WELCOME TO MY GOOF UNIVERSE

My folks, my brother and I have a stunning talent for messing up - it must be genetic. My brother and I have kept track of our most brilliant bloopers over the years, and encouraged by the recent popularity of the Darwin Awards, I'm posting some here for your enjoyment. As explained below, we feel that goofing is underrated and indeed beneficial when, as opposed to Darwin Awards, done with moderation.


Manifesto of the Royal Goof Society
To err is human - but some people are more human than others... Some people are rich, others are poor. Some are tall, others are short. But we all have one thing in common: We blow it. We screw up. We goof. As this is often the source of strong emotions, it should be no surprise that the notion of goofing is surrounded by misunderstandings. For example, failing is often viewed as something purely negative. Nonetheless, research conducted by the Institute for Advanced Goofing in Princeton shows that a sufficiently long enough time after the foul-up, its positive effects tend to outweigh the negative ones! Which are these positive effects?
  1. Failing makes you more interesting. Think about it - what do people around you seem more interested in hearing you tell them about? That you just got a pay raise or that you slipped and dropped your TV down the stairs last night? And how about yourself? Do you prefer hearing about peoples successes or their failures? Not to mention when people are talking about you: is there anything more embarrassing than being flattered in public? Afterward you stand there with a dumb grin on your face, not knowing what to say, and the others feel almost as awkward as you do. In contrast, a story about a good goof of yours can leave the whole party roaring with laughter and you feeling content and proud.
  2. Failing makes you a nicer guy. It is a well-known fact that being born with a silver spoon in your mouth and getting everything your way is one of the simplest ways to become a conceited jerk. On the other hand, failure makes you humble. It teaches you not to take yourself too seriously and to shrug off difficulties with a twinkle in your eye. And failures are one of the most deep and profound experiences that we have in common with our friends. Many top conversation topics are in fact failures in some disguised form, from failures in our personal relationships to failures of our government or our favorite sports team.
  3. Failing makes you stronger. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", goes an old truism. After getting over your first love failure, you know that you're strong enough to get over another one and can enter your next relationship with more confidence and less fear. The quickest way to become self-confident when speaking in public is to blow it so many times that you realize that it's no big deal. And failure makes you wiser as well - the trick is to keep failing in new ways...
With its goal to emphasize these lighter sides of failure, my brother Per and I founded the Royal Goof Society in Stockholm in 1977. In order to give the disenfranchised youth of today something to strive for, the Goof of the Year Award was instituted. The prize is...ooops.

Guidelines for goof assessment
So if failure is good, what constitutes a good failure? A naive answer might be "the more expensive, the merrier". But looking only at the consequences of the goof would mean neglecting the part that makes a true blooper such a good story: elegance. Anyone can wreck an expensive car, but to foul up with class takes talent. For this reason, the Goof of the Year jury ranks each goof on two separate scales: one for contents and one for style. Both scales range from zero to ten, just like in Olympic gymnastics.

STYLE

A mediocre goof (say dropping something) gets 5 points for style. One or perhaps two points are added for each of the following positive ingredients if present: Similarly, one or more points can be deducted for any of the following reasons: However, the jury need not follow these guidelines too strictly. Like a work of art, a goof cannot always be analyzed merely as a sum of its parts.

CONTENTS

When the result of the goof can be translated into a monetary loss, the following scale can be used as a guideline if your financial situation is that of a typical 1st world teenager:
  1. -$25
  2. $25-$50
  3. $50-$100
  4. $100-$200
  5. $200-$400
  6. $400-
This was in 1996 dollars, so double everything for 2009. What really matters is how painful the loss is given your income, so rescale accordingly. If somebody else ends up paying, only half the sum may be counted. Many other types of damage can also give high scores for contents, say an injured leg. In a case like this, the relevant question is how much you would have been willing to pay for the whole thing never to have happened. The same rule applies if you destroy some personal property that you don't replace. Goof hiscore list for my family

MILANO LUGGAGE (Dad 1989, 10+10=20 points)

