What better way to say: ‘I love you’, than to actually say: ‘Hold tight honey, as I run through this pit of mud with you clinging upside-down on my back…’? Well, trust those ever-romantic Finns to take a break from being amazing rally drivers and eating reindeer and host the annual ‘wife-carrying’ race in Sonkajarvi. The rules are simple. A man must complete the obstacle course in the fastest time possible, while his wife (or his neighbour’s) clings on to his shoulders, usually upside-down (aka the ‘Estonian carry’). The wife must be at least 49kg, otherwise she must then carry a weight-filled sack. The overall champions are the couple who cross the line in the fastest time, and are awarded with what is possibly the greatest prize any sport can offer – the wife’s weight in beer. Bottom’s up!
The International Federation of Competitive Eating (headquarters: New York City, USA), hands out the coveted mustard-yellow belt to whoever can take the concept of gluttony to stomach-punishing new heights. Food-scoffing competitions, held around the world (mostly the US and Japan), pit several competitors (eaters) against a pile of food – usually hamburgers, pies, hot dogs or pizza, a time limit and each other. Basically: eat more food, faster. As a ‘sport,’ there are obviously rules and tactics that govern the state of play. Some eaters adopt the ‘chipmunk’ technique, stuffing as much food into the mouth first and then working it down, second. Others will ‘dunk’ (dip foodstuff into liquid) before eating, but only when ‘picnic-style’ rules are in play. Vomiting, or ‘reversal’, is strictly forbidden and excessive table debris will see points deducted. When the final buzzer sounds, whoever has forced the most food down their gullet is the winner. Simple. And, if you’re wondering, Timothy Janus ate 6.3kg of chilli spaghetti in 10 minutes. That deserves a spot in the Pantheon.
Bo-Taoshi (aka Japanese pole pull-down)
This could perhaps be the greatest sport ever. Bo-Taoshi is an obscure Japanese practice that is part-military exercise, part-sport and a whole lot of crazy. Two teams of 75 (seventy-five!) compete, one attacking, one defending. The defending team are to protect a large pole and keep it upright, while the attacking team attempt to being the pole down, to at least a 30-degree angle. The ensuing spectacle is chaotic, loud and immensely entertaining. Dozens of attackers fling themselves at the defensive throng, showing utter disregard for their personal safety, while defenders scramble about punching, kicking, shoving and tearing clothes in an effort to repel the kamikaze attacks from the other team. Once it’s all said and done, those still alive all then turn and raise their hands and seemingly praise the pole. It’s just a few digitally-enhanced abs away from being an epic ancient battle film.
Cardboard Tube Fighting
Who hasn’t taken the long cardboard roll left from a poster and felt the insatiable urge to hit somebody with it? Well, thankfully a Seattle man by the name of Robert Easley founded the Cardboard Tube Fighting League, which governs and hosts formalised battles where participants live and die by the rolled-up cardboard sword. The basic objective is to break your opponent’s tube before they break yours, and competition takes place in two forms: duelling tournaments, where combatants square-off in a mano-e-mano swordplay contest; and full-scale battles, which are essentially orgies of wild, flailing cardboard violence. Those who prove themselves most valiant on the battlefield are rewarded with the prized ‘Legendary Cardboard Tubes’, namely: Thor’s Hammer, d’Artagnan’s Sabre, Heaven’s Will, and the mighty Suffusca Mors. Toilet-roll daggers are forbidden in contest.
Synchronised swimming is another one of those sports better categorised as ‘performance art.’ Or better yet, ‘performance art with creepy smiles.’ A team of a dozen or so, clad in sparkly onesies and nose plugs, perform a choreographed aquatic dance routine and score points based on style, timing and synchronisation. That’s what it says on the packet. In reality, it’s a splashy mess of flailing legs and incredibly unnerving grinning faces emerging from the depths.
Long distance running is lung-bustlingly torturous enough, so there must be a special spot reserved in Hell for the evil mastermind who thought of adding some hurdles and a giant puddle to the equation – for no other reason than to try and befall the exhausted. Actually, steeplechase races originated from British county races, where runners ran from one village’s steeple (church) to the next, contending with the various streams and small stone fences in-between. Why it was converted into an official athletics discipline is a mystery, however. There was even some thought put into the design of the water-pit, which is sloped like a ramp to reward those who can jump further and therefore not get slowed down by deeper water. The water pit also provides extra motivation for those competitors wearing suede shoes.
