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27 Jan 18:40

Inward Futures

by Edith Zimmerman

This Flavorwire piece wonders if movies will ever accurately represent online dating, but it also opens the broader question of whether going forward movies will ever be able to get anything mundane right, given the increasing amount of time we spend staring at screens. I guess there could be clever ways of replacing traditional dialogue with chat boxes, but we sit so still and type so much, it’s like going back to 2D. How will movies keep up/follow us down? Or maybe there’ll be something new, like a movie but different, that jumps out in front and addresses this. Hm, maybe it’s the same problem with books. “She looked at her phone and saw she’d missed his call, so she called him back, but he didn’t pick up,” the opening line of my new great American novel will go. “She hung up before leaving a voicemail, but then did send a text. Right after it went through, she saw the little ‘dot dot dot’ bubble on his end indicate he was immediately typing a response, but then just as quickly it went away. An hour passed, and it did not return. Was he agonizing over his response, or had she simply texted him while he was texting someone else — omg what if were Eileen — and therefore caused him to momentarily type into the wrong window, her window, giving her an essentially false ‘dot dot dot’? She wasn’t actually sure if that could happen with text, though, but she knew it could happen on Gchat. And that was something she knew because she’d done it herself. I guess at times, she thought, we are all someone’s wrong window.” Actually that is the whole novel.

Also this is a fundamentally flawed question/argument, since movies always skim over the boring parts of regular life, but you never know.

04 Feb 16:18

New Game Alert! Depression or Unemployment?

by Meredith Haggerty

Having recently found myself involuntarily jobless, I had a lot of time on my hands. And I discovered that I was filling that time in new and unusual ways that made me ask questions like, “hey, is this something a depressed person does? Or is this just unemployment?” So I created a game, because obviously. For fun, divide these behaviors into two categories, depression or unemployment – or just go lay facedown on the floor. You don’t owe anyone anything! No one is paying for your time!

Quitting in the middle of a shower.

Having the Papa John’s order page open and filled out before 11 am.

Only ever wanting to wear what you were wearing the day before, because this is the laziest possible form of time travel.

Developing a complete and total dependance your phone’s Tarot card app to make any and all decisions.

Rejoining OKCupid.

Scheduling your gym time around the Kathy Lee and Hoda hour.

Crying in public because your horoscope email won’t open and now how are you supposed to know what to do?

Buying all the foods you’ve always meant to learn to cook but then deciding the kitchen is too hot and you can’t take the heat; ordering enough Chinese take out for the whole week on the way back from the grocery store.

Believing that bars are a good place for some midday freelance work.

Talking yourself into showering before remembering that leg-shaving is a thing, then laying back down on the couch.

Watching all of NBC’s Undateable.

Telling your similarly unemployed friend that you both have to stop trying to predict the future, then immediately taking her to a psychic.

06 Jan 21:26

Linguists strike back…

by Mark Liberman
16 Jan 01:00

The Finn-donesian of "The Force Awakens"

by Ben Zimmer

Tasu LeechFor my language column in the Wall Street Journal this week, I describe how some alien-speak in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" ended up being created by a young Finnish YouTube sensation, tailor-made for Indonesian actors. We could call it "Finn-donesian," though the character Finn doesn't actually speak it. Rather, the dialogue was designed for the Kanjiklub gang, who briefly face off against Han Solo and Chewbacca on a space freighter packed with slithery Rathtars.

The linguistic landscape of "Star Wars" has always been a bit of a mess. We're supposed to think of the English that most characters speak as a proxy for the in-universe lingua franca – Galactic Basic Standard, to those in the know. But some characters jabber away in other exotic tongues without much rhyme or reason. Chewbacca speaks in Wookiee, presumably because his vocal tract isn't equipped to speak Basic. As a protocol droid, C-3PO is of course "fluent in over six million forms of communication," but astromech droids R2-D2 and BB-8 can only bleep away in Binary because… well, who knows, really? They just do.

I had puzzled over these questions growing up with the original "Star Wars" trilogy, and with the release of "The Force Awakens" I started thinking about them again. I eagerly followed a sprawling Twitter conversation a couple of weeks ago, initiated by Gretchen McCulloch, which began with attempts to make sense of BB-8's droidspeak and then spun out into various other linguistic conundrums.

Why, for instance, did J.J. Abrams not take advantage of the community of "conlangers" to make alien languages for "The Force Awakens"? Abrams had, after all, directed two "Star Trek" movies with dialogue from that most famous of invented languages, Klingon. And other big science-fiction releases have featured the efforts of conlangers, like the Na'vi of James Cameron's "Avatar." But as I noted in the New York Times Magazine when "Avatar" was released, alien-speak in the "Star Wars" movies has, by contrast, "never amounted to more than a sonic pastiche" – a pastiche largely assembled by sound designer Ben Burtt using bits of exotic-sounding human languages.

As the tweets flew back and forth, Laura Seaberg pointed out a recently revealed tidbit about "The Force Awakens." Rather than approaching a conlanger, Abrams had instead enlisted Sara Maria Forsberg, a Finnish 19-year-old who found YouTube fame in 2014 with her video, "What Languages Sound Like to Foreigners" (more than 16 million views and counting). In the video, Forsberg proved herself to be an adept mimic of twenty different languages, earning her international attention and an appearance on "The Ellen Show" as "The Multilingual Gibberish Girl." After her bravura performance, Lucasfilm contacted her with a hush-hush offer to work on a scene in "The Force Awakens."

While Variety broke the story of Forsberg's involvement in the film right before the film was released last month, the details were sketchy – the article didn't even specify the scene or characters for which she was asked to make "additional alien dialect," as the film credits put it. Forsberg was quoted as saying that she listened to clips of Asian languages for inspiration, so that made the scene with the Kanjiklub gang, portrayed by Indonesian action stars, the most likely candidate out of the few moments in "The Force Awakens" where alien-speak is given English subtitles.

I tracked down Forsberg, who at 21 is now in Los Angeles pursuing a pop-music career as Saara, and she confirmed that she was asked to make the dialogue for the Kanjiklubbers. (The smattering of other alien dialogue in the film may have come directly from the screenwriters. [Or from supervising sound editor Matthew Wood – see the comment below.]) Abrams had cast the Indonesian actors – Yayan Ruhian, Iko Uwais, and Cecep Arif Rahman – after seeing them in the balls-to-the-wall action movie "The Raid," directed by Gareth Evans. The dazzling fight scenes in "The Raid" employ the Indonesian martial arts style known as pencak silat.

Forsberg hails from a Swedish-speaking town in Finland known as Pietarsaari in Finnish and Jakobstad in Swedish. Along with Finnish and Swedish, she grew up speaking English (her family briefly lived in Fort Worth, Texas), and she became fascinated by the sounds of immigrant languages that she encountered working as a supermarket cashier. For the Kanjiklub gang, she was encouraged by the filmmakers to make the lines sound a bit like Indonesian, a.k.a. bahasa Indonesia, the Malay-based national language of Indonesia. She also listened to clips of Sundanese, from the actors' home region of western Java. (Sundanese Indonesians, like Swedish-speaking Finns, grow up bilingual as a matter of course.)

This was an exciting discovery for me, because my graduate research in linguistic anthropology focused on – you guessed it – Indonesian and Sundanese. I dusted off my skills in both languages when I got in touch with Yayan Ruhian, who plays Tasu Leech, the leader of the Kanjiklub gang who "refuses to speak Basic, dismissing it as a 'soft language for soft people,'" according to the Star Wars Databank. Yayan, who delivers most of the lines created by Forsberg, told me he appreciated the Indonesian sound of the made-up words, though he also detected Indian and Thai traces as well. (In the Indonesian press, he has had to tamp down rumors that he's actually speaking a dialect of Sundanese in the film.)

Only a handful of lines in Forsberg's Finn-donesian actually made it into the film, and the subtitles are no help in figuring them out. Tasu Leech is subtitled saying to Han Solo, "Wrong again, Solo. It's over for you," "Twice," and "Nowhere left to hide." But the spoken bits matching "It's over for you" and "Twice" sound very similar (Yayan transcribes it as sicikadiga madiam). Then one henchman says to the other, "Search the freighter," according to the subtitles, but we hear them exchanging a single word that sounds like kadiam.

(In the clip, you can also hear Han trying to bargain with Bala-Tik, the leader of the Guavian Death Gang, who, for reasons unknown, speaks in a Scottish accent. Not sure how that maps onto the dialects of Galactic Basic.)

For "Star Wars," this neglect of linguistic plausibility is nothing new. In the introduction to his new book The Art of Language Invention, David J. Peterson, who created Dothraki and Valyrian for HBO's "Game of Thrones," recounts being a teenager watching "Return of the Jedi." When Princess Leia is undercover posing as an Ubese bounty hunter at Jabba the Hutt's palace, she uses the same word, yotó, in several lines, even though the subtitles say different things. Is this the sort of thing only conlangers and their ilk care much about? Perhaps, but given the fascinatingly multilingual origins of Finn-donesian, it's a shame that more care wasn't taken with the final product.

27 Jan 10:58


by Mark Liberman

From Jack Grieve, a map of the distribution of the word the on Twitter:

There's lots more geolexicography of common function words on Jack's Twitter feed.

Jamie Pennebaker has been telling us for decades that the distribution of such words varies with style, register, personality, and mood. And now Jack Grieve is providing evidence that geography has a surprisingly strong influence.

One of my favorites is and vs. but:

And should is also suggestive:

Is this just another form of geo-indexical variation, like soda vs. pop vs. coke, without any meaning beyond affinity to the group that's indexed by your choice? Or do words like the vary geographically because style, register, personality, and mood also vary in correlated ways?

Jack thinks that it's "style":

"Style" potentially covers a lot of ground, but Lyle Ungar and Marty Seligman might suggest that geographical variation in such words represents the Pennebaker-ish effects of personality or mood or whatever, rather than the kind of "style" that just indexes group membership, or local conventions about the degree formality appropriate in a given context. Still, presumably even (or especially?) the distribution of words like the is subject to purely indexical variation, or to the influence of latent "stylistic" variables of the type that Doug Biber has studied. So it seems to me that the demonstration of such patterns of variation across time and space raises questions more than it answers them. (Which is a Good Thing!)

Jack also sent along a comment on the secular decline in the usage that was documented in 'The case of the disappearing determiners" (1/3/2016): "Assuming the data is all consistent, I'm almost certain this basically represents a decrease in NP complexity/rise in pronoun+VP usage."

