Happy Tryptophan Day, 2010!

I originally wrote this back in 2006, and since then it’s been a yearly tradition to update it and post it here on the blog. Hope you enjoy it, and I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday week with the ones you love. I’ll be back on Monday with more nonsense.


I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the last few years that seems to gain more and more popularity every Thanksgiving. I’m not sure who started it, but I want to stop it, and I’m asking for your help.

structure of tryptophan

The trend in question is the overuse of the word ‘tryptophan’. Yes, that mystery substance in turkey that supposedly makes your eyelids heavy after Thanksgiving dinner. Come the fourth Thursday in November, tryptophan is everyone’s favorite three-syllable word.

It seems like only yesterday that attributing your post-turkey drowsiness to this little-known amino acid made you sound smart and well-read. But these days, everyone and their mother-in-law thinks they know why that gravy-covered piece of poultry induces thousands of couch comas every year*. The power of tryptophan has become common knowledge, filed somewhere between “LOST was the best TV show ever” and “nobody cares about your Farmville crops, dirtbag”.

*It should be noted that lots of smart folks believe your post-turkey nap has very little to do with the trace amount of tryptophan found in turkey meat. As it turns out, tryptophan works best on an empty stomach. So maybe the real reason we sleep after our Thanksgiving meal is because we’ve consumed enough food to feed the entire cast of How I Met Your Mother for a week.

My goal is to rid the country of the tryptophan myth one family gathering at a time.

My plan is equal parts idiocy and genius.

My request is that you join me in helping separate tryptophan from the fabric of thanksgiving.

Here’s the plan:

Thanksgiving Morning…

8amĀ  – Roll out of bed fully rested. If you try to execute this plan on too little sleep, you’re going to spend the entire day walking around looking like David Schwimmer in “The Pallbearer”. (not a good thing, in case you were fortunate enough to miss that trainwreck of a movie).

9am – Eat a good breakfast. Don’t be the sucker who starves himself for 18 hours before Thanksgiving Dinner only to find out that his stomach has shrunk to the size of an orange. There’s always one of these jokers at every Thanksgiving table. They walk in and proudly announce “I’m going to have 5 helpings because I haven’t eaten anything since last night!” Then they peter out after a few bites of cranberry sauce. Don’t be that guy.

10am – Time to prepare your props. Grab an empty pill bottle and write the word “Tryptophan” on it with a Sharpie. Do the same thing on the front of a plain white T-shirt in extra-large letters. Next, print out a dozen copies of the Tryptophan Wikipedia page. Bring these with you, along with a Scrabble set. Make sure to sift through your Scrabble tiles beforehand and pocket the tiles you need to spell “tryptophan”.

11am – Clothes selection is huge. You know that festive turtleneck/sweater combo you planned on wearing? Don’t. The oven and every burner on the stove will be going full throttle all morning, so it’s going to be hotter than habaneras in there. I suggest wearing a nice-looking shirt over your tryptophan t-shirt with a loose pair of pants. Also, remember to pre-adjust your belt loop one notch bigger than usual. This will help you avoid the dreaded post-dinner belt adjustment*.

*Note to anyone planning on going for the post-dinner belt adjustment as a funny gag to get some laughs, please spare us all. It’s as funny as strep throat.

12pm – Unless you’re hosting the meal, you should be on your way to the gathering at this point. First impressions are everything, so when you walk in the door the plan immediately goes into action. Instead of barking out “Happy Thanksgiving!” like everyone else, yell out “Happy Tryptophan Day!” a few times as you shake hands and give hugs. Feel free to mumble it under your breath a few times if you like or even make a little song out of it. Repeat it enough times that it makes everyone slightly uncomfortable, but not enough to make them think that you are up to something. We’re still only setting the stage at this point.

12:30pm – Once the eating has begun, look for a good opportunity to secretly stash a few pieces of turkey meat in your empty pill bottle. This will come in handy later. Enjoy the meal, but eat quickly so you’re the first one to finish. Then as you’re getting up from the table, pull out the copies of the Tryptophan article you brought and pass them around. As they’re circulating say something to the effect of “I thought this was an interesting read”. Leave the room immediately before folks can start grilling you and find a nice spot in front of the TV to watch some football.

1:30pm – As folks trickle in to join you in front of the TV, give each one of them some sort of tryptophan comment. Be as original and as obnoxious as possible. Quips like “How’s that tryptophan treating you?”, “Had enough tryptophan yet?”, or “Sleepy time yet, Mr. Tryptophan?” will all work quite nicely.

2pm – As everyone around you begins to nod off, take a little fake nap of your own. After 5 or 10 minutes, pretend to wake up and exclaim “Wow, Old Man Tryptophan just put a hurting on me!” loud enough to wake everyone up who’s sleeping. This will really tick them off. Let them fall back asleep as they think of 101 different heavy objects to throw at your face.

3pm – With everyone feeling groggy and irritable, initiate some trivial arguments for no good reason. Be sure to take the opposite side on everything, just to make it interesting.

Personally, I recommend goading them into the “Why do the Lions and Cowboys get the Thanksgiving NFL games every year?” argument. Chances are they will be against the tradition, and you can argue that you like it because it makes you feel “safe and American”. Close your argument by saying “It’s kinda like tryptophan”. When they ask “What does that mean?” excuse yourself to leave the room.

4pm – Find the largest gathering of people inside the house and make some small talk. After a few minutes, let everyone know that you’re getting a little warm and that you’re going to take off your shirt. As you remove your outer layer, you’ll get some puzzled glances and dirty looks. Folks really won’t understand why the word “Tryptophan” is written with a Sharpie on your shirt, and frankly, they probably won’t appreciate it. Deflect any questions you get by saying “It was on sale at the Gap”.

5pm – Organize a game of Scrabble and be sure to trash talk during the entire game, even if you’re losing. You want everyone else to really be pulling for you to finish last. As the game winds down, secretly replace the tiles in your rack one by one with the tiles in your pocket. When it’s your turn, play all of your tiles, spelling the word “Tryptophan”. If there’s no place to play a 10-letter word, just let the letters trail off of the board. Your opponents will be outraged that you have cheated and ruined the game, wasting a perfectly good hour of their lives. Don’t worry, some day they’ll thank you for it.

6:00pm – Find someone who is drinking coffee and remark “You’re drinking coffee this late?” After they inform you that it’s decaf, follow up with “Well, it you’re worried about falling asleep tonight you could have a couple of these pills that I take whenever I can’t sleep”. At this point take out the Tryptophan pill bottle and offer them a few pieces of the room temperature turkey meat that’s been sitting in your pocket. Make sure the inscribed “Tryptophan” is plainly visible to them. When they refuse to eat some, pop a couple pieces in your own mouth, put the bottle back I your pocket and then fall to the floor with a thud as if the turkey meat has immediately put you to sleep.

While fake sleeping, congratulate yourself. Mission Accomplished.

7pm – As you make your exit, be sure to leave the same way you entered, spouting “Happy Tryptophan Day!” to everyone within earshot. Everyone will be so tired of the word “tryptophan” that they will cringe every time they hear someone say it over the next few years. You can bet the next time your family gathers over the holiday bird, they won’t be throwing around the ‘T’ word so liberally anymore. Sure, someone will probably mention how crazy you went with “that tryptophan thing” a few years back, but mostly they’ll all try to forget it and move on with their lives.

As for you, well, you can feel good knowing you helped shake the word “tryptophan” right out of your family tree. Despite what your family members say about you behind your back for the rest of your life, you are a hero.

Happy Tryptophan Day Everyone!