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What: The rallying of massive decentralized and often anonymous effort through internet appeal, often (and controversially) called "crowdsourcing." The term, a blend of "crowd" and "outsourcing," was coined by Wired reporter Jeff Howe in the June 2006 article "The Rise of Crowdsourcing".

Why: As escribitionists like myself often note, neologisms come and go, and more's the better: If I never hear the portmanteau words staycation, glocalization, and McJob again, I will die a happier man. But some stick around, and we become better for it. In 2006, Wired described a trend that needed naming, because it fundamentally shifted the nature of work. At least until the price of fresh water surpasses it, the cost of labor will always be the most important economic reality on the planet. A project, no matter how noble, requires effort that may not be available for a price that a coordinator can meet. Take, for example, the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe. There are two ways we could get the computing power to scan the heavens: pay for more dedicated radio-telescope analysis systems than we could afford, or ask everyone in the world to help. As the internet went stratospheric, it became possible to reach a large enough audience that collaborators could investigate a government scandal, map the world, or find survivors of a natural disaster. Through controlled applications of chaos theory and Warhol's law, everyone is now a resource for everyone.

Impact: By changing how work works, crowdsourcing has given us a serious question: what if the price of labor is zero? Don't we as a society need people to be paid for their endeavors? The answer, I think, is that sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. Let's take encyclopedias: Is Encyclopedia Britannica hurt by the existence of Wikipedia? Perhaps, but as long as the expectation of crowdsourced quality is suspect, those who are paid to work will be more respected than those who are not. The more interesting question, then, is are we raising a generation of people who hold that ideal? If people want creativity without lag time, answers without expertise, and fundraising without banks, then crowdsourcing will take root. We will become a nation of people expecting everything delivered by strangers at the touch of a button. Maybe we already are.

Personal Connection: If there's a person who's more of a sucker for crowdsourced projects, I haven't met them. I'm an admin on Wikipedia, a contributor to crowdsourced anthologies, and an advocate of microfinance. I've started an entire puzzle website for Wired (there's that magazine again) based on the principle that puzzle people want to tell puzzle people about puzzle things. When a project like the3six5—365 bloggers, 365 essays, 365 days—asks me to join the fun, I can't resist. I don't want to be part of something bigger than me; I want to be part of everything bigger than me. So, if you'd like my help with something, all you have to do is get a thousand other people to help first. Then I'm all yours.

Other Contenders: retronym, a neologism defining neologisms forced to exist due to the creation of later phrases, like "black-and-white TV," "acoustic guitar," "d6," and my favorite, "meatspace"; Keyshawning, cashiering a football player after repeated abuses, named for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' treatment of malcontented receiver Keyshawn Johnson; two keepers from pop songs, unboyfriendable from The Magnetic Fields' "All My Little Words" and interactiveodular from Raffi's "Banana Phone"; Santorum, a sexual term that Stranger columnist Dan Savage named for anti-homosexual Congressman Rick Santorum that... well, don't say I didn't warn you.
What: The rise in vegetarianism across the world.

Why: In all honesty, we should not be trending toward vegetarianism. As industry makes the harvesting of animals more efficient and further distant from the consumer, and as global nutrition and the economy improves, we should be eating a lot more meat. But we're not. In a statistically large portion of the world, a light has gone on. Whether it stems from sympathy for animals or fear of artificial hormones or just no longer liking the taste of flesh, those adopting the vegetarian lifestyle are finding they can live perfectly enjoyable lives without meat. It is vastly easier to be a vegetarian in a major city now. Sure, there are places in the U.S. and the rest of the world where it's nearly impossible to be a vegetarian, but even those places are changing. Within a decade, most everywhere in the world, vegetables will no longer just be "what food eats."

Impact: In 1971, 1 percent of Americans self-identified as vegetarians; now, 3 percent do. That's a huge jump. And we're not even leading the movement. In India, a whopping 30 percent of the population is vegetarian. That's as many vegetarians as there are people in the U.S. But the coolest change is not statistical, it's cultural. Restaurants like Seattle's Sutra and Carmelita have found that health and sophistication are not antithetical. You can eat vegetarian and not feel you're missing anything. That's the makings of a revolution.