[It's important to note that the maps do not represent raw location-by-location frequency data, but rather the result of processing described in Jack Grieve et al., "A statistical method for the identification and aggregation of regional linguistic variation", Language Variation and Change 2011.]

02 Feb 22:50

The language of sexual minorities

by Victor Mair

Nathan Hopson writes from a conference at Nagoya, Japan:

One of the discussants just mentioned that the words tóngqī 同妻・ tóngfū 同夫 are recently being used in China to refer respectively to a "wife with a homosexual husband" and a "husband with a homosexual wife".

Since these are neologisms, there are no established English translations for either of the terms.  Consequently, instead of offering translations for these terms, I will try to explain what they mean, and then invite Language Log readers to suggest their own translations.

We may think of tóngqī 同妻 as an abbreviation for tóngxìngliàn zhàngfū de qīzi 同性恋丈夫的妻子 ("a wife who has a gay / homosexual husband") and tóngfū 同夫 might be thought of as an abbreviation for tóngxìngliàn qīzi de zhàngfū 同性恋妻子的丈夫 ("a husband who has a lesbian / homosexual wife").

This may sound very odd to American readers, but the general context for these terms is that Chinese law doesn't permit same sex marriage. Consequently, a gay man, under external pressure (mainly from family) to marry, will enter into a tóngqī 同妻 arrangement with a woman who is willing to accommodate him, and vice versa for a tóngfū 同夫.

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng and Yixue Yang]

02 Feb 17:00

Really Excellent Pointing In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg

stop fucking mermaids

"You, there. And you two. All of you. Put that chest of jewels down at once, dampish gambollers. Stop enjoying yourselves."

Read more Really Excellent Pointing In Western Art History at The Toast.

04 Feb 17:00

Unhappy Little Girls With Birds In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg



Read more Unhappy Little Girls With Birds In Western Art History at The Toast.

05 Feb 15:00

The Most Exciting Poem Ever Written Is The Beaufort Wind Scale

by Mallory Ortberg

NOT ACTUALLY A POEM but some extremely great science writing that the weather service still uses, it gets me so HET UP as I read it because I am like "YEAH those branches are gonna start swaying!!! oh heck oh heck here it comes! MORE WIND!"

Description on Land | Description at Sea

Calm: Smoke rises vertically. | Sea like a mirror.

Read more The Most Exciting Poem Ever Written Is The Beaufort Wind Scale at The Toast.

01 Feb 18:00

Kind-Hearted Reality Shows I Would Like To See

by Maddie Howard

Redwall: Live!

A great actor reads aloud from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series in front of a crackling fire. (They do all the voices really well.)

Interesting Bookstores

In-depth profiles of small-town independent bookstores across the world, including interviews with the owners, patrons, and any cats-in-residence.

Read more Kind-Hearted Reality Shows I Would Like To See at The Toast.

27 Jan 16:01

The Comment Section for Every Article Ever Written About Artificial Sweeteners

by Nicole Cliffe

Or, at least this one.

1. Why doesn’t this article talk about Stevia? It comes from a plant.

2. Paragraph 19, dumbass. Also, so does hemlock.

3. What about Truvia?

4. Truvia comes from Cargill.

5. I sweeten my coffee with manuka honey, which cures leg ulcers.

6. I sweeten my coffee with blackstrap molasses, which is kind of disgusting, but gives me an icebreaker at parties.

7. I sweeten my coffee with pure agave nectar, which is different from just “agave nectar” in a variety of ways other than price.

8. I drink yerba mate, sweetened only by the smiles of the disadvantaged children I work with every day.

9. Shut UP, #8.

10. Which one is aspartame? Is that Splenda?

11. No, that’s Equal. The blue one. Splenda is the yellow one. Sweet ‘N Low is the pink one.

12. Doesn’t the pink one give you cancer?

13. Only if you’re a rat, and they forcefeed you twelve gallons of it through a hose.

14. Which one is cyclamates?

15. You don’t have that here. They have that in Canada, and they put it in the Canadian pink one, because of the cancer from the American pink one.

16. I thought that was just if you’re a rat? Are Canadians rats?

17. I use Splenda, because Dr. Atkins says it’s like magical rearranged sugar.



20. Isn’t a bigger problem that things are all too sweet now? Shouldn’t we all just eat dirt instead, and think of food as fuel?

21. SHUT UP, #20.

22. Aspartame gives me migraines.

23. Aspartame gives me panic attacks.

24. Aspartame made me gay.

25. I used to drink twenty-six cans of Diet Coke every morning, and when I switched to water, I stopped beating my wife.

26. I hate when I see fat people drinking Diet Coke. It’s like, who are you kidding?

27. I hate when I see fat people drinking real Coke. It’s like, are you not even TRYING?

28. I hate when I see fat people.

29. I hate fat people.


31. I drink Mexican Coke.

28 Jan 21:04

Gender outrage

by (Jen)
The Brighton Argus (and as a result the Metro and I think we can assume the Daily Mail) is up in arms at the news that some survey or other has been given to schoolkids in Brighton which asks about things like their gender. The Argus can't remember the difference between gender and sexuality and ties itseful up in knots while the Metro squeals:

For gender there are 24 options listed. Well, 23 and prefer not to say. OK, 22, plus prefer not to say and a write-in Other box. So either 22 or 23 or an infinite number, so let's put 24 in the headline because it's definitely not the right answer.

"Oh waily waily, the sky is going to fall in" cry the Chicken Lickens of the 1970s who are somehow still grinding articles out for newspapers.

How on Earth will a child - a mere child, with no more knowledge about their sense of gender than actually being that person day in, day out, and spending their whole life being the person who actually inhabits their own damn gender - how will a child be able to tick the right box? When wilfully and conscientiously backward journalists, with no way of finding things out because their feeble minds live in the world of DI Gene Hunt not the world of I'll Just Google It, are not quite sure what demi-girl might mean.

What's that? "It's quite work-out-able and basic a word that if you're not sure what it means you could just say it out loud, think about the two elements, and it's bleedin' obvious?" Not in 1973 it isn't. And that's where we all are, right?  Especially kids born this century.

So yes. 24 options. Basically: good, almost all the pupils will simply tick "female" or "male" and this is not difficult, scary or challenging. For a few they will be able to tick others and by gods what a good thing for them it is to have their existence acknowledged rather than being told they are bad and wrong once again. The lazy hack journalists who have sniped at this need tossing back into the decade where they belong, and leaving there.

If you are, say, happily female, you don't need to know what all the other options might mean when you can just say: that box there, that's me, tick. There are a fistful of names I have trouble pronouncing, yet when it comes to identifying my own name on an attendance list, them appearing on the list too wouldn't stop me finding my name and going "ah yes, that's me".

But to be honest, on seeing the headline what I first think is: 24 options? I do hope they're coded with one letter each from the alphabet, excluding F and M.
23 Jan 11:54

Privilege: less Street Fighter, more D&D

by (Jen)
The 'privilege' model of understanding the different life experiences that people tend to have according to where in the world or the UK they live, their gender identity, sexual orientation, skin colour and the like has been bouncing about for quite some time. It has some merit.
One of the problems it runs into is the argument that "but not all [grouping] feel the benefit of this leg-up!"

A neat way of exploring that is the notion of it being like playing a game and having different difficulty settings - you can still win, but it's like fighting harder opponents. You need more skill, luck or judgement, if you don't get straight-white-cis-man* as your difficulty setting at the start of the game.

I like that 'game setting' analogy, though I find it works better I you think of it less as a "easy moderate or hard" option at the start of a videogame, more like a boardgame where you roll dice and some players get an extra die or two. So you could still roll all ones and someone else gets fewer dice but is good at rolling sixes.

Now I just have to work out whether coming out of the closet as e.g. bisexual gets you an extra die for not playing with one hand tied behind your metaphorical back, or loses you one for gaining the encounters with prejudice you were previously avoiding.

Possibly it gets you a die with different numbers on it - say a four sided die with sides marked 0,0,4,8 instead of 1,2,3,4. The only bit of the theory I'm certain of it gets you one that's purple instead of grey.
21 Jan 19:40

It Only Takes Two Women Coaches For The NFL To Tie For No. 1 On Gender Diversity

by Leah Libresco

Six months ago, I took a look at the (lack of) female representation in coaching and front offices in major sports, just after Jen Welter became the first female assistant coaching intern in the NFL. On Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills hired Kathryn Smith as the league’s first full-time female coach (specifically, as an assistant special teams quality control coach).

That gives the NFL a tie with the NBA for the best record in U.S. pro sports on hiring women to coach male athletes. The NBA has two female assistant coaches, and no female head coaches. MLB and MLS have no women coaches at any level.

Off of the field, only modest progress in hiring women to the major pro leagues was made last year. According to the 2015 report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NFL, MLS and the WNBA show a modest uptick in the percentage of female vice presidents across the leagues. But only the WNBA has expanded its share of female CEOs.

Female leadership in pro sports
WNBA 28% 26% 36%
NBA 7 20 5
MLB 0 17 16
NFL 0 23
MLS 0 17 0

Tides does not calculate majority owner percentages for the NFL

Source: Tides

Tides lists 13 women who were either principal owners or held significant ownership stakes in NFL franchises in 2015, an increase over the nine owners counted in 2014. The report does not provide data on the overall share of NFL owners who are female.

CORRECTION (Jan. 21, 3:40 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the number of female assistant coaches hired by the NBA. The basketball association has two female assistant coaches, not one. That means that the NFL is tied with the NBA for the best record in pro sports on hiring women to coach male athletes; it does not have the best record.

11 Jan 17:00

Men Who Have Finally ‘Found Their Sound’ In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg

my sound

close the door
cant you READ the SIGN
this song's not ready yet
close the door!!

Read more Men Who Have Finally ‘Found Their Sound’ In Western Art History at The Toast.

11 Jan 20:19

The Biggest Dinosaur In History May Never Have Existed

by David Goldenberg

This week, the American Museum of Natural History in New York will unveil its newest exhibit to the press: the skeleton of a huge plant-eating sauropod that many paleontologists think is the largest dinosaur ever discovered. The animal is new enough that it doesn’t yet have a proper scientific name — it’s being called Titanosaur for now. It is 122 feet long and 19 feet high at the midpoint of its back, a specimen so big that its head will peek out of the great hall of the Wallach Orientation Center and into the elevator bank on the fourth floor. Its dorsal vertebrae will brush the lofty ceiling.

