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Who: Martin Brodeur, the goaltender for the New Jersey Devils for the last two decades. It is a cliché of hockey that when a team wins handily, commentators say "the goalie stood on his head." Watch this, and you will see why.


Why: For the fourth of my most beautiful team sports player pieces, I suppose you're shocked that I didn't pick a Chicagoan—say, my Blackhawk heroes Eddie Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, and Chris Chelios—for this honor. Yeah, I am too. After all, my most beautiful baseball, football, and basketball players all wore Chicago uniforms. But that's not the common thread. All those guys were all-timers at one critical thing: defense. More than anyone else who played their position, they would destroy your hopes of showing up on a poster, unless it was their poster. So there's no way this spot is going to anyone but a goaltender, and of course that means it's going to Brodeur. The lifelong Devil lived up to that name, by being cruelly smarter than the attacking player at knowing where his own shot would go. Brodeur wasn't one of those goalies who butterflied in front of the net like an elephant. He stood up, often flying out of the box to take away the puck. The NHL made a rule called the Brodeur rule, which stopped the goalie from handling the puck outside a trapezoid area behind the net. The goal was to stop Marty from being Marty. Didn't work. You can Zamboni the playing surface, but all that does is give you a chance to be better. Brodeur's job is to kill chances, and he does it better than anyone.

Impact: Most wins. Most saves. Most minutes. Most games played. Most shutouts. Most goals—that is, most goals scored by a goalie. And I think the one he's most proud of, fewest teams. That no one in the Eastern Conference ever got a chance to avoid playing Brodeur was a burden those players faced every year they visited the Rock. He might retire this year. He might not. People like Alex Ovechkin, victimized recently by Brodeur in a shootout, sure hope he does.

Personal Connection: I do, anyway. My team has the indignity of having given Brodeur the record for wins, with his 552nd coming against the Blackhawks on St. Patrick's Day, 2009. From the minute the game started, I knew we were doomed. Ah well, we won the Cup the next year anyway. That'll have to do.

Other Contenders: hockey's biggest mouth, Jeremy Roenick, who was so flashy that his near-invincibility in the videogame NHLPA '93 made you forget it was named after a labor union; Hayley Wickenheiser, just about the scariest sight a female goalie can see coming at her; Mario Lemieux, whose many victories include beating cancer and saving hockey in Pittsburgh; from hockey's violent side, Scott Stevens, the other reason the Devils ended many playoff dreams; Don Cherry, a passable player/coach whose blinding fashion sense came to epitomize Canadian hockey extravagance; the bespectacled Hanson brothers, who just want to play old time hockey.
What: A correctly made eggnog, made with a half gallon of store-bought or handmade eggnog (milk, raw eggs, and sugar), a half gallon of French vanilla ice cream, liberal amounts of dark rum or cognac, and a heaping of nutmeg.

Why: The story goes that eggnog's name comes from the phrase "egg and grog," grog being the most piratical term for a rum and water, and while that's probably not true, this is the time of year for stories that might seem a bit suspect. There's the one about a kindly preacher who, after being tortured, impaled, and fatally dehydrated, came back and forgave us our trespasses. There's the other one about the single dram of oil that burned for eight times as long as oil can burn, in service of a banished people. And there's still another about an overstuffed toymaker who glides a caribou-piloted sled silently onto the roofs of the world, clambers down chimneys, and lays festive offerings at the base of indoor fir trees. Not one of those makes a lick of sense. But that's not the point. The point is that this is a time of year to put aside logic, and get together in celebration of family and untenable stories. And it's also time to put aside the logic that raw eggs can kill you, that ice cream and rum can lead you to ruin, and that nutmeg is a psychoactive poison. Because man, they taste good together.

Impact: Sales of store-bought eggnog have quadrupled in the last 50 years, and yet stores will only stock it for about six weeks out of the year. Eggnog sales drop off a cliff the day after New Years. It remains one of the few beverages with a season, and for good reason. If you drank eggnog all year round, you'd quadruple too.