Dad Dad was going to a math conference in Italy, and arrived from Malpensa Airport to Milano Centrale to complete the journey by train. He walked up to one of those yellow boards listing train departures and put down his suitcase and briefcase while locating the relevant track number. He then picked up the suitcase and - oops - the briefcase had disappeared! It contained not only his tickets, his passport and his lecture notes, but also an onward air ticket to the US. Devastated, he tried to call Mom in Stockholm, only to find that Italian phones didn't take coins. So he got in line at the nearest newsstand, put his suitcase down, purchased some tokens ("gettone") and - oops - the suitcase was gone! After a long and grueling experience at the local police station, where nobody spoke English and he felt that they were extremely unhelpful, he vowed to make a point of completing his trip no matter what, using the credit card in his wallet. So to top off this fine day, he bought a ticket and rode several hours before noticing that it was the wrong train.
Note: The very same day, Per phoned from Paris to report that he'd lost his InterRail pass. After he'd paid his way home, it was mysteriously recovered in a wine cellar...

BLACK SUNDAY (Per 1982, 10+10=20 points)

Per This is an example of Per's talent for combo's - the two-in-one goof that was to become somewhat of a trademark for him. It's Sunday. Per and his friend Stefan, both aged 11 at the time, have nothing to do and all day to do it. So they find a dead magpie in the bushes on "Drottningholmsängen" and decide to cremate it. In the bushes where they found it... The blaze isn't put out until the fire brigade arrives on the scene. After such a start, most people might decide to keep a low profile for the rest of the day. Most people. For Per and Stefan, the day is still young. They find a huge truck tire on the same field where they found the magpie and get the brilliant idea to roll it down Stefan's street, Ekebyvägen. With a joint effort they raise it on end and set it rolling, the plan being to steer it by giving it little pushes. However, once it has picked up some speed, they realize that this wheel has quite a will of its own and is not interested in being steered. Soon they realize another minor detail: some twenty meters further down the street, a car is parked. A nice, shiny car without any dents. A nice feature about this goof is the remarkably long time factor involved: a good four seconds elapsed between the time when they realized what was going to happen and the time when it actually happened. Another nice feature was that the car's owner was in his front yard at the time. The final bill exceeded $250.

MORAKLOCKAN (Max 1973, 10+10=20 points)

Max At the ripe old age of 6, Max was ready score his first 20. Together with his friends Anders and Ulf Vestlund, he was playing with cars in Grandma Signe's house in Leksand. One of the cars went under the "Moraklocka". One of Grandma's most prized possessions, this antique hand-made clock, traditional in her part of Sweden, stood on the floor and was about two meters tall. It had an ornamented wooden base containing two heavy weights that would get raised every time she would wind the clock up. After futile attempts to recover the car (the opening underneath wasn't wide enough to allow even Max' little arms in), our three heroes came up with the brilliant idea to pull the clock away from the wall. Said and done. In silent horror, Max watched how this intimidating object towering about twice his size slowly began tipping forwards towards him, slowly at first but rapidly gaining speed. He survived by getting out of the way, but the clock did not. After spending large sums at the local carpenter and the local watchmaker (the warranty had presumably expired about a century ago), she finally had to concede that it was beyond repair.

EXPLOSIVE JAM (Mom 1997, 10+10=20 points)

Mom This one took a while to piece together, and analysis of several independent witness accounts was required to reveal the full glory of this goof. Uncle Erik was on the Phone with Dad and asked if Mom had ever found that jam. "What jam?", Dad replied. Grandma had given Mom four very large jars of home-made black current jam, tightly packed in a square cardboard box, and Mom had felt too embarrassed by the fact that she'd lost it to mention it to anyone. Suddenly, Dad made a connection with two seemingly disparate pieces of information. Per had told him that on the previous day, he'd found the entire shopping center at Brommaplan cordoned off by police. Moreover, he'd read in the morning paper that the police bomb squad had been called out to remove a suspicious package from the vault of Sparbanken, a local bank. According to the article, they had taken the package out to a special bomb range in an specially constructed bomb vehicle and then fired on it, discovering that it contained lingonberry jam. So now we know: the bomb squad members don't know their berries...

