Announcing the Winners of the Practical Pyromaniac Clerihew Contest!

Last month, we announced, here on MAKE, a contest I was running, with my publisher. The winners have been selected in Chicago Review Press’s Practical Pyromaniac Clerihew Contest. The Practical Pyromaniac is my latest book.

A clerihew is a four line, eccentrically metered, rhyming biographical poem. Easy to write and fun to read, entrants were asked to write a clerihew that describes a famous scientist, or other person or event closely associated with fire.

The Winner:

Rudolf Diesel’s
As German as measles,
But his engine stayed mobile,
So his legacy’s global.
–Kelly Robinson

The Runners Up:

The Great London Fire
Destroyed St. Paul’s choir.
The nave and transepts were burned to sticks
On the 4th of September, 1666.
— Chris Kaiser

Catherine O’Leary’s cow
Would probably disavow
Her role in the blaze of ‘seventy-one…
Too bad the witness is Well Done.
— Erik Stearns

Well over a hundred entries were received. It was a difficult task selecting the winners because of all the excellent entries. Points were awarded for topic relevance, style, and cleverness.

The following entries have been singled out for Special Mention:

The Philosopher Empedocles
Thought there were four elements, and these
Were earth and water, fire and air
He was wrong, *but* they made a square.
— Nick Muellerleile

Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford
Showed heat made when gun bored.
This example of friction,
a conservation of energy prediction.
— Ben Brockert

Baybars, Sultan of Egypt
Into his hand cannon, gunpowder tipped.
But how many klutzes lost a foot
shootin’ in the Battle of Ain Jalut?
— Elissa Malcohn

Mrs. O’Leary
Hated the theory
That it was her cow
That started that row.
— Yossef Mendelssohn

Thanks to William Crookes
And his love of science books,
We now have faithful records
Of Faraday’s Candle Lectures.
— Roger Kilbourne

Isaac Watts
Observed a lot.
He observed that observation
Is learning’s firm foundation.
— Michael Hahn

Had Herostratus
Gone on hiatus,
The shrine in Ephesus
Would not be in pieces.
— Brandon Burt

Sir Joseph Priestly
Looked at “airs” uniquely.
Phlogiston he spurned
And with O2 burned.
— Jim Fenwood

Antoine Lavoisier
Had a flawless dossier.
Hydrogen and oxygen he bred,
right until they chopped of his head.
— Ben Brockert

Sir Humphry Davy,
for miners so gravely
created a light
never to unexpectedly ignite.
— Jonathan Hammler

Are their more? You bet, tons more! See them all at


William Gurstelle is a contributing editor of Make: magazine. His new book, ReMaking History: Early Makers is now available.

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