Mai-Kai cocktail review: Suffering no more, this Bastard finally gets a chance to shine

Updated July 2018
See below: Suffering Bastard review | UPDATED: Tribute recipes
NEW: The Mai-Kai updates bar menu, adds classic ‘lost’ cocktail
Related: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide
More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree
Three classic ‘lost cocktails’ drop in for a night of flights at The Mai-Kai

When The Mai-Kai updated its cocktail menu in May 2018, a decision was made to revive one of the classic “lost cocktails” from the notebook of original mixologist Mariano Licudine, who led the bar program from 1956 to 1979. There were nearly a dozen to choose from, many of them ionic drinks that Licudine had brought with him from his days working for Don the Beachcomber in the 1940s and ’50s.

The Suffering Bastard, a longtime off-menu
The Suffering Bastard, a longtime off-menu “lost classic,” was added to the permanent menu in May 2018. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Over the past five years, these lost cocktails have been featured at multiple special events, from The Hukilau to The Mai-Kai’s 60th anniversary party. In 2017, a special “Flashback Friday” promotion gave guests the opportunity to sample a different retired cocktail each month on that designated day. While many were popular, one stood out and earned a spot on the main menu, even though it was never on the menu to begin with.

The Suffering Bastard was de rigueur at mid-century Tiki bars. Like many other popular tropical cocktails of the era, it was bastardized (pun intended) and retooled to fit the needs of each particular establishment. The Trader Vic’s version was perhaps the most well-known, instantly recognizable by the iconic Suffering Bastard mug.

The Mai-Kai was no exception, but for reasons unknown it never appeared on the menu. Taking a cue from Trader Vic, Licudine created his Suffering Bastard as an alternative take on the Mai Tai. Of course, The Mai-Kai’s Mai Tai is nothing like Vic’s, and neither is the Suffering Bastard. Licudine did appropriate one distinctive touch from Vic: A large slice of cucumber as garnish. As odd as it seams, it really does work.

The Mai-Kai's version of the Suffering Bastard features a cucumber garnish, first popularized by Trader Vic. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2018)
The Mai-Kai’s version of the Suffering Bastard features a cucumber garnish, first popularized by Trader Vic. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, May 2018)

The original Suffering Bastard, sans cucumber, was created in 1942 at Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo by mixologist Joe Scialom, a fascinating story uncovered by tropical drink historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. Scialom’s recipe – which includes gin, brandy, Rose’s lime juice, Angostura bitters and ginger beer – was revealed in the 2010 book, Beachbum Berry Remixed. An entire chapter is devoted to Scialom in Berry’s 2013 epic hardcover, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them.

Before Berry and other Tiki revivalists came along in the 1990s, many of these classic cocktails were long forgotten. Without a slot on the menu at The Mai-Kai, it’s possible that the Suffering Bastard languished for decades in Licudine’s notebook before being rediscovered. The latest version includes a few new tweaks, so we’ve added a new tribute recipe below.

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: Short-lived daiquiri disappared when Cuba fell

Updated July 2014
This is one in a series of reviews of drinks that appeared on the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai cocktail menu but were later retired. Included is the ancestor recipe that inspired it, plus a tribute that attempts to reinterpret what The Mai-Kai’s version would taste like today had it not disappeared.

See below: Ancestor/tribute recipe | Cuban Daiquiri review
Related: The story of the Floridita Daiquiri rivals any novel
Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails”

Arguably the most definitive rum cocktail, perhaps even the prototype for all future tropical drinks, is the humble daiquiri. This simple combination of rum, lime and sugar mixed with ice can be traced back to Cuba in the early 1900s.

Cuban Daiquiri
From a Don the Beachcomber menu.

While not nearly as old as proto rum cocktails such as the British Navy Grog or pre-colonial punches, the Daiquri is distinctive for its precise craft and reliance on ice as a crucial ingredient. Though deeply linked to Cuba, the Dauquiri was reputedly invented by an American, mining engineer Jennings Cox, who was working in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

The drink quickly became a favorite among the military, then the tourists who flocked to the Caribbean island, especially during Prohibition. It’s likely both Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic) ran across the daiquiri during their travels in the Caribbean before opening their bars in California that kick-started the Tiki cocktail craze in the 1930s.

Cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry covers the fascinating history of the daiquiri extensively in his epic book, Potions of the Caribbean: 500 Years of Tropical Drinks and the People Behind Them, released in late 2013 by Cocktail Kingdom. It covers everything from the town that inspired the name, to all its reputed inventors, to its adaptation by mid-century Tiki bars.

