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14 Classic Distractions for the Internet Newcomer

Every once in a while, I run across an old article, video, or link of some kind and think, "Oh yeah, that was awesome! Too bad it's so old," because my job is to post the newest and hottest links every day. If I post something more than a couple of months old, I'll get complaints. However, it's not really old to someone who hasn't seen it. After all, there are young folks who only use the internet for Facebook and Wikipedia, and more older folks are going online for the first time every day. I put some of those links together as a list of old hits that everyone should see sometime, that could be used as a way to introduce new users to the wonders of the internet, at least the fairly tame yet funny parts. Here are a few suggestions for freshman surfers.

1. Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers

As many times as I've seen (and used) Mark Longmire's Romance Novel Covers, they never fail to make me laugh. He's got some other old but wonderful features at his site.

2. Nose

Pick your nose online? Well, just tweeze the hair, OK? This was so nonsensical that everyone loved it. Some folks say there is something satisfying about plucking nose hairs, and artist Jogchem Niemandsverdriet gives you a way to do that without the anticipated pain. Oh yeah, he has a lot of other weird stuff online for you.

3. Red Square

Games are getting more sophisticated by the day, but if you've got an idea that is simple to comprehend but hard to master, you've got a classic. The Red Square game will drive you crazy no matter how many times you try it. All you need to do is survive. Hold the red square and avoid being hit by the blue squares. I usually last about ten seconds, but I have to go back and try again a few times.

4. Viking Kittens

Joel Veitch created the flash animation Viking Kittens in 2002 which became such a bandwidth hog that it is no longer hosted at his Rathergoood site. There are several other sites that host it, but they have appeared and disappeared over the years. If the linked site stops hosting, you can search for another. Or see it on YouTube. Jonti Picking's Badgers is another flash sequence everyone should be familiar with.

5. The Worm Within

Do you have a strong stomach? There are no photographs in the story The Worm Within, (just some cute illustrations) but it is a long, gross read about a tapeworm Vincent Eaton encountered in Belgium. Click to advance to the next page. It is followed by 27 pages of submitted personal parasite stories.

6. Amateur

Young Norwegian filmmaker Lasse Gjertsen charmed us all with his video Amateur in 2006. He is not a musician (or was not at the time); this was all done by video editing. Gjertsen became the internet's golden boy for a while. All his videos are worth checking out.

7. Zoomquilt

Warning: this link may make you lose track of time. The Zoomquilt is a beautiful example of infinite zoom, constructed in 2004 as a collaborative art project. Since then, The Zoomquilt 2 has been added. After you click start, use your mouse and mouse button to zoom in at your own speed. Or out.

8. Backstroke of the West

Although it has just a little NSFW text, Backstroke of the West became a classic because 1. it was real, and 2. it was ridiculous. And still is, seven years later. It's a simple look at how bootleg videos get mis-translated more than once, resulting in nonsense subtitles. Therefore, Revenge of the Sith somehow became Backstroke of the West. This subtitled bootleg movie was the source of the Do Not Want meme.

9. The Singing Horses

The Singing Horses are both cute and fun. Click each horse to make it sing or stop. The French site Incredibox works along the same lines with human singers, but is more involved and sometime a bit more difficult to figure out. But you can do it!

10. The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook

October 4

Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. Tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.

The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook was originally published in a Portland alternative newspaper in 1987, but survives for everyone everywhere to read on the internet. It never would have reached such a wide audience otherwise.

11. Instants

Need some sound effects for your life? Instants is a soundboard that has everything you could possibly use to punctuate your conversations. I drove my kids crazy with this for a couple of days and then forgot it. Since then, the sheer size of the collection makes it slower to load and more difficult to use than it was a couple of years ago. But now they have subgroupings, and the effects I used most are in the "Real Life!" category, which I would recommend to anyone. Warning: if you don't recognize the label, the sound effect may turn out to be NSFW.

12. Daft Hands

Daft Hands is a 2007 performance piece by Austin Hall to the song "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" by Daft Punk. The original video now has 53 million views, but comments indicate that people still see it for the first time every day. This video inspired other versions and parodies, particularly on the comedy theme of "Daft Bodies." The original hands video was done in one take with no special effects.

13. iDaft

If you like that song, you'll love the iDaft. It's a sound board constructed from the parts of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." Punching the buttons makes you feel like you have some musical talent even if you don't.

14. Samorost

Samorost is an intricate adventure game by Amanita Design. It was created by Jakub Dvorský in 2003 while studying design in Prague. There are no instructions; you have to figure out what to do on your own, but the challenge and the artwork make it very worth your while. Samorost 2 followed a couple of years later, but only the first chapter is available free.

Of course, this list only scratches the surface of the rich pickings for a new internet surfer. Are any of these sites new to you? What are your favorite "internet oldies"? What games, videos, art, and articles hold up well over time? Do you have other suggestions of classic web entertainment that everyone should see sooner or later?

See also: 6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo and 10 Landmark Moments in YouTube History.

