rhythm they have developed.

    I consider rent to be one item (or actually one cost) when considered as a cost for the year. I also consider rent each month to be a one item for the month - and hence twelve items for the years. I would use twelve checks to pay it - each month being separately paid - and not consider the payment of it as one thing.

  69. James Pollock Aug 30th 2017 at 02:40 am 69

    “I also consider rent each month to be a one item for the month”

    Except… not all rent is expensed monthly. Sometimes rent is weekly, and sometimes biweekly, and sometimes quarterly or even longer. (rent on a PO box, for example, is often charged 6 months at a time.) Rental cars, on the other hand, are typically rented daily. Then you go turn it in, and pay for however many days you had it… in one transaction, with one check.

    Thus, again, “rent” and “rent checks” are separate things.

    If rent doesn’t work, how about “insurance”? Some people pay their insurance weekly, or even one time with no recurrence; some monthly, some longer. It doesn’t matter how you break up the payments, “insurance” is still insurance. So… 12 months of car insurance, one item. 12 months of homeowner’s insurance, one item. One incident of travel insurance (non-stop to Houston), one item. Paying for insurance 12 times doesn’t make it 12 items, it makes it one item with 12 payments. And if you paying quarterly instead of monthly, so you make only 4 payments instead of 12, you don’t suddenly have only 1/3 the insurance.

    That’s enough. WAY too much time on this.

  70. Meryl A Sep 5th 2017 at 03:14 am 70

    Okay - to follow this to it’s finish, there are people who say “Food. That’s one item.” Do you agree with that also?

    The number of items are limited to save time for those in line. One still has to put out all the items or the groups of items and that takes time and defeats the purpose of the “express” line in speeding up the time those with, say, a single bottle of milk and a single loaf bread, spend in line.

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