What happens when a Belgian man drinks too much sangria on holiday in Spain? He formulates a game that involves trampolines, jumping castles, volleyball and Brazilian dance-based martial arts, and calls it Bossaball, derr. This rather flamboyant sport is best described as beach volleyball played on a giant inflatable bed… with a couple of trampolines in the middle. The rules are almost identical to volleyball; two teams of up to five players bat the ball about over a net and try to get the ball to land in their opponent’s side of the court. The main difference is the presence of a trampoline on either side that gives rise (hehe) to ridiculous, gravity-disregarding spikes and smashes of the ball. Players can touch the ball with any part of their body, and judging by photos found online, the more time spent upside-down, the better.
Originating from Switzerland, Hornussen is said to be a little like golf, a little like tee-ball and a little like a poorly-organised protest demonstration. The sport, created by bored Swiss farmers in the 17th century, is played between two teams of up to 18 players over a large field. A player from one team will belt a little, rubber puck off a ramp using a scarily flexible, fishing rod-esque stick with a small mallet attached at the end. The puck – called the ‘hornuss’ (after the hornet-like sound it makes as it whips through the air) is then launched at speeds of up to 300 kph down the field where the other team await, scattered over the field donning helmets and square placards on sticks. In order to stop the hornuss-launcher from scoring points, they are to knock the projectile from the air, theoretically with the placards, but often with their faces, chests, backs, necks or other tender fleshy parts of the body. The tiny hornuss is hard to spot as it tears through the air, meaning many of the paddle-wavers simply throw their placard up and flee in terror.
The year 2000 was an extremely rare occasion – the beginning of a new millennium. When two thousand recorded years of this era officially commenced, it was a momentous occasion that only a very lucky few generations in human history will experience. For many it was embraced as the beginning of a bright, prosperous future (at least for those who weren’t predicting the end of the world). Ten years on, not everyone has had a great time though. For some, the past decade was a deadset shocker. Here are eight of the biggest losers so far this millennium…
Since being discovered in 1930s, Pluto has always been the awkward, slightly-off distant cousin of the solar system family. Distant is the operative word there; the icy orb hovers nearly 6,000 million km from the sun. Not only is Pluto far away, it’s made of just ice and rock, has a wonky orbit and is so tiny one of its own moons (Charon) is almost as large as it. These characteristics eventually caused astronomers to ponder if Pluto really had the credentials to justify its membership within the exclusive club of planets. In 2006 the International Astronomical Union reclassified the definition of ‘planet’ and Pluto was the only one of the existing nine planets not to make the cut as per the new definition. It was the scientific equivalent of Idol; asking Pluto to take a step forward, then declaring that everyone in the front row was going home. It was cruel and heartbreaking. Still, Pluto keeps on spinning out there, now a ‘minor planet’, but not doubt remembering fondly those fleeting few decades when it was the quirky member of the planetary ensemble.
In 1979, The Buggles topped charts with their bubblegum hit, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. They were referring to the rise of the music video – the MTV age – where music no longerhad to be heard, but seen to be enjoyed. Well, The Buggles prophesised the rise of the video, but nobody made much mention of its fall. Throughout the 80s and 90s, home entertainment was rolled up between two wheels and encased in a big, black plastic box. It was the video cassette and it dictated television screens for more than two decades until the new millennium introduced video to Cassius and Brutus – DVD and the Internet. DVDs were far superior to videos for their better picture, non-serial format, capacity, size and longevity. They also had the added bonus of not vomiting metres of black tape when you rewound or fast-forwarded too quickly. Then the Internet delivered the fatal dagger strikes, with TV-streaming and the download market robbing the video of its final salvation – the ability to record – from under its boxy feet. Today, HD-recorders, TiVo, Blu-Ray and all manner of new technologies are making video look as outdated as bowl-cuts and tunics.
It would probably be fairer to just call Planet Earth itself the loser here on account of climate change, but as the furry face of global warming, it’s the polar bear that has tugged the heartstrings the hardest. As the Arctic slowly melts its way into the oceans, the polar bear has become the unofficial spokesanimal against climate change. Footage of the cute, furry beasts stranded on shrinking ice-sheets or swimming around in lieu of frozen ground has been used extensively to point out the planet’s plight. Some say polar bear population has decreased between 15-17 per cent in the past ten years, and now there are only around 20-25,000 left. The worst part is pleading the case for polar bears are radical left-wing pinkos, which isn’t helping their status in the world of dominant predators. Sharks and crocodiles have rugged adventurers as their ambassadors, polar bears have long-haired tofu-eaters in three-quarter pants.