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John Fielding, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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science
9 'Scientific Mysteries' the Internet Loves, Debunked
John Fielding, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
John Fielding, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Whether it involves aliens, moving rocks, or crop circles, no one loves a scientific mystery like the internet—even if that "mystery" was solved years ago using all of the rigors of science. Here are 10 so-called mysteries that the global online community can't bear to part with, debunked once and for all (we hope).

1. KUMMAKIVI BALANCING ROCK // RUOKOLAHTI, FINLAND

The "Mystery": This so-called "strange rock" is a balancing act comprised of two rocks, one teetering precipitously on top of the other. Locals of ancient yesteryear, apparently perplexed to discover that the top rock was in no danger of sliding off the bottom rock despite the extremely small point of contact between them—and was, in fact, too heavy to be moved at all—decided giants tossing boulders explained the phenomenon. "And it's true," one theorist wrote: "There is still no exact scientific explanation, but contrary to the laws of physics, the stone stands quite firmly and human strength is not enough to move it."

Science Says: It's not true, actually. Geologists put forward a much more likely cause for this balancing rock and the countless others that exist worldwide: Melting glaciers deposited them where they currently squat.

2. FAIRY CIRCLES // NAMIBIA

geographic features called fairy circles in namibia, created by termites and plants
iStock

The "Mystery": Are they footprints of the gods? Barren patches caused by a dragon's fiery breath? Marks left behind by UFOs? All of these ideas were perpetuated by the internet after tour guides in the region passed them on to tourists, according to The New York Times. The scientific community was pretty sure the dirt circles found in the Namib Desert were none of those things, even though they were hard-pressed to come up with a more logical explanation—until recently.

Science Says: Research published in 2017 suggests that they're the work of colonies of termites, which clear circular patches around their nests; the barrenness of these shapes is possibly enhanced by plants as they stretch their roots to reach scarce water—which prevents other plants from growing in the process.

3. KLERKSDORP SPHERES // OTTOSDAL, SOUTH AFRICA

klerksdorp sphere
Robert Huggett

The "Mystery": These grooved spheres have been the subject of many strange theories, most revolving around the existence of intelligent aliens who made the pod-like trinkets—which apparently can rotate on their axes—using intelligent alien technology and otherworldly metals some 3 billion years ago. Virtuescience.com has proposed a whole host of theories about the spheres' uses, including ancient ammunition, messages from space, and currency.

Science Says: Geologists have a more tempered explanation for how the spheres came to be: They're concretions—little balls of rock that have grown around a core object—of the minerals hematite, wollastonite, or pyrite that have hardened over time in nests of volcanic ash or sediment. The myth of alien metalworking skills was debunked back in 1996, but it still resurfaces every once in a while.

4. WEBDRIVER TORSO // YOUTUBE

The "Mystery": The Webdriver Torso YouTube account has been freaking out the internet with its videos for several years. Commentors posited that the videos—which were usually 11 seconds long and featured colored rectangles moving around on a white screen—were spy code, alien code, or recruitment searches for expert hackers. At the channel's peak, videos were uploaded as often as every two minutes.

Science Says: Google revealed in 2014 that they were simply video clips the company had created to test the quality of YouTube videos. "We're never gonna give you uploading that's slow or loses video quality, and we're never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality," the company told Engadget in a statement/Rickroll. "That's why we're always running tests like Webdriver Torso." Conspiracy theorists, however, pointing out that videos had been uploaded elsewhere before Google took credit for the channel, continued to suspect darker intentions. One reddit user posited in 2015 that Google "could … have a secret agenda." Maybe Google wants this chatter to continue: Even today, googling "Webdriver Torso" will yield an easter egg.

5. SAILING STONES // DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

Sailing stones of Death Valley National Park
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The "Mystery": Known alternately as sliding, walking, or moving rocks, for more than 100 years these so-called "living stones" have seemingly slid across the floor of a dry lake bed all on their own, leaving trails of their movements—and causing plenty of speculation. Magnetic force is one popular theory, along with psychic energy and the interventions of alien spacecraft. Some claim a 700-pound stone named Karen disappeared for two years, only to somehow reappear again.

Science Says: In 2014, scientists studied the situation and discovered that the stones move when the lake bed they rest on becomes covered with rainwater that freezes overnight into a sheet of ice; when the ice melts, it pushes the rocks here and there—assisted by Death Valley's powerful winds. (No word on what Karen's been up to, though.)

6. NAZCA LINES // NAZCA, PERU

Aerial view of a geoglyph representing a Duck or a Dinosaurius at Nazca Lines
Martin Bernetti, AFP/Getty Images

The "Mystery": If conspiracy theorists like aliens, they love ancient aliens. When it comes to the Nazca lines, they speculate that ancient astronauts from outer space drew almost 1200 geometric, animal, and plant shapes in a vast, arid plateau on Peru's Pampas de Jumana. Ranker.com also purports that the designs were made by humans, "most likely to signal extraterrestrials," and possibly to provide a runway for their space ships.

