The best time I ever had on this cursed internet was also the most miserable. Study hall, seventh grade, 1999, a computer lab filled with big honkin’ 1990s IBMs, the drone of Limp Bizkit’s Significant Other blaring from classmates’ Discmans as they plod through pre-algebra: Here’s me in a dark corner, trying to find a proxy server to bypass Bess, McKinney Middle School’s web-filtering software. Why? The light of my life has gone out. I can’t play motherfucking mini-golf on motherfucking CANDYSTAND.COM.
Candystand.com, originally The Candystand and now PCH Games, launched in 1997. It was an “advergame” created for Nabisco by two Activision veterans, David Crane and Garry Kitchen. It was dead-simple and mesmerizing: You swing a golf club and hit the ball through Life Savers-related obstacles. Two decades later, it still has its grips in me. YouTube videos where gamers slowly, methodically slap that ball through rolling candy are my Dad Grass. They turn my stress-addled brain into ice cream, and like that 11-year-old nerd in study hall, I am soothed and grateful.
Frankly, they should put this interactive candy golf ad in the Smithsonian. It is iconic and immortal, as foundational to modern history as the Colosseum.
That’s my all-time favorite wormhole. These days, though, I spend more time annoying my wife by reading IMDb trivia out loud while we try to enjoy reruns. Also, Survivor fandom — and the formulas superfans use to predict the winners — is a wormhole of its own.
I asked the rest of our staff how they’ve been getting lost and achieving a flow state via random web portals. If you could use a little brain massage — and, right now, who couldn’t? — maybe we can help…
Powerfully Cringe-y Tattoos
Miles Klee, Staff Writer: My reporting life has taken me down some intense research holes, and I can’t recommend them all — tracing the origins of “2 Girls, 1 Cup” was a gnarly time in particular. Fortunately for you, I have another option: looking up awful tattoos. These can be found on dedicated subreddits like r/badtattoos and the lesser-known r/No_Ragrets, and occasionally on r/trashy and r/ATBGE (which stands for “awful taste but great execution”).
Even better than scrolling these forums, however, is tracking down powerfully cringe-y tattoos all by yourself. One of my favorite pastimes is thinking of some celebrity or public figure I despise — Elon Musk, for example — and then Googling “Elon Musk tattoo.” You’ll be shocked at the number (and varying quality) of results. There is so much beauty in the world…
The basic rule of thumb is, think of something or someone whose popularity seems weird or questionable, but clearly sparks obsession in others. Under those conditions, you’ll always strike gold. Some of these tattoos now live in my head rent-free.
Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: When I need to chill out, I get high and watch unreasonably long car detailing videos on YouTube. The crackle of the vacuum as it inhales decades-old Pringles from behind the seats? Orgasmic. The mud-removing capacity of a power washer as it transforms neglected wheels into epic rims? Unrivaled. The joy of a person who can now drive their car without every window down and 69 Little Trees hanging from the rearview mirror? I guess happiness is real, after all.
It may not be much, but the transformations that some of these cars make really are evidence that, with time and a little elbow grease, anything’s possible.
Pestering Astrophysicists on YouTube
Erin Taj, Art Director: Quasars, virtual particles, strange stars — everything that makes me feel particle-sized (because ego-death is important). My second motivation for going down this path is rooted in a very basic question: What is time? Things are getting kind of weird here on Earth, so I like to take time out of my day and try my hardest to replenish my brain cells with various mathematical thought experiments.
How long would it take to actually fall into a black hole (past the event horizon) if time itself slows and then stops at that point? Would you even make it inside? Or would you simply be frozen in space? Would that be a cool way to die? These are just a few of the questions I ask astrophysicists in the comment sections of their lectures.
Unsurprisingly, I haven’t gotten a response yet. It’s like they can feel that I’m a stoned layman through the screen.
The Wizards of the Motherfucking Recorder
Eddie Kim, Staff Writer: I, too, love passing out on a Wednesday night while scrolling through revelations about string theory, the bulk and the mysteries that lie beyond a black hole’s event horizon. But sometimes, peering into the inky existential crisis known as outer space is a little too heady. My counterpunch? Music — especially music made by instruments I’ve never seen before.
I’m not sure why I’m so seduced by uncommon instruments, but it feels like hearing one for the first time unlocks a chain reaction, pulling my mind down a rabbit hole of culture, people and histories. I love this cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” on a hammered dulcimer, versions of which can be found in countries as disparate as Greece, Iraq and Korea. Even better is this video of a hypnotizing song played on an mbira, the angelic national instrument of Zimbabwe. How about two dudes playing some sort of weird water organ together? Yes please.
Sometimes, the videos leave me daydreaming about the future of music and sound, as with this clip of prodigious jazz keyboardist Cory Henry absolutely shredding a harpejji. But other times, they just make me wonder how I missed things that were right in front of me this whole time. Like, I thought I hated the sound of the recorder and its shrill elementary-school renditions of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Turns out, I was a big uncultured idiot, because I cannot stop listening to recorder virtuoso Lucie Horsch setting fire to a Vivaldi concerto.
The only problem with mainlining all these videos late at night is that I invariably end up overstimulated and reaching for my own guitar or drumsticks. I guess that’s the sign of a truly great internet wormhole — it triggers a kind of manic inspiration, seemingly out of nowhere.
Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: A few weeks ago I found myself deeply entrenched in Criterion Closet videos on YouTube. This happens every few months — ever since I first discovered the program. Every time I come back to them, I watch no less than five videos at a time. There’s just something about watching filmmakers like Claire Denis, the Safdie Brothers, Yorgos Lanthimos and Barry Jenkins get giddy in a closet full of movies that is nothing short of meditative. Not only is it a great way to get great movie recs from people whose work I really admire, but it’s also a reminder of just how many movies I have left to watch.