The Beachcomber and Trader Vic menus are loaded with daiquiris, as is the menu at the iconic Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. Open since 1956, it still features many drinks traced back to Donn Beach (Special Reserve Daiquiri) but also the traditional Floridita Daiquiri and an acclaimed original creation of mixologist Mariano Licudine, the Derby Daiquiri.

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The Hukilau gears up for vintage Tiki weekend with exclusive merchandise, new sponsors and added entertainment

The Hukilau

With just over a week before The Hukilau invades South Florida for its 12th annual vintage Polynesian Pop extravaganza, attendees can look forward to a great assortment of recently announced goodies from sponsors and the event organizers.

The Hukilau: June 6-9, 2013, at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (Yankee Clipper), Best Western Oceanside, and The Mai-Kai restaurant. Tickets, schedule and updates at TheHukilau.com and Facebook.
Previous posts: The Hukilau crowns winner of Deadhead Rum Cocktail Contest
The Hukilau announces new art show, entertainers, more updates for Tiki fest in June

Angostura Rum and Bitters

NEW SPONSORS JOIN THE PARTY

Angostura Rum and Bitters has not only joined The Hukilau as a sponsor, the venerable spirits company is sending brand ambassador David Delaney to the event to mix up some special tropical cocktails. Look for Delaney at the Angostura booth in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar at the Yankee Clipper on Friday, June 7, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Also joining as a sponsor in 2013 is Barritt’s Ginger Beer, a classic Caribbean brand that will be featured in cocktails Thursday evening in the Tiki Treasures Bazaar. While you’re in the bazaar, keep an eye out for these cocktails and other special events, such as Saturday’s 1 p.m. memorabilia signing by classic pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager and mid-century Polynesian dancer and actress Nani Maka.

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Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The late Dr. Fong has a funky and famous history

Dr. Fong was featured in August 2017 as part of the new Flashback Friday promotion in The Molokai bar. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated August 2017
See below: Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe | Dr. Fong review
Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide | More “lost cocktails” | Tropical drink family tree

Bernhard Funk
The real Doctor Funk (from The Cyclopedia of Samoa, via TikiCentral.com)

The concept of a “Polynesian” cocktail is somewhat of a misnomer. While most tropical drinks have names and imagery that recall Polynesia, most are actually Caribbean rum concoctions reinvented by American restaurateurs. One notable exception is the distinctive Doctor Funk, also sometimes known as Dr. Fong.

Doctor Funk was an actual person as well as a real Polynesian drink. Born in 1844 in Germany, Dr. Bernhard Funk migrated to Samoa around 1881 and was reputedly the first medical practitioner in the capital city. He became friends with Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and was the bedside doctor when Stevenson died in 1894 in Samoa.

Dr. Funk was not only a skilled doctor but also a mixologist of some note. The Doctor Funk was a notorious drink that became known throughout the region. It was mentioned by travel writer Frederick O’Brien (1869-1932) in his books White Shadows in the South Seas (1919) and Mystic Isles of the South Seas (1921). The latter calls the drink “a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine – a syrup of the pomegranate fruit, the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water.” It was apparently served by the doctor as a “medicinal tonic.”

Doctor Funk
From a Don the Beachcomber menu.

Dr. Funk thrived in Samoa, marrying the daughter of a chief, but health problems caused him to return to Germany, where he died in 1911. After his death, a granite stone was placed in his honor on the shore of the mysterious Lake Lanoto’o in Samoa, where Funk had built a health resort. The secluded lake still contains goldfish, illegally introduced to Samoa by Dr. Funk. For a lot more on the life and times of Bernhard Funk, check out this great research on Tiki Central by Sven Kirsten (bigbrotiki), Tom Duncan (TikiTomD), and many others.

A drink this legendary and rooted in the South Pacific was perfect fodder for Tiki bar pioneers Donn Beach (Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (Trader Vic). Both created Doctor Funk cocktails in the 1930s and ’40s with pretty much the same flavor profile. But over the years there became so many different versions by Beach, Bergeron and many others, it became impossible to pinpoint a definitive “original” version.

