Hi 30° | Lo 14°
Katy Burns

Katy Burns: It’s all about the toilet paper . . . and other passions

Y’know what gets the American people exercised? Forget Ted Cruz. Or Obamacare. Or even the lousy fall TV season.

What really riles up the masses is (ta da!) toilet paper. It fully engages the interest – and often the anger – of ordinary folks out there.

About a week ago, my husband, a one-time Army officer and a retired lawyer who in both his professions was trained to be acutely observant, came to me with startling information. He had been stashing the new toilet paper under the bathroom sink – he is a willing partner in household chores – and he had noticed something shocking.

“The toilet paper rolls are narrower.”

There was no question about it, he said. He had compared an older roll to a new one, and there was a distinct difference. It was just like the Cheerios box that is ever so sneakily smaller, yet priced the same. Yet another manufacturer had surreptitiously reduced the size of its product – but not by very much, hoping that the folks would not notice.

So did the folks notice? Did they ever! I went to the Google and plugged in “Charmin Ultra Soft rolls narrower?” The once happy users of Charmin Ultra Soft were out in force decrying the perfidy of its manufacturer. On Walmart’s website alone, hundreds of people had left reviews, a lot of them incensed. Not only are the rolls precisely three-eighths of an inch narrower – reviewers can be a persnickety lot – but they have other defects.

The perforations have changed, so the tissues no longer tear off clearly! The new quilted pattern is coarse! It disintegrates as soon as it hits the water! The edges are ragged! The stuff clogged my toilet! Several people charged that the cardboard insert tubes are larger in diameter, allowing the manufacturer to use less paper per roll. A number harkened back to the good old days, when Charmin Ultra Soft was White Cloud and clearly was a superior product.

What was perhaps most fascinating is that these didn’t seem to be trolls or hired guns seeking to tout other toilet paper manufacturers. They were just folks venting.

Of course, toilet paper as a topic is especially fraught. The late advice columnist Ann Landers was once asked whether it was more proper to install a roll of toilet paper to hang over (in front of) or under (behind) the roll. Ann airily pronounced the proper position as “under,” whereupon all hell broke loose. Understandably, because she (and I say this as a long-time fan of Landers and her pithy advice but a longer-time fan of toilet paper hanging over the roll) was dead wrong.

Celebrities weighed in. Polls and gender surveys were taken. How much was age a factor? Some academics tried to find socioeconomic significance in how people chose.

Landers later said that the toilet paper issue was the most contentious in her column’s 56-year history.

But if toilet paper brings out passion in people in general and in online reviews in particular, it is hardly the only subject to preoccupy the internet’s reviewers of almost all things, great and small. I’m not talking about the obvious plants, scheming to discredit some businesses or to build up others or, for example, authors who corral all their pals to leave glowing reviews for their self-published books on

I’m talking about Americans who, in the thousands, go online regularly to share their opinions – often sharply held – with their countrymen. Or just to explain how or why something works or to give helpful tips on products, places and services to others. Whether it’s a clothing site (“this runs large, so be sure to get a smaller size than you normally do”) or Gardener’s Supply, dealing with gardening equipment (“this hose tends to crimp”), people are genuinely concerned with giving helpful advice to others.

Take Trip Advisor. At least if you’re into off-the-usual-tourist-track places to visit, it is a wonderful place to look for info about restaurants and hotels. In upstate New York, members told us that finding an old rural inn is hard but worth doing because the owner serves a wickedly good stuffed French toast at breakfast. And other reviewers were right about the white bean fritters at a nearby restaurant. They were delicious.

For small towns in Germany, we’ve learned, there is a wealth of useful information for English speakers on Trip Advisor. A room in the back of the hotel is quieter. Reserve a space in the hotel car park when you make your reservation. The air conditioning doesn’t work well, so avoid the place in hot weather. The pillows are unacceptably thin. The proprietor is – take your choice – friendly, aloof, helpful about nearby things to see. Room 7 is the best in the house.

One reviewer said she had shunned her hotel’s restaurant because it was “very traditional looking with all the staff wearing the Bavarian garb – it’s all right if you like that sort of thing.” It does make one wonder why she was traveling in Bavaria in the first place.

And another’s low rating of a small hotel most reviewers loved was understandable when he explained that “a wardrobe fell on my companion.” That certainly raises all sorts of interesting questions.