Personal Connection: I have been making this for nigh on thirty Christmases, having been taught the recipe by my mom's soon-to-be-husband Charlie. Evon doesn't drink the stuff, so I often have to drink an entire gallon of ice-cream-infused eggnog by myself. I live a hard life.

Other Contenders: teaching children to gamble with a dreidel and chocolate coins; threatening children with captivity and devourment at the hands of Krampus, Saint Nick's demonic sidekick; terrorizing children with Maurice Sendak's tiger-people and giant mice at the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of The Nutcracker; laughing at children's impossible task of memorizing "The Twelve Days of Christmas"; and, after all that, bribing those same children with presents so that they come to expect nothing less for the rest of their awesome lives.
What: "The Walls Came Down," The Call's declaration of war against the military-industrial complex off its 1983 album Modern Romans.


Why: In 1983, just as now, the world looked like it was coming apart. As the Soviet Union and United States staked out their respective positions as evil empires in each other's eyes, the center could not hold. Meanwhile, America began to learn what the word "terrorism" meant, as its embassy in Lebanon and the U.S. Senate were bombed. We were facing an uncertain future, and Michael Been of The Call distilled that tremulous uncertainty into an unignorable klaxon based on the battle of Jericho. "They blew their horns, and the walls came down," Been sang, following it with the punch in the gut: "They'd all been warned, and the walls came down." More than any other song of protest, "The Walls Came Down" spelled out the consequences of not listening to the disenfranchised.

Impact: The song was a cult hit, followed up by modest successes such as "Everywhere I Go" and "I Still Believe". But importantly, the revolution didn't happen in America. Instead, the walls actually did come down, in Berlin and elsewhere. Because the Russians and Yanks blinked, the revolution here was delayed throughout a period of prosperity unequaled in history. It was only in late 2008, when, propped up by derivatives tossed like candy by corporate criminals, Wall Street came crashing down. But as Been notes, the corporate criminals still have the tanks. The Occupy movement seems inclined to stare them down. Here's a song to inspire them through the uncertain times ahead.

Personal Connection: At first, I admit I didn't understand the Occupy movement. As the owner of a business and a firm adherent of the capitalist ethic, I don't actually want the walls to come down. But even I can't ignore how metastasized the cancer in the system has become. Tipped by regime topplers in the Arab world and capitol squatters in Madison, the folks in Zuccotti Park, in McPherson Square, in Westlake Mall, and everywhere else in the world have figured it out. The organized system of crackdowns has tried to take away their voices, but through tactics like hand signals and the human microphone, they have shown their determination to heed the call. Let the day begin.

Other Contenders: Occupy Wall Street is getting a soundtrack, so I won't presume to know what its equivalent of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" will be. I'm partial to Ry Cooder's "Wall Street Part of Town", but I expect it'll come from some voice we've not heard. Maybe it'll be Lupe Fiasco's rap poem "Moneyman".

the most beautiful law: Title IX

What: Title XV of the Education Amendments of 1972, which modified Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law begins, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Why: Not surprisingly for an act that can't even get its own number right, Title IX doesn't even say what it came to be most connected with. Its intent was to eliminate discrimination against women in education—not sports in education, but education itself. In the 1960s, it was not even universally agreed upon that women should have equal opportunity to go to school. But by the 1970s, in the wake of the bra-burning revolution, the country was ready to codify the simple concept that women should go to school. The law had a subtle consequence, though. "Any education program or activity" meant that the traditional rampart of male exclusivity—athletics—was about to be turned on its head. Sports, especially team sports, was not then viewed as ladylike. But with Title IX, allowing play was viewed as mandatory. If women wanted to play soccer, play basketball, play volleyball, play softball—now they could. Now they would.

Impact: Greater than any federal administrative law since the Civil Rights Act itself. The collective psyche of more than fifty percent of the U.S. population changed irrevocably, allowing women to feel comfortable in competitive arenas like law and medicine and the military. As for sports, it's gotten to the point today where much of America is gathered around their TV sets to watch a women's soccer team go for a World Cup championship. Nobody's burning any bras now; the ones that matter are those under the jerseys of the new Brandi Chastains. With women's sports expanding ninefold in the past four decades, the presumption that women could be competitive, could sweat, could swear, could leave it all on the pitch, could break you in half if they wanted—all of that is okay now. All of that, for want of a better term, is ladylike.