But in the museum’s files is buried a description of a vertebra for a dinosaur that would have been 55 percent longer than the Titanosaur — and bigger than any animal ever known. The only problem: The vertebra described has been missing for more than 100 years, and many people think that it may never have existed at all, or at least not as it was described in the first place.

The missing dinosaur is known as Amphicoelias fragillimus, and the only recorded evidence of its existence — a piece of vertebra34 measuring almost 5 feet tall — is said to have been dug up just outside of Cañon City, a small town in central Colorado that for a few short years in the late 1800s was the dinosaur capital of the world. Along with dozens of bones from other dinosaurs, the partial vertebra is listed on the manifest of a freight train that went to Philadelphia, where it was first described and sketched in a paper by famed paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope. Around the time of Cope’s death in 1897, the Amphicoelias bone is said to have been sent with the rest of his massive collection to the American Museum of Natural History, where it was received and catalogued as FR 5777: “Amphicoelias fragillimus, Holotype.”

But when museum President Henry Osborn and his colleague Charles Mook finally got around to analyzing the collection more than two decades later, there was no Amphicoelias bone to catalog. In their exhaustive review of the sauropods of the Cope collection in January 1921, Osborn and Mook write, “The type of this species has not been found in the Cope Collection, and its characters cannot be clearly determined.”

It makes sense to be skeptical that an animal almost twice the length of a blue whale once roamed the American West.

A few months ago, I went searching for the truth about that missing bone. I was not the first — plenty of others have sought the largest dinosaur that has ever lived. What I found was a quest that has driven some people toward maniacal competition, some to conspiracy theories and others to disregard scientific consensus. It drove me to a little rocky outcropping on a hill in rural Colorado known as Cope’s Nipple.

My search started in Cañon City with Dan Grenard, a former Bureau of Land Management official turned amateur historian and paleontology enthusiast. Grenard is the kind of small-town resident who leads restoration projects, volunteers to share his knowledge with local middle-schoolers and knows pretty much everyone in the area.

When Grenard, a few others and I hiked into the hills behind Cañon City, we found the spot where Amphicoelias was likely uncovered. It was completely unremarkable. There was an ever-so-slight depression in the ground, and there were more light-colored rocks strewn about than in the surrounding areas. Melissa Smeins, who took over from Grenard as the Bureau of Land Management’s resident geologist, casually picked one up and handed it to me. “Dinosaur bone chip.”

Wait, what?

The area around Cope's Nipple, where what may have been the biggest dinosaur of all time was discovered.

The area around Cope’s Nipple, where what may have been the biggest dinosaur of all time was discovered.

David Goldenberg

One hundred and thirty-eight years earlier, a seminarian-turned-teacher named Oramel Lucas had stood in the same spot — and also found bones. Lucas ran the one-room schoolhouse in the valley next to Fourmile Creek, which was a few miles north of Cañon City in an area now known as Garden Park. Lucas knew of other dinosaur digs going on in the area, but, as biologist Randy Moore writes in his book “Dinosaurs by the Decades,” Lucas may not have gone looking for them, instead simply stumbling across giant fossilized bones on a walk in the nearby hills. Whatever the provenance, he contacted one of his science professors at his alma mater, Oberlin College, who connected him to Cope. Lucas, it turned out, had wandered across a veritable Camarasaurus graveyard; over the next few years he’d pull six of these sauropods out of the 150-million-year-old green-and-red dirt layer in the hills known to geologists as the Morrison Formation.

Edward Drinker Cope.

Edward Drinker Cope

Public domain via Wikipedia

Lucas’s biggest find, though, was yet to come. In 1878, Cope published a two-paragraph paper in The American Naturalist about it: “I have recently received from my indefatigable friend, Mr. O. W. Lucas, the almost entire neural arch of the vertebra of the largest saurian I have yet seen,” he wrote.

By that time Cañon City had changed. It had been a Western outpost where most townspeople worked as miners or shopkeepers and stagecoaches regularly rolled through the downtown strip bringing goods to the train station. In the 1870s, though, the cargo being transported shifted from ores to dinosaur bones as the town became ground zero for the growing rivalry between the two most famous men in paleontology: Cope and his rival, Othniel Charles Marsh.

This rivalry — now known as the Bone Wars — involved humiliation, bribery and eventually financial ruin for both sides. It also led to one of the most incredible periods of paleontological discovery in history, as the men’s rivalry led them to finance expeditions to the fossil bone beds of the West. Eventually, their teams identified more than 100 new dinosaur species, though many of those species have since been lumped together or otherwise revised. Amphicoelias fragillimus was one of the species discovered.

Marsh and Cope started out as friendly rivals, even naming new species after each other. Marsh was more academic and better funded — his millionaire uncle George Peabody built a museum at Yale for him — while Cope was more independent — he kept many of his favorite bones hanging in his Philadelphia house — and more prolific, cranking out more than a thousand academic papers. Cope eventually bought The American Naturalist to directly publish the notes on his finds. In Cope’s version of the story, their relationship soured when Marsh secretly bought bones from the workers at one of Cope’s quarries. In Marsh’s, the fallout happened after he publicly embarrassed Cope by pointing out that Cope’s Elasmosaurus reconstruction had its head literally coming out of its ass. Either way, the men went from sniping at each other to actively working against each other. At sites across the West, their workers were directed to sabotage one another, destroying rival camps, quarries and even bones.

Lucas’s findings didn’t go unnoticed by Marsh. As Lucas was shipping his first major haul out of the city, Marsh sent a Kansas professor named Benjamin Mudge to the area to persuade him to switch bosses. But Lucas was loyal to Cope, and thus the extremely large vertebra he found sticking out of the depression I was standing in was packed up and sent to Philadelphia.

Dan Grenard at Cope’s Nipple, holding a historical photo of the area.

Dan Grenard at Cope’s Nipple, holding a historical photo of the area.

David Goldenberg

One hundred and thirty-eight years later, I looked down at the rock Smeins had placed in my hand and saw that, yes — it was a dinosaur bone. There were little striations throughout the fossil, the telltale signs of carbon petrification. I looked around on the ground and there were little bits of dinosaur bone everywhere. Was I literally holding a piece of Amphicoelias in my hand? Who knows. As writer Brian Switek has explained, every paleo researcher is familiar with the feeling of finding a busted fossil. Where a beautiful bone once was, only unidentifiable fragments remain. Behold: the Chunkasaurus.

Grenard explained that the Amphicoelias probably existed a couple of million years after the other dinosaurs that were found there. That means that erosion exposed it first, and that many of the bones had likely shattered well before people could find them. Cope noted the thinning condition of the vertebra himself, calling the species fragillimus and noting that “much care was requisite to secure its preservation.”

Ken Carpenter, a short, stocky professor at Utah State University Eastern, spent 20 years trying to preserve something different: Cope’s discovery of Amphicoelias. In 2006, Carpenter tried to settle debate over the dinosaur by synthesizing his research in a paper titled “The Biggest of the Big.” It drew academic focus back to the dinosaur decades after it had been relegated to the sidelines.

For nearly two decades, Carpenter worked at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, leading a team in charge of finding fossils. In 1992, while surveying the Garden Park area with his research assistant, he stumbled upon a huge find in a riverbank — a nearly intact Stegosaurus skeleton, one of the few that has been found.

The Stegosaurus made Carpenter a star in the paleontology world, but he was interested in an even more elusive quarry: Amphicoelias. He acknowledges that it’s most likely that the vertebra and any other Amphi bones have turned into Chunkasaurus, but he still spent years researching the animal and even more time combing the Colorado countryside looking for more Amphicoelias bones. When his traditional searches came up empty, he decided to bring in a ground-penetrating radar — generally used by excavation crews to make sure they don’t hit sewer lines — to see if he could find any bones still hiding under the surface. It was useless, since the fossils and rock matrix the bones are encased in turn out to have the same density. “It turns out it was nothing like ‘Jurassic Park,’” he says.

Carpenter, now 66 and silver-haired, was a little grumpy when I prodded him by phone about the big dinosaur; he says he has moved on from his monomaniacal pursuit of Amphicoelias. He now spends his field time looking for prehistoric mammals in northwestern Utah and calls the argument over the largest dinosaur a paleontological “dick-measuring contest” that he’s not interested in participating in. When I told him I may have been holding a piece of Amphi bone in my hand, he was unimpressed. “A bone fragment’s a bone fragment’s a bone fragment,” he says. But once I got him talking about his research into Amphi and the incredible lengths he went to to try to find more, he perked up and started getting excited, even wistful.

Tony DiCroce, a volunteer who helped Ken Carpenter build his replica of an Amphicoelias fragillimus vertebrae, standing next to the replica.

Tony DiCroce, a volunteer who helped Ken Carpenter build his replica of an Amphicoelias fragillimus vertebra, standing next to the replica.

Courtesy of Ken Carpenter

In his paper on Amphicoelias, Carpenter tried to synthesize everything known about the animal so far. He even reconstructed the missing bone out of plastic foam; after adding the missing parts, he had a vertebra that was more than 8.5 feet tall. Expanded along the dimensions of a Diplodocus skeleton,35 that results in an animal that’s 190 feet long. For comparison, blue whales can measure up to 100 feet long. “I’d like to model the entire skeleton,” he says. “But that’s still a pipe dream.”

Amphicoelias fragillimus 190ft
Titanosaur 122
Blue whale 98
Brontosaurus excelsus 72
Giant squid 59
Tyrannosarus rex 39
Triceratops horridus 26
African elephant 23
Stegosaurus stenops 21

Sources: Ken Carpenter, American Natural History Museum, The Princeton field guide to dinosaurs, national geographic

It makes sense to be skeptical that an animal almost twice the length of a blue whale — and more than 50 percent longer than any other known sauropod — once roamed the American West. For a long time, many in the paleontological world believed that it never existed at all, and that it was simply a fish tale Cope used to gain prestige in the ongoing battle with Marsh. But the fact that, as far as we know, Marsh never once took the opportunity to question the finding is instructive, as he would have loved to have more fodder to fight his rival. And although Osborn, director of the American Natural History Museum, bemoaned the missing bone in his survey of Cope’s collection, he was convinced it had existed.