ONE YEAR TOO EARLY (Dad 1983(?), 10+10=20 points)

Dad In September, Dad was going to a mathematics conference in Paris. He was really looking forward to it and told us about it already in the spring. Being a well-organized person, he bought his tickets far in advance and arrived at the institute where the conference would be held the day before the event was to begin. The secretary recognized him from previous visits, but he immediately got the creepy feeling that something was wrong when he saw the puzzled expression on her face. The surprised tone of her voice when she greeted him was even more unsettling. Soon the fantastic truth dawned upon him: he had prepared his talk, he had arrived at the right time of the right day of the right month - but one year too early...
Note: This was one of the most original, creative and cherished goofs in our family history. But even though he didn't have to, since the annual award was now safely in his hands, Dad proved what a gentleman he is by going the extra mile: He went out to console himself with an olive sandwich from a Paris street vendor. He took a solid bite and soon realized three things: 1) The olives hadn't had their pits removed. 2) He had broken a tooth. 3) French dentists are expensive.

"BUT SHIFT GEARS!" (Per 1990(?), 10+10=20 points)

Per Pers old friend Pontus Erfass has put lots of work into fixing up an old SAAB 99, and invites Per and Jonas Edgren for a test ride on a back road. Per, who has neither a Swedish drivers license nor any experience with stick shifts, volunteers to drive. Said and done. He shifts into first gear and takes it up to twenty km/h. "Shift gears!", Jonas says. But Per just gives more gas, and now they're doing thirty. Now forty. The motor is racing and sounding awful. "But shift gears!", Jonas and Pontus cry in unison. Per's only driving experience was with an automatic transmission in Arkansas, and he stubbornly drowns out the protests in the screeching of the engine by giving still more gas. They're doing fifty now. The speedometer is approaching sixty, still in first gear. "Are you crazy? What are you doing?? Come on - shift gears!" But in the true blunder spirit, Per locks his mind and blocks out all warnings - and gives more gas. As the speedometer approaches seventy, the deafening roar of the engine suddenly ends with a loud bang. Which was the last sound that motor ever made.

UNBREAKABLE GLASS (Max 1981, 9+10=19 points)

Max In two separate previous achievements (Per having an indoor race and Dad slamming the door shut), both of the panes in our porch door had been broken. The inner one had been replaced by unbreakable glass, but Max, aged 13 at the time, thought it was the outer one. Telling his friend Mikael Ramn about this remarkable fact, he decided to demonstrate it by pounding on the glass. After a few punches with his ski-gloves, Mikael comments: "Oh shit, would I laugh if you broke it, Max..." "But it's unbreakable glass!", Max exclaims as he delivers the final blow. And Mikael was right - it took him more than a minute to stop laughing...
Jury's comment: This unique combination of creativity and lack of judgment with the explicit warning from the witness deserves the full ten points for style. As an extra bonus, Max broke both panes of his bedroom window with a fire cracker that was damaged in one end, thereby releasing most of its energy on one side and turning into a small rocket.

HOW TO CATCH A STREETCAR (Per 1990(?), 10+8=18 points)

Per This is yet another example of Per's talent for combo's - the double trouble two-in-one goof that was pioneered by Per's Black Sunday and further developed by Dad in his Milano Luggage. Somewhat tipsy (one style point deducted for this), he just barely misses a streetcar and starts running after it along the tracks. A friends shouts "Stop! What the $%#% are you doing?", but he continues to run full speed between the rails. Until he trips over one of the wooden ties. As he flies forward through the air, his brand new Ray-Bans leave his front shirt pocket and fly forward even faster. When he finally lands, the sunglasses have slid right under his hand and get completely crushed against the gravel. Unfortunately, so does his knee - it gets such a bad cut that he has trouble walking during his first (and last...) weak of military service.

THE FLYING CAMCORDER (Max 1992, 10+8=18 points)

Max In 1992, Max is still passionately in love with a Panasonic camcorder that he had purchased in Singapore the year before. He invites a group of Berkeley friends over, and they they sit in a semicircle in front of the TV set watching Max' travel videos. He's replaying compact VCR tapes from the camera, which is placed on top of the TV set and connected with cables. After a while, Max gets up to tinker with the camera. While everyone is watching, Max turns around and whacks the camera with his hand. After a short parabolic orbit, it crashes to the ground and come to an untimely end. His friends seemed to find this the most entertaining part of the show.

UP IN SMOKE (Per 1995, 10+8=18 points)

Per It was in the spring of 1995 that Per, being "a poor student", decided to improve his finances ahead of a trip to St Petersburg - by playing poker with his friends... He used to have good luck with cards, so it seemed to him like a good bet. This time however, when he really needed to win, he ended up loosing just over $600. Hence, Per's vacation in the former capital of Russia didn't include as much caviar and champagne as canned sardines and black bread...