Personal Connection: So when did I decide to become a vegetarian? In 1986 (yes, of course there was a girl involved), and then, after two months of wanting to blow my brains out, never again. It wasn't missing meat. That took only a week or so to get over. It was the feeling that every time I wanted to go somewhere, I was choosing not to engage myself. I'm a consumer of everything, as this column suggests; I try not to cut myself off from anything but the unhealthiest things. Being vegetarian isn't being me, at least not how I currently imagine myself. I don't apologize for that—not to humans, anyway. But I can admire vegetarians, and I can reach over and try their food, because man, it sure is good these days.

Other Contenders: the many Internet applications of the phrase "everything old is new again," from Project Gutenberg's instant access to every classic book you ever read to Hulu's broadcasting of every TV series you ever loved to Facebook's permanent collection of every friend you ever had; the popularity of the microbrew and the democratization of alcohol; the rise of the empowered daughters of Title IX, the most important piece of administrative law in my lifetime; the tantalizing promise of the first car I want everyone to own, the Honda FCX Clarity; the election of Barack Obama, and the magnificent possibility that if he fails, it will be merely due to his inadequacies and not his skin color.

Note: This entry was inspired by Mark MacKinnon's fascinating new blog Evil Things, which mirrors The Most Beautiful Things in style if not substance. Mark's first entry was on Eating Meat, so I figured that in tribute, I should do one on that subject too. Check his blog out; you'll be glad you did.
What: Finland stands up to the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and Nazi Germany in World War II, and comes out battered but still standing. Below is the precarious situation at one part of the war, in 1941. The Germans are in grey and black, the Russians are in red, and the Finns are in blue.

Why: Finland broke away from Russia in 1917, when just about everybody bailed on the Revolution. After a civil war of its own, Finland settled into being an independent state, with its border butting up against Leningrad. In their 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler told Stalin he could have Finland free of charge. Trouble was, nobody told the Finns. After shelling their own village to trump up a casus belli, the Russians invaded in what would be called The Winter War. This was an error. Because while the Russians knew how to knuckle down in winter, the Finns knew how to attack in it. Using skis and sleds to outmaneuver the clunky Soviet materiel, the Finns deprived the Russians of their supplies and drove them back at the Battle of Suomussalmi. Still, this was a costly battle. The countries came to a settlement in March 1940, with victorious Finland being declared the loser and giving up 9% of their territory. And then things got really bad. With its eyes on a slavering USSR, Finland found its northern territory swarming with Nazis. The Germans were coming in one way or the other, so Finland let them move all the way to the front lines. That was all the provocation the Russians needed. They came blasting across the border with planes and artillery. This also was an error. With German backing, Finland reconquered Karelia, destroyed the Russian naval bases at Riga and Liepaja, and stood on the doorstep of Leningrad. Meanwhile, Finland faced a new opponent: In the only time WWII democracies battled each other, Great Britain declared war on Finland, but after losing aircraft in a futile attack, the Brits decided to hang back and let the Russians die. During this Continuation War, 1.5 million Soviet soldiers entered Finland; a third of them didn't make it home intact. Eventually, the Soviets gave up. Despite winning this war as well, Finland had to concede huge amounts of territory and half its GDP. And it had one problem remaining: a whole bunch of Germans still within its borders. So Finland went to war a third time, facing a German foe with no hesitation about burning the entire country to the ground. Run ragged from constant combat, Finland's forces finally booted the last occupying force out of its country in 1945. Finally, it could breathe.

Impact: Finland had one goal—survival—and it achieved it. The only country to beat the USSR and Nazi Germany in World War II, Finland gave up so much—territory, lives, money, dignity—but retained its independence. It remained democratic even as an ally with Germany, surrendering only eight Jewish prisoners to the Holocaust. It stood on the sidelines in the Cold War, not an easy thing to do given the reach of the belligerents. And it became a modern oasis of calm; only Norway ranks "lower" on the Failed States Index. It remains the toughest, coolest customer in Europe.