Modern skeptics are less likely to believe that Amphi was fake than to believe that something else fishy was going on. Cary Woodruff is one such skeptic. He’s an adjunct instructor of earth sciences at Montana State University who specializes in studying sauropod vertebrae, and he’s not convinced that any dinosaur can get get much larger than 100 feet long. Early last year, in a paper titled “The Fragile Legacy of Amphicoelias fragillimus,” he and his co-author John Foster argue that not only is the Amphi bone likely just part of a Diplodocus specimen, it wasn’t even that big. Based on the other measurements in Cope’s notes — and the fact that Cope was notoriously careless in his rush to get out papers36 — they argue that the most likely explanation is that a typo changed the height of the vertebra from 1050 mm to 1500 mm, which would make it about a foot and a half shorter. “People have been working in the Morrison for 130-plus years, continuously,” Woodruff told me. “We have never found a single scrap of any other bone that’s even close to the size of what Amphicoelias is reported to be.”

Woodruff doesn’t think that Cope was trying to deceive anyone when he made his measurements, but that he realized soon after that his sizing was wrong. Woodruff’s theory? Cope wasn’t interested in being humiliated again as he was with Elasmosaurus, but he also didn’t want to perpetuate bad science. So he simply stopped talking about the great beast after his two-paragraph description in The American Naturalist. That would explain why Cope never mentioned Amphi in his later writings, even in his papers about evolution and larger body size that eventually became known as Cope’s Rule.

Carpenter disagrees, calling Woodruff’s theory of a cover-up a “pretty harsh accusation for a kid standing on the shoulder of a giant.”

And there’s another person who thinks the idea of a supersized sauropod may not be wrong out of hand: Nathan Myhrvold, the polymath CEO of Intellectual Ventures and former CTO of Microsoft. Myhrvold has recently turned his attention to dinosaur size. (In previous years, it’s been on cooking and nuclear power.) In a 2013 PLoS paper, he argues that most of our current size estimates of dinosaurs are wrong for two reasons: The first is that paleontologists aren’t great at using stats to approximate animal size from bone measurements. The second is that most of the individuals that scientists are using as prototypes for their species weren’t fully mature. “Unfortunately the specimens that have the most complete skeletons are not the very biggest ones,” Myhrvold told me over email. “I think that at some point we will find new specimens of enormous sauropod, and hopefully will have enough material to settle the matter. But even then, we may find scraps of something that might be even bigger.”

In the meantime, a small stream of large-dinosaur sleuths continue to make the trek to New York to see if there are any Amphicoelias clues at the American Museum of Natural History. Mark Norell, the current head of paleontology there, tells me that the big bone room was cleaned and recategorized eight years ago, so it’s impossible that the 5-foot-tall bone is in there. But he’s willing to leave a slight opening that it’s somewhere: “If you have a collection like ours — we’ve got nearly a million specimens — it’s like running a library. Things just disappear. Sometimes they show up years later.”

There’s a precedent for that. In 1998, a few amateur dinosaur hunters, including Jack McIntosh, a physics professor at Wesleyan who died last month, persuaded the museum to let them check out Cope’s files. Although Osborn and Mook had claimed there were no other records from the digs at Cañon City, McIntosh found several letters between Cope and Lucas, as well as Cope’s field notebook from a trip to Cañon City in 1879. In it was the first description of exactly where Amphi was found — Grenard and I used those notes to find the spot on Cope’s Nipple.

But those notes didn’t help us find more Amphicoelias specimens. So, after a long day out dinosaur hunting, I headed back to my hotel in Cañon City, the Quality Inn & Suites, and walked over to an alcove in the lobby next to the stairs. There, in the corner, was Carpenter’s reproduction of the Amphicoelias vertebra, mounted just like the other biggest dinosaur in the world, Titanosaur, minus a few hundred bones here and there. The model was too big to fit in his office, and the Denver Museum didn’t want it. So, thanks to a favor from a friend of Grenard’s who runs the hotel, it resides in the alcove, confusing tipsy guests on their way out of the bar for a smoke. It’s not the American Museum of Natural History, but for now, it will have to do.

CORRECTION (Jan. 11, 8:14 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the tech company Nathan Myhrvold once worked for. He is the former CTO of Microsoft, not IBM.

19 Jan 17:00

Miserable-Looking Women Wearing Flower Crowns In Western Art History

by Mallory Ortberg


"Maybe another ribbon would h–"
"It would not."

Read more Miserable-Looking Women Wearing Flower Crowns In Western Art History at The Toast.

13 Jan 19:10

Reasons I Would Make An Excellent Fisher King And You Should Consider Me For The Position

by Mallory Ortberg

1. Whenever I get sick, I also feel like the world around me should wither and decay out of respect for my discomfort.

Read more Reasons I Would Make An Excellent Fisher King And You Should Consider Me For The Position at The Toast.

15 Jan 15:15

Sometimes State Quarters…

by Caity Weaver

1. Sometimes state quarters feature the ultra spooky Headed Horseman. (Delaware)

2. Sometimes state quarters Vogue, Vogue, Strike a Pose. (Pennsylvania)

3. Sometimes state quarters were wondering if it’d be cool for them to bring a couple bros along? (New Jersey)

4. Sometimes state quarters demand you prostrate yourself before the Mighty Peach of Justice. (Georgia)

5. Sometimes state quarters prefer to think of trees as “sea anemones of the land.” (Connecticut)

6. Sometimes state quarters are waiting –just waiting– for shit to pop off. (Massachusetts)

7. Sometimes state quarters try to make a self-invented nickname happen, but everyone knows it won’t. (Maryland)

8. Sometimes state quarters provide portals into nightmarish hellscapes where birds big as trees stalk the coast. (South Carolina)

9. Sometimes state quarters would like to know what moisturizer you use and do you like it? (New Hampshire)

10. Sometimes state quarters are really putting the Williamsburg in Colonial Williamsburg by reminding you that they started hanging around America back when it was still a locally-owned neighborhood place. (Virginia)

11. Sometimes it’s like state quarters didn’t even try. (New York)

12. Sometimes state quarters took forever to get through security and missed their flight. (North Carolina)

13. Sometimes state quarters know you only invited them because you thought they were San Francisco. (Rhode Island)

14. Sometimes state quarters are just so Vermont. (Vermont)

15. Sometimes state quarters should have reconsidered the quotation marks around their caption because it kind of makes it look like Mr. Ed is talking. (Kentucky)

16. Sometimes state quarters would like to invite you to a Country Bear Jamboree. (Tennessee)

17. Sometimes state quarters totally bit off North Carolina’s thing, then had to add a spaceman at the last minute so they wouldn’t look super dumb. (Ohio)

18. Sometimes state quarters have too much wine with dinner and slur things like “My family used to own this place! We used to could buy this whole town!” (Louisiana)

19. Sometimes state quarters love cars and stars. (Indiana)

20. Sometimes state quarters aren’t crying because they’re sad. They’re crying because they just watched Steel Magnolias. (Mississippi)

21. Sometimes state quarters knew Abraham Lincoln back in his younger days, when he still went by Dick Whitman. (Illinois)

22. Sometimes state quarters were just as surprised as you to learn Helen Keller was from Alabama. (Alabama)

23. Sometimes state quarters seem to have ripped their imagery right from the calendar you bought at the dollar store on January 3. (Maine)

24. Sometimes state quarters make Missouri look like an AWESOME ADVENTURELAND. (Missouri)

25. Sometimes state quarters are a girl’s best friend. (Arkansas)

26. Sometimes state quarters would argue that having four really great lakes is better than having ten-thousand normal ones, Minnesota, just saying. (Michigan)

27. Sometimes state quarters didn’t catch what you just said because they were daydreaming about a Pirates vs. Aliens ultimate spacefight showdown. (Florida)

28. Sometimes state quarters really hammer home the point. (Texas)

29. Sometimes state quarters invented the very first building! (Iowa)

30. Sometimes state quarters can only work with what you give them. (Wisconsin)

31. Sometimes state quarters would like to drop a quick hypothetical on you: What if a scarecrow came to life? Where would he go? What would he see? (California)

32. Sometimes state quarters are brought to you by proud sponsor Land O’Lakes. (Minnesota)

33. Sometimes state quarters forgot to Put a Bird On It. (Oregon)

34. Sometimes state quarters wish they had known you were allergic to sunflowers but they can only apologize so many times. (Kansas)

35. Sometimes state quarters think your new river is gorge! Loves it! (West Virginia)

36. Sometimes state quarters were designed by Bronys. (Nevada)

37. Sometimes state quarters would rather be playing Oregon Trail. (Nebraska)

38. Sometimes state quarters forget that the only color you can see on a quarter is silver. (Colorado)

39. Sometimes state quarters are so hungry and this grass is delicioussssss numnumnum! (North Dakota)

40. Sometimes state quarters thought they could draw Jefferson freehand, from memory. (South Dakota)

41. Sometimes state quarters wish to remind bison to keep off private property. (Montana)

42. Sometimes state quarters would just like to point out that, really, every quarter is a Washington state quarter when you think about it. (Washington)

43. Sometimes state quarters thought a potato would look dumb. (Idaho)

44. Sometimes state quarters remind you of a charm bracelet you bought at Claire’s. (Wyoming)

45. Sometimes state quarters make trains look so bad-ass and confrontational that they inspire Trainsformers, an old-timey Transformers spin-off. (Utah)

46. Sometimes state quarters didn’t want to spring for the full bird tail. (Oklahoma)

47. Sometimes state quarters are trying to be soooo mystical. (New Mexico)

48. Sometimes state quarters are overly ambitious, given their limited design space. (Arizona)

49. Sometimes state quarters will die a hero’s death rescuing a fish from quicksand. (Alaska)

50. Sometimes state quarters are all, “Mele Kalikimaka, Roman centurion!” (Hawaii)

51. Sometimes state quarters took a risk by depicting a random man sitting at a piano named “Duke Ellington” instead of Duke Ellington sitting at a random piano. (District of Columbia)

Previously: Sometimes State Flags…

Caity Weaver would like to write for you. Watch her practice on Twitter.

12 Jan 03:42

A Potent Quotable

by Blake Stacey

Here is physicist John Archibald Wheeler, interviewed in the documentary The Creation of the Universe (1985):

There’s nothing deader than an equation. You write that down in a square on a tile floor. And on another tile on the floor you write down another equation, which you think might be a better description of the Universe. And you keep on writing down equations hoping to get a better and better equation for what the Universe is and does.

And then, when you’ve worked your way out to the end of the room and have to step out, you wave your wand and tell the equations to fly.

And not one of them will put on wings and fly.

Yet the Universe flies!

It has a life to it that no equation has, and that life to it is a life with which we are also tied up.

I saw that documentary as a kid, and that little speech was one part that stuck with me ever after. For the story of how Wheeler made this point to his physics classes, see arXiv:1405.2390, page 292.