Hollywood Gossip on IMDb
Joseph Longo, Staff Writer: The best place on the internet is IMDb’s Trivia section, found under any film or show. I like to take a deep dive after I watch something new to see who almost starred in the project. Kate Winslet didn’t see herself in the role of Mal in Inception, so Marion Cotillard filled her shoes. Emma Roberts, Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan were in the running to play Katniss in The Hunger Games. George Clooney auditioned five times (five!) to play sexy J.D. in Thelma & Louise, and still director Ridley Scott chose Missouri himbo Brad Pitt instead.
There’s always a funny anecdote about filming. On the first day of filming The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep allegedly said to Anne Hathaway, “I think you’re perfect for the role. I’m so happy we’re going to be working together. … That’s the last nice thing I’ll say to you.” My little gay heart is screaming.
Occasionally, you’ll see that actors do a lot of shit just for the money, like Robert Downey Jr. being the only actor in Avengers: Endgame to read the entire script. And sometimes you’re left completely dumbfounded by all that goes on in the mind of film bros. Some anonymous poster deduced that X-Men: First Class is “the second time that January Jones has been cast in 1962 opposite an actor with a pork-based name.” Kevin Bacon co-stars with Jones in the film, but before that, of course, she starred alongside Jon Hamm in Mad Men.
Aren’t you so glad you have this information now? I know I am.
Badass Math Shit
Zaron Burnett III, Contributing Editor: I spend way too much time watching videos about strange shit like hyper-dimensional math, or trying to learn odd little skills and new tricks. I’ll spend hours with my dude for mathematical curiosities, Carlo Sequin, and loop his videos for Numberphile. He’s just this funny old badass mathematician who talks like an artist and can make a subject like hyperbolic surfaces feel riveting.
I also love what the dude at Mathologer puts out on his channel. His approach to explaining difficult math concepts is incredible. He clearly puts in the hours, which shows up in the clarity and creativity of his visual presentations. Plus, his accent is kinda pleasing, like mathematical ASMR… at least to my American ears.
Another dope channel is Three Blue One Brown. The host there has a rare talent: He can explain super-difficult concepts like the most-popular unsolved math problem, the Riemann Hypothesis, in a way that makes the math look elegant and simple. (For the record, I hated math in school. Hated it! I was so bad at it, I had to take one math class twice; they finally gave me a passing grade just out of pity.)
Meanwhile, you know how dudes in movies will kill time by throwing playing cards? Mike Boyd can teach you how to do that in an afternoon. He has dumb-fun vids for other things, too, like breaking a glass with your voice.
Whenever we all get to hang out again, if you’re looking to come out of this lockdown on some Paul Newman energy — you know, the kind of guy who can do all sorts of weird little skills, like making a fishing hook out of a beer can — the knowledge is out there.
Nick Leftley, Senior Editor: I once made the mistake of clicking on an eye-catching question about superheroes on Quora (I forget what it was, or why I was even on Quora), and now every single day, I receive a spammy email from Quora stuffed with increasingly and, honestly, kind of alarmingly specific questions about superheroes. I don’t care at all about the (highly dubious and wildly biased) answers given to these questions, but I’m captivated by the people who write them and the discussions that take place.
I have never heard of either of these characters, but someone still wrote 2,557 words about who’s stronger:
By far, the most entertaining entries are the ones that involve highly agitated people arguing over hyper-specific details. “You have clearly not thought this response through and your answer is a mess! Sun-dipped Superman can lift 200 quintillion tons; Wolverine would be vaporized before his mutant healing factor could even kick in” is the sort of reply that will trigger a 20-comment argument in which people gloriously, obliviously argue the spirit-crushing minutiae of stories and characters whose larger arcs and themes have utterly passed them by.
I should probably take up needlepoint instead.
Nintendo Knife Skills
Alyson Lewis, Social Media Editor: I’m trying to eat more meatless meals, and chickpeas can only take me so far. I have a few content creators I keep up with regularly who help me be more imaginative.
Sophia Roe held me down at the beginning of the pandemic. I love letting my eyes glaze over while her IGTV videos play. It’s like we’re old friends and I’m there in her kitchen while she’s talking to me about turnips or mustard greens. When lockdown first started, she had tips for making your produce last longer — like how to blanch and freeze vegetables and find good shelf-stable foods. This will carry me for the rest of my life.
Ghetto Vegans also make great content; they introduced me to VedgeCo, where I can order healthy food in bulk. If there’s one thing I love, it’s ordering shit in bulk. This isn’t a symptom of the pandemic — I’m just passionate about stocking up.
Cringe-y Firefighter Merch
Quinn Myers, Staff Writer: If you want to become so entranced that you lose a sense of time, responsibilities and the world around you coming to an end, the best wormholes exist in niche employee subreddits. Head over to r/Target or r/StarbucksBaristas and you’ll be transported to the break room, confronted with issues, drama and complaints about corporate and customers that you otherwise would’ve never known.
And yet… I was up past midnight last night consuming post after post in r/LookImAFirefighter. These people fucking hate firefighters, which was surprising to me, since I thought everyone loved firefighters. I mean, what’s there to hate?
Apparently, the cringe runs strong in this profession. There are endless tattoos and novelty T-shirts and Boomer memes about firefighting, honor, hoses, you name it.
The hate runs deep, and if only for a few moments, the bottomless pit in my soul feels satiated.