Personal Connection: I am of the right age to have seen American girls change because of Title IX. In the late 1970s, girls in my school became among the first to expect the opportunity to play. In high school, the girls I hung out with played basketball because they could. In college, the women I dated built a national championship program in lacrosse because they could. And now that those women have daughters, the games that I make are expected to be played by everyone. A game designer can write a game for boys, but it will be played by girls. And boys, I hate like the dickens to break it to you, but they will beat you. Because they can.

Other Contenders: the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which among other victories, gave us our bald eagles back; the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act of 2003, which criminalizes telephonic harassment; the ever-expanding list of laws, currently in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Mexico City, and parts of the USA, that allow everyone to marry; the laws which provide universal health care in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan—which in those cases are provided by the United States.

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What: The Original Sachertorte, a rich cake made from Belgian and German chocolate interlaced with apricot filling and served with unsweetened whipped cream, made in its original form at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. Here's a picture I took of one today.

Why: In the United States, we call a piece of cake melted down, osso buco-style, to the rich essence of pure chocolate a "decadence" or a "death by chocolate." In Austria, they call it "cake." There is no point in making it, the Austrians think, unless it reduces you to moaning as you eat it. Probably half the world's best cakes are made in Austria, but the unrivaled king of all it surveys is the sachertorte. The dessert is a triumph of working class knowhow in extremis. In 1832, Austria's Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich demanded that his chef make him a special dessert for important guests. The chef had taken ill, so his 16-year-old assistant, Franz Sacher, came up with this recipe on the spot. The Prince's guests were delighted with Franz's torte, and when Franz's son Eduard completed his chef's training, he perfected the recipe that stands seventeen decades later. Eduard established the Hotel Sacher, possibly the only hotel whose identity was formed around a dessert. The torte itself was the subject of a vicious lawsuit last century, so that now there are two versions of the recipe—the Original at the Hotel Sacher, and Demel's Sacher Torte, whose recipe is held by Sacher's heirs—competing for Austria's top culinary attraction.

Impact: The Hotel Sacher, and its signature dish, remain among Vienna's most popular tourist attractions. Over 350,000 cakes are sold per year. It owns a day of the year, as December 5th in Austria is National Sachertorte Day. If it is possible to make Belgians weep with jealousy over a chocolate creation, the sachertorte does it.

Personal Connection: My father and I stopped at the Hotel Sacher for sachertorte on our way to Sarajevo today. This was his first visit to Vienna, but it was my second visit to the hotel. My first was in 1990 with future Pulitzer-winning journalist Lisa Grace Lednicer. Now, we are both chatty people, Lisa and me. Over dessert that day, we said nothing. The sachertorte spoke for both of us.

Other Contenders: the Thin Mint, America's greatest contribution to the cookie landscape, available every February from eight-year-old sash-bedecked street peddlers; Chinese egg tarts, brought in by cart at the end of a dim sum feast; the red velvet cupcake, the one great use for beets; gulab jamun, an Indian donut hole drenched in honey for hours; hurmašice, a Bosnian walnut pastry drowned in syrup; apple pie, which is as American as America.
What: 3 Dev Adam ("Three Giant Men"), a.k.a. Turkish Spider-Man vs. Captain Turkish America, a 1973 Turkish film featuring the long-awaited team-up of Captain America and Mexican lucha wrestler Santo against a surprisingly evil and overweight Spider-Man. Here it is in its entirety, without the burden of subtitles:


Why: 3 Dev Adam starts the way most Spider-Man films do: with your Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler burying a woman neck-deep in sand and then killing her with a motorboat propeller. This brings Captain America and Santo flying in from North America to stop him from... well, doing that again. This Spider-Man is an Istanbul art thief with giant eyebrows, who likes stabbing people with switchblades and strangling people in the shower. This has to stop, so Captain America and Santo split up to find him. Santo stuffs things in his pants and fights martial artists in a dojo, while Captain America hangs upside-down and cat-slaps his foes. Finally Cap and Santo kill Spider-Man... but wait! One of Spider-Man's only powers is to regenerate instantly from death. This happens again and again, until our heroes trap him in a set of train tracks and run over his head with a cart full of cinderblocks. That squashes the Spider dead. Turkish justice is served.