11 Jan 23:00

Sex Ghosts

by Molly Langmuir

A Q&A with author, photographer, and ossuary expert Paul Koudounaris.

I understand your great grandfather was a grave robber?

My family is Greek and they lived in Alexandria back when it was a Greek town. At that point there was a trade in mummy dust, which they called mummia, which was thought to be a cure all. Louis XIV actually used to carry mummia in a pouch and snort little bits of it. The problem was that by the late 19th century they didn’t have a bunch of old Egyptian mummies to dig up anymore. Instead, when criminals were executed, people would steal their bodies and take them to the middle of the Sahara and cover them in tar. They’d come back a year later, dig them up and sell them to apothecaries, where they’d get ground up. This was a burgeoning trade.

So basically all of this ghost stuff is in your blood.

Back in grad school I was known as the Fox Mulder of the art history department. Everyone else was working on Rembrandt and I was looking at woodblock prints of witches.

How did you come to be an expert in bone-decorated crypts?

After I finished my PhD I was wandering around eastern Europe and ended up in a small town in the Czech Republic. I went through a doorway outside this old church, walked down a staircase and found myself in a room completely filled with bones. Afterward I asked people in the town about it. There was a bone-encrusted church under their feet and no one even knew it was there! It sparked my curiosity. I ended up writing a book on these places and visited them all over the world. 

Have you ever seen a ghost?

Everyone asks me this. The one incident that defies any possible explanation happened in Bolivia. There’s a woman in La Paz, Dona Ana, who has 12 miracle-working skulls, and people come from all over Bolivia to pray to them. I went to interview her and asked if I could take photographs of the skulls. She said sure, and I took pictures on both 35 mm and medium-format film. I got the medium format film developed in Bolivia and carried the negatives on my lap in the plane — to me these were treasures. Once I got home I put everything in the middle of my living room and went to bed. I heard this weird voice in my ear saying, “Where’s Ana?” I thought I was having an auditory hallucination. The next morning the negatives were gone.

I still had that roll of 35 mm film, though, and I took it to a lab in LA and asked them to develop it immediately. The guy calls me back two hours later and says there’s been a slight problem — it burst spontaneously into flame! I went home and I searched everywhere for that other box of negatives, but it had completely disappeared. And that night, from right in the middle of my living room, where the box had been, there was a loud thump. It happened every night around 2 a.m. for about a month.

How did the mummies in the Palermo catacombs end up with such nice outfits?

For centuries people would pay to have their relatives mummified and put on display. And every November 2 you would dress your mummies in a new set of clothing. It was just a traditional family obligation. Eventually this stopped. Those catacombs are basically the finest fashion history museum in the world — what they’re wearing now is whatever they had on when their relatives stopped bringing them new clothes.

Generally this happened arond the Enlightenment. It shows how drastically our conception of dealing with the dead changed at that point. If you consider Psycho, the one thing that makes Norman Bates absolutely unfit to be a member of human society is that he has his mother mummified and dresses her in clothes. That what marked him as a lunatic. But back in 1700 in Sicily that would have marked him as the paradigm of a loving son. At that point death was not a boundary, it was just a transition and the dead still had a roll to play.

Please explain the difference between a succubus or incubus, which as I understand it are evil spirits that have sex with people while they’re sleeping, and a sex ghost. Are they the same thing?

Ah, this is a great question. Personally I think there’s kind of a continuum between succubi and sex ghosts. That’s my term, by the way — in Sicily life in general is so involved with sex and death that to them they’re just ghosts. They just think that of course ghosts go out and have sex. I mean, Sicily is a place where nuns invented a confection called “the tits of the virgin.” It’s a weirdly sexualized environment. But you do find these stories throughout history. Even in the modern day people are having sex with spectral phenomenon. Like that singer Ke$ha.

How do you know if you’ve had sex with a ghost? Couldn’t it just be a dream?

Some of the stories are definitely more than a hallucination. There’s one where a ghost got jealous of a guy’s girlfriend and attacked her. She ended up in the hospital.

That sounds terrifying.

They’re not all like that. One of the more outlandish stories is about a guy who got to be called “pene grande,” which means “big dick.” He was a mummy famed in life for having a big penis. People would go down to the Palermo Catacombs and treat him as the patron saint of big cocks. Finally a newlywed woman came to see him because she was married to a guy who was not well-endowed. She took a cloth and rubbed it on the mummy’s dick, and then rubbed it on her husband’s dick. The next time she had sex with her husband, his penis seemed larger and fuller and she was about to orgasm except that at that moment she looked up and saw it was actually the ghost on top of her. Everyone thought she was crazy, but then it happened again the next time she had sex. They had to set up an exorcism for this ghost.

How does one expel a penis ghost?

They had a blacksmith make a tight-fitting sheath made of metal, and once the husband got erect the ghost came out and got caught in the codpiece. They threw holy water at him.

Then what?

That expelled the ghost from the guy’s body. So forever he had a small penis, but he was free of the ghost. As for the ghost, he gained a great following among older ladies, and eventually so many were coming to see him that they had to lock the mummy in a back room, which is where he remains to this day.

Wow. So ghosts back then were basically the rock stars of their day.

In Palermo there was a well where they would throw the heads of executed criminals and these heads had groupies – women would come to talk to the spirits of the criminals and ask them for favors. This continued through the late 20th century. It only stopped because the city put up a grate.

Did the criminals really help people?

They were thought to be wonderful protectors. There are all these stories about women who were about to be mugged who were saved by spirits.

But some Palermo ghosts did more typical scary-ghost type of things, right?

There is an old and very weird story about a ghost of a guy who had lived in the monastery there — apparently the “devil got into him” and he masturbated and had a heart attack at the moment of ejaculation. That’s why, they claim, he has that look on his face. Anyway, people said his ghost would visit boys who masturbated and scare them into stopping. One boy didn’t really believe this, though, and dared the ghost to appear while he was masturbating. When the ghost showed up, he apparently grabbed the boy by the cock and squeezed him so hard that the boy passed out, and while he wasn’t exactly castrated, he was rendered sterile for life.

Do you really think this stuff actually happened?

It’s easy to disbelieve, especially since I’m generally dealing with oral traditions. But I actually have a friend from Sicily and one of these sex ghosts turned out to be her great uncle! That was the ghost who was accused of stealing women’s underpants. So it’s real. Or at least he’s real, whether his ghost stole women’s underpants or not.

Wait. He was stealing underpants?

They kept finding women’s panties behind a particular mummy. They would get stashed there, like trophies. Finally, a girl called the police and said she’d been having visions of a ghost entering her home. He would proposition her and when she turned him down he’d steal her panties. The monastery accused the girl of planting the underwear there herself, but then they set up a test, and sure enough another pair of undies still appeared behind the mummy.

How does one deal with an underwear-stealing ghost?

Someone went to the mummy and told him they would bury him in the ground unless he stopped stealing underpants. After that no one’s underpants disappeared.

Does this kind of thing still happen?

There’s a really bizarre story from the 20th century, about a guy who had severe diarrhea and chronic flatulence. He stole a skull and started saying prayers to St. Roch and St. Sebastian, the patron saints of plague and suffering, and also shitting on the skull daily. He had a theory that by crapping on the skull he could switch intestines with the body the skull had been attached to. The ghost kept warning him, quit shitting on my skull. But he kept at it and he succeeded in transferring his intestinal problems to the ghost. The problem was that the ghost had died of testicular cancer, and in return he gave that to the guy. That’s how he died. One of the dangers of necromancy is you don’t really know who’s on the other side or what they’re going to give you in return.

As far as sex with a ghost, do you think it can be satisfying?

The girl whose husband was possessed by the ghost with the big penis was having a good time until she realized what was happening. I would assume that if the ghost was willing and capable of manifesting, I don’t know why it couldn’t be good sex.

Like in Ghost! Would you want to have an experience with a sex ghost?

It depends on the ghost. Just like it depends on the person. I’m not going to say yes and get the ghost of Ali Baba to come ravish me. How could I know until I met the ghost?

Paul Koudounaris‘s work can also be found in The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel HousesAll photos courtesy Paul Koudounaris and The Empire of Death, except the ones of Il Masturbatore and Dona Ana’s skulls (which Paul took but don’t appear in the book).

Molly Langmuir is a writer living in New York. She would love nothing more than to meet a wish-granting ghost.

28 Dec 19:15

917 People Who Are Hotter Than Benedict Cumberbatch

by Bobby Finger and Emma Carmichael

Benedict Cumberbatch is a talented actor. But Benedict Cumberbatch is not hot. Here are 917 people who are hotter than Benedict Cumberbatch.