Science Says: The truth—which has been known since at least the 1940s—is that the figures were created 1500 to 2000 years ago by the Nazca people, who removed rocks and/or a portion of topsoil to create an image in negative. At first, scientists believed the figures were astronomical symbols, or an early sort of calendar, but later research indicated the drawings were used ritualistically, in ceremonies involving the quest for scarce water.

7. BERMUDA TRIANGLE // ATLANTIC OCEAN

aerial view of bermuda

Peter Burka, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The "Mystery": Three hundred ships and planes, all supposedly sunk or gone missing in the same general area in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: The Bermuda Triangle (so-named by pulp writer Vincent Gaddis in 1964) has had conspiracy theorists of all stripes spouting endless theories for years. Atlantis! Alien interventions! An opening in the fabric of the universe! Attack by sea monsters! A popular theory in the 1970s involved magnetism wreaking havoc on navigational devices, and one more recent theory suggested that bursting bubbles of methane gas were responsible for missing craft. Online speculations, like this one from BuzzFeedBlue, attempt to stoke the (nonexistent) fire.

Science Says: This has been settled for decades—there is no mystery. In 1975, librarian turned investigative author Larry Kusche unearthed the actual facts: Some "missing" vessels were simply made up; some sank far from the Triangle; and others along the route—which is still heavily trafficked today—fell prey to the region's frequent bad storms.

8. CROP CIRCLES // BRITAIN

The "Mystery": A lot of otherworldly meaning has been ascribed to these designs squished into fields of wheat, rapeseed, and barley. Once again, aliens—mathematical-genius aliens this time—are said to be responsible for them, hiding complicated messages in the circles' sometimes intricate imagery. Others suggest they're spiritual centers that beam energy. In the video above, a farmer who found an intricate crop spiral in his field says, "I don't know what caused it, but I'm not sure that it was made by people."

Science Says: The truth is simple, and perhaps disappointing, which may explain why the alien theory never seems to die: The circles are made under cover of darkness by people, sometimes with the permission of the farmers whose land they're created on. They use measuring devices, rollers, and other low-tech gear to push patterns into grain.

9. ATA THE MUMMY // ATACAMA, CHILE

The "Mystery": When a small, oddly shaped, strangely featured mummy was discovered in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2003, some on the internet called it proof that beings from space had once lived among humans—and perhaps even mated with them. The mummy had 10 ribs instead of the typical 12; a strangely sloped head; and at just 6 inches long, was fetus-sized, but its bones were as dense as a child's. Some thought that the 9 percent of the mummy's DNA that didn't match the human DNA they compared it to was further evidence of its non-human origins. As UFO/ET conspiracy theorist Steven Greer says in the above clip, "Is that all computer read error? Maybe. Is it what's called DNA junk? Perhaps. We don't know."

Science Says: Testing of Ata's genome destroyed these theories, proving that Ata was 100 percent human and died, likely in utero, from genetic defects. Many of these mutations related to bone development, explaining her missing ribs and thick bones. Exposure to nitrate-contaminated drinking water may have been a factor in her deformations as well. And that 9 percent genetic difference? Standard contamination of a mummy that was exposed to the open air.

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Big Questions
Why Do Memes Usually Feature All-Caps White Font?
By Iamlilbub, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons via MakeAMeme.org

Why is all-caps white font so often used in memes?

Archie D'Cruz:

Because of laziness, mostly. And Microsoft.

A great majority of memes floating around on the internet today are created using meme generators—web tools where you can select an image, add your text, and post it to social media. Easily done in under a minute without you having to fiddle around in Photoshop.

What’s common to just about all of them is the default setting: the same blocky typeface, in white all-caps, and text outlined in black. Those settings make it easy to read on virtually any image, dark or light.

Most of the popular meme generators don’t allow you to change the typeface, the color or the case, but even with the ones that do, these options are downplayed. So when you do run into a meme, you will almost certainly see something like this:

A screen shot of several popular internet memes

But how did this come to become the default? That’s where Microsoft comes in.

The typeface used in most memes is Impact, created in the sixties when the Swiss typographic style—clean, strong, legible—began to dominate graphic design. It was created by Geoffrey Lee, who sold it to British typeface foundry Stephenson Blake, which in turn sold it to Monotype after getting out of the font business.

As the internet gained in popularity in the '90s, Microsoft spearheaded a project to create a standard pack of fonts for the web.

It licensed 11 fonts, including Impact, from Monotype, and published them as freeware. These were included in the Windows 98 operating system, which dominated the market at the time.

Little surprise, then, that the earliest memes—which were created using MS Paint or Photoshop—would feature Impact. Along with Arial Black, it was easily the strongest of the core fonts and the most legible when placed on an image. Unlike Arial, it was also very condensed, which allowed for more text to fit in.

When websites featuring meme generators (or image macros, to use the technical term) arrived on the scene, Impact was an obvious choice: free to use, and easily readable on virtually any image.

Over the years, there have been sites that have tried to be unique—offering different font choices, darkening the image below the type, putting text above and below images, putting text in boxes—but by now using Impact in white all-caps for memes has become something of a meme itself.

The Impact font gets its own meme

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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