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Getting heated over Pa.'s 'coolest thing' contest

Plus, a record-setting real estate listing.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

April 14, 2023
Inside this edition: Mystery man, Pakistani cheesesteaks, big house, mural story, ex-factor, and Pennsylvania parochialism with a side of potatoes.
🏆  TEST TIME: You know the drill: If you're confident you've been following the news closely, there's only one way to prove it. Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.

In this week's installment: A total solar eclipse, high court election cash, and a ‘severe’ workplace safety violator.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Can you name the only city in Pennsylvania that has "city" in its name?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth reading: New York Magazine writes: Richard Walter was hailed as a genius criminal profiler at trials and forensic conferences, and on true-crime TV. In reality, the Montrose, Pa. man was a fraud.

» One more thing worth reading: Cheesesteaks are big in Lahore, Pakistan. Philly Mag (paywall) explains how immigration patterns, geopolitics, and serendipity made it happen.

» One place worth ogling: A Bucks County mansion got its own write-up in the Wall Street Journal, which says the estate would set a local real estate record if it gets the $14.5 million the sellers are asking for.

» One thing I learned this week: The artists behind my favorite Pittsburgh mural, The Bride on Penn Avenue, both died a year after its completion in the TWA 800 crash off Long Island in 1996.

» One thing worth sharing: This National Ex-Spouse Day, a reminder that rural Potter County — home to 16,000 — was once the divorce capital of the state "and by some standards, the world."

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» How a Pa. city manager allegedly fleeced taxpayers

» How Harrisburg Works: Pa. House majority, rules vs. bills

» Why rural Pennsylvania schools keep shutting down

» Who paid for Penn State president's Rose Bowl flight?

» How to vote, find your polling place, understand mail ballots

» A guide to vetting candidates for school board, judge, and more

» Full guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court

» Guía completa de los candidatos a la Corte Suprema del Estado

» High court candidates with party backing show fundraising edge

» Guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» Los candidatos a la Corte de la Commonwealth y Cortes Superiores

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election coverage now.
A Sheetz gas station lit up at night.
Sheetz was included in the bracket. Wawa was not. (Tom Gralish / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Regrets? The PA Chamber has a few.

One week after its "Coolest Thing Made in Pennsylvania" contest crowned a potato-topped meat sandwich the winner over frozen potato-filled dumplings — stiff-arming moon robots, Hollywood's favorite lighter, and everyone's first writing tool in the process — the chamber is asking itself the same question as the rest of us: What happened here?

Sure, the contest was a hit by most metrics. Chamber spokesperson Jon Anzur counts millions of social media impressions and nearly 1.2 million households reached by broadcast TV news hits alone. (Not bad for a tourney the chamber staff devised weeks before launching it.) 

But there were a few things they may have underestimated about the commonwealth, namely its parochialism and potato-ism.An image of William Penn with pixelated sunglasses superimposed.

"The Final Four was all beer and food, so I think Pennsylvanians tend to think with their stomachs, unsurprisingly," Anzur said by phone. 

The bracket progression through four rounds of public voting is a window into the Pennsylvania psyche. The Metaverse, partially a Pittsburgh product, didn't make it past round one (maybe for good reason), while applesauce beat out a Super Bowl stage and touchscreen sandwiches bested lunar landers and the world's most popular language app

The controversy didn't end there. The Philadelphia Inquirer took major umbrage with a distinct lack of brotherly representation:

How, you may ask, did a sandwich with french fries on it beat out the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, all of which were made in Philly and generally considered to be very awesome? Because this bracket was baloney (and not Seltzer’s Lebanon Bologna, which was a first-round contender).

The bracket also sidestepped perhaps the best corporate/regional rivalry Pennsylvania has to offer: Sheetz was included, Wawa was not.

When Philly was represented, exactly once, it only made matters worse.

In the first round of voting the PA Chamber had the gall to put Dalessandro’s up against Pampers diapers, a product that literally catches human waste and is made by a company headquartered in Ohio.

Whew. Maybe this is a bad time to mention that the contest isn't homegrown either. It was borrowed from Indiana.

Anzur said the feedback is well taken as the PA Chamber prepares to do this again next year. Among the changes being eyed:

  • Doubling the field from 32 to 64
  • Grouping by industry to avoid a bar menu Final Four
  • Grouping by regions too
Anzur acknowledges that last one could be its own can of worms, with 64 contestants fitting neatly into four regions as groupings of 16 and strange consolidations and bedfellows sure to result.

"How do we distinguish Erie from Pittsburgh? Do we distinguish Erie from Pittsburgh? When you think of media markets, the Lehigh Valley falls into Philadelphia, but I think if you ask most Pennsylvanians, they would view those two regions as very distinct and separate places," he added. 

Perhaps the biggest change eyed for year two: The nomination process, which exclusively involved PA Chamber staff last time. 

"I think we'll definitely crowdsource more," Anzur said. "Staff input will definitely be a part of it but I think we want to reach out to our local chamber partners and get a diverse range of input so we don't leave any stones unturned, and I think hopefully that can head off some of the criticism that we left off this company or that company." 

There's no need to wait. We can start brainstorming now. 

Reply to this email and tell us who you think was wrongly left off this year's bracket and deserves a spot on the next one. For example: Straub Beer from Elk County, America's third-oldest brewery, Middleswarth Potato Chips from Snyder County, or Bluett Bros. Violins from York County.

It's OK if all of your ideas are food. Pennsylvania likes it that way.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor
Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"I'm officially in my re-election era."

—U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) announcing his 2024 campaign in a tweet with so many Taylor Swift references it reads like something written by ChatGPT

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The Strasburg Rail Road, via @blinkpixphotosSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A steam locomotive that appears to be moving toward the camera but is actually in reverse, according to the photographer.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

This week's question comes via TribLIVE's Ryan Deto, who asked Twitter to name "the only city in PA that has the word 'city' in its name."

The answer, as some on the bird app were quick to note, is Oil City, which is both a designated city and mere minutes from the location of the greatest rock-based sporting event that Pennsylvania has to offer. 

For those wondering: Grove City is a borough. So is Evans City.

Find Deto's day-tripper's guide to Oil City here.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

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