But it’s that has the most useful reviews overall, since Amazon sells just about everything. And its users don’t hesitate to complain or, better, to give useful tips and explanations about whatever strikes their fancy.

And sometimes Amazon reviews are just fun. One patron bought a white chef’s hat, and this is what he had to say:

“I would have given this five stars, but adding the hat to my head did not improve my cooking at all. My wife assured me that it made me look ‘dashing’ and ‘handsome’ like a suaver Molto Mario, and on that I will give it the rest of the four stars. I might still be a terrible cook, but at least I’m sexy now.”

I’d love to read his review of the ever-diminishing toilet paper roll.

(Monitor columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

Legacy Comments18

Holy Hatemongers , Batman! This person can write something without blaming all ills of the world on people lesser than her! Y'know, like people of other races (Y'know, Congressman Yoho), or intellectual inferiors (Y'know the evil Republicans). Stick to toilet paper. Well done.

And the t.p was only the beginning! How bout the queen size pillow case? Aha - gone! Canned green beans and others now 14.5 oz cans - Bars of soap used to be 5 oz. now they are 3.5 - mayo is no longer quart size. Would you believe 30 ounces! Domino sugar is now the new 4 pound bag. Remember the 220 count Kleenex - yes, it too has shrunk. Now comes in a 160 count. Same box...And the 1 pound box of raisins is now the 13 0z. box. Can't get a dozen cupcakes out of the mix anymore, unless they are minis. and cotton balls - forgetaboutit!! Dawn liquid has gone from a 10.5 oz bottle to the convenient 9 0oz. And where is the 1/2 gal. of ice cream? Ok - my spiel will be shortened now from 250 words to 139.

I actually wrote to the Hood's people about the non-half gallon. A woman replied "that's the industry standard." So I guess my mother was wrong: "Everybody ELSE is doing it" really is a viable excuse.

Same thing with Scott toilet paper. The rolls are shorter. These corporations think we, the consumers, won't notice the difference. I can do better with a store brand.

Yep, you are right about the toilet paper. I have found the same thing with Scott toilet paper. I buy it when there is a sale and found the newer rolls are shorter than the old ones. What I find irritating is the assumption by these corporations that we the consumer won't notice the difference.

Oh gosh I think they are all laughing as they sit atop piles of cash, gleefully saying: "mine, mine all mine!" They are laughing at the customers....yeah.......that makes sense....not!

I always look at the square footage. It helps with comparison shopping, but what a nuisance it is to have to do this in the middle of a store aisle.

Well a couple observations. Thank you Katy for not bashing today, those who disagree with you politically. Your discussion about toilet paper is appropriate, it fits most of my thoughts about your columns and opinions. But most of all, Katy, you are no Ann Landers, I am glad that you are a fan but it is obvious that your column and writing fall far short of anything Landers would pen. But thanks again for avoiding your sophomoric chanting about politics. The toilet paper rolls ARE narrower, that is for sure; I think it has something to do with reflection on the political beliefs of the Left.

You, on the other hand, can always be counted on for the same old same old. Thanks.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) —Venezuela is running out of the most basic of necessities — toilet paper. Govt controls leads to shortages of essentials, including various foods.....That is what you can expect if you allow the progressive democrats to continue to ruin our nation

Mr. Sail, Just for the record: Venezuela is not run by progressive democrats. Can't you at least get your slurs straight? And do you seriously mean the US is going to run out of TP thanks to Obama, Obamacare or any of the other boogiemen who populate your inner life? Or are you simply trolling?

At least they are not running out of oil. You know your thinking processes are strange. If I mention canned peaches now, you will probably say that because of Obama and the Dems we will soon run out of canned peaches.

"What was perhaps most fascinating is that these didn’t seem to be trolls or hired guns seeking to tout other toilet paper manufacturers. They were just folks venting.".....While I'm sure trolls and hired guns exist, having been called both on this site is amusing to me. I suppose its easier for those of lesser intelligence to imagine that those who disagree with them here...must be trolls or get paid. ( btw..if anyone would like to pay me for what I comment...I'm in the book!)

Don't quit your day job.

If you would like to be paid for what you contribute to the Monitor, may I suggest you try out for their Board of Contributors. As someone who was on the BOC for two years I can say that it was a most enjoyable time.

Good luck with that......unless you are progressive, that won't happen.

So what does that make of Grant Bosse? I believe he is on the Board of Contributors.

'In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response ..."

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.