Research Day: Pee-Chees, Exploding Soda, and Bad Bad Leroy Brown

Do they still make Pee-Chees?: Last night I told this story to a group of friends:

When I was in elementary school I didn’t really listen to music, but I knew that liking all the cool bands was essential to popularity. So I used to secretly copy the band names other kids had written on their Pee-Chees onto my own.

One day I somehow wound up talking to this girl I liked, and at some point she zeroed in on one of the band names I had on my Pee-Chee. “Oh, do you like INXS?” she asked. Unfortunately, I had no idea who she was talking about, because she pronounced the band name correctly, as “In Excess.” So I tried to bluff. “Yeah, In Excess is okay,” I said, but then tapped the “INXS” on my Pee Chee and added, “But the band I really like is Inks.”

This story got plenty of laughs, but at all the wrong moments. It was supposed to be a charming illustration of what a dope I was as a kid, but judging from the way everyone burst into guffaws every time I said “Pee-Chee,” it was taken more as an illustration of what a dope I am now. Afterwards, everyone was all, like, “what the hell were you talking about?”

Here’s the thing: mention “Pee-Chee” to people of my generation who grew up in Seattle, and they immediately know what you’re referring to: those goldenrod folders with all the sports figures on them. In fact, at my school, we said “Pee-Chee” to mean any folder, in the same way that people say “Q-tip” or “Kleenex.” The Pee-Chee brand was so popular that it was even able to stave off encroachment of the cooler-than-cool “Trapper Keeper” for a while.

Anyhow, that got me to wondering if kids today still use Pee-Chees. And the answer appeared to be “no.” “The folders are no longer made today,” according to this article.

But I had a hunch this wasn’t true — after all, I imagine the entire Washington State education system would implode in a abscence of Pee-Chees. So I did some actual non-sitting-on-my-ass-using-Google research: I went to my local drug store and perused the stationary aisle. And sure enough, there were the Pee-Chee folders I remember from my childhood, shelved with all the other “essential school supplies.”

Incidentally, I took a very informal poll, and it seems that everyone who grew up on the West Coast knew what a “Pee-Chee” was, while those who grew up elsewhere did not. So although my friends were snickering at my usage of “Pee-Chee,” in truth I should have been laughing at them, because their unfamiliarity with the term was outing them as a bunch of non-natives, Pacific Northwest poseurs.

Why do bottles of carbonated drinks explode after you’ve shaken them: This is one of these things I’ve always taken as a given, without ever reflecting on it: you shake a Sprite, it blows all over your kitchen when you open the can. But only recently, after I had a two-liter bottle of Talking Rain go all a-bomb on me after it had rolled around in my trunk on the way home from the store, did it ever occur to me to wonder why. Obviously the contents are under pressure, but does agitating them somehow increase the pressure? I though the only way to could increase the pressure of something was to reduce its volume or raise its temperature.

According to Ask Science Theatre, the pressure in the bottle does not increase when you shake it, but is still to blame for the phenomonon. In an unshaken bottle, soda occupies the bottom nine-tenths of the container, with a pocket of gas siting on top; this gas escapes with a pfffffft when you open the bottle, leaving the soda undisturbed. When you shake up the bottle, though, some of that carbon dioxide is mixed into the liquid and forms tiny bubbles. The gas still wants to escape when you open the bottle, though, but now has to muscle its way up through the soda toward the spout. In doing so, it pushes the liquid upwards, causing it to gush out of the bottle. The more you shake the bottle, the more thoroughly the carbon dioxide mixes with the soda, the greater the subsequent explosion.

Update: A couple of readers are callin’ bullshit on this explanation. I did a little more research and came across this page which provides three answers to the question, all of which are different from the one cited above and, exasperatingly, subtly different from each other as well.

But Richard Shaffstall sent what I find to be the most believable of all the theories. “Soda is carbonated; it has dissolved gasses in the liquid. The bubbles in the liquid that get put there by shaking allow the dissolved carbonation to separate from the liquid [by virtue of being "nucleation sites"] and become a gas. Gasses take up more space then liquids, so suddenly, explosively, the soda/gas mixture takes up more room then the container can hold and boom …

“This is the same explanation for how gunpowder works. Burning the gunpowder causes gasses to form. The gasses take up more space then the gunpowder un-burnt takes up, pressure goes up, and if it doesn’t have anyplace to go (as in a bullet cartridge) it builds up until the container cannot hold it and boom.”