The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)
The Dr. Fong cocktail returned to The Mai-Kai in September 2016 during a special event celebrating the release of the book ‘Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant.’ (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Doctor Funk also inspired variations with names such as Dr. Fong and Dr. Wong. Many of these became synonymous with the (now somewhat politically incorrect) Fu Manchu-style Tiki mug that was widely produced in the mid-century. Restaurants across the country simply invented their own drinks called Doctor Funk or Dr. Fong to go into the mug (see “bilge” at the very bottom of this review).

When The Mai-Kai opened in 1956, the menu included a Dr. Fong cocktail based on one of the Don the Beachcomber versions of Doctor Funk. This is where bartender Mariano Licudine worked for nearly 20 years, mixing the drinks that became the template for most of the original 1956-57 Mai-Kai menu.

Luckily for us, Tiki historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has over the past 15 years decade published two of Beach’s Doctor Funk recipes, which I’ve included below. In 2016, thanks to another author, guests at The Mai-Kai were finally able to taste the authentic Dr. Fong after an absence of more than 40 years.

Dr. Fong was featured on a special lost cocktails menu in September 2016 during the book release party for Mai-Kai: History and Mystery of the Iconic Tiki Restaurant by Tim “Swanky” Glazner.

The special event also featured several other long-lost cocktails (Hanalei Bay and the Demerara Float) plus two days of gatherings of Mai-Kai enthusiasts from across the country. [More photos on Tiki Central]

Dr. Fong, August 2017

The book chronicles the history of the iconic restaurant, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Pick up the book on Amazon or get a signed copy in The Mai-Kai Trading Post gift shop. It’s also usually available in the new online ordering app.

Dr. Fong returned again in August 2017 as part of The Mai-Kai’s monthly Flashback Friday promotion, including a special new recipe. See more below under the Tribute recipe notes.

Continue reading “Lost Cocktails of The Mai-Kai: The late Dr. Fong has a funky and famous history”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: The timeless appeal of this classic is no Mystery

Updated July 3, 2014
See below: Our Mystery Drink review | Ancestor recipe | Related: Mai-Kai cocktail guide
Mini Mai-Kai Mystery Bowl offers scaled-down version of a classic
Symposium explores rich history and long-lost stories of The Mai-Kai

A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo
A vintage Mystery Girl and Mystery Drink photo. (Courtesy of SwankPad.org)

Oh Mystery Girl,
   what’s in this Mystery Drink?!
I must steal you away;
   conscience now has no say
Into this heart of darkness I sink.
And now you’re leaving me with this …
   a silken lei a single kiss?
A drink to fill this emptyness?
   Don’t leave me Mystery Girl!

Mystery Girl by The Crazed Mugs

The Mai-Kai’s Mystery Drink (and its accompanying ritual featuring the Mystery Girl) is no mere cocktail. It’s a Polynesian Pop culture icon, immortalized in song, on television and seared into the memory of countless Mai-Kai patrons over the past half-century.

When the drink is ordered, a gong is struck repeatedly as a Polynesian maiden silently delivers the huge, flaming bowl packed with at least 9 ounces of alcohol (some reports say it contains 13 ounces). The Mystery Girl dances before the lucky customer, placing a lei around the neck, then planting a kiss on the cheek before gliding away.

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Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog

Updated July 2015
See below: Our Yeoman’s Grog review | Ancestor recipe | Tribute recipe
Related: Navy Grog ice cone: Lost art is revived by cocktail enthusiasts, handy gadget
Mai-Kai cocktail guide

It goes without saying that The Atomic Grog is a big fan of any traditional “grog,” and the Yeoman’s Grog at The Mai-Kai is one of the best. But where exactly does the the term “grog” come from? And what’s the story behind the Yeoman’s Grog?

Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough - from Wikipedia)
Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon. (Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough - from Wikipedia)

In the British Navy, it became tradition in the mid-1600s to grant all seamen a daily half-pint ration of rum. In 1740, seeking to cut down on rampant drunkenness, Admiral Edward Vernon, nicknamed “Old Grog” because of the cloak made of grogram (a silk fabric) that he always wore, ordered the rum mixed with a quart of water. Some years later, when it was proven that citrus fruit prevented scurvy, lime juice was added to the mix. The world’s first proper tropical drink was born, named the “Navy Grog” after Old Grog himself.

Roughly 200 years later, when tropical drinks were all the rage, a greatly enhanced version of the Navy Grog was popularized by Donn Beach (aka Don the Beachcomber) and Victor Bergeron (aka Trader Vic). When The Mai-Kai opened in 1956, mixologist Mariano Licudine created the Yeoman’s Grog, based heavily on Donn Beach’s version, which he knew well from his years working at Don the Beachcomber in Chicago.

