Ali vs. Frazier, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Hatfields vs. McCoys: all are great and enduring contests between strong-willed and unrelenting opponents. So it is with our toothpaste tube contests. Two people locked in matrimony and fevered competition determine who is first to fail squeezing a useful amount of dentifrice from the depleted tube. It is a stark zero-sum struggle with a decisive outcome worthy of Gore Vidal’s alleged assertion that “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”

One combatant is by nature a fiercely competitive woman, equating these contests to no less than a great moral struggle. The other combatant is a man with Scottish blood of a stubborn and frugal characteristic. The shared use of the household’s toothpaste doesn’t always lead to the final days of fierce struggle as paste is depleted, but the circumstance for a struggle is often manifested in unstated but mutually understood escalation. The final days require thorough understanding of tube mechanics and the ability to apply great grip strength to move increasingly scarce molecules from the tube.

So who squeezed out the latest great combat victory, giving the opponent a decisive pasting? Scottish reticence prohibits the victor from unseemly gloating (or enumerating previous victories). Maybe not the new tube of toothpaste, or the next, but it’s inevitable that some tube will eventually provoke another contest, like a great thunderhead preparing to unleash a tremendous fury. Meanwhile we rest. And brush.