But what the heck, he thought, let's try to fix things up. He borrowed three hundred dollars from a friend and invested it all - in cigarettes... Due to astronomical tobacco taxes, cigarettes are incredibly expensive in Sweden, so Per could easily make up for the poker gamble by selling Phillip Morris and Marlboros to his smoking friends on campus back home. The drawback of this plan was that it wasn't entirely legal, but since Swedish customs hardly ever check anyone, Per figured he'd be OK. And perhaps he would have been - had he gotten that far. He arrived at the ferry at the last second, since he had spent so much time at the black market - while his friends were enjoying the paintings at the Hermitage - and the ship was about to depart. Being the very last passenger entering, he was met by an army of idle Russian customs personnel, who were all very curious as to what he was carrying in his giant duffle bag. To make a long story short, canned sardines became the main course for Per for the rest of that semester...

THE FLYING BOOT (Max 1978, 9+9=18 points)

Max One of Max' many bad habits involved removing his winter boots by kicking hard into the air until they came off, despite numerous warnings from Mom. One winter day when he came home from school, he did this in the kitchen. His right boot came off with unusually high speed, and Max watched with astonishment as it followed a beautiful parabolic trajectory up through the air, towards the kitchen window and out through the window - which was closed.
Jury's comment: an extra point was awarded for the time factor - that special interval between the moment when Max realized what would happen and when the boot finally passed through the two panes of glass.

THE WRONG DAY (Mom 1987, 10+8=18 points)

Mom It is just before Christmas 1987, and Mom is already the clear favorite for the annual award after her
EXPLOSIVE JAM. But why leave it at that? She is in Grandma's apartment in New York on a Friday evening with Per and Dad, and dad asks her what time her flight back to Sweden is. "It's tomorrow at - hmm, let me check the exact time." She pulls out the ticket. "But how strange - why does it say Friday here instead of Saturday?" Net result: she had to buy a new last-second ticket for $600.

THE SHORT WAVE RADIO (Max 1988, 9+9=18 points)

Max In the mid eighties, Mom got a serious rival: not a woman, but a short wave radio. A really nice and expensive one. It and Dad would spend hours together in the evenings, and soft words in exotic languages could be heard from the bedroom long after the house had quieted down. Due to numerous burglaries in the neighborhood, we would habitually hide valuables in the attic over Christmas while we were in Leksand. The Christmas of 1988(?), Dad was in Israel, so Max decided to help him by hiding his beloved radio for him. So he hid it. He hid it well. Very well. A year later, he still hadn't managed to find it...
Note: After another year, some people tried to downplay Max' achievement by insinuating that he had never hidden the radio in the first place. Maybe it got stolen? Then the summer of 1990, before leaving for Berkeley, Max spends an entire week cleaning up the attic. In the end, almost all that remains is an inconspicuous plastic bag. "Hmm. Wonder what this is?" It contains an upside down plastic bag. And it contains...

THE STONED JOGGER (Per 1991, 8+9=17 points)

Per Is it humanly possible to run straight into a rock while jogging on a track where you have run more than a hundred times previously? This question was answered with a roaring yes by Per one autumn evening in Judarnskogen, to the astonishment of his friend Stefan Sellberg, who could hardly believe what he saw: "Vad fan gr du, Per?" Per banged his knee so badly that his training was obliterated for over a month.
Jury's comment: The extreme originality, confirmed by the witness, surpassing the limits for just how clumsy it is humanly possible to be, makes this worth nine points for style.

BENGT'S BOOM BOX (Per 1992, 7+10=17 points)

Coming soon...