What was Encyclopedia Brown’s first name: Considering the sheer number of Encyclopedia Brown books I read as I kid, you’d think I’d know this off the top of my head. But when I tried to remember Encyclopedia’s real name the other day, all I could come up with was “Leroy Brown” — and I knew I was just confusing the pint-sized sleuth with Jim Croce’s classic song Bad Bad Leroy Brown. So I plugged “encyclopedia brown” into Google to see if I could find out.

Ironically, it was “Wikipedia,” the 21st century’s answer to the Encyclopedia that had my answer, and I’ll be pickled if I didn’t have it right the first time. “Leroy ‘Encyclopedia’ Brown lives in the fictional Idaville, Florida, where his father is chief of police. Whenever a case arises (often one that is stumping his father), Encyclopedia Brown swings into action, assisted in his investigations by his friend (and “muscle”) Sally Kimball.”

Wow, crazy. And check out the dates. The first Encyclopedia Brown book (“Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective”) was published in 1963, with “America’s Sherlock in sneakers” aged about 10 or so; “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” meanwhile, was released in 1974. So, conceivably, they could be about the same person. At some point in Encyclopedia’s teens, Bugs Meany might have convinced him to join The Tigers, and after that it would have he abandoned his career of do-gooding for the rough-and-tumble life on the streets. Maybe by the age of 21 he was six foot four, had moved to the ‘ole south side Chicago, carried a .32 gun in his pocket for fun, and was called “Treetop Lover” by all those downtown ladies.

It’s certainly possible. I mean, look at what happen to those kid actors from “Diff’rent Strokes.”

Was Encyclopedia Brown the basis for Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”? For the answer, turn to page 113.

* * *

60 comments.

  1. "So although my friends were snickering at my usage of “Pee-Chee,” in truth I should have been laughing at them, because their unfamiliarity with the term was outing them as a bunch of non-natives, Pacific Northwest poseurs."

    Damn straight.

    …So I got into the habit in seventh grade of duct-taping eight of those together, and using the resulting book in lieu of a three-ring binder. It wasn’t an original idea, by any stretch of the imagination. (Damn thing also needed to be replaced over Winter Break.)

    When I went to Mo. for HS, I repeated the ritual (though, as you pointed out, there were no Pee Chees to be had) and mystified everyone.

    That my idea had suddenly become original, came as a bit of a shock.

  2. Man, you brought back a flood of Pee-Chee memories.
    I DID listen to music, so I had all my favorite bands on my Pee-Chees, along with pot leaves, guitars, various obscene alterations to the athletes…
    Inside, the multiplication tables (or were they conversion charts? can’t remember) were “checkerboarded” before the end of 1st period on the 1st day.

  3. So why doesn’t grape soda explode upon opening when you shake it? (Try it, it works.)

  4. Shut yo mouth!
    Leroy Brown?
    Damn that brings back memories. While ABC Afterschool specials (“She Drinks a Little”) and School House Rock (Conjuction Junction) can be repackaged and sold as DVDs I wish someone would compile all the Encyclopedia Brown books into a singular coffee table edition.
    Commodize my youth and sell it back to me dammit!

  5. His first name wasn’t Encyclopedia? I always just thought his parents were crazy history buffs who thought it’d be cool if they named their kid Encyclopedia.

  6. i lived in wenatchee as a wee tike and pee-chees were *the* folder. i used to steal my older sister’s pee-chees and recycle them as my own with the older and much cooler doodlings of a sixth-grader. ah, memories. like the corner of my mind…

    in talking about the soda you wrote “Spite” instead of “Sprite”. perhaps when the bottle explodes on you it should be called spite…

  7. Matthew,

    Regarding the exploding “Spite”, ahhh, revenge is sweet. Mom

  8. I grew up in California and had plenty of Pee Chees as a schoolgoing lad, but sometime during high school (88-92), Pee Chees suddenly started becoming available in new colors, with new sports drawings. Same sports, if I recall correctly, just newer, updated drawings. It just didn’t seem right.

