Dear Kid,

Where did the phrase “Close, but no cigar” come from? I’m so glad you asked.

Of course, technically speaking, you didn’t ask. But Pi did, which might be considered close enough. (But no cigars for either of you.)

Once upon a time (and by “once upon a time” I mean in the late 19th or early 20th century) there were no giant stuffed animals. This was problematic for giant stuffed animal manufacturers who had to wait around for a while until giant stuffed animals were invented.

There were however fairs. Fairs and carnivals to be specific.

We know this because Judy Garland sang about it, and she only ever sang about absolutely factual things.

At the fairs, there were all sorts of interesting things including games of chance (and by “games of chance” I mean games that players have no chance of winning).

Back in those days, children weren’t nearly as influential as they are today, so the prizes were generally prizes mom and dad might want. Like cigars.

Now the booth worker’s job was to get lots of people to play (and by “play” I mean lose), so they used all kinds of patter and whatnot to encourage folks to try their luck again. When someone didn’t win, the barker might say something like, “Close, but no cigar!” Eventually the phrase caught on.

Even though it’s outdated, we (and by “we” I mean Americans) like it so much we keep using it.

This is all entirely true except for the part about empty factories.

Love, Mom