John's World: Flushed with Victory

April 27, 2012 11:46 PM

Nothing attracts manly attention like a powerful product demo. Check out the drill-bit guys at a farm show, or the spokesmodels at a car show. Wait—maybe the latter is a different phenomenon. Or cast your mind back to the ancient Veg-O-Matic. Tell me you didn’t try to "julienne" a potato when you got yours.

Some of the product demo videos on YouTube and in the e-mails your brother-in-law forwards constantly suggest this form of entertainment may be reaching Oscar-like quality.

Last year, an abnormally long dry spell dried up our well for the first time in decades. Scrimping on water became the Prime Directive. In fact, the highlight of my week was driving to South Bend to tape "U.S. Farm Report" and taking a real shower in the hotel. The rest of the time, I just took a swim after work and used Old Spice to counter the aroma of chlorine.

One major culprit was our fleet of old toilets. Being as green as the next guy, I had long pondered replacing our 6-gal. water-splurgers with new 1.6-gal. misers, but was troubled by the results I had observed decades earlier when manufacturers first reduced the tank size and hoped for the best.

However, I am happy to report that the new generation of low-flow toilets really sucks. (As an engineer, I should point out that nothing actually sucks; everything is blown. This argument gets tedious pretty fast, though.)

But I still had doubts. The slope of the drain system looked problematic. However, Internet research, buttressed by an episode of "This Old House," relieved that fear.

So I began serious research on which of the 37 available models to buy, whereupon I ran across a video of an American Standard Champion 4 toilet. My jaw dropped as it slurped up 18 golf balls with ease. You read that right: eighteen golf balls!

Up to the challenge. Like most engineers, I went through a brief period of fascination with toilets when I was a boy. The mystery of their function, the elegance of their action mesmerized me and begged for experimentation. I learned, of course, that 1) simply getting stuff down the toilet trap is only the beginning, and 2) however much fun it is to see a tube sock disappear in a graceful swirl, it’s hard to shift the blame for the consequences to your sisters or the dog. Still, the Internet video ran incessantly in my mind, begging for verification.

Removing an old ceramic water-waster, I assembled my sleek new ASC4, marveling at the massive tank valve. But before actually mounting the fixture, I wisely decided to do my own golf-ball test run.

Nerves on edge, I dropped a golf ball down the toilet flange, ignoring for the moment the backflow of sewer gases. Result: If you hold your breath and listen carefully, you can hear the ball boink its way down the PVC pipes and even the faint ploot of its final entry into the septic tank.

It was massively amusing, as in Fourth-Grade Hilarious—the absolute gold standard of male humor. So were the next 20 balls that followed.

And so, with this hard empirical data to back me up, and a second bag of old golf balls from my buddy, I installed the ASC4. After a few warm-up flushes, which demonstrated an impressive slork noise, I began the sea trials.

I am a man of vast mechanical testing experience, much of which was not disastrous. However, I am not ashamed to say that I was more excited than the last time I drove a new $300,000 combine into the field. The first several balls were child’s play, and the resultant pinball echoes were good for some hearty guffaws.

Not only was my 18-Ball Challenge a hydraulic triumph, with rewarding ricochet sounds marking the progress of the doomed little spheres, but so were the additional test flushes, one of which involved a box of Kix cereal, that I had bookmarked on YouTube. It’s on the Internet—it has to be true! And I can verify it.

I must add a high-five for the Kohler Memoirs toilet, which makes a particularly alarming slorking sound as it whisks away the bowl contents. It sounds unnervingly like a giant trying to get the last of an enormous milkshake up a straw, or coping with a huge runny nose.

But all good times must end. The septic-tank guy told me later that the local golf-ball record is 27. And we both doubled over as the little orbs rattled up his hose. Funny is funny, and it doesn’t get any better than this.

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