  9. Folders. They’re folders. Folders…

    And you STILL look like Robbie Williams

    Lo, damnit. Lo.

  10. Yeah, I had Pee-Chees all through high school growing up in So Cal. I used to draw comic book characters on mine. Or try to make the pictures on the front even more sexually suggestive or homoerotic than they already are.

  11. RE: INXS

    HA!

    In the early 80s, my brother and I really like a couple of songs we kept hearing on the radio from a band called In Excess: “Don’t Change”, “Black/White”, etc.

    Every weekend, my mom made the half-hour drive to the nearest Fred Meyer for our weekly shopping. My brother and I would scour the music section for the latest 45s and record albums. We hunted everywhere for In Excess. For months!

    For some reason, Fred Meyer didn’t carrry In Excess. But they carried records from a band called INXS.

    We never did make the connection until Listen Like Thieves came out.

  12. Your soda exploding explanation doesn’t sound quite right – although perhaps I am reading it incorrectly.

    CO2 gas is in the soda/cola/whatever solution as well, and when you shake it (add energy) you bring it out of solution and the gas rises to the top (where there already was gas there that was beyond what could be held in solution in the volume of fluid available).
    The gas that is there in the top part of the can/bottle does provide a way for bubbles to get pushed down into the fluid, and that also provides areas for the gas in solution to phase change to gas – then those rise to the top, etc.

    So what you say explains why when you open the top, the fluid comes fountaining out – but it doesn’t explain why a 2 liter bottle of soda shaken can blow the top off it and poke someone’s eye out – and that is the part that is due to the increased pressure from the gas coming out of solution and therefore increasing the overall pressure inside the fixed volume of the bottle.

  13. There was a band called The Pee Chees too (from Berkeley, CA).

  14. We had Pee-Chees in Colorado when I was growing up, so they made it a little ways east.

  15. Eric is right… if it was just the gas up top, then there would be no fizz left when you poured it into your glass. Obviously, there’s gas trapped in the liquid, even in a bottle that has been sitting still.

  16. I grew up in Colorado too. Definitely had Pee-Chees all through high school!! Memories. Thanks!

  17. We had Pee-Chees in Wyoming in the ’80s. I think the folder hierarchy went like this:

    Rich Kids – Trapper Keeper with all the attachments.

    Most Everyone Else – Pee Chees

  18. We also had Pee-Chees in Utah when I was in elementary school, but I don’t recall seeing them anymore from my high school years. Incidentally, I think we just called them yellow folders.

  19. Small typo. That should be “What was Encyclopedia Brown’s first name”

  20. The only Pee-chee I know came from a book I read when I was four.

    “when the stakes are really high, a tortoise can fly.”

    You don’t forget things like that.

  21. Is there anyone out there who managed to resist the urge to draw a lit fuse on the relay-runner’s baton, thus transforming it into a stick of dynamite?

  22. Eric & Mark: yes, in my efforts to be brief I skimped a bit on the explanation. Most of the CO2 in the bottle has combined with the liquid to form a solution — which, in this case, is the soda. But there’s a little left over, and that accounts for the pocket of insoluble gas sitting on top.

    When you shake the bottle, the insoluble gas on top gets “mixed” in with the rest of the solution. I’m using the word “mixed” very loosely, because I’ve found two different accounts for what happens here: some say that the kinetic energy of the shaking causes the solution to become supersaturated, while others say that the excess CO2 doesn’t really join the solution but just gets trapped in the form of bubbles. In either case, you have more CO2 in the solution — either as part of the solution, or embedded in it — than you would otherwise, and this CO2 pushes the liquid upwards when it rushes toward the spout when the top is opened. That’s how I understand it, at any rate.

    Another page of explanations.

  23. You know what’s terrible? Thinking about Encyclopedia Brown as a jigsaw puzzle with a coupla pieces gone.

  24. Encyclopedia Brown was a favorite throughout my pre-teen years. I still remember one mystery where Bugs Meany was opening up his own detective agency and “found” a ?violin? in a tree because he saw a squirrel backing down the tree. Encyclopedia claimed he was a liar. (solution – squirrels don’t back down trees, they come down head first – so Bugs couldn’t have seen the squirrel and therefore the only way he knew the ?violin? was in the tree was because he hid it there.) Jesus – that was 25 years ago and it’s still in my head. Didn’t Encyclopedia Brown charge .25 to solve a case?

