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From ice cream to economics: 'Pickwit' club talks stimulate fresh ideas

Was your last research paper done for a college course? Have you been curious about a subject outside your chosen field but lacked the drive to follow through, to dig out and digest the information? Could you use a little more intellectual stimulation in your life?

If your answer is yes, you might want to form a group like the Pickwits in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. The name is an aberration from the Pickwick Club of Charles Dicken's creation in his novel, "The Pickwick Papers." Chosen for the variety of their interests, Pickwits members include 24 men and women, couples and singles.

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The group's monthly 90-minute meetings have covered subjects ranging from a summary of cycles -- meteorological, business, and biological -- to a history of ice cream, with member participation in a taste comparison of different brands.

Husbands and wives usually work singly on their papers, although several couples have collaborated on research and presentation. One of these was on the growing interest of adopted children in finding their natural parents, a situation this couple had faced themselves. Another joint effort, slide-illustrated, was by a couple who had recently spent a month hiking in New Zealand's national parks.

To avoid conflicts with other meetings, work, sports, or social events, Pickwits meets at an unusual hour, 4 p.m., since the working members of this small community can be there. Food for thought supersedes culinary delicacies. Members are urged to provide the simplest refreshment: cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, nonalcoholic beverages, store cookies. The feeling may be that since the hosts are also the presenters, if you spend all your time cooking, your paper will suffer. A few compulsive cooks have broken the rule without any damage to their presentations. Nevertheless, at 4:15 the reading of the paper begins.

The organizing couple, who had read about a similar but all-male group in Fayette, Mo., wrote in an introductory letter that the purpose would be to share something new, to stimulate thinking, or to entertain. Members could choose to speak on almost any topic: music, books, economics, politics, the 21st century, unusual hobbies, unique travel -- but this would notm be the time for slides of one's 1969 trip to Europe.

During the two years of Pickwits' existence, members have complied well. They have informed each other on political activism, birds, General MacArthur, the officeless office, ceramics, swim strokes, snuff boxes, American musicals, foreign Christmas traditions, flight, and historic preservation.

Each subject gets about an hour's treatment, followed by a 15-minute question period. No matter how controversial the subject, questioners are reminded to be kind. By 5:30 Pickwits members are on their way home with some fresh ideas. Because ideas are what Pickwits is all about, the club operates with no organization, no dues, no officers, no reminders of meetings. An annual list of scheduled hosts brings the members out each month for what is proving to be a stimulating 90 minutes.

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