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Monday, July 5, 2010

And the winner is...

We're going to split the announcements this week, as there just isn't time enough to do justice to both the lesser and greater challenges. Tackling the lesser challenge, "Folk Tales of the Electronic Frontier," first, as you may remember the challenge was to create an urban legend, of the sort that regularly gets passed around on the Internet and has made snopes.com a must-read site. Tackling this week's entries in FIFO order, then:

M, "True Story"

Kersley: There was such detail that I totally got into it, and subsequently got mad. They did what with Jane Austin's signed plates? He signed his name underneath hers? Sacrilege!

Henry: I can't decide if your "honest-to-goodness truth" line makes this story just that much more believable or whether you really are relaying something you've read elsewhere. I tried to find it through Google and didn't get any hits that mentioned anything about signed book plates. As the goal was to write something that would make us think the story had just enough details to be real, I tend to think this is a wonderfully creative entry.

Bruce: You had me going. Not only did you convince me that this was possible, but the idea of this schmuck having the brass to sign his own name to the bookplates and slap them on that [expletive deleted] of a novel sold me on the truth of it, as it seemed perfectly in keeping with the sort of colossal arrogance required to create that [expletive deleted] book in the first place. Good work!

Miko, "Car Theft: There's an App for That!"

Kersley: I think I heard about this one before. I'm lucky I can't afford a car (or a phone) that fancy!

Henry: So, this smart phone app, is it made in Nigeria and available to anyone willing to send the Nigerians their bank account number? This is a great urban legend, warning people of something has just the right ring of truth to it to make all those high-end car owners start worrying. Good stuff!

Bruce: Has the right ring of truth to it, plus it has that extra edgy appeal to schadenfreude that always works so well when motivating people to propagate an urban legend. (This is a real threat -- but only to those rich s.o.b.'s who can afford cars with keyless entry and startup. Serves them right!)

WaterBoy, "Jedi Flashlight"

Kersley: Can I see it? Is it heavy? How did you get the laser to loop back on its--Oh. Right. It's a legend.

Henry: "Jedi Flashlight" is a neat story but not really an urban legend. I can imagine have a lot of fun keeping your friend guessing as long as possible before spilling the truth. But it's not really what we were looking for this time around.

Bruce: I'm with Henry on this one. To be urban legend material, you'd have to claim that you knew of or had heard of someone else who had done this thing. And never 'fess up that it was a fraud.

Leatherwing, "My son-in-law checked! This one is TRUE!"

Kersley: Oh my ears and whiskers, please don't let this get out. My uncle will bombard my email and Facebook with this revelatory, true story. On the other hand, if I get this from him within a year's time, you win teh interwebs.

Henry: This is the kind of email I used to get regularly from my friends who were new to email. It's an inventive story that fits the urban legend format very well. Nice!

Bruce: I have a sort of a friend, "Mike," who is steadily becoming less of a friend every time he forwards another urban legend, "inspirational" message, or half-baked political commentary column to me. I'm strongly tempted to send this one to Mike, just to see if he buys it and forwards it to everyone he knows. I'm guessing he would.

Arvid, "Surfer Saved by Shark, Rides Bite to Shore"

Kersley: Out of no fault of your own, I have to put this one at the bottom of the stack. Cute story, but, having lived in Hawaii for three years, I can tell you that "Kanowenha" is not Hawaiian. Hawaiian doesn't put two consonants next to each other. "Kanoweha" might have worked, but it's still unfamiliar enough that I would have looked it up. Still, good story, and creative format.

Henry: Your first entry -- surfing the shark bite -- seems like a perfect urban legend. Written as a news story, it doesn't really carry the same "feel" of an urban legend, though. Then again, the fake newspaper page might be the ultimate stroke of genius. Certainly, if I were going to create an urban legend, modifying an existing newspaper page would be just the thing to give it that sense of reality so necessary to urban legends. Interesting...

Bruce: Beautiful presentation. Just beautiful. And then you overwrite it, and throw in, "It sounds too incredible to be true, but as a senior investigative journalist..." Which just, pardon the expression, blows the thing out of the water. Maybe a washed-up retired investigative journalist working for a weekly shopper in-between going to A.A. meetings might write that line, but no serious working reporter would. A senior investigative journalist wouldn't cover the story in the first place; that's a job for a rookie reporter working the police blotter and coroner's office beat. Great story up until this point, though. This is definitely a case of less is more.

Arvid, "The Missing Man"

Kersley: This is an interesting story from an academic point of view, but I missed the emotional impact. Why is this titillating?

Henry: The Missing Man story starts off right, but to really be an urban legend, you need to provide details that "most" people wouldn't know (see Leatherwing's entry for an example). A good urban legend tells us things no one else knows, like the identity of the mysterious survivor or something else along those lines. This one is a good start, but needs more to reach urban legend status.

Bruce: I'm overloaded on 9/11 conspiracy theories. A friend's father is absolutely convinced -- convinced! -- that the Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a Boeing 757, because the crash scene didn't "look right," even though he knows absolutely nothing about the normal appearance of a site after a 250,000-lb (mostly) aluminum aircraft loaded with 10,000 gallons of Jet A has crashed there. This one just doesn't engage me.

And the winner is...

Kersley: If we're going for what hit me the hardest, I'm going with M. (And I know this just proves that underneath it all I'm just a big ol' girl.) If we're going off of what's going to be in my inbox in the near future, Leatherwing's all over it.

Henry: There were plenty of good entries this time around. Of the bunch, M's entry is the most mysterious because I'm trying to decide whether his disclaimer at the start is real or something that makes this an even better urban legend. Of the rest of the entries, I think Miko's and Leatherwing's are the ones most likely to end up on snopes.com within a year. I think both of you tapped into what makes a good urban legend; including one warning against modern technology and one of cosmic justice. I find myself leaning ever so slightly toward Miko's entry, so he gets my vote for this week.

Bruce: Kersley may be just a big ol' girl, but I'm not, and I still found that M's entry was the one that had me going. I agree with Henry that Miko and Leatherwing's entries are highly likely to show up on snopes.com within a year, and as I said, I fully expect my so-called friend Mike to send me Leatherwing's sooner. But factoring in the all-important schadenfreude angle, I can think of a ton of writers I know who would forward M's story without pausing to doubt it for a moment, as they're so P.O.'d that they didn't think of writing Android Karenina (currently ranked at #31,000 on Amazon.com with Google returning 1,080,000 hits on the name) first.

So, M, you're this week's winner! Now come on down and claim your prize!
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