The Register takes down NPR in pie-eating, reclaims Golden Roller for Iowans everywhere
A Des Moines Register team reclaimed the golden roller from National Public Radio in a pie-eating relay race at Winterset on Monday, July 22, 2019. The Des Moines Register
WINTERSET, Ia. — We came with a hunger — not only in our bellies, but in our souls.
Ours was a craving to be satiated not (just) with rhubarb, but with revenge.
Last year, the Des Moines Register’s eaters in the annual RAGBRAI pie-eating contest were embarrassed. They were taken down in the Blueberry Brawl by Camila Domonoske, a breaking news reporter at NPR and vegan weighing 100 pounds soaking wet. She didn’t seem to breathe or bite, but rather inhaled her slice — a response, scientists believe, to her body ingesting lard for the first time in years.
So we, this year’s competitors, had to prove that despite their penchant for radio, us ink-stained wretches still have the best mouths in the business.
Not to pecan the National Public Radio team too much, but despite a pie-to-eye injury sustained late in the relay, we routed them. Just truly trounced 'em.
That's right, at 6:30 p.m. Central Standard RAGBRAI time (aka 6:50 p.m.) the Des Moines Register retook the Golden Roller (self-explanatory), bragging rights and the stomach aches that eventually come from eating that much sugar in 20 seconds or less.
With our victory, we have three titles to NPR’s one fluke win last year.
We've now officially cemented the pie-nasty and successfully created another ridiculous RAGBRAI tradition on par with Hairball or buying a snack from a pass-trough town bar so you don’t feel so bad about using their bathroom.
“I’m proud of our team and happy to bring the roller back to its rightful home in Iowa,” former reporter Kyle “Mince” Munson said sporting a chin pink with the glories of triumph. “And I’m full of rhubarb.”
Early on, the one-slice-per-person relay race seemed in peril without a desperately needed tool: a knife. But using our wit and a donated Swiss Army knife, slices were cut, deemed to be equally sized and the tables were set.
Baked by Marcia Sparks, 73, of Bakery Unlimited in beautiful downtown Winterset, the rhubarb was your Iowa-classic starchy fruit pie. The crust was buttery and flaky, a characteristic Scott “Sore Loser” Horsley, an NPR business reporter, would later point out as a possible reason for their poor performance.
“The crust almost melted in our hands before we could get it to our mouth,” he said, a surprisingly lack of gooey residue on his chin.
The storied history of the RAGBRAI pie-eating contest goes back to ye olde 2015 when former Iowa columnist Kyle Munson challenged NPR's No Pie Refused team to defend their name in an official capacity in a three-on-three battle. (They didn’t, and the Register won with a clean sweep.)
Both sides agreed to a truce in 2016 as most of the NPR team was otherwise engaged in election coverage. But the contest returned with a fury in 2017 and once again, the Register claimed the Golden Roller.
In 2018, tragedy struck Iowa and the roller went home to the swamp with NPR.
With that fire (and general emptiness) in our bellies, we took the main stage.
Oh, wait, yes! This insanity was a main stage attraction this year. I assume that’s so the few nerds who listen to NPR and the Register’s biggest fans (who may be related to a former reporter, that’s unclear) and a whole bunch of riders who stumbled upon some people with made-for-radio looks shoving pink mush down their pie holes could get a better view.
As a first-year eater surrounded by storied veterans, the pressure was on before RAGBRAI head honcho TJ Juskiewicz reminded us there was no second place.
“You can’t let these people come onto our turf and disrespect us,” he said. “You have to defend the house, whatever it takes.”
I prepared for my debut by fasting all day (see: above emptiness). I was ravenous and eager, the same pains I assume Tom Brady feels when he steps out of the pocket to throw a spiral.
After meticulously studying game film (aka shaky Facebook live video), I narrowed down my options to three distinct strategies for pie-to-face stuffing:
1. The Pinch and Shovel: Like a vulture, you peck at the pie with your fingers creating cheese-ball-like chunks before shoveling them to your face.
2. The Pizza Pie: Palm it like a New Yorker and bite center-to-crust like you've got to catch a subway uptown.
3. The Hoover Method: Place mouth to pie plate and inhale. This is triple black diamond-level pie-demolishing saved for experts like Michael “Meringue” Morain, former Register reporter and fastest eater in the West(ern Iowa region).
Unlike last year, this contest wasn’t at all a nail biter. The Register had the lead almost the entire way through, a fact even our competitors had to admit.
“I got to say, the better team won today,” Horsley said. “We put up a good fight, but we just couldn’t keep up with the Register’s strong performance.”
I was fourth in line, a cozy middle position considering I hadn’t speed-eaten before. The sugar sweats — a cousin to the meat sweats — set in early as I awaited “Mince” Munson’s clear-pie-mouth call and went to work.
I don’t want to pat myself on the back too much, but “Meringue” Morain complemented my focus and my sense of urgency.
Bringing up the rear and assuring our victory were clean-up eaters: Meringue and Register reporter Linh Ta.
Ta, wild with pie frenzy, had filling ricochet into her eye, but nevertheless, she persisted.
And, finally, Jake Kurtz, a digital producer, brought his slice down in one, two, three bites. (Like getting to the center of a Tootsie pop, it only takes three bites to win a pie-eating-contest when you're Jake "Key Lime" Kurtz.)
“I felt some pressure to anchor in my first year,” Kurtz said. “But honestly that was easier than I thought.”
Spoken like a (expletive) champion.
After the celebratory photos, I walked the square with pie-covered hands, leaving prints on beer cans and swearing off baby wipes. This was victory stickiness.
Horsley was disappointed, but kept his head high, promising to change strategies for next year.
As a Chicago native, I am instituting #repeatthethreepeat as the Register’s rallying cry going into RAGBRAI 48. I have no doubt we will defend our title well.
And here I thought the only thing I would ever have in common with Iowan Nick Nurse was our good looks — now we've both raised championship trophies.
Sorry, I’ve just noticed pie remnants on my pants.
I may never wash them.
COURTNEY CROWDER, the Register's Iowa Columnist, traverses the state's 99 counties telling Iowans' stories. She's more of a gummy bear person, but pie will do. You can reach her at (515) 284-8360 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @courtneycare.