Impact: Fresh off their success with Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda, in which the USS Enterprise picks up a Turkish hobo, the production company Renkli joined three of North America's greatest heroes in 3 Dev Adam. Stunningly, 3 Dev Adam was the very last time Captain America and Santo teamed up against Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Captain America portrayer Aytekin Akkaya did not fade into obscurity. Instead, he stole the show as the leader of the Sand People in the 1983 blockbuster Yor, The Hunter from the Future. Attention Chris Evans: Keep it up, and this can happen to you!

Personal Connection: As the developer of six Marvel games to date, it falls to me to be aware of all the continuity concerning the Marvel Universe throughout its eighty-plus years of storytelling. So when you ask "Which Marvel superhero is known for sending a pair of guinea pigs through a tube to eat his victim's eyeballs?" I can confidently say "Why, that's Spider-Man!" It's just one of the handy services I provide.

Other Contenders: Roger Corman's emotional take on the Fantastic Four; Killer Condom, the Troma film based on a German comic about carnivorous prophylactics; Halle Berry's bold reimagining of a comic book legend in Catwoman; George Lucas's epic Howard the Duck, in which you will believe a duck can't fly.
What: Kai-lan, known as Chinese broccoli, a staple of dim sum restaurants and Chinese New Year celebrations.

Why: Kai-lan makes your heart feel super-happy. Like other Brassica family members, Chinese broccoli megadoses you with vitamin C, fiber, and beta-carotene, and can knock cancer to the curb. But unlike the Calabrese broccoli that you might see in the supermarket, it won't terrify your children. That's because it doesn't have Calabrese broccoli's fractal-headed alien appearance. If regular broccoli had a friendly Nickelodeon character grinning back at four-year-old me, with a tiger and a koala and a whatever that thing on the balloon is, and my mom told me that she wanted me to eat the yummy green snack that shared that character's name, I would be demanding it in my Dora the Explorer lunchbox. You would too.

Impact: Well, China named a cartoon after it, which means that Chinese children must eat it. Quite a lot of it, in fact. The People's Republic of China is the largest consumer of broccoli in the world, and—well, okay, they're the largest consumer of every edible thing in the world, but trust me, they love their kai-lan. And they should. Chinese broccoli is more succulent, more meaty, and more uplifting in taste than traditional broccoli, and it goes perfectly with plum sauce.

Personal Connection: I ate an entire plate of it today during our celebration of the Year of the Rabbit. (Hoppy New Year!) This likely flabbergasts my mother, because for most of my childhood, I could not stand broccoli. Or at least I kept telling myself I couldn't stand broccoli, even though I probably went a decade refusing to eat it. But what I really couldn't stand was my mental picture of the broccoli I ate as a very young child. Eating kai-lan in the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants of Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood made me understand why my mom wanted me to eat it. Well, that and the whole beta-carotene thing, but that still doesn't work on me.

Other Contenders: corn on the cob, eaten close to harvest so the sugar hasn't yet turned to starch; its counterpart baby corn, which dispenses with the whole humans-can't-eat-corncobs nonsense; the black Spanish radish, so hot it's like eating an entire canister of black pepper; the globe artichoke, which may have the lowest edible content-to-weight ratio of any vegetable, but makes up for it in its frequent proximity to melted butter; the humble chickpea, the basis of everything that's right with the Middle East; the pearl onion, which makes all that peeling and crying seem worthwhile; the flower of the Humulus plant, which makes this activity possible.

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Who: The coaching titans of women's college basketball, Pat Head Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Vols and Geno Auriemma of the Connecticut Huskies.