But Licudine took the Yeoman’s Grog to the next level by lifting the best element of Trader Vic’s Navy Grog – allspice liqueur, aka pimento dram. This is one of those special, subtle ingredients we’ve noted in past reviews (see the Deep Sea Diver and Rum Julep), but it really takes a starring role here. But, as usual, Lucudine gave it his own special touch (see tribute recipe below).

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Even landlubbers can appreciate a strong ration of Yeoman’s Grog”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic

Updated March 1, 2014
See below: Our Mai Tai review | Tribute recipe
Related: The off-menu Suffering Bastard was just a Mai Tai with a kick
What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson? | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

The Mai Tai has been recognized for more than 50 years as the definitive tropical drink. You’ll get some arguments from Zombie fans like myself, but there’s no denying that the Mai Tai is one of the world’s most popular and distinctive cocktails, period.

Much has been written about how to make an “authentic” Mai Tai, as created by Trader Vic circa 1944. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry has a very concise history lesson and recipe posted here. As the Bum points out, the argument over who really invented the drink persists to this day.

The Mai Tai (front) is one of The Mai-Kai's signature drinks. (Photo by by Go11Media, courtesy of The Mai-Kai; waitress: Maima)
The Mai Tai (front) is one of The Mai-Kai's signature drinks. (Photo by by Go11Media, courtesy of The Mai-Kai; waitress: Maima)

We subscribe to the theory that Victor “Trader Vic” Bergeron created the Mai Tai after tasting a Don the Beachcomber drink with a similar flavor profile called the Q.B. Cooler. Donn Beach, who created the Tiki bar concept in 1934 in Los Angeles, also had a drink called the Mai Tai Swizzle, but it was gone from the menu by 1937. It’s widely accepted that Vic frequented Don the Beachcomber before opening his first Trader Vic’s in Oakland. Could he have lifted the name from one drink and the flavor profile from another in creating his Mai Tai?

It’s entirely possible, but that has nothing to do with The Mai-Kai, or its drink called the Mai Tai. The Mai-Kai already serves a descendant of the Q.B. Cooler called the K.O. Cooler (See our previous review). If you’re looking for the taste of an authentic Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, try the K.O. Cooler.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic”

Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?

K.O. Cooler, October 2017. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

Updated July 2018
See below: Our K.O. Cooler review | Ancestor recipes | Tribute recipe
Related: Trade in Vic’s Mai Tai for this classic | Mai-Kai cocktail guide

Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber's Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)
Beachbum Berry presents Don the Beachcomber’s Q.B. Cooler, which he made during a symposium on the history of the Mai Tai at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Media)

It’s 1937. A budding Oakland, Calif., restaurateur named Victor Bergeron ventures south to Hollywood to see for himself what all the hoopla is about surrounding a small tropical-themed bar called Don the Beachcomber. According to legend, Bergeron was inspired to adopt the same Polynesian theme and shortly thereafter changed the name of his restaurant from Hinky Dink’s to Trader Vic’s.

The rest is history, and Trader Vic’s remains the standard-bearer for Polynesian restaurants worldwide with more than 25 locations. The Don the Beachcomber chain disappeared, save for a lone corporate restaurant/bar location at the Royal Kona Resort in Hawaii and a recently closed one-off franchise in Huntington Beach, Calif., that’s reportedly reopening soon in a new location. Neither, however, have much tangible connection to founder Donn Beach. He officially left the company when his ex-wife, Sunny Sund, took the helm during World War II.

Our nation’s soldiers always held a special place in the heart of Beach, a veteran of the Army Air Corps during WW II and recipient of both a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. One of the drinks on Beach’s menu in 1937 was the Q.B. Cooler, named for the Quiet Birdmen, a drinking fraternity of aviators founded by seven World War I pilots in 1921. Donn changed his Q.B. Cooler recipe over the years, but as cocktail historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry revealed in his 2007 book, Sippin’ Safari, the original version tastes remarkably similar to what Trader Vic later introduced to the world as perhaps the most famous of all tropical drinks, the Mai Tai.

Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)
Beachbum Berry discusses the history of the Mai Tai and its relation to the K.O. Cooler during his symposium at The Hukilau 2009 at The Mai-Kai. (Photo by Go11Events.com)

As Berry theorized in the book and later demonstrated during a symposium at the 2009 Hukilau at The Mai-Kai, it’s likely that Bergeron created the Mai Tai by copying the flavor profile of the Q.B. Cooler. What’s remarkable is that the Mai Tai contains quite different ingredients (orange curacao, sugar syrup, orgeat syrup). The two drinks have only rum and lime juice in common. But it’s undeniable that the tastes are incredibly similar.