    - Old book nerd

  25. west coast east coast
    Pee Chees = notebook
    Jimmies= sprinkles
    Pop= soda

    many more that i cant think of….

  26. CSI: original = Encyclopedia Brown

  27. From my studies as a Chem. Eng., I recall that the CO2 dissolved in a soda is in the form of carbonic acid, which is H2CO3 and disassociates in water as H3O+ and HCO3-. This acid is why fresh soda burns your throat slightly more than flat soda. This acid is unstable, but requires a small amount of energy to push it over the edge so it can become CO2 again. The energy from ambient heat will provide that energy slowly, which is why you will see an open glass of soda slowly bubbling, but when you shake it, adding additional kinetic energy, it bubbles more quickly. This need for a small push is also why opening your 2-Liters when they are cold instead of warm will increase the shelf life of the opened soda. (Trick of the trade to only open cold sodas?)

    When the soda is bottled up and you shake it, the kinetic energy from shaking will cause it to release some CO2 (just like in the open glass scenario), increasing the partial pressure of CO2 above the solution. It will continue to release CO2 until the pressure increases enough to overcome the desire of the CO2 to leave the solution. What is actually happening is that CO2 is being released and re-dissolved simultaneously. As you shake it, you add more kinetic energy, increasing the rate that gas is released. As the partial pressure of CO2 is increased, the rate of CO2 dissolving back into the soda also increases. The pressure will increase until these two rates cancel each other out. Want to test out that pressure does increase from shaking? Feel how squishy a 2-liter is before and after you shake it.

    Now, in the moments immediately after shaking, you have CO2 entering and leaving solution very quickly, and you have two options for what to do. You can let the can or bottle sit still for a half hour or so, and then you can open the soda safely. In this case, the rate of CO2 leaving solution slowly drops as the added energy is dissipated, and much of the released CO2 is reabsorbed. The other option is to open the soda immediately, relieving the pressure quickly, causing it to foam over. In this situation, you have stopped all of the re-dissolving gas from dissolving (because it is now in the atmosphere) but the rate of the gas leaving the solution continues. As the bubbles form, they agitate the solution, causing even more of the carbonic acid to be released in a bit of a chain reaction.

  28. We definitely had Pee-Chees in Colorado and, just as you illustrated was the case in Washington State, we called all folders “Pee-Chees.” In fact, I had some ghetto variant of a Pee-Chee and we all called it a Pee-Chee and it was only until I actually paid attention and saw someone else’s folder had the actual words “Pee-Chee” on it that I realized that Pee-Chee referred to a specific brand.

    Of course, the next year, I HAD to have Pee-Chee and only Pee-Chee, which went along with my need for a Patagonia powder jacket and Chippewas (“Chips”, as we called them), which are (were) these really ugly desert boots only popular in Grand Junction, Colorado.

  29. I am also from So-Cal and I remember seeing “Sex is an all Season Sport” on other kids’ folders, but I was afraid that I would get busted for having the word ‘sex’ on my folder. This didn’t stop me from drawing dynamite in the Runner’s hand or otherwise dirtying-up the athletes.

    Post Pee-Chee: I had the word “Arrowsmith” on my canvas binder.

  30. I was a military brat. We had Pee-Chees in Texas and Pee-Chees in Alaska.

    I even remember the period when Pee-Chees came in multiple colors. Red, Green, Blue, etc.

  31. Another Pee-Chee report from SoCal. I still have a bunch of them (scavenged from high school end-of-the-year locker-dumping) somewhere. And, yes, I did the full mustachio-and-arrow-through-the-head bits on the cover characters.

  32. Since you do not accomodate trackback, I will provide a link to my Pee Chee post about a month ago. Our posts are strikingly similar for a topic getting so little coverage even on Google. I have not seen a non-colored one in a while – nice pic.

