5 Alternative World Cup Tournaments

The melodic tones of the vuvuzelas have faded, marking the end of yet another exciting World Cup tournament. With Nielsen ratings up compared to the 2006 games and everyone's Twitter feed inundated with little soccer balls, perhaps America is finally catching football fever. But now that the games are over, what do we do with our enthusiasm for international competition? Here are a few alternative World Cups you might want to follow until "The Beautiful Game" rolls around again in four years.

1. The UFO World Cup

The UFO World Cup is one of the premiere competitions for "disc dog," the sport where talented canines snatch Frisbees out of thin air. Founded in 2000, the organization has taken a novel approach to disc dog competitions by using a points system similar to the one used in NASCAR racing. Dogs earn Cup points based upon how well they do in local competitions, which consist of three categories: the Freestyle, a crowd-pleasing favorite where the dogs and their human handlers go through a choreographed routine of disc-catching tricks; the Throw & Catch, which gives the dogs 60 seconds to catch as many discs as they can, scoring points for the distance they travel to make the catch; and the Longshot, where the catches get incrementally farther away.

The dogs with the highest number of World Cup points from their local contests earn a place in one of the nine regional championships held in places like Los Angeles; Houston; Assen, Netherlands; and Karlsruhe, Germany. Then, in September 2010, Cup points leaders from around the globe will convene in San Diego for the World Cup Finals to determine who truly is the head of the pack. With five of the regional contests completed for this year, the UFO leaders include American dogs Maggie, Bayer, Sketch, Bella, and a German dog, Remus. But there are still plenty of local and regional tournaments yet to be played, so it's really any dog's game at this point.

2. The Underwater Rugby World Cup

Sure, you could follow the regular old Rugby World Cup, but how long can those guys hold their breath underwater?

Underwater rugby was developed in 1961 in Germany as a warm-up exercise for diving clubs. The game, which actually resembles basketball more than rugby, pits two teams of six players and five substitutes against one another in a swimming pool about 15' deep. The two sides attempt to score by putting a water polo ball filled with saltwater into a metal basket on the other team's side of the pool. To score, players can swim with or pass the ball in any direction while the other team does their best to regain control of the ball by wrestling it away or intercepting a pass. But players can only participate as long as they can hold their breath, since they only use a snorkel, mask, and swim fins. While the sport is especially popular in Europe, there are a handful of U.S. clubs, as well as some in Venezuela, Colombia, and Australia.

The men's Underwater Rugby World Championship tournament has been held every four years since 1980, with the women's tournament added in 1991. In both competitions, the Europeans dominate, but Colombia has become a strong competitor in recent years. Because the game isn't as popular here, America has struggled to become a serious force. The last time they appeared in the tournament was 2003, when a team of players was assembled from clubs across the country. For those games, the men came in tenth place, while the women fared better, finishing sixth. The next Underwater Rugby World Championship is set to play in 2011.

3. The World Cup Roller Fly

A Birmingham Roller is a breed of pigeon that has an unusual ability—it does backwards somersaults while in flight, giving the illusion that the bird is falling out of the sky. Breeders look for birds who can complete lengthy, tight rolls, and integrate them into a flock, also known as a "kit," of 15 to 20 birds. A well-trained kit will perform this somersault maneuver as a group, sticking close together and rejoining formation simultaneously. When they find a kit that works well, breeders pit them against one another in a competition called a "fly," earning style points awarded by expert judges.

The World Cup Roller Fly was started in 1999 and has been held every year since, featuring the top kits from 40 countries such as Holland, Croatia, South Africa, Australia, and the United States. After regional competitions weed out the less gymnastic birds, a single "fly-off" judge, usually last year's winner, will visit every country to determine the World Cup champion. This year, the winner of the Cup was Eric Laidler of Denmark, whose birds did a solid number of high-quality rolls to soundly take the title with a score of 873 points. But that's still short of the top score in the World Cup Roller Fly, when Holland's Heine Bijker scored an amazing 2,284.80 in the 2007 competition.

4. The Mental Calculation World Cup

If you're looking for a competition that's a bit more cerebral, there's always the Mental Calculation World Cup, held every other year in Germany since 2004. Here, some of the smartest kids from 13 countries compete in mental feats of agility, such as adding ten 10-digit numbers together, calculating as many dates as possible from the years 1600 "“ 2100 in one minute, multiplying sets of two 8-digit numbers, finding the square roots of 6-digit numbers, and six "surprise tasks" of equal mathematical difficulty.

The competition is open to anyone regardless of age, which is good because the 2010 champion, India's Priyanshi Somani, was born in 1998. She scored in the top 10 in every category except for the surprise tasks, besting her closest competitor, 16-year-old Marc Jornet Sanz of Spain, by just 4.3. points. Somani had only been training for the competition for a month, though she practiced five hours a day to get ready. If you think you have what it takes to be a world champion "“ or just want to be marveled at the site of so many numbers—check out the competition's website for sample exercises from previous tournaments.

5. The Homeless World Cup

If these other World Cups aren't striking your fancy, maybe you should try soccer again. This time it's not just for the glory and the honor, but for a good cause, too. Since 2003, the Homeless World Cup has become an annual, week-long soccer tournament with teams from 64 countries made up of people who are currently living on the street. These men and women are given the opportunity to travel to places like Milan, Melbourne, and Edinburgh to play for one of six tournament cups, including the coveted Homeless World Cup.

The matches are governed by street soccer rules, meaning they only last for 15 minutes and the penalties and free kick rules are a little different to help speed up play. Because the skill levels vary greatly—remember, these aren't pros by any means—the matches are generally high-scoring and very exciting. For example, in the 2006 Cape Town, South Africa, tournament, 300 matches were played with over 1800 goals scored, for an average of six goals per match. Compare that to the 1-0 final in the FIFA World Cup this year.

While it's great for a team to come home with the Cup raised high, the really important thing is that the experience makes a difference in peoples' lives. Research conducted after the tournaments consistently shows that players have made significant changes after the games, with most of them going on to find jobs, find a home, or get into rehab for drug or alcohol dependency. But the program doesn't just support the tournament, it also helps fund smaller soccer teams year-round in 70 countries, benefiting over 40,000 homeless players, and giving them a new lease on life.

The next Homeless World Cup is set to kick-off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 19.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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