Personal Connection: I like train rides. You learn a lot about an environment by whipping through its countryside at 70 miles an hour. One of the most interesting I ever took was the ride from Helsinki to St. Petersburg in the summer of 1992. During the Northern Lights, the sun never goes down, and so my entire train ride was bathed in radiance. On the Finland side, the landscape was gently manicured, with trees cut just so and arranged in perfect lines. And then it all fell off a cliff. As my dad and I crossed the Russian border, just three years after the Wall came down, the landscape blackened, like I imagined Frodo and Sam saw as they crossed into Mordor. Smokestacks blotted our field of vision, and brutalist concrete residence halls sprung tumorlike from the earth. At that moment, I understood what the Finns were fighting for.

Other Contenders: King Leonidas and 300 Spartans hold the pass at Thermopylae; Hannibal destroys the sense of Roman invincibility at Cannae; young Henry V rallies his band of English brothers at Agincourt on Saint Crispin's Day; Joshua Chamberlain orders the bayonet at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg; the U.S.S. Archerfish single-handedly takes out the Shinano, the most powerful aircraft carrier in the world, before it sees a minute of action; Israel decides it doesn't want to be invaded during the High Holy Days, thank you very much, in the Yom Kippur War.
What: "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," Richard Thompson's 1991 tale of young hoodlums in love. As it's so hard to play, the studio version trumps any of his live versions, but you have to see him play it live to get just how intricate it is.


Why: The '52 Vincent Black Lightning was the last of the greatest breed of British motorcycle. Faster than anything on two wheels in its day, the Vincent was favored by criminals and policemen alike across Britain. Richard Thompson, already a guitar legend for his work with Fairport Convention and later his wife Linda, cemented his reputation as a solo artist with the album Rumor and Sigh and this song about a young thug named James Agee and his sweetheart Red Molly. Knowing full well that there's nothing in this world that beats a redhead on a motorbike, Thompson crafted a tragic love story around one of the most complex acoustic guitar lines in rock history. He cut it in the Hawaiian slack key of "C wahine," one almost never heard on the mainland except in Fleetwood Mac's stirring "Never Going Back Again". Thompson seems to be playing two different instruments, the dominant one tuned at the highest end of the guitar's range and the other seesawing back and forth on the bass end. Only when you see him perform it live do you realize one person can play both parts. Assuming that person is Richard Thompson, of course.

Impact: Rumor and Sigh became Thompson's most popular solo album, though in Venn diagram of rock, the words "Richard Thompson" and "popular" have a minuscule intersection. It continued a long run of post-divorce songs where true love goes horribly wrong, but unlike "She Twists the Knife Again" and "Missie How You Let Me Down," at least the female character (always Linda) didn't betray the male (always Richard). Then again, James Agee ends up with a gaping hole where his heart should be, so you never know. Nonetheless, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" remains Thompson's sweetest song, a love ballad to redheads and superbikes everywhere.

Personal Connection: I spent a little time riding my friend's motorcycle in college, but never developed a knack for it. But from the instant I heard this song, I knew I wanted a Vincent Black Lightning. I seized my chance to ride one on the virtual level when plotting the Repo Men ARG for Universal Pictures. The director, Miguel Sapochnik, slipped the nonsense phrase "Fiona rides her bike now" in binary into the film, and I needed a character to deliver a package to Seattle's Scarecrow Video in the ARG. So I gave Fiona the nickname "Red Molly," and her theme song became this one. Like the characters in the song, things didn't work out for her either. It wouldn't have done the song justice if they did.

Other Contenders: surf-rock's jangliest jangler, Dick Dale's "Miserlou"; Link Wray's three-note hellblast, "Rumble"; Nancy Wilson's finger-breaking kickoff to Heart's "Crazy On You"; the Allman Brothers' byplay on "Jessica", adapted as Top Gear's hard-driving theme; Joe Perry's talk-box infusion on Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion"; "Sweet Child O' Mine", Slash's announcement that Guns 'N Roses was now in charge; "Thunderstruck", Angus Young's announcement that AC/DC might nonetheless still be in charge; Tracy Chapman's loping journey through the poverty-stricken "Fast Car"; Beck's highly sampleable fuzzbomb "E-Pro"; The Slip's cloudwalking guitar vocalization toward the end of "Even Rats".
What: The annual gathering of the National Puzzlers' League somewhere in North America in July. This year it is in Seattle, starting tomorrow. Details of the convention can be found here.