  33. iirc, the pee-chee people erased pretty easily :D also, somewhere around middleschool it became ‘cool’ to wear a backpack using both shoulder straps, whereaas previously that had been uncool; only use one! unless you had a duffelbag! (which was cooler :)

  34. I don’t know if they still make it, but Canada Dry tonic water used to be the most unstable stuff in the world!

    Additional fun can be had at the shooting range with a well shaken (plastic only please) bottle of soda and a .22.

    I’d recommend at least 25 yards.

  35. If you have a shaken can of soda, you can prevent a fizz-over by tapping the top of the can for a few seconds.

  36. Well heck, Fred Meyer has a great big stack of PeeChees. In a variety of colors. I think they are even on price reduction through next week. Although I will confess I had to ask what a PeeChee was the first time I saw it on a school supply list.

  37. Definately no PeeChees in New York during the 70′s or 80′s – and after reading this I’m feeling a little cheated.

    I do still have every Encyclopedia Brown from the 60′s to the 80′s and did know his name was Leroy, so I’m not that uncool. (depending on your definition)

  38. No, there is not a sentient organism that can refrain from drawing a lit fuse on the runner’s baton. I’ve just received confirmation of this from my husband, a N Cal boy (I’m a displaced Washingtonian).

  39. How cool. I loved Encyclopedia Brown.

    I had some Pee Chees and it’s so funny that I never even noticed what they were called. I bought them a few years ago (on sale) but when I went to look for one I couldn’t find one.

    God do we have to be relativists about science now? I thought those guys knew the real truth.

  40. I had a friend whose license plate was “XTCINXS” – ecstacy in excess.

    FYI.

  41. I’m from Portland, OR originally, and everybody had pee-chees until the trapper keeper came out (the one time I managed to be cool: my mom thought the trapper keeper was a really good idea and got me one the first year they were available).

    Then some people tried to combine the two and discovered that the pee-chee was about two inches bigger than a trapper keeper, and wouldn’t fit even you punched the right holes. That just looked stupid.

    As for the doodles, no, nobody ever managed to resist turning the baton into dynamite, or adding lewd word bubbles to the tennis player on the back who was swatting the high jumpers on the ass.

    I tried to explain all of this to my wife once (a new york city native) and just got a blank stare.

  42. I must admit bewilderment. I grew up in Northern California, and I have no recollection of Pee-Chees.

    Encyclopedia Brown, on the other hand, was my hero. The one I remember was when Sally figured out that the crooks had gotten away by the man disguising himself as a woman and the woman as a man. Despite this clever ploy, they outed themselves by sitting with the “man” facing outward in a restaurant, when everyone knows that the woman is supposed to get that seat.

  43. In addition to drawing a lit fuse on the relay baton, it was common practice in my school to add a dagger to the hand of one of the basketball players, which he was plunging into the chest of the other player. Most of our additions were morbid rather than sexual. Maybe because this was a reaction to it being the fucking Summer of Love.

    Yes, my kids have the same old PeeChees now.

  44. Three cheers for Rob (12:04pm) for finally providing an answer that makes sense to me! I was thinking along those lines, but couldn’t get it quite straightened out in my head. One scenario that your this explanation makes sense of whereas Matt’s nucleation-sites one doesn’t is when you don’t shake the soda, but just whomp it straight down onto a hard surface. It doesn’t necessarily slosh around a lot–in fact, you can do it with an open container and not even spill any–but it’ll certainly fizz.

  45. wow.

    i haven’t thought about pee-chees or encyclopedia brown in eons. i used to read those books constantly.

    god i want to be a kid again. everything was so simple.

  46. oh yeah and i grew up in alaska. i had blue pee-chees mostly.

  47. Man, do I ever wish that we had Pee-chees here in Toronto! All we had was lousy plain duotangs (still a fun word to say/spell… DUOTANG!)… but no awesome sports characters on the front to doodle on. :/

  48. I grew up in So. Cal. in the early 80s and not only did I have my Pee-Chee folder but I had Vans, OP shirts, Reebok Hightops, and a Members Only jacket.

  49. At our high school in the Seattle ‘burbs you could identify the nature of the owner of an abandoned Pee-Chee by how the track athletes were defaced. Baton as stick of dynamite and lead runner sporting a look of abject terror, some stoner was missing his Pee-Chee. Baton as dildo and lead runner wearing a dress, it belonged to a jock. The gust of wind from the football player’s butt blowing back the tennis player’s hair seemed to cross socioeconomic boundaries.

