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The pile of my children's new toys was reaching near-obscene heights, I'd drunk enough egg nog to float a small ship, and if I heard Karen Carpenter sing "the logs on the fire fill me with desire" one more time, I might take a Christmas tin to the kitchen radio.

It was time for a little holiday detox.

So on Monday, the State Journal's official Christmas day off, I boarded my Schwinn and pedaled into work, intent on making a slight detour to see a Madison controversy that knows no season.

The puzzling public art piece in front of Camp Randall, "Nails' Tales," has again been taking a beating from my column-writing colleague, Doug Moe, and it appears he's garnering support for his campaign to have the piece moved.

I'd only briefly considered "Nails' Tales" before, and I admit my initial, unoriginal impression was that it looked like an ear of corn.

On Monday, I looked a little closer, noticing the kernels were actually footballs and that the "ear" appeared to emerge from a tall block of granite, and noting - again, not so originally - that it was decidedly phallus-like.

I spun my own theories about what it could mean standing there at what is basically a temple to male athletic machismo, but I thought it only fair to give the sculptor, UW-Madison graduate Donald Lipski, a chance to shed his own light.

"They didn't say they wanted a phallus," Lipski told me of the conversations he had with UW-Madison officials as he was coming up with ideas for the piece.

But they did want something with "power" and "dynamism," he said. They wanted "if not something phallic, but something that was very male and dominant."

Like the Washington Monument, "Nails' Tales" is an obelisk - a tall, tapered design that dates to ancient Egypt.

Lipski said that when he presented university officials with plans for "Nails' Tales," they were dubious about it, too, but that after he explained obelisks were often set in pairs in front of Egyptian tombs, they suggested he should create a second.

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Of course there wasn't money for that, he said. But I guess the point for all those "Nails'" haters is: Take heart, it could have been worse.

Lipski takes the less-than-overwhelmingly-positive response to "Nails'" in stride.

"I don't need my piece to be loved," he said.

He also said there's never been any serious discussion of having it moved and, further, that's not a discussion he's interested in entertaining.

I'm not either.

"Nails' Tales" sparks some much-needed counter-cultural pondering at a venue not usually known for it - big-time college athletics being about as mainstream as you can get.

Putting a sculpture of this or that football great in its place, as some have suggested, would be fine, but it would also be redundant. Our love for Badger football is already set in stone.

"Nails'" reminds us that art is to be pondered and maybe even reviled - and maybe reviled for reasons we don't understand.

Football, though, that's just a game.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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