A Brief History of the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale

Dr Rjandberg and Mr Smythe as Youths
Dr Rjandberg and Mr Smythe as Youths
As you all know, the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale is the preeminent method of rating an entertainment piece. Below is an article I wrote for Harper’s earlier this year (don’t look for it onlne, it was a print-only deal). I’ve talked to the editors and they’re OK with me republishing it here:

In 1918 two men, sick of the inexact measures of quality of pipe tobacco, began work on a ground breaking new system to gauge brands of smoking matter. Dr Clive M. Rjandberg, Professor emeritus of Kings College London and noted moustache enthusiast first mooted the idea to his close friend Mr Samuel ‘Bunty’ Smythe (noted cad, raconteur, womanizer and rumoured American) at the Reform Club. The two found that the aromas of pipe tobacco varied wildly, as did descriptions of them. The pair, profoundly moved by a discussion as to whether ‘Woodrow’s Finest No. 6’ smelled ‘like the arse end of a mule’ or ‘akin to scent of your mater’s thighs’, decided a more empirical method of measurement was needed.

The original scale ranged from -37 to +49, reflecting the relative grades given to the pairs favourite tobacco. The system failed to take off however, and the pair were described as ‘barmy as Welshmen’ by their peers. It was only two years later when they created the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System (commonly referred to as the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale, or Randy-Smie Number) that people began to take notice, eschewing the previous values, the pair settled on a -12 to +12 scale, with 0 being the median, or starting point. Over the next few months the system gained impetus, spreading around Gentleman’s Clubs throughout the country and many tobacconists began labelling their wares according to the pair’s new system. This practice continued for some years until, in 1924, Professor Eustace Dorricott of Oxford University created the Oxford Rjandberg-Smythe Plain Language Translation Formulae. It was around this time that Mr Smythe began working on ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’, a definitive work on the application of the Scale, along with pictures of French Ladies of Ill Repute.

Doricott’s Formulae, specifically created for the mathematically challenged, assigned a word in common parlance to each rating, cross referenced with many other factors. The exact formulae was lost when Professor Doricott was eaten by cannibals in the Congo, his notes on the matter are said to be used as divine teachings for the tribe to this day. The Formulae apparently gave results ranging from ‘Positively Rancid’ to ‘Verifiably Top Hole’, which allowed the working class and women to understand the system. In November of 1924 the failing Wellson & Sons Tobacco Company of Great Britain began marking their products with the Rjandberg-Smythe number and the Oxford Formulae rating in an attempt to bolster their sales. Sadly the ruse failed. Possibly due to the fact that a good selection of Wellson & Sons’ products proudly bore the inscription ‘Immaculately Feculent’. Thanks to the Oxford Formulae the company folded. Afraid that the same fate may befall them other tobacco companies began barring their brands from being sold with an associated Rjandberg-Smythe number, forcing the practice underground.

Despite having many adherents at its place of creation, the Reform Club, the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale eventually fell out of favour. Mr Smythe’s book on the subject remained unpublished and the manuscript languished in his modest four storey mansion.

The Rjandberg-Smythe Scale was lost for a long period, and the populace returned to haphazardly rating tobacco by unempirical standards. It was only in 1952 when film reviewer Terry ‘Ted’ Pepper was asked to write his opinion on Fritz Lang’s western ‘The Legend of Chuck-a-Luck’ (later renamed Rancho Notorious) that the Scale was returned to the popular consciousness. Pepper, a journalist and frequent gambler, had won the title deed to the Smythe Mansion in a game of craps against American columnist Arthur “Bugs” Baer. Among the possessions left in the mansion by the American Pepper found Smythe’s original manuscript for ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’. Drawn in by the promise of Gallic nipple, Pepper became entranced by the idea of an empirical ratings system. He first implemented the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale in his review of Rancho Notorious, giving it a -8 and stating “Who thought naming their female lead ‘Chuck-a-Luck was a wise decision?”.

Pepper continued to use the scale in his reviews, and went as far as to copyright his idea in 1953 as ‘Pepper’s Numbers’. Other film reviewers, inspired by Pepper’s success, began to emulate him using various methods. Hunter S. Thompson famously used a scale of e to 7.34 in his early ‘zine work. Others settled into using either a 0 to 5 or a 0 to 10 scale as they were prevented from using ‘Pepper’s Numbers’, a tradition that has continued to this day.

It was in December of 2008 that famed Numerology Historian M. Dennis Mellenkampf discovered Pepper’s lost copy of ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to the Revised Rjandberg-Smythe Tobacco Aroma Gradation Rating System and Smutty Flickbook’ at an Oxfam shop in the West End. Amazed by the pictorial content of the book Mellenkampf quickly purchased the book and consumed its contents with gusto. It was only by chance that Mellenkampf happened to be a fan of Dick Powell’s ill fated ‘The Conqueror’ and had recently read Ted Pepper’s review on the internet (he gave it a +3, noting that ‘Wayne was dynamite!’) that he noticed the similarity between ‘Pepper’s Numbers’ and the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale. Taking his findings to the patent office, Mellenkampf was able to provide proof of prior art using Smythe’s manuscript and Pepper’s estate’s copyright on the system was rescinded.

Now the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale is in the public domain reviewers are free, and encouraged to, adapt it to rating any product, service or event. The recognised implementation of the scale gives 0 as absolute average, +12 as the pinnacle of quality and -12 the epitome of awful. To grade against the Scale one begins at 0 then assigns a value to positive and negative traits of the piece. Once all factors are considered, the values are tallied to give the final score. Below is an example using the fictional period film ‘The Ghost of Mary Stamford’ directed by Michael Bay:

3 – Megan Fox is very hot
1 – The ghost effects were very good

3 – Slow motion action scenes were an ill fit for a period drama
3 – Christian Bale’ performance as Mr. Blaringsworthworth was at best poor and at worst soul destroying
3 – The political power struggle subplot was poorly written and entirely unnecessary
2 – The ghost sex scene was ill thought through
2 – The casting of Sean-William Scott as Roger the Stable Boy was ill advised
1 – The Uzi was not invented until the late 1940’s
1 – There are no 6 lane highways in Elizabethan England

We now total the positives for a score of +4, and total the negatives for a score of -15. Adding the scores together we get -11, one up form the lowest rating on the Scale. Casting anyone except for Megan Fox as Mary Stamford and her comedy ghost buddy Xirraxgranithikkor Queen of The Pit would have led to a -12 and a critical drubbing form the cognoscenti.

Image courtesy of Louisville International Airport.

3 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale

  1. mbooth

    Fascinating article, Neil.

    You may or may not be aware that following the official entry of the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale into the public domain ‘What ho!’ magazine, a gentleman’s guide to negotiable affection, have started to popularise the scale’s use in reviewing other forms of “entertainment.”


  2. Ado

    Indeed sir. One day I beieve this scale will be used t judge all things.

    Imagine,for example, picking up a box of cereal and seeing a “0 R-S” on the side. From that you would instantly know that they are a box of Corn Flakes, the most average breakfast cereal created.

    Where as you might find a pack of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes:
    +2 for nuts
    +3 for lots of honey
    +2 for the traditional high quality level of Kellogg cereals
    +2 for cleaarness of vision, no unecessary indregients or “new recipes”

    Giving “+9 R-S”, Pretty much the best you can get without putting them in a space age packet, having them infused with some form of caffine and giving the eater a “speical feeling” with every mouthful…


  3. Pingback: I’m Still Here | Stuporcollider

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