Why: The greatest personal rivalry in all of sports is not fought in the trenches of a football field, between the lines of a tennis court, or bumper to bumper on asphalt. That rivalry is played out on the sidelines of college basketball courts in Knoxville and Storrs, and in the media that flocks to those places. That's because the universe of women's college basketball rotates around just two well-tailored stars. On Tennessee's side is Summitt, the winningest Division I basketball coach (male or female) of all time. Summitt is intense but polished, the Maggie Smith of the hardwood. On UConn's side is Auriemma, the best coach of the last 15 years. Auriemma is provocative and unpolished, the kind of person likely to chuck a firecracker into a room just to watch people scatter. Needless to say, they don't always get along; at one point Auriemma called Tennessee "The Evil Empire." What they do is win, often at each other's expense. Between the two, they have 15 national championships, 8 for Summitt and 7-going-on-8 for Auriemma. They have 5 of the sport's 9 perfect seasons, and Auriemma could make it 6 of 10 if his current record-setting 89-game winning streak continues. Auriemma has beaten Summitt in 13 of their 22 meetings, including 4 national championship games. When they meet, the sports universe stops and watches girls play ball.

Impact: Which makes it all the more tragic that they don't any more. After their meeting in January 2007, Summitt called off their annual series, and they haven't faced each other since. The conflict was apparently over Auriemma's tactics in recruiting current Husky powerhouse Maya Moore, but Summitt has never confirmed this. Both coaches got into the Naismith Hall of Fame in part based on their epic clashes, and neither seems interested in showing us why. More's the pity. If there were a UConn-Tennessee game on this week, I would show you what basketball is.

Personal Connection: I've never seen either coach in person, but as a fan of the WNBA's Seattle Storm, I've been the recipient of gifts from Auriemma and Summitt for a decade. With Aussie legend Lauren Jackson, the Storm is anchored by UConn point guard Sue Bird, alongside former Husky teammates Swin Cash and Svetlana Abrosimova and Tennessee star Ashley Robinson. Along the way, Bird and company have brought Seattle two WNBA championships, making the team the most successful pro franchise in city history. Without Summitt and Auriemma, maybe we're just the city that misplaced our NBA team. Thanks to them, we have basketball pride.

Other Contenders: Tex Winter, the originator of the triangle offense that gave Phil, Kobe, and Michael all of their rings; Sam Wyche, whose insane no-huddle offense drove the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XXIII... in which they were beaten by San Francisco 49ers guru Bill Walsh, whose West Coast Offense drew a blueprint for modern NFL success; Ozzie Guillen, who gets in not on his delightful White Sox championship, but rather his delightful lack of self-censorship; Smokey Yunick, who combined a mastery of physics and a willingness to be the cheatin'est crew chief in NASCAR; Reggie Dunlop, the player-coach who guided the Charleston Chiefs to a Federal League title by playing old time hockey.

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What: Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the 1980 sequel to George Lucas's epic. The continuing story of our band of heroes tempted fans with this trailer:


Why: Showing a humility and foresight few would have imagined, George Lucas sought out his old USC film school professor, Irvin Kershner, to direct Empire. Kershner had previously directed such films as the potboiler Eyes of Laura Mars and the espionage spoof S*P*Y*S, none of which would let anyone confuse him with Hitchcock or Fellini. Kershner said no, but his agent insisted. And so, perhaps only to help his protégé, Kershner directed the greatest science-fiction epic ever. The actors, somewhat raw in Star Wars, had now come into their own, showing a range that made even the Han-Leia-Luke (um, ick) love triangle deeply involving. The script by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan was the crispest of the series. Lucas's revelation that Darth Vader was Luke's father blew audiences' minds; if you saw it in the theater on day one like I did, you most assuredly did not see that coming. And oh my, was it pretty. Cloud City, Dagobah, and the ice planet Hoth looked real, and the Rebel battle against the AT-ATs remains unequalled in sci-fi spectacle.

Impact: As the 12th highest grossing film of all time, Empire still can't compete with Star Wars, which is only behind Gone with the Wind on the all-time list. But while Star Wars is the epitome, Empire is the franchise. Star Wars was a closed loop, but Empire doesn't even have an ending. As Luke, Leia, and the droids stare out the window and the Rebel fleet limps off to parts unknown, Lucasfilm challenges you: "You want to know more, right? You really, really do?" We did, and Lucas had the biggest science-fiction franchise in history.