Why: The National Puzzlers' League is the world's oldest puzzle organization, founded in 1883. At the time, its members gathered in small groups in hotels to solve word puzzles and trade amusing stories. 127 years and 170 conventions later, that's exactly what still happens. Master of ceremonies Will Shortz, he of the New York Times crossword and National Public Radio, leads the gathering in a dozen or more official games prepared by members, usually for all the attendees at once. The unofficial games, though, are what many most look forward to. There's walkaround puzzlehunts, homemade Jeopardy! games, insane charades, and puzzling till all hours. At one convention in Cambridge, members noticed that the courtyard was made of large square shapes. So they gave 16 attendees large signs with letters on them, had them run around the squares, and turn their signs toward the heavens. Why, you ask? Well, imagine you are on the 14th floor of the hotel looking out a window. That's the biggest Boggle game you're ever gonna play. Only at the NPL con could that happen.

Impact: The NPL is where all the best puzzlers end up. It's hard to call a group with a public website and a public convention a "secret society," but it's possible that if you walked into its convention you might think you'd joined one. Everyone has a nickname, called a "nom," which helps obscure the fact that some of them are famous (Will Shortz's is "WILLz," or "Will short z") and some are not. The noms make everyone equal; if you walk in the door, you'll be welcomed and put to work solving something bizarre. It is where many of us made the best friends we've ever had.

Personal Connection: When I started creating puzzles for a living, my editors Henry Rathvon, Emily Cox, Mike Shenk, and Will all lobbied me to join the NPL. Said it would be the best decision I ever made. I catch on quickly, so a decade later, I took the plunge under the nom Slik (letters read left to right in my last name). Seven years later, I went to a convention in Montreal, and got a lot of the "Oh my gosh you're Mike Selinker I've wanted to meet you for years I'm so glad you joined here solve this you have forty-five seconds" kind of comments. I haven't missed any of the 16 cons since. If you go to the one in downtown Seattle at the Red Lion starting tomorrow, there's a good chance your Julys will have a permanent itinerary item. Come on along, and bring your brain. It'll never be the same afterward.

Other Contenders: I can hardly be fair about this, since I work for or at all these shows. But I will strongly recommend PAX in Seattle and Boston, Gen Con in Indianapolis, and Origins in Columbus. I've been to something like 48 of those, and had a great time every one. There are lots of other smaller conventions, so seek one out and join the fun.
What: Ann Peebles' delicate 1973 chartbuster "I Can't Stand the Rain," performed by many artists, but none as delightfully as Eruption in their awesome 1978 bug suits:


Why: This is the third of my couldn't-miss-if-you-tried trio of song subjects, the first being the moon and the second being trains. Songwriters daily thank the gods for Seasonal Affective Disorder, for songs about rain hit upon feelings we develop before we can talk. That first giant raindrop that hit your tiny head and sent you screaming back into the house returns when you hear the pitter-patter of a song about rain. On "I Can't Stand the Rain," Ann Peebles and her co-writers Don Bryant and Bernard Miller channeled that terror in the timbales and minor-key horns of her original soulful dirge. Five years later, Eruption stripped out the unease of the original for a wholly different disco sound, making the rain a harder keyboard drive. Either way, the rain signature pounds into your brain, making you remember that bad day you waited for that call while watching the windows streak with water. That was a day you'll never forget, and never want to.

Impact: It was the next cover version to hit the charts, Tina Turner's 1983 powerhouse cover on Private Dancer, that exposed most of the world to Peebles' classic. Propelled by the greatest voice (on the greatest pair of legs) the music world has ever produced, Turner moved the song into the pantheon. Then Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott remodeled the pantheon's walls entirely on her visually arresting 1997 breakthrough "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)", which sampled Peebles' original vocal. It's rare to have a song with four hit versions that sound so radically different, and all so original.