MR. SPEEDO (Max 1994, 7+10=17 points)

Max Just back to Berkeley after celebrating Christmas in Sweden, Max went for a swim at the RSF pool. Backstroking under a clear blue January sky, he thought to himself "it's good to be back!". Shortly thereafter, he found himself staring into an empty locker. It appeared as though someone had stolen EVERYTHING: not just cash, credit cards and ID, but even his clothes, which led to numerous humorous scenes. Like when he was rummaging through the garbage cans outside the gym, wearing only his swim suit, and a bunch of highschool girls started cheering and whistling from a window. Or when he walked back to his dorm in this state, and a beggar nonetheless asked if he could spare some change. Or when he had to stand in line in I-House to get a new dorm room key, and the many new arrivals ahead of him in the queue gave him startled looks, probably thinking "so mom WAS right about this place Berkeley after all..." or "is this that 'Naked Guy' I saw on TV?". It would take a long time until Max' friends stopped calling him Mr. Speedo.
Max spent an hour on the phone canceling his credit cards. To his horror, he realized that he'd lost something even more important. While in Sweden, he had withdrawn his life savings and purchased a cashier's check in US dollars (about $20k), with the intent of investing this into the startup company he was involved in (which ended up collapsing anyway - but that's another story). When he'd asked the Swedish bank clerk what would happen if he lost it, she'd replied "don't". Well aware that this was the most valuable item he'd ever carried, he'd hidden it in his backpack and taken great precautions during the transatlantic journey. However, he'd forgotten to remove it before going swimming the next morning...
But something didn't make sense. Why would a thief remove his clothes? Could he have confused the lockers? Max returned to the gym and verified that his lock wasn't on any of the lockers. However, a locker roughly where he remembered putting his stuff had a lock on it, and after some bending and peering, he thought he could see his backpack and bike helmet in it! The RSF staff refused to cut the lock until closing time, so Max got some pizza and staked out the locker for four hours. Perhaps a clever thief would replace the lock and then return later in the day to safely harvest his goods after the owner had left? Closing time came, the lock was cut, and Max found all his belongings the way he'd left them, including the canceled credit cards. And his own combination lock was still in the backback! Someone must have forgotten their open combination lock on the bench, so that Max absent-mindedly snapped it onto his locker.

WELCOME TO PRAGUE (Per 1990, 7+10=17 points)

Per Per went to Prague with his classmates on a school trip. Despite warnings, he decided to change money on the black market. After some negotiating with a dubious-looking character near the railway station, he was offered an exchange that he felt was so impressive that he went ahead and traded in a full $50 - this was lots of money in Czechoslovakia shortly after the collapse of communism. Per's friends remained suspicious, and they watched with interest as Per tried to buy something from a street vendor with his newly acquired bills. As the vendor kept shaking his head and repeating something in Czech that nobody understood, they started laughing. Per got increasingly flustered, and kept asking the vendor what the problem was. In a final attempt to explain, the vendor took Per's money, through it on the ground and started jumping on it. At this point, Per's friends were almost dying of laughter. Per was not - it turned out that his bills were antiquated and worth only the paper they were printed on.

THE ART OF SKIDDING (Max 1987, 9+8=17 points)

Coming soon...

PARIS MUGGING (Max 1998, 10+6=16 points)

Max Max and Angelica were mugged by a guy with a (quite small) knife on the Paris subway (RER C), en route to Versailles. The goof consisted of making three mistakes: (1) Not moving to a more crowded car when they became alone. (2) Carrying an insane amount of cash (Max lost $600, Angelica $200). (3) Max tried to flip out only the French money from his wallet, but the entire contents fell onto the seat. Unfortunately, some points were lost because it was in the middle of the day in a place that many people thought was safe.

PRINCETON WALLET (Dad 1997, 9+6=15 points)

Dad mysteriously lost his wallet in Princeton in April 1997, and intense search efforts by the entire family failed to locate it. Among other things, it contained $400 worth of cash.
Note: Five years later, Mom found it zipped into a "secret'' compartment of Dad's backpack! Dad argues that this should boost his score, since anyone can just lose a wallet....

LOST AND FOUND (Max 1997, 5+10=15 points)

Max Max lost his glasses at some point after the IAS soccer game, and couldn't find them despite a thorough and time-consuming search. He even drove the car to the soccer field at night and searched in the beams of the headlights. Per, Angelica, Karin Tegmark and Mats Wisell teased him. The next day, he biked to the soccer field and searched the path and the field again for quite a while. He finally gave up, biked homeward and - CRASH - ran over his glasses. Unfortunately for Max' score, they could be repaired for as little as $80.

VAGONKA (Per 1996, 10+5=15 points)

Coming soon...