1. Martin Freeman
2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
3. Jeremy Brett
4. Your mom
5. Ron Artest
6. Metta World Peace
7. Prince Harry
8. Prince William
9. Prince Charles
10. This lady who got knocked over by the wind recently
11. Joan Cusack
12. Joan Didion
13. Joan Jett
14. Them
15. Lee Ranaldo
16. Andy Garcia
17. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
18. Mark Spitz
19. Marc Spitz
20. Danny Trejo
21. Paul Wesley
22. Ian Somerhalder
23. Steven R. McQueen
24. Zach Roerig
25. Michael Trevino
26. Michael Jordan
27. Michael B. Jordan
28. Jordan Knight
29. Jordan Fisher
30. Jules Jordan
31. Montell Jordan
32. Jeremy Jordan
33. Richard Jordan
34. Ben Lee Jordan
35. Jordan Pruitt
36. Jordan Waring
37. Vernon Jordan
38. Matthew Davis
39. Javier Bardem
40. Louis C.K.
41. Tony Plana
42. Tony Danza
43. Sidney Blumenthal
44. Rick Stengel
45. Jimmy Akingbola
46. Alan Igbon
47. Hugh Quarshie
48. Javone Prince
49. Prince
50. Josh Charles
51. Josh Duhamel
52. Josh Turner
53. Josh Hartnett
54. Josh Hamilton
55. Josh Cuthbert
56. Josh Brolin
57. Josh Smith
58. Charles Esten
59. Charles Woodson
60. Charles Kelley
61. Charles Grodin
62. Young Charlie Chaplin
63. Ray Charles
64. RuPaul Andre Charles
65. Beautiful woman on a ladder above the clouds looking far away
66. Roger Klotz
67. Tupac Shakur
68. Tim Tebow
69. Tim McGraw
70. Timbaland
71. This guy
72. Barack Obama
73. Michelle Obama
74. Dominic West
75. Idris Elba
76. Mary Louise Parker
77. Jackie Jackson
78. Tito Jackson
79. Jermaine Jackson
80. Marlon Jackson
81. Michael Jackson
82. Janet Jackson
83. Whoever this was
84. Michael Keaton
85. All of the Michael Keatons in Multiplicity
86. Him
87. Samuel Alito
88. Elena Kagan
89. John G. Roberts
90. Anthony Kennedy
91. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
92. Sonia Sotomayor
93. Stephen G. Breyer
94. Alf
95. Rowan Atkinson
96. Mr. Pibb
97. Dr. Pepper
98. Mr. Clean
99. Mr. Sparkle 
100. Elian Gonzalez
101. Sheryl Crow
102. John Wayne
103. Milton Berle
104. The guy next to me in line for pizza earlier today who ordered his slice “well done”
105. Key
106. Peele
107. Henry Ford
108. Joe Isuzu
109. Doc
110. Grumpy
111. Happy
112. Sleepy
113. Bashful
114. Sneezy
115. Dopey
116. Kid Rock
117. Ronald Reagan
118. Joe Jonas
119. Nick Jonas
120. Kevin Jonas
121. Luke Wilson
122. Owen Wilson
123. The other Wilson brother
124. Elijah Wood
125. Henry Kissinger
126. Dan Hedaya
127. Stan Zbornak
128. Dorothy Zbornak
129. Blanche Devereaux
130. Rose Nylund
131. Sophia Petrillo
132. Diane Warren
133. Celine Dion
134. Rene Angelil
135. Albert Nobbs
136. Glenn Close
137. The original Brawny Man
138. Juror #1
139. Juror #2
140. Juror #3
141. Juror #4
142. Juror #5
143. Juror #6.
144. Juror #7
145. Juror #8
146. Juror #9
147. Juror #10
148. Juror #11
149. Bobcat Goldthwait
150. Juror #12
151. Michelle Williams
152. Michelle Williams
153. Kelly Rowland
154. Latavia Roberson
155. Tina Knowles
156. Solange Knowles
157. The Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg
158. “man slipping and falling”
159. The New Face of America
160. Santa Claus
161. A common elf
162. Gaston
163. Lefou
164. Lumiere as a candlestick
165. Lumiere as a man
166. Cogsworth as a clock
167. Cogsworth as a man
168. The wardrobe
169. Sully Sullenberger
170. Mr. Big
171. Aidan Shaw
172. Jack Berger
173. Aleksandr Petrovsky
174. Richard Wright
175. Smith Jerrod
176. Trey MacDougal
177. Bunny MacDougal
178. Harry Goldenblatt
179. Skipper Johnston
180. Robert Leeds
181. Steve Brady
182. Steve Brady’s Mom
183. This
184. Animal
185. Beaker
186. Beauregard
187. Camilla
188. Fozzie
189. Gonzo
190. Janice
191. Kermit
192. Miss Piggy
193. Rizzo
194. Rowlf
195. Scooter
196. The Swedish Chef
197. The cast of The Real World New Orleans
198. Christopher Walken
199. Sinbad
200. Professor Plum
201. Colonel Mustard
202. Mr. Green
203. Mrs. Peacock
204. Mrs. White
205. Mr. Body
206. Ted Cruz
207. The Candyman
208. The other Candyman
209. Jerry
210. George
211. Kramer
212. Newman
213. Bania
214. Mr. Pitt
215. Larry David
216. Cheryl David
217. Craig David
218. Michelangelo’s David
219. David Paymer
220. This block of wood
221. The cast of The Wood
222. The person who delivers your mail
223. The person who delivered you
224. Any clown
225. Sister Mary Clarence
226. Sister Mary Robert
227. Jackee Harry
228. Sister Mary Lazarus
229. Sister Alma
230. Sister Mary Patrick
231. This piece of toast
232. An Oscar
233. An MTV Moon Man
234. A Golden Globe
235. Goldie Hawn
236. Kate Hudson
237. Kurt Russell
238. Harry
239. Any of the Hendersons
240. Laverne
241. Shirley
242. Lenny
243. Squiggy
244. Garry Marshall
245. Penny Marshall
246. Fred Armisen as Penny Marshall
247. Timon
248. Pumba
249. Patrick Wilson
250. Woodrow Wilson
251. Mr. Wilson
252. Wilson
253. Wilson
254. Wilson
255. Phillips
256. Captain Phillips
257. Captain Planet
258. Wind
259. Water
260. Earth
261. Fire
262. Heart
263. Heart
264. The Cowardly Lion
265. The Tin Man
266. The Scarecrow
267. The Wicked Witch of the West
268. The Lollipop Guild
269. A lollipop
270. The Umbrella Man
271. The Lawnmower Man
272. The Orkin Man
273. The Trojan Man
274. The Wicker Man (1973)
275. The Wicker Man (2006)
276. The Music Man
277. The Running Man
278. The Postman
279. The Mothman
280. The Best Man
281. Encino Man
282. The guy who just added you on LinkedIn
283. Gallagher
284. Peter Gallagher
285. Abraham Lincoln
286. Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet
287. Mary Todd Lincoln
288. Shirley MacLaine
289. Shirley MacLaine
290. Shirley MacLaine
291. Shirley MacLaine
292. Shirley MacLaine
293. Shirley MacLaine
294. Denise Huxtable
295. Vanessa Huxtable
296. Theo Huxtable
297. Rudy Huxtable
298. Clair Huxtable
299. Cliff Huxtable
300. Cousin Pam
301. Cousin Eddie
302. Cousin Itt
303. Cousin Larry
304. The Cloverfield Monster
305. Your RTF 317 Intro to Narrative Film professor
306. Your RTF 317 Intro to Narrative Film TA
307. Most of your TAs, actually
308. Howie Mandel
309. Howie Mandel’s hands
310. Him
311. Jackie Earle Haley
312. A Minion
313. Dorian Gray
314. Meredith Grey
315. The color gray
316. Michael Landon
317. Tyne Daly
318. John Ratzenberger
319. Marg Helgenberger
320. Erin Brockovich
321. Peter Bogdanovich
333. Nosferatu
334. Matisyahu
335. The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain
336. This
337. The missing link
338. Barton Fink
340. This guy
341. This guy
342. This guy
343. These two
344. Her
345. Ewan McGregor
346. Mamie Gummer
347. Grace Gummer
348. Don Gummer
349. Henry Gummer
350. Meryl Streep
351. Joanna Kramer
352. Sophie
353. Karen Silkwood
354. Molly Gilmore
355. Susan Traherne
356. Karen
357. Rachel Samstat
358. Helen Archer
359. Linda Chamberlain
360. Mary Fisher
361. Suzanne Vale
362. Julia
363. Madeline Ashton
364. Clara
365. Lee
366. Roberta Guaspari
367. Susan Orlean
368. Clarissa Vaughan
369. Abigail Adams
370. Hannah Pitt
371. Eleanor Shaw
372. Aunt Josephine
373. Lisa Metzger
374. Yolanda Johnson
375. Miranda Priestly
376. Joanna Silver
377. Lila Ross
378. Corrine Whitman
379. Corrine Whitman
380. Janine Roth
381. Donna
382. Sister Aloysius Beauvier
383. Julia Child
384. Mrs. Fox
385. Jane Adler
386. Margaret Thatcher
387. Kay
388. Violet Weston
389. The Witch
390. Him
391. Joe Rogan
392. Joe Camel
393. Joe Dimaggio
394. Joe Fresh
395. Joe Scarborough
396. Joe Cool
397. Joe Pesci
398. Cesar Chavez
399. Julius Caesar
400. Little Caesar
401. The Winklevoss twin who stands on the left
402. Taye Diggs
403. Morris Chestnut
404. Terrence Howard
405. Harold Perrineau
406. Eddie Cibrian
407. Sanaa Lathan
408. Nia Long
409. Regina Hall
410. Monica Calhoun
411. Melissa de Sousa
412. The Man Without a Face
413. The Man Who Wasn’t There
414. The Man From Snowy River
415. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
416. The Man on the Moon
417. The man on the moon
418. The Man of Steel
419. The Man of La Mancha
420. The Man Who Knew Too Much
421. The Man Who Knew Too Little
422. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
423. The Man In The Iron Mask
424. Juwanna Mann
425. Leslie Mann
426. Whatta Man
427. Crazy Pete
428. Old Man Marley
429. Mean Old Lady Higgenlooper
430. Untitled (Big Man)
431. Woody Allen
432. Woody Harrelson
433. Woody Woodpecker
434. Woody Guthrie
435. Woody the Cowboy
436. Buzz Lightyear
437. Buzz Aldrin
438. This BuzzFeed list
439. The whammy
440. That professor my friend dated in college despite the fact that I did not approve of the relationship
441. The silhouette of a man uglier than Benedict Cumberbatch
442. Usher
443. Ali Go
444. Bruno
445. Borat
446. Boris Karloff
447. Marla Sokoloff
448. Ron Howard
449. Andy Griffith
450. Maria Rainer
451. Captain Georg von Trapp
452. Elsa Schrader
453. Rolf Gruber
454. Liesl vonn Trapp
455. The Mother Abbess
456. Phonte Coleman
457. Her
458. Nelly Furtado
459. Nelly
460. Fergie
461. Gumby
462. That hot dad I accidentally flipped my hair into on the Q train three years ago
463. Most dads in the borough of Brooklyn
464. Your dad
465. Patty Mayonnaise
466. Apple Store Lady
467. Conan O’Brien
468. Conan the Barbarian
469. Xena Warrior Princess
470. The heart-eye Emoji
471. The sunglasses Emoji
472. The devil Emoji
473. The policeman Emoji
474. The heart-eye cat Emoji
475. The grandma Emoji
476. The pair of dancing ladies Emoji
477. The smiling poop Emoji
478. The guy who stole my iPhone 4
479. Nick Carter
480. Brian Littrell
481. Kevin Richardson
482. A.J. McLean
483. Howie Dorough
484. Justin Timberlake
485. Lance Bass
486. JC Chasez
487. Joey Fatone
488. Chris Kirkpatrick (gratuitous)
489. Gandalf the Grey
490. Frodo Baggins
491. Samwise Gamgee
492. Galadriel
493. Aragorn
494. Most hobbits
495. Tom Brady
496. Drew Bledsoe