Personal Connection: I grew up an only child in Seattle, and spent a lot of time silently looking out water-streaked windows. As a result, I can stand the rain. I don't wear rain hats, carry umbrellas, or cancel picnics. If the air is dry, I think there's something wrong; if the sun is beating down, I think there's something wrong with everyone who wants to go outside. I am a rainchild, and will always be. This song makes me think of happy things.

Other Contenders: Billie Holliday's rain is a similarly oppressive reminder of loneliness in her live "Stormy Weather"; The Beatles' rain is a trifling inconvenience in Ringo's signature song, "Rain"; The Doors' rain is a gentle tattoo in a dark world in "Riders on the Storm"; The Alarm's rain is a treasured respite from the heat in "Rain in the Summertime"; Guns 'N Roses' rain is a histrionic destroyer of bliss in "November Rain"; John Hiatt's rain is a reason for cuddling closer in "Feels Like Rain"; Stevie Ray Vaughan's rain is a Texas flood of negative emotion in "Couldn't Stand the Weather"; Bambi's rain is a Vivaldian intimation of one little fawn's insignificance in "Little April Shower".
Who: Actor and director Dennis Hopper, who passed away today at age 74. Here he is in an immortal confluence of cool on The Johnny Cash Show, loopily reciting Rudyard Kipling's poem "If," which as he notes, is the middle word in "life."


Why: Dennis Hopper never let you forget he was onscreen. Maybe he picked this up from James Dean, alongside whom he had some bit roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Cool Hand Luke had to have a goggle-eyed piehead in the background when Luke eats fifty eggs, and Hopper fit the bill. In his film Easy Rider, he set his template: kinda likable, kinda scary guy on the edge. In Hoosiers, as alkie hoops fan Shooter Flatch, he pushed it one direction; in Blue Velvet, as sociopath Frank Booth, he pushed it another direction altogether. But it was the action film Speed that will be Hopper's most enduring work. Therein, he seemed completely at home in his own skin, tearing up the screen with enjoyment at being a mad bomber. It didn't seem like much of a stretch.

Impact: Hopper was a crowd favorite, the kind of actor more likely to win an MTV Moon Man than an Oscar, though he was nominated for a couple of the latter. Over time, a Hollywood outsider became one of Hollywood's most dependable actors. Need a centerpiece for your Best Picture TV spinoff? You need Dennis Hopper. Need a narrator for your documentary about a porn film? Hopper'd do that too. Just don't expect your leading man to be the best thing about your project. Hopper's taking that with him on the way out. After all, he could even make this worth watching. (A bit.)

Personal Connection: Time to talk about the power of Facebook. It is without question the single most important news site in the world. How did you find out about Hopper's death, or Gary Coleman's yesterday? There's at least a 50% chance that you found out on Facebook. If I'd told you ten years ago that the term "news feed" would define a network of reports by your friends, and that you would trust it more than CNN, you'd have thought I was as loopy as one of Hopper's characters. But that's where we are. It's a fascinating world.

Other Contenders: Christopher Walken, who makes the space between words into an art form; Ed Norton, who always sounds reasonable till suddenly he doesn't; Joe Pantolianowhat!; Gary Oldman, your go-to fella for conscienceless wise-cracking badguy; Rutger Hauer, who makes creepy charming, and charming creepy; and while we're on The Hitcher, there's the mistress of both scary-crazy and sympathetic-crazy, Jennifer Jason Leigh (and yes, that movie is terrible, but there's no video of her in David Auburn's Proof on the internet).
What: Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines from America's Finest News Source, a 1999 "compilation" of more than 100 fictional newspaper front pages from the years 1900 to 2000. (The Onion itself, as it turns out, has only been published since 1988, despite some evidence elsewise. But that little detail didn't stop them.) It is published by Three Rivers Press and randomly serialized on The Onion's site.