Of course, Bergeron later claimed that he invented the Mai Tai in 1944 and eventually won a court battle that established him as the originator of the famous cocktail. Berry puts forward the theory that Bergeron most likely did invent the Mai Tai as we all know it, but he was inspired by the Q.B. Cooler and re-created it using almost entirely different ingredients. In honor of the battle to make the best Mai Tai, the Royal Kona holds on popular bartending competition every year dubbed the Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival.

Continue reading “Mai-Kai cocktail review: What could be Cooler than a Mai Tai history lesson?”

‘Rum Rat Pack’ starts a revolution at Hukilau 2011

See below: Rumposium photo gallery
Related: The Hukilau crowns a Rum Barrel Master Mixologist
2011 Hukilau photos and video: Facebook | Flickr | Go11Media

February 2013 update: How big a punch can Tiki Month take?

‘Rumposium’ kicks off Tiki event’s Mia-Kai bash

Tropical drink revivalist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his “Rum Rat Pack” – four of the world’s most noted authorities on the cane spirit – banded together on stage at the legendary Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale during the afternoon of Saturday, June 12, to celebrate Tiki’s favorite elixir.

Jeff "Beachbum" Berry leaves no doubt about what this event is all about.
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry leaves no doubt about what this event is all about.

More than two hours and a thousand or so cocktails later, the 200 Tikiphiles attending this 10th anniversary Hukilau exclusive event were swept up in a movement not seen in these parts of the tropics since Fidel’s rise to power in another rum-soaked nation just to the south. But in the friendly environs of The Mai-Kai, which actually pre-dates Castro’s revolt by several years, the revolutionaries were armed only with good spirits. Lots of good spirits.

Before the symposium even started, several samples of high-end rums awaited us as we were seated in the Polynesian palace’s main dining room. Beachbum Berry wasted no time in introducing us to some of the fine rums on display this afternoon: Chairman’s Reserve from St. Lucia; Rhum Clement VSOP and La Favorite Rhum Agricole, both from Martinique; Lemon Hart 151 Demerara rum from Guyana; and Dos Maderas (a blend of aged rums from Barbados and Guyana).

Of course, more than 50 cocktails from The Mai-Kai’s legendary tropical drink menu were also available, and many in the audience wasted no time in beginning the evening’s imbibing early (The Atomic Grog included). I opted for one of the restaurant’s signature drinks, the Derby Daiquiri, a refreshing frozen lime-orange concoction created by the late, great master mixologist Mariano Licudine. Mariano’s son, Ron, was in attendance for the festivities and was happy to entertain us cocktail geeks with stories from his youth when his dad ruled the tropical drink world.

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The Hukilau weathers many storms to celebrate 10 years of Tiki madness

The 10th anniversary Hukilau – featuring four days of music, art, cocktails, vendors, symposiums on Tiki culture and much more – takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, in Fort Lauderdale. Go to TheHukilau.com for the full schedule and more information on all the performers and guests.
* Related: Hukilau 2010 video preview | Mixologists vie to build a better Barrel

In the beginning …

In 2002, a modern Tiki renaissance was in full swing. Inspired by the heyday of Polynesian Pop, which began with groundbreaking efforts of Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic in the 1930s and stretched for more than 30 years into the 1960s, a new generation of artists, musicians, mixologists and entrepreneurs had been embracing retro Tiki culture since the 1990s.

The Hukilau

As this grassroots movement gained momentum and new devotees discovered the wider world of mid-century pop culture, full-blown events soon followed. In Southern California – the birthplace of Tiki and haven for some of the genre’s most beloved bars, architecture and artists – Tiki Oasis started small in 2001 and quickly became the largest Tiki event in the West by its second installment in 2002.

The Hukilau was envisioned by its founders not only as the East Coast’s answer to Tiki Oasis, but also a celebration of the growing family and community, or ‘ohana, that had become so enamored with the entire underground movement. The name of the event, of course, comes from the traditional Hawaiian festival held in fishing villages in which a large net is cast into the sea to capture fish for the feast that honors the spirit of family and community.

Continue reading “The Hukilau weathers many storms to celebrate 10 years of Tiki madness”