497. Babe Parilli
498. The Fab Five (Michigan basketball edition)
499. The Fab Five (U.S. gymnastics edition)
500. Fab Five Freddy
501. Josh Lyman
502. C.J. Cregg
503. Donnatella Moss
504. Charlie Young
505. President Jeb Bartlet
506. Dr. Abby Bartlet
507. Zoey Bartlet
508. Toby Ziegler
509. Toby Ziegler’s dad
510. Leo McGarry
511. Them
512. Tinky Winky
513. Dipsy
514. Laa-Laa
515. Po
516. Noo-Noo
517. Sexy Tinky Winky
518. All of the women laughing alone with salad
519. All of the women struggling to drink water
520. Moe Howard
521. Curly Howard
522. Larry Fine
523. Roof guy
524. Spanky
525. Alfalfa
526. Darla
527. Stymie
528. Porky
529. Buckwheat
530. Butch
531. Woim
532. Waldo
533. Uh-huh
534. Mary-Kate Olsen
535. Ashley Olsen
536. Elizabeth Olsen
537. Uncle Jesse
538. Bob Saget
539. Bob Marley
540. Bob Dylan
541. Bob Hope
542. Bob Barker
543. Vanna White
544. Bob Ross
545. Bob Dole
546. Bob Costas
547. Bobby Orr
548. Bobby McFerrin
549. This
550. Keira Knightley
551. Keira Knightley’s lower lip
552. Sage Steele
553. Linda Cohn
554. Hannah Storm
555. Scott Van Pelt
556. This guy
557. Max Read
558. Them
559. Erykah Badu
560. Erika Christensen
561. Erica Mena
562. Eric Dane
563. The Prime Minister of Denmark
564. A cheese Danish
565. Nick Denton
566. Jonah Peretti
567. Chelsea Peretti
568. The Peretti dad, probably
569. Amy Poehler
570. Tina Fey
571. Rachel Dratch
572. Janeane Garofalo
573. Romy
574. Michele
575. Mary
576. Rhoda
577. Thelma
578. Louise
579. John Shankman
580. Doge
581. Kenan
582. Kel
583. Kelly Ripa
584. Kelly Clarkson
585. Gene Kelly
586. Cord Jefferson
587. That guy in corduroys from the Destiny’s Child song “Apple Pie a La Mode
588. Lou Bega
589. Angela
590. Pamela
591. Sandra
592. and Rita
593. Rita Ora
594. Rita Levi-Montalcini
595. Rita Hayworth
593. Rita Wilson
594. Tom Hanks
595. Chet Haze
596. Chester Cheetah
597. Mr. Peanut
598. The yellow M&M
599. The red M&M
600. The orange M&M
601. The turquoise M&M
602. The green M&M
603. The guy who went on a date with the green M&M in that commercial
604. Flo
605. Flo Rida
606. Florida Senator Marco Rubio
607. Ricky Rubio
608. Ricki Lake
609. My first crush
610. My sixth grade crush
611. My seventh grade crush
612. My eighth grade crush
613. My ninth grade crush
614. My tenth grade crush
615. My eleventh grade crush
616. My twelfth grade crush
617. My freshman year crush
618. My sophomore year crush
619. My junior year crush
620. My senior year crush
621. My current crush
622. Steve from Dream Phone
623. Wayne from Dream Phone
624. Susan from Guess Who?
625. Them
626. Tony Hawk
627. Tony Soprano
628. Carmela Soprano
629. Meadow Soprano
630. AJ Soprano Jr.
631. Livia Soprano
632. Corrado Soprano
633. Dr. Melfi
634. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman
635. Dr. Oz
636. Dr. Phil
637. Dr. Seuss
638. Dr. Dre
639. Dr. Kevorkian
640. Dr. Luke
641. Dr. Ruth
642. George Baker
643. Pierce Brosnan
644. Christopher Cazenove
645. Daniel Craig
646. Sean Connery
647. Timothy Dalton
648. Bob Holness
649. Michael Jayston
650. George Lazenby
651. Roger Moore
652. Barry Nelson
653. David Niven
654. Toby Stephens
655. The very idea of James Bond
656. Niall Horan
657. Zayn Malik
658. Liam Payne
659. Harry Styles
660. Louis Tomlinson
661. Lily Tomlin
662. Lily Allen
663. Johann Sebastian Bach
664. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sans wig
665. Frédéric François Chopin
666. Satan
667. Wesley
668. Buttercup
669. Prince Humperdinck
670. Inigo Montoya
671. Fezzik
672. Vizzini
673. The Albino
674. Vladimir Putin on a horse
675. Vladimir Putin in a race car
676. Vladimir Putin doing karate
677. Vladimir Putin snorkeling
678. Vladimir Putin on a yacht
679. Vladimir Putin arm-wrestling
680. Vladimir Putin attempting to bend a frying pan with his bare hands and failing
681. Vladimir Putin on a snowmobile
682. Vladimir Putin driving a helicopter
683. Vladimir Putin holding a puppy
684. Vladimir Putin on a motorcycle
685. Vladimir Putin on a horse, but also shirtless
686. Vladimir Putin, generally
687. The guy at the wine store who doesn’t judge me when I ask for the “affordable” Sauvignon Blanc
688. Most wine mascots
689. Most Moscato mascots
690. Most mascots
691. Andre Leon Talley
692. Grace Coddington
693. David Remnick
694. Ariel Levy
695. Ariel
696. Daryl Hannah
697. Hannah Montana
698. Billy Ray Cyrus
699. Billy Ray Cyrus’s mullet
700. Her
701. Harry Potter
702. Hermione Granger
703. Hedwig
704. Sirius Black
705. Albus Dumbledore
706. Minerva McGonagall
707. Lord Voldemort in Book 6
708. Lord Voldemort in Book 3
709. Lord Voldemort in Book 1
710. Lord Voldemort in Book 7
711. Lord Voldemort in Book 4
712. Lord Voldemort in Book 5
713. Lord Voldemort in Book 2
714. Nagini
715. J.K. Rowling
716. Robert Galbraith
717. Happy Group Of Young Friends Watching Television And Supporting Their Team
718. This guy shredding guitar in a kilt
719. The Loch Ness Monster (Look 1)
720. The Loch Ness Monster (Look 2)
721. The Loch Ness Monster (Look 3)
722. The Loch Ness Monster (Look 4)
723. This guy pretending to pose in front of the Loch Ness Monster
724. Alan Cumming
725. Alan Rickman
726. Alan Alda
727. Agnetha Fältskog
728. Björn Ulvaeus
729. Benny Andersson
730. Anni-Frid Lyngstad
731. Björk
732. Björk dressed as a swan
733. Natalie Portman dressed as the Swan Queen
734. Mila Kunis dressed as the Black Swan
735. Most swans residing in public parks
736. A park ranger in New Mexico named Dave Popelka
737. Dave, Founder of Wendy’s
738. Wendy
739. The Hamburglar
740. Most hamburgers
741. This guy
742. This lady
743. Kelis’s milkshake
744. Kelis
755. Rihanna tho
756. Melissa Forde
757. The Ford Fiesta
758. The Daft Punk guy in the silver helmet
759. The Daft Punk guy in the gold helmet
760. Pharrell at 20
761. Pharrell at 40
762. Chad Hugo
763. A lot of men named Chad, unfortunately
764. Like this guy
765. Ed White
766. Edward White
767. Malcolm Read
768. Malcolm Gladwell
769. Malcolm In The Middle
770. Malcolm McDowell
771. A dowel rod
772. Janet Malcolm
773. Sandy Alderson
774. Sandy Dvore
775. Sandy Hawkins
776. Sandy who was Little Orphan Annie’s Dog
777. The Rihanna plane
778. Thomas Rogers
779. Rogers and Hart
780. Thomas Gibson
781. Thomas Dekker
782. Brooklyn Decker
783. Thomas Jane
784. Captain Janeway
785. Thomas Paine
786. Thomas Monson
787. Charlotte Ronson
788. Michael Tilson Thomas
789. Thomas Hart Benton
790. Thomas Brodie-Sangster
791. Brody from “Homeland” (pre-heroin)
792. Brody Jenner
793. Bruce Jenner
794. Bruce Banner
795. The dude who wrote Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer
796. #685, but if he also had a buzzcut
797. Bonnie Raitt
798. Bonnie Hunt
799. Your Bonnie lying over the ocean
800. Any mental image of any grizzly sea captain
801. A grizzly bear
802. Gordon the Fisherman from the fishstick boxes
803. Any beard
804. Her
805. Bill Nye
806. Your standard-issue classroom test tube
807. Tia Mowry
808. Tamera Mowry
809. The Flying Nun
810. Theodore Rex
811. Littlefoot
812. Petrie
813. Ducky
814. Cera
815. Michael Cera
816. Michael Caine
817. An anthropomorphic candy cane
818. An anthropomorphic anything
819. The green gargoyle from Gargoyles
820. A cloud that makes you say, “That looks like a man!”
821. A flibbertigibbet
822. A will-o’- the-wisp
823. Ronan Farrow
824. Frank Sinatra
825. Nancy Sinatra
826. The tall one in The Blue Man Group
827. The mouse from Ratatouille
828. Any person saying “Ratatouille”
829. Jesus, most likely
830. John the Baptist, definitely
831. Your neighbor
832. Your neighbor’s best friend
833. Your neighbor’s best friend’s father
834. Your neighbor’s best friend’s father’s mother
835. Your neighbor’s best friend’s father’s mother’s first boss
836. Him
837. Rock Hudson
838. Montgomery Clift
839. Katharine Hepburn
840. Sidney Poitier
841. Jigsaw
842. Michael Myers
843. Mike Myers
844. Denzel Washington
845. Kerry Washington
846. George Washington
847. Martha Washington
848. Martha Stewart
849. A cake made by Martha Stewart
850. A turkey made by Martha Stewart
851. A man Martha Stewart refers to as “The Enemy”
852. Kristen Stewart
853. One of these
854. Your reflection
855. Mulan’s reflection
856. The word “Handsome”
857. Teddy Roosevelt
858. Anyone on a horse
859. Jake Gyllenhaal
860. Maggie Gyllenhaal
861. Peter Sarsgaard
862. Alexander Skarsgard
863. Pitbull
864. A pitbull
865. Sam, an ugly dog voted the world’s ugliest dog in 2003, 2004, and 2005
866. Toucan Sam
867. Snap!
868. Crackle!
869. Pop!
870. The Pringles man
871. The Chips Ahoy! exclamation mark
872. An order of eggs benedict
873. An order of eggs florentine
874. An order of eggs, any style
875. Tim Gunn
876. Anna Gunn
877. Anything/anyone that goes by “Anna Banana”
878. The Chiquita lady
879. Carmen Sandiego
880. The ghost from Ghostwriter
881. Patrick Swayze’s ghost in Ghost
882. Patrick Swayze
883. A common household ghost
884. Casper the friendly ghost
885. Gaspar, Casper’s forgotten, unfriendly brother
886. G.I. Jane
887. G.I. Joe
888. Joe Blow
889. Joe Biden
890. Joe Budden
891. A cute button
892. A nice doilie
893. A happy little bush
894. A Richard Hole who goes by the name Dick, and is accordingly known by his close acquaintances as “Dick Hole”
895. Him
896. Her
897. The person nearest to you right now who is not Benedict Cumberbatch
898. The person farthest from you right now who is not Benedict Cumberbatch
899. Adam Frucci
900. Adam
901. Eve
902. The snake
903. Simon Cowell
904. Ryan Seacrest
905. Julianne Hough
906. Arianna Huffington
907. Marissa Mayer
908. John Mayer
909. Mayor Quimby
910. Jeff Probst
911. Jeff Bezos
912. An Amazon delivery drone with a smiley face drawn onto it
913. This
914. Julian Assange
915. Sandor “The Hound” Clegane
916. This
917. Adam Levine