Why: It's hard work being funny. One joke can take days to craft. So imagine your job was to create thousands of jokes about everything that's happened in a hundred years. That's the job the Onion's editors took on toward the end of the twentieth century, running the world through its uniquely grief-colored glasses. The newspaper warps from a broadsheet to a USA Today-clone tabloid, spewing forth quarter-column-inch throwaway headlines ranging from "Unsingable Song Of Explosions And Defeat Becomes New National Anthem" to "Spielberg Reveals The Two Secrets Of His Success: Monsters, Jews." Every trial is the "trial of the century." Lady Liberty gets repeatedly assaulted by caricatures of America's foes. Pop culture icons become real: Peter Parker dies from a radioactive spider bite, Mr. Potter pays 50 cents on the dollar, and Sharon Tate is slain by the Partridge Family. Zapped! sweeps the Oscars. And it all makes perfect sense. Here are some highlights:
April 22, 1906: "Earth-Quake Marks Least Gay Day In San Francisco History"
October 22, 1929: "Stock Market Invincible: 'Buy, Buy, Buy!' Experts Advise"
September 3, 1939: "WA— (Headline Continued On Page 2)"
July 28, 1953: "Korean War Ends In Tearful 3-Hour Finale"
July 21, 1969: "Holy Shit! Man Walks On Fucking Moon"
November 20, 1978: "Anthropomorphic Juice Pitcher Among Dead In Jonestown Cult Suicide"
May 26, 1996: "Oprah Secedes From U.S., Forms Independent Nation Of Cheesecake-Eating Housewives"

Impact: Our Dumb Century became a #1 bestseller, aptly enough, on April 1, 1999. It came out amid a hurricane of centenniospectives from important-sounding publications like Time and Life. They're all useless, landfilled on some metaphorically obvious ashheap. That's because they portrayed the century as smart. The Onion knows better, and so its book will last forever. The Onion followed it up in 2007 with Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth (free globe inside!), an equally biting and brutal tome, where Nigeria's entry is a chain letter and Nicaragua's is a flashback to the NES game Contra. I hope there's an encyclopedia in their future. (Bonus fun fact: The Onion is the first thing that comes up when you type "onion" into Google. What, that's not all that fun? Okay, try just typing "the".)

Personal Connection: I can remember exactly where I was when I first saw The Onion. My mates and I were hanging in The Daily Northwestern offices plotting some no-doubt-revelatory investigation of pop prices in the student union. Some plugged-in freshman wandered in with a copy of an early printing of The Onion, saying "This is what the J-students are doing in Madison." Now, you have to understand that this was the top of the class of the best journalism school in the world, bound for the best newspapers in the country. And to a man, every one of us said, "Can we go to school there?"

Other Contenders: Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary, wherein, for example, "accordion" is defined as "an instrument in harmony with the sentiments of an assassin"; The Lazlo Letters, a series of insane letters to businesses and politicians from Don "Father Guido Sarducci" Novello's lunatic patriot Lazlo Toth, and the letters he gets back; James Gilbert's The World's Worst Aircraft, which will teach you never to get in something called a "Christmas Bullet"; The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action, which you should read if you don't want to be in one of its sequels.

Programming note: Speaking of centuries, this is column #100 of The Most Beautiful Things. Thanks for coming along for the last 100, and for the next. (Update: Except it isn't. It's #101, and I can't count. But I still can be thankful for people reading this.)

the most beautiful joke: the duck joke

What: The duck joke. Here it is told, sort of, by James Ernest, while I try to ruin it, at yesterday's w00tstock in Seattle.


Since that probably didn't help much, here it is in its entirety:
A duck walks into a bar, and asks the bartender, "Do you have any grapes?"
The bartender says, "I'm sorry, Duck. We're a bar, and so we have wine and beer and mixed drinks. But no grapes." The duck is sad, and leaves the bar.
The next night, the duck comes back into the bar and asks, "Do you have any grapes?"
The bartender says, "No, Duck, I told you last night. We don't have any grapes! And if you come back in here tomorrow night asking for grapes, I will nail your beak to the bar!" The duck hops down off the bar and runs out the door.
The next night, the bartender is waiting for the duck to come back in, and sure enough, he does. The bartender grits his teeth as the duck asks, "Do you have a hammer?"
The bartender explodes. "What? No, of course I don't have a hammer!"
So the duck says, "Do you have any grapes?"