Personal Connection: I've done lots of projects for and around Lucasfilm, working on three Star Wars games and creating a couple dozen puzzles for Star Wars Gamer and Star Wars Insider. My team also ran the Tatooine Parlor at Star Wars Celebration, allowing players to shoot womp rats, play the game Sabacc, and decide who shot first, Han or Greedo. I've enjoyed my relationship with Lucasfilm, as they let me—and hundreds of other creatives—make up cool things for their expansive galaxy. My latest foray commemorated Kershner's passing last week, over on the Wired site, with artist Corey Macourek and I contributing a Star Wars Hanukkah Special. (My biggest contribution to Lucas's empire has nothing to do with Star Wars, though. More on that in another entry.)

Other Contenders: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the brilliant sequel to the original series episode "Space Seed"; "Best of Both Worlds", Star Trek: The Next Generation's indomitable centerpiece; "Toys in the Attic", the most invasive episode of Cowboy Bebop; "Our Mrs. Reynolds", the first impact of Christina Hendricks's Saffron on Firefly; Aliens, which told all other sci-fi horror flicks, "Game over, man!"; "The Girl in the Fireplace", where, on an abandoned spacecraft, Doctor Who falls in love with Madame de Pompadour.
What: "Mandelbrot Set," Jonathan Coulton's fantastical tribute to mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, whose contributions to fractal geometry were only slightly less legendary than the demon-slaying versions found in the song. Here's Pisut Wisessing's brilliant video to the song, though it doesn't use the complete lyrics. For that, listen to it on JoCo's website.


Why: Nerd rock (or, sometimes, "geek rock") is a genre spawned in the 1990s by musicians weaned on art-rock bands Talking Heads, Oingo Boingo, and XTC. Defining the term "idiosyncratic" better than any other musical genre, nerd rock is played by people who are not ashamed of being smart, except when it's actually about being ashamed of being smart. Former programmer Jonathan Coulton seems to have settled into the role of the king of nerd rock, with songs featuring the themes of office politics in zombieland, extreme cosmetic surgery, and awkward love in a supervillain lair. (Among a million others. Download them all at Coulton's website.) His tour de force is about perhaps the geekiest subject of all: math. Writing for a series of lectures by John Hodgman on the topic of things named after people, Coulton brought the mind-shattering work of Benoît Mandelbrot to an audience that might not understand it, but would come to love it. "Mandelbrot Set" cast the recursive shape as a Rorschach Test on fire, a day-glo pterodactyl, a heart-shaped box of springs and wire, and, most pointedly, one badass fucking fractal. Can't argue.

Impact: Colossal, at least to the audience that reads Penny Arcade and follows Wil Wheaton on Twitter. On the list of scientific formulas known by the American public, the M-set is now #2 all time, right behind e=mc2. Like the Preamble to the Constitution, this generation can recite one of the pillars of fractal geometry theory word for word. (Also like reciting the "of the United States"-challenged Preamble from Schoolhouse Rock, we're doing it wrong. The bridge describes a Julia set, not a Mandelbrot set. Eh, it's a better lyric the way JoCo wrote it.)

Personal Connection: Mandelbrot really is in heaven now, having passed away on Friday. Here's my Wired interview with Coulton on the subject. Coulton described to me the Julia set error as an epic fail, but I think it's an epic win. Now, the youth of America knows two fractal geometry formulas.

Other Contenders: They Might Be Giants' genre-establishing "Birdhouse in Your Soul", in all likelihood the only song sung by a nightlight to a caged blue canary; The Presidents of the United States of America's meow remix, "Kitty"; Barenaked Ladies' affecting tribute to troubled musical genius "Brian Wilson"; Weird Al Yankovic's reflective "Bob"; Paul and Storm's ridiculously overlong "The Captain's Wife's Lament", here done with fellow pirate Wil Wheaton at PAX; the Boston Typewriter Orchestra's keyed-up rendition of the Surfaris' "Wipe-Out," renamed (of course) "Wite-Out".

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