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Archive for February, 2009

bulwer-lytton
The Bulwer-Lytton Award is truly a tournament after this blog’s heart. It’s an annual competition held by the English department of San Jose State University, and instructs contestants to come up with the most absolutely horrible opening line to a story that their minds can conceive of. No “Call me Ishmael”, no “It was a cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Any semblance of talent or virtue is immediately discarded into the circular filing bin, though it should be noted that it takes a special kind of talent to intentionally butcher the written language as required.

The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Readers may remember this as Snoopy’s favorite introductory sentence during his writing pursuits. It comes from the novel Paul Clifford, and is widely considered to be a prime example of literary cliché. The contestant who manages to exceed it over all others receives $250, and the proud knowledge that he or she has constructed a written passage so atrocious that it has been proven to cause blindness in lab mice.

Some past winners (or losers, depending on your point of view) of the Bulwer-Lytton Award include:

The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails–not for the first time since the journey began–pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
– Gail Cain, San Francisco, California (1983 Winner)

Dolores breezed along the surface of her life like a flat stone forever skipping across smooth water, rippling reality sporadically but oblivious to it consistently, until she finally lost momentum, sank, and due to an overdose of fluoride as a child which caused her to lie forever on the floor of her life as useless as an appendix and as lonely as a five-hundred-pound barbell in a steroid-free fitness center.
-Linda Vernon, Newark, California (1990 Winner)

The moment he laid eyes on the lifeless body of the nude socialite sprawled across the bathroom floor, Detective Leary knew she had committed suicide by grasping the cap on the tamper-proof bottle, pushing down and twisting while she kept her thumb firmly pressed against the spot the arrow pointed to, until she hit the exact spot where the tab clicks into place, allowing her to remove the cap and swallow the entire contents of the bottle, thus ending her life.
– Artie Kalemeris, Fairfax, Virginia (1997 Winner)

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white… Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn’t taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
– Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
– Dan McKay, Fargo, ND (2005 Winner)

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divx
Digital Video Express was a calculated attempt by Circuit City (now deceased) to replace conventional DVD players in most people’s home. The basic idea was this: a person would purchase a copy of the movie ‘Kazaam’ for, let’s say, four dollars. Once the movie was placed inside the player, they could watch it for 48 hours, after of which it would threaten to self-destruct unless they paid a continuation fee. This would grant them another 48 hours. The whole concept of “ownership” and “buying a movie so you don’t have to go out and get it again and again and again” were thrown completely out the window.

Circuit City tried to tout this as a good thing, because there would be no returns or late fees, but they overlooked the fact that this wasn’t intended to replace rentals, but purchases. Suffice it to say, the general public wasn’t buying, and the product was discontinued a mere six months after release. Short-sighted customers were given a $100 refund on their systems, and the hordes of unsold discs were consigned to a land fill. The concept was bad from the start, but that didn’t stop corporate executives from spending $114 million on the unfortunate experiment.

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BAD MOJO – Tecumseh’s Curse

tecumseh1
For one hundred and forty-one years, American presidents who were elected in years ending in a zero died while they were in office, without exception. Statistically speaking, this is something of an anomaly. If the nation’s leaders were to die just as frequently when elected in other years, it could probably be shrugged away, but the only example of this happening is Zachary Taylor, who died of acute gastroenteritis. Everyone else lived through their term (or terms), though some undoubtedly felt like they had been shot in the back a few times.

This bad mojo can supposedly be traced back to Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnee people. When he was defeated in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, he reportedly made the following curse: “Harrison will die, I tell you, and after him, every Great Chief chosen every 20 years thereafter will die. And when each one dies, let everyone remember the death of my people.” The American soldiers just laughed at his primitive superstition, but the mysterious supernatural powers set in motion by the fabled leader would play out over the next century and a half as follows:

1840 – William Henry Harrison – Died of Pneumonia
1860 – Abraham Lincoln – Assassinated by John Wilkes Booth
1880 – James Garfield – Assassinated by Charles Guiteau
1900 – William McKinley – Shot by Leon Czolgosz
1920 – Warring G. Harding – Died from a Heart Attack
1940 – Franklin Roosevelt – Died of Cerebral Hemorrhage
1960 – John F. Kennedy – Assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, CIA, Mobsters, Rosicrucians, The Illuminati, and Joe DiMaggio

The fated deaths would last until 1981, and the election of Ronald Reagan. The Republican president would experience an assassination attempt at the hands of John Hinkley, Jr. (who thought it was a really great way to impress Jodie Foster), but managed to successfully survive the attack, thus bringing an end to one of the longest curses in American history.

