Thursday, June 19, 2003

Please sign this petition to save the important historical site where our only Rosicrucian president lost his life.

OK, I suppose I've got some 'splainin' to do there. Kinzua Bridge is an important historical site that you should help save, but Calvin Coolidge did not commit suicide by jumping off of it. And no one has ever linked Rosicrucianism to the U.S. presidency. OK, except this guy. Oh, and this guy. Oh, him too. But I'd better get off that topic before my banner ads get truly screwy.

Anyway, the story is that a number of years ago, Paul Harm and I discussed a quiz-bowl thought experiment. The idea was to track how quickly a piece of information would enter the canon of quiz-bowl knowledge, disseminate, and go from being the hardest clue in a question to the giveaway clue. We figured out that in order to try this experiment, however, the piece of information would have to be untrue; otherwise, the factoid could have entered the realm of quiz-bowl knowledge at other points and diffused separately. We decided that our factoid should be that Calvin Coolidge was our only Rosicrucian president--absurd and totally false, but enough people would not know how absurd that they might just take it in, accept it, and reuse it. We never actually tried the experiment, but it did become a running gag in Pitt quiz-bowl.

A year or so later, we decided to take a scenic route on the way home from a Cornell tournament, and we ended up stopping at Kinzua Bridge. While there, Paul temporarily convinced at least one freshman that the bridge was noteworthy because Calvin Coolidge had committed suicide by jumping off of it. My only other memory of that stop was walking a third of the way across the bridge, suddenly realizing how high up I was and how precarious the bridge's railroad ties seemed, and then cowering my way back across in practically Jerry Connell in Stand By Me fashion. Not good times. But it is awe-inspiring enough that it should be saved, to terrify future generations of wusses like myself.

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