Conservative politics was all the rage in the greedy capitalism-soaked 80s, and despite a little hiccup by the name of Clinton, the conservative way kept strong well into the new millennium. But, before long, the lustre was lost, mainly thanks to the three B’s – Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. United States President George W. Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair became the world’s most hated couple for their failing exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Italy’s leader, Silvio Berlusconi gained notoriety for corruption, promiscuity and general comedic beef-headedness. Bush left a legacy of Youtube videos documenting his epic struggle with basic speech. Blair lost all political credibility and became known as the man who all-too-eagerly jumped into bed with Bush. Berlusconi, meanwhile was clobbered in the face with a statue of a cathedral. And who was left to pick up the conservative baton? Sarah Palin… Enter world leaders from stage left.
For decades, aviation was the fastest way to travel, by virtue of the fact that planes can whisk passengers through the clouds, free of traffic at speeds of over 900 kph. But ever since 9/11, air travel has become one of the lengthiest, most stressful ways to get from one place to another. From 2001, security (particularly in America) precautions were taken to desperately paranoid extremes. Checks, double-checks and triple-checks are the norm for anyone attempting to check-in. The random in ‘random personal searches’ now refers to those few aren’t frisked, stripped and interrogated at the security gate. And so help you if you leave a bag unattended for a mere minute; when you return you’ll find it split open by a remote-control robot driven by a group of unseen men in Hazmat suits. Yes, heightened security has foiled the (very) occasional dribbling loony from getting on board, but for the majority of us travellers, the airport has lost its sense of freedom and adventure and has become a place teeming with suspicion and frustrating queues.
During the 90s Bill Gates accrued enough money to have purchased the earth, called it Windows Earth, sold it to everyone and stuffed another trillion dollars under his mattress. Microsoft had the monopoly on personal computing – DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98… These operating systems were simply what everyone used… unless you were a nerd and used a Macintosh. However, a change in tide came in 1998, when Apple released the iMac – a colourful, aesthetically pleasing computer. By prefixing a lower-case vowel before its products, Apple began its rise as the trendy choice of technology. Microsoft did themselves no favours either, Vista became notorious as the worst OS on the market. As Steve Jobs cultivated a fanatical fanbase of Apple diehards with his trendy black-skivvies, Bill Gates’s self-cut hairstyle looked more and more ridiculous. Windows still has a massive 90 per cent market share in Operating Systems, but its brand image has been made to look downright lame next to Apple and Google.
The English Language
WTF? Language is an evolutionary phenomena. It changes just as societies do, modernising and self-regulating as each new generation defines itself in time. By the new millennium, most significant changes to the English language since the Industrial Age was the removal of erroneous ‘e’s on the end of words, ‘tally-ho’ lost favour, and ‘pants’ was no longer a swear word. In the last decade, though, English has taken an absolute battering at the hands (literally) of the Internet generation. Instant messaging and laziness combined to bring a swarm of new acronyms into the lexicon. Words started losing letters in the quest to pump out that text message just a bit quicker. LOL begat ROFL, RFOL begat LFMAO and LFMAO begat a generation of language-deficient teens. The Oxford English Dictionary, the definitive authority on language, actually added some of these new terms, including LOL. The rapid pace of the Internet (and the increasingly alarming trend in purposely butchering words and grammar on pictures of cats) means the English Language is entering a new stage of evolution. Ridiculousness. I Can Haz Mah Langwaj BaK PLZ? Lol, JK, itz 2 L8 Newayz, Bai Bai sence!!!1!
Mobile Phone Buttons
If there is one technology that has stayed true to the theory of exponential development – it’s the mobile phone. What started in the 80s as a car accessory the size of a mini-fridge, the mobile, led by those Nordic telecom pioneers Ericcsson and Nokia, became smaller, lighter and smarter. Soon, they were performing other tasks, such as a stopwatch and snake. As we ventured further into the new millennium, new companies began releasing new phones with new features – ones that flip, ones with sliders, ones with colour screens, cameras, radios, even limited web browsing. Then came Apple and touch-screens. The iPhone set the new trend for mobile phone technology – and at its expense was the all-purpose keypad. Any phone with buttons now looks as antiquated as a Walkman CD player. It’s not even cool enough to be used by hipsters in an ironically-cool statement. This is the age of the poke, pinch and swipe.