29 Dec 15:00

Two Monks Learn How To Draw Hands

by Mallory Ortberg


MONK #1: why would anyone hold hands
MONK #2: to protect the tiny witch hiding underneath them writing you a poem

Read more Two Monks Learn How To Draw Hands at The Toast.

29 Dec 19:00

Texts From A Tiny Glow-In-The-Dark Shark

by Mallory Ortberg
30 Dec 00:00

2016 Conversation Guide

The real loser in an argument about the meaning of the word 'hoverboard' is anyone who leaves that argument on foot.
25 Dec 00:00


My theory predicts that, at high enough energies, FRBs and perytons become indistinguishable because the detector burns out.
26 Dec 18:00

How to Fail for a Month, Year, or Decade and Be Okay

by Christina Fitzpatrick

I’ve been a published fiction writer for the past 12 years and haven’t published a new book in 10 of those, which is not to say I haven’t written more material, it’s just that everything I write is consistently, unanimously rejected. I don’t normally advertise this information, but it’s routinely extracted from me. In bars, at dinner parties, even minding my own business on airplanes or among close friends — everyone wants to give me advice. Maybe you should become a schoolteacher? A paralegal? How about a nurse? A nurse in a psych ward? 

Because advice-giving can be contagious — once you get some, you really want to give some — I find myself making mental lists for my fellow Failures. I mean, how do you survive this constant kick and punch? Would ‘Leave me the fuck alone!’ be a good response?” you ask.

Certainly. But who wants to be the ill-behaved, warlike Failure? Better to be the self-possessed, stately Failure, no?

In any case, here are some basic thoughts to get you through:


Yes, a few more days. Even if last year you thought your Failure term was over, for very strong reasons, and then strangely, inexplicably, you remained in office, you must try to con yourself into believing “only a few more days now.” That, of course, doesn’t mean you state this claim to other people, ever. This is for you and only you.

How exactly do you trick your mind into thinking this? By continuously working, certainly. But also by continuously seeking out opportunities, even harebrained long shots, that on a given day, with a given weather pattern, make you feel immensely alive and hopeful.

(Much like the sensation of falling in love, if the aforementioned feeling could be bottled and sold, a whole legion of addicts would emerge, one of whom would surely be that drone who questioned your sanity at the dinner party. She’d gouge her own eyes out just to get it, if she’d ever tasted it, which of course she has not.) 


I don’t mean enroll in a PhD program or a nursing school or an air conditioning repair course. My advice is mainly to focus on something that’s interesting or intimidating, something that seems worthwhile but doesn’t make you drift off course. Why? Because learning makes you feel confident, it shows you that nothing can be learned without a mistake, and you’ll never advance faster in a given subject than when you know nothing about it in the first place.

Your Failure status contains certain luxuries in this arena as well. The bar is low, if not invisible. If you’d already won an Oscar, you’d feel even more uncomfortable initiating that class at the Groundlings. It would be … beneath you?

Not so, when you’re already an underling. So explore.


Nobody likes this one. They think it’s mumbo jumbo. “How can I worry about strangers when I’m really worried about myself?”

Regardless, your sorry ass needs to know that a person living in the Third World would never watch your biopic and think, wow, the turmoil. They would think: Wow, look at this spoiled jackass drinking a martini, complaining to her friends, and then hailing a limousine (cab) to take her home to her personal warehouse where she’ll stay up all night perusing her hand-held computer for a new pair of jeans. And, goddamn it, where are her kids?

“Yeah, okay,” you say, “but how do I volunteer in the Third World when I live in L.A.?”

Personally I think these two places share much in common, but the main point is that you need to have some kind of experience with problems that are larger than getting a better commercial agent or a new lead singer. It’s certainly fun to wallow in how sad your life is compared to the crowd at Cipriani’s, but honestly their piece of the pie chart is a scatter of crumbs. It’s even arguable that volunteering might also give you some loftier fantasies for what you’re going to do, and who you want to help, when you finally succeed.  In a few more days.


This might be just for writers, entrepreneurs, and other desk-sitters, as those of you who are musicians, actors, and comedians go out into the world regularly and show your lovely legs.

I must admit that writing, in particular, is a pretty sad-sack art. Most of the work is done in a secluded room and most of it stays in a secluded room. I’ve even met people who seem to suspect that I don’t write at all — it’s just a fake thing I say I do, or a thing I used to do long ago. Part of me doesn’t blame them. I don’t have a painting I can show them, a photo I can email them, a commercial they can YouTube. And even if those people did see what I was up to and praised it, I’d be bored. Immediate gratification isn’t exactly about other people. It’s about proving it to yourself, that you’re in it to win it, and that you can win it. Showing your talent to the world, or some baby microcosm of it, matters. If that means teaching your talent, even if it offers the worst conditions, the most broken down classrooms, the moodiest of audiences, some of whom might be criminals or sociopaths, do it. You’ll feel amazing.


This includes friendships, too. Personally, I have something dirty and survivalist in me, so I’m pretty good with this. (Although I feel guilty for all eternity afterward, but that’s a side issue.) Self-loathing is a byproduct of regret, and Failure naturally contains a healthy dose of self-questioning. No matter how pliable your work hours are, no one who truly cares about you should interfere with them. And if they do, you will be the only one to pay for it.


What kind of shitty people? The ones that say, “So are you still writing? Acting? Competitive eating?” The ones who say it with an intonation of incredulity, the ones who treat anything you’ve ever achieved as something distant, small, or lackluster. The ones who mention someone else who’s doing everything you do better at a younger age with more money to show for it. This person is shitty — far, far shittier than the dude who stole your purse or ransacked your bank account or forgot to tell you he was cheating on you. You wouldn’t hang out with the purse thief or the identity thief or the heart thief, so why are you hanging out with the good-vibes thief?

Avoid him. Keep your prized feelings in a safe. Lock your windows and doors. If he still appears, through an air vent or forgotten crawl space, inform him that you are feeling murderous. And be compelling.


So I wouldn’t include this if I were talking to a youth group, but we’re adults, and a passing wave of bad behavior is frankly a Failure’s friend. No matter how stalwart your spirit, it’s unlikely that you’ll keep your shit together all the time. Something will trip you up and no amount of yoga, meditation, or specially spaced out breathing will help.

“Getting High” in this sense does not necessarily involve inhalants or a pipe. It means shopping for clothes you can’t afford on your credit card. (I said it was bad behavior.) It means going somewhere with someone you’re not so sure is a good idea. It means getting drunk, losing your shoe, shattering your phone, or waking up with a younger man, an older man, a girl, or in a pool of glitter. And some of you may tragically believe that no one wants to sleep with a Failure, but I’m here to tell you that the Good-Vibes Thief would sleep with you in a heartbeat. So would the airplane passenger with oodles of advice and the naysayer at the dinner party. Failures are passionate and zesty. Failures have things to talk about. Failures aren’t so self-satisfied that they don’t try in bed, or elsewhere. They also look younger and more fresh-eyed than their counterparts because success restricts sleep.

Success actually restricts everything. You’ll have less time, less solitude, less exercise. Phones will ring, people will pester. So why not delight in the fleeting pleasure of Failure? After all, you only have a few more days.


Christina Fitzpatrick is the author of the novel ‘What’s the Girl Worth?‘ and the short story collection ‘Where We Lived.’ She is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and is currently at work on a novel. 

27 Dec 16:30

Approved Catcalls

by Emily Henry





























Emily Henry is a young, adult writer who is a young-adult writer, and she’s wearing the same thing as last time you saw her. Her debut novel, THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD, will be available in 2016 from Razorbill/Penguin. She also tweets.

Illustrations by Hallie Bateman.

01 Dec 19:00

Pictures My Dogsitter Has Sent Me

by Mallory Ortberg

You must look at these, Andrew

Without commentary, because what could I add? (She is perfect and I will pay her any amount of money she asks for until the day I die.)

Read more Pictures My Dogsitter Has Sent Me at The Toast.

22 Dec 20:30

“Boy, Are You..”

by caseyjohnston

Boy, are you WiFi? Because if I have to pay for your ass I’m out.

Boy, are you Bluetooth? Because you forget about me if I’m more than 20 feet away.

Boy, are you USB? Because I always have to try three times before it goes in.

Boy, are you dial-up? Because you’re too slow to call.

Boy, are you a targeted ad? Because it’s really fucking creepy how you show up everywhere I go.

Boy, are you Windows? Because of course you want me back, but I’ve been hurt.

Boy, are you a listicle? Because you make a really big deal about stating the obvious.

Boy, are you AIM? Because you peaked in high school.

Boy, are you Hotmail? Because the only people who fuck with you don’t know any better.

Boy, are you Yahoo search results? Because you have no idea what I need.

Boy, are you MyIdol? Because everyone loves you but I personally don’t get it.

Boy, are you the Internet? Because you pretend the reason for your existence isn’t porn.

Boy, are you a Keynote presentation? Because I love you but I can’t take you anywhere.

Boy, are you a .iso? Because I have to mount you before you’ll do anything for me.

Boy, are you Comic Sans? Because you’re too hard to read.

Boy, are you Sega? Because you no longer have consoles but you’re still all about games.

Boy, are you Nintendo? Because you’re treating me like I’m eight years old.

Boy, are you a 3.5-inch floppy? Because you’re 3.5 inches and floppy.

Casey Johnston is an editor for The Wirecutter and gets paid in exposure to freelance for Twitter dot com