Sorry but I’m just not into humming “Happy Birthday” while I wash my hands.

And I’m definitely not into singing it twice in a row, which supposedly takes about 20 seconds, which is exactly the amount of time that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests we wash our hands regularly to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Of course, there are some alternatives to what you can recite while washing hands for 20 seconds. The alphabet song, I’m told. The BBC says that “God Save the Queen” works well (though even better advice is staying away from the BBC employee who learned this). The Los Angeles Times recommends a chorus of “Raspberry Beret” or “Jolene.”

Yet nothing has set me on fire.

So, as the world hunkers down for a long haul — not to mention, my sudden awareness that basically all I do is touch my face all day long — I have been compiling a useful list of 40 socially acceptable things that should take at least 20 seconds to say, sing or hum to yourself while standing at a sink and washing your hands of any infectious disease:


  • The preamble to the U.S. Constitution
  • “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost
  • The first three verses of Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train”
  • A complete list of Ivy League colleges
  • Any part of Emily’s speech in “Our Town”
  • The ocean zones, from epipelagic to hadalpelagic
  • Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues
  • The Ten Commandments
  • The theme to “Sanford and Son”
  • The title of every “Fast & Furious” movie
  • “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (from “Harry Truman” to “Santayana goodbye” only)
  • “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars”
  • The theme to “Full House”
  • The lyrics of “O Holy Night” until you fake it
  • Founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Whatever plot you can remember at all from any of the six “Mission: Impossible” films
  • An imitation of Mariah Carey singing the phrase “home of the free” at an NBA game
  • The names of every living thing that ever entered the Brady household
  • Nine restaurants that charge $6 for toast
  • Eight people from high school who are cops now
  • Seven dwarfs you think are Snow White’s dwarves but surprisingly aren’t
  • Six cable stations that justify the size of your cable bill
  • Five reasons your Christmas wreath is still up
  • Four demonic incantations you learned at summer camp
  • The final chorus of Styx’ “Come Sail Away”
  • Dante’s nine circles of hell
  • The titles of every political memoir you’ve regifted
  • All 206 bones in an adult human body
  • Every element on the periodic table
  • All known species of Cheerios
  • All known actresses you think are Margot Robbie
  • Disney characters you would probably date
  • One short song composed of every Lizzo lyric you know
  • Newton’s three laws of motion
  • The seven stupidest people you are paid to talk to daily
  • Three reasons we can’t have nice things anymore
  • A dramatic reading of Tennyson’s “The Eagle”
  • A dramatic reading of what you forgot to buy at CVS
  • A dramatic reading of why you are calling in sick again
  • Brands of soap you have known