  50. Wow, I feel deprived. Though I WAS lucky enough to have gone to a Catholic school, which gave me a religion book filled with those weird Renaissance portraits of long-forgotten prelates…man, we had some fun with THOSE ol’ boys. ALMOST enough to make up for not having sports figures to deface. (But not quite.)

    Also: on a related note, you wanna see FIZZ?? one can of Tab, one Pixy Stix. Do what comes naturally. (over the sink, PLEASE!)

  51. This article from Creative Pro for some reason has a whole slew of images of the Pee Chee throughout its history:
    http://www.creativepro.com/story/feature/21870.html

  52. I remember Pee-Chees as having one of the Lockjaw forebears (usually featured in my annual graffiti), riding a ski lift. She must have been on the reverse.

  53. oh yes. i rocked the peechee. van halen rules!

    if i close my eyes i can almost feel the mullet on my neck.

  54. Follow up – My wife and I were watching a Freaks and Geeks dvd last night and in one scene a kid was walking down the hall carrying a Pee Chee. I told her that was a gaffe since the show is set in Michigan and, according to defectiveyeti, Pee Chee’s weren’t found east of Colorado. The wife pretended to be very impressed with my knowledge of retarded minutiae.

  55. Related: Commenters on Torrez’s site have been brainstorming about answers from the Encyclopedia Brown series.

  56. Sorry guys, but kinetic energy of shaking has nothing to do with an outburst. The reason is entirely in the number of nucleation sites. See, when you open unshaken bottle, it starts losing dissolved CO2, but does it slowly, so that soda doesn’t get thrown out of bottle. Shaken bottle loses CO2 much faster because there are more nucleation sites and thus throws soda out.

    A little advice from the pro. If you have to open a bottle which you suspect to be shaken but not stirred and there is nobody who can do it for you, open the cap just a little bit… very very slowly, until you hear faint hissing sound. Wait until it stops, then open little more and wait again. This way you can safely open a bottle of any degree of shakenness.

  57. This is great.

    * One where Bugs claimed some special lamp broke when it fell out of the back of a truck when the driver stopped short. EB knew that Bugs broke it, because when a car stops quickly, stuff gets thrown to the front, not the back.

    * One where EB proved some chick was lying about being in the water (diving for golf balls, I want to say), but he knew she wasn’t because she was filing her nails, and EVERYONE knows that nobody files their nails right after being in the water.

    The ones that involved social norms (like the nail filing one above) rather than science were definitely rip-offs. Any nine-year-old who knows that men “always” sit with their back to the room needs some serious deprogramming.

  58. Since no one answered Chris’s question about grape soda, I will. Different kinds of soda have different carbonation levels. Fruit sodas are typically lower in carbonation than colas. That’s one reason that fountain soda tastes different from canned or bottled – all flavors will have the same carbonation level out of a fountain.

    (I’m a Chem Eng. too, but for some reason, my convenience store experience seems more relevant here)

  59. I read the Encyclopedia Brown series as a child too, and all this talk got me nostalgic. I went on Google to see if there’s a website that has a listing of all the EB stories with the answers to the mysteries. Although I haven’t found one (yet), I stumbled across a different kind of website.

    Modern Humorist has parodies of EB stories, using real-world events. An example is “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Pirated Mp3s” (http://www.modernhumorist.com/mh/0005/encyc_mp3/index.cfm). In the story, Metallica hires Leroy to help them find out why no one is buying their new album, yet all their fans know the songs from the album. Check it out if you haven’t yet.

  60. I always thought I was a human…

    Oprah and I are the same age. I only say that to tell you all that I must be from another planet or an alternative universe. I have never heard of pee-chees or Encyclopedia Brown. Where have I been all my life?

    I have heard of Bad Bad Leroy Brown and soda spewing from a well-shaken can. Whew! Maybe I’m not from an alternate reality afterall.

    I was born and raised in Paradise (Florida, land of the hurricanes) and the only thing pee-chee here is the weather… or it was until about 6 weeks ago.

    But the hurricanes are gone for the moment and life is Pee-chee again.

    Pee-chee!