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parachute-pants
Baggy clothes are a fairly consistent fashion trend, but parachute pants took the fad to a whole new extreme. Popularized by M.C. Hammer in his famous video, “Can’t Touch This”, their loose-fitting design allowed the rapper to twirl about constantly without danger of friction. They were kind of like the pants worn by Barbara Eden on ‘I Dream of Jeannie’, if you were to make them even more garish and expand the sides by about fifteen inches. Parachute pants also weren’t just a clever name – if you were to accidentally tumble out of a plane at 30,000 feet, they would automatically inflate and float you safely down to the ground.

If the pants had remained on MTV, then maybe everything would have been all right. They would have faded from people’s memory, and this dark chapter in our nation’s history could have eventually been put behind us. Fashion outlets began offering the puffy leggings for sale, though, giving schoolchildren everywhere the chance to dress like a man who would blow through $20 million in less than a decade. It didn’t matter that you needed to be an 800 pound Leviathan to actually fill out the pants, they were the latest thing, and as time has repeatedly shown, that’s all that’s required for a style to succeed.

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crusades
The Old World looked quite a bit different in eleventh century than it does nowawdays. For one thing, there was the Byzantine Empire, a Christian nation which had lost a great deal of territory (including North Africa, Palestine, and Spain) to the Imayyid Caliphate. There were also a lot of Medieval peasants sitting around on their hands with nothing much to do. Pope Urban II was troubled by this fact, and so decided that something had to change. His solution? To launch a crusade against the Muslim world, and retake the stolen holy land of Jersualem.

It didn’t take long for the armies to be filled with young, idealistic soldiers, though this was mostly because the only other choice in those days was to be apprenticed to Cedric the Barrel Maker. They were soon divided into two camps: the People’s Crusade, which was made up of ordinary townfolk, and the Turks, who actually knew what they were doing. Neither side liked the other very much, but they still marched to Asia Minor together, where they discovered that it was quite a bit hotter there and that air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet.

The Crusaders were immediately met by harsh resistance from the Seljuk defenders. The vast majority of the People’s Crusade was massacred, though the main army remained intact. They started anew and attacked various cities, but consistently fell to the Muslim soldiers. Perhaps it was the unfamiliar territory, perhaps it was the difficulty with fighting an entrenched population, but for every man they managed to kill, they lost at least two in their place. Still, they were finally able recapture the city of Jerusalem, though they lost it again a short time later.

Since people are doomed to never learn from history, a second crusade followed in 1147, and then a third crusade in 1189, and a fourth in 1200, all the way to a ninth crusade in 1271. Each of these holy wars was the result of a powerful rally call from a charismatic leader and bloody desire to lop off some heads. Families would be torn apart, soldiers suffered from horrific injuries, though the trebechet industry did pretty good with the whole thing.

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wheres-herb
Burger King once had a brilliant idea for an ad campaign – “Where’s Herb?” TV commercials ran for weeks touting the catch phrase, telling viewers that if they managed to spot Herb, they would win a cool $5000. There was just one problem: they didn’t tell anyone what Herb looked like. For weeks, fast food aficionados had to harass each other in restaurants, asking “Are you Herb? No? Are you Herb? How about you?” It was eventually revealed during the Superbowl that Herb was a complete dork in tight clothes who had never tried a Whopper before.

By that point, most of the interest had departed. People didn’t care about Herb anymore, or his obnoxious suit, or the fact that it was kind of creepy for a middle-aged white guy to be hanging out in Burger King all the time but not actually buying the food. Pretty much everyone was also sick of the billboards and commercials, which just wouldn’t let up. The ad campaign cost the corporation $40 million in the end, and probably drove off more customers than it managed to bring in. Herb’s career was not completely over, though; he would go on to become a guest timekeeper for Wrestlemania 2.

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flowbee
Consider the following terrifying scenario: You’ve got a big meeting with the Boss, but a quick glance in the bathroom mirror reveals that your hair is just a little too long. You don’t have enough time to stop by the local Supercuts, and your future at the company is at stake. What do you do?

The answer is quite simple. Use Flowbee, the portable hair-trimming device!

You might be a little nervous at first. That’s natural. The Flowbee does look like a glorified ice scraper, and you have to attach it to a shop vac in order to obtain proper suction, but once that’s achieved, you simply stick the amazing contraption to the side of your head and let the tiny blades cut away. Should all go well, you’ll soon have a precision haircut and brand new position as junior partner. If your hand accidentally lingers a little too long with the personalized grooming, however, well… that’s what hats were designed for.

The Flowbee has gained a surprising degree of national attention. It can be seen in the movie “Wayne’s World”, where an obvious knock-off is used on the cable show to suck out Dana Carvey’s will to live (this would not ultimately occur until ten years later with the release of “The Master of Disguise”.) It has additionally been featured on Home Improvement, Party of Five, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Surely, it is just a matter of days before hair salons everywhere are run out of business by this truly extraordinary apparatus.

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