Why: Upon hearing the duck joke from us, Adam Savage of Mythbusters wondered aloud why it worked so well. The answer, I hypothesized, is that every key word—duck, bar, grapes, hammer—is maximized for funny. (Imagine it with a chicken, a restaurant, some apples, and a mallet. See, no joke.) The joke has been optimized for the rule of three (westerners expect jokes to have three parts); when told in Japan, it is optimized for their rule of four. Everything in the duck joke has been tested and re-tested. It's the game designer's joke.

Impact: Thus and so, the duck joke has become "The Aristocrats" of the gaming industry. It is infinitely malleable, as evidenced by the German version, the Japanese version, the D&D version, the pirate version, the Office Space version (which replaces the hammer with a stapler), and dozens of others. Should the producers of The Aristocrats be reading this, we would happily direct a film for you about a joke that has an ending.

Personal Connection: I have told the duck joke more times than I can count, since I never started counting. So when geek god Wil Wheaton asked us to write a puzzle uniting the four w00tstock shows, it was a natural fit for the first of our four "juzzling" (puzzling + juggling) videos, which you can solve along with the w00tstockers as the videos get posted. And if you're near Portland, Chicago, or Minneapolis, get thee to a w00tstock!

Other Contenders: the easy-to-mangle riddle beginning "What's E.T. short for?", first related to me by jangler_npl; the tragical tale of Angus the industrious Scotsman; the striking byplay between two muffins baking in an oven; three quarterbacks testify before God (note: I believe that the order of the last two may have flipped in recent years); the ultimate when playing the dozens: "Yo mama's so fat, she wore an X jacket and a helicopter landed on her back."

Update: Here is part two of the w00tstock routine, shown in Portland on May 8, and featuring the Angus joke. Also, there's part three from Chicago and part four from Minneapolis. For answers, see our Wired Decode site.

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What: The clockwork return of mated pairs of ospreys to the Pacific Northwest in early spring, to raise a family before returning south to California in the fall.

Why: Ospreys wake us up from our winter doldrums, returning every year as mated pairs to the same places they spent previous summers. As with our bald eagles, ospreys are raptors. But while an eagle will prey on rodents, the osprey is almost exclusively a pescetarian. It is living proof of the central tenet of evolution—that species will evolve merely as far as they must to survive—in that an osprey has reversible outer toes which lock with the front claws allow grasping slippery fish from the water. But if an osprey grasps something it cannot lift, it cannot let go. If that thing is in the water, the osprey may drown. That fact is well known in Seattle, making the osprey more sympathetic than the infallible bald eagle. (The fact that it might not be entirely true rarely disturbs us. What, you think we moved here for the science?)

Impact: The osprey is the Seattle area's avian mascot of choice. We named an occasionally dodgy military aircraft after the osprey, for example. Since it is often known in these parts as the seahawk, we also named a football team after it, giving them a gorgeous nest that gives full view of the ospreys plunging into Puget Sound for meals. (During the Sounders games, of course. The ospreys fly to Cali for NFL season.) If you'd like to learn more true scientific facts about the seahawk, let the Presidents of the United States of America tell you about our most noteworthy one.

Personal Connection: The cell tower's benefits are obvious. Certainly, it enables a world of communication never dreamt before. But the cell tower's design—a rail-ringed flat base atop a mammoth pole—is also the perfect nesting ground for an osprey family. Many of our cell towers are now protected wildlife sanctuaries, and one of them is in the driveway leading up to our house. So every year about this time, when we see massive shapes wing across the sky, we rush out with our binoculars to see Hassel and Becky come home. We watch for newborns to emerge from the nest, and for their feathers to turn white. Then we watch them leave. You can keep your summer reruns; I've got the only channel I need.

Other Contenders: the long-awaited opening of tulips; the kites blotting out the sky over Gasworks Park in Seattle; the beautiful dynamic of the NHL playoffs; the pickling of asparagus; the arrival and demolition of Cadbury Mini-Eggs; the traditional Easter Monday bottle-kicking and hare pie scramble in Hallatan, England, far and away the dumbest and most violent "ball sport" in the world; WXRT-FM in Chicago plays its annual April Fool's joke.

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