HAPPY NEW YEAR (Per 1987, 7+8=15 points)

Coming soon...

INTERRAIL (Per 1989, 10+5=15 points)

Coming soon...

ROYAL EMBARRASSMENT (Per 1989, 5+9=14 points)

Coming soon...

BUJIGANGA (Max 1998, 6+8=14 points)

Max Angelica was very fond of the Mother of all Trinkets (or Bujigangas, as the Brazilians call them), purchased for about $80. It was a large glass bowl full of fragrant wood carvings, held in a cast- iron stand. A picture frame with family photos was hanging above it in their apartment on 81 Merritt Lane in Princeton. Max was quite stressed about finding something, and as Angelica looked on, he slammed the sliding closet door open. Causing the painting to disconnect from the wall and fall onto the bowl, shattering it and spreading glass and wood carvings all over the floor. As an extra bonus, Max then proceeded to drop his $3000 laptop on the floor - but it unfortunately survived.

DISAPPEARING ACT (Max 1971, 4+7=13 points)

Max At the ripe old age of 4, Max disappeared. Mom was flying from Sweden to the US alone with him and newborn Per, and had to change planes at London Heathrow. As boarding began for the US flight, Max had vanished into thin air. Mom frenetically hurried around looking for him, which was easier said than done given Per and the carry on baggage, but to no avail. Time was running out. In desperation, Mom looked in the Men's room, where her lost son greeted her with a cheerful "tittut!", Swedish for peek-a-boo.
Disappearing turned out to be a bit of a Max specialty: two years later, he did it again. This time, he was returning home from daycare by subway together with his classmate Ola Hansson and his mom Kerstin, who had promised to bring him to the Östermalmstorg station where Mom was waiting. She waited and waited, but none of the three were to be seen. Finally, after about an hour, she heard a message from the loudspeakers, broadcast over the entire Stockholm subway network, announcing that Max had gone missing! While en route from Brommaplan station to downtown, I had been engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: spinning around the vertical column in the center of the car. Somewhat dizzy, I lost my bearings and went to the wrong side of the car when I was finished, and concluded that Ola and his Mom had gotten off the train. Remembering Ola having told me something about going to the dentist, this seemed perfectly natural. Continuing my 6 year old logic, I figured that the best thing to do would be to go home, since once Mom had given up looking for me, that's where she'd go too. Said and done: as soon as the doors opened at T-Centralen, the station where we'd always change, I got off, and Ola and his Mom saw me disappear into the crowd from the other end of the car. The train to Ropsten was conveniently boarding across the platform, so I hurried aboard before the doors closed. Once in Ropsten, I had to wait forever for my bus, and didn't pay much attention to what they were saying over the loudspeakers. At last, my bus arrived, and I got in line remembering that people under seven rode for free. Just before I got on the bus, someone came rushing out of the station at top speed, looking very strange: Mom!

Guest goofs submitted

YOU'RE NOT RICHARD ELLIS?

Matthew Kenworthy, matt@physics.uc.edu
A true astronomy story: I was a new graduate student at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, and the tradition there is to go around and talk with potential graduate advisors before deciding on a suitable line of research. This was around 1995, so the hot topics were gravitational lensing, black holes and all things extragalactic. At the top of my list was Richard Ellis, so off I went to find his office. Walking down the corridor, I knocked on the professor's door and was told to come in. Seeing that I was a new student, he told the person on the other end of the phone line that "a new student has come in, I'll speak to you later" and hung up the phone with a smile. Feeling nervous about interrupting what sounded like an important phone call, I sat down in the chair he indicated to and after I introduced myself I began to talk about my interests. As the professor nodded encouragingly, my eyes wandered over the numerous bookshelves and awards amongst the plant pots. By this time I'd been chatting for over a quarter hour, and the professor hadn't said anything. My eyes began to drift around the room, and I noticed that there were no books on gravitational lensing - which I thought was odd. I stopped talking as the gnawing doubt in my mind turned into full-blown terror. "You're not Richard Ellis, are you?" I asked nervously. "No, I'm not Richard, no. He's in the office across the corridor." he replied with a sad smile. I made profuse apologies, and scuttled away to the door, two inches tall. Just before I left, I asked "Um, so who have I been talking to, exactly?" The professor shook my hand with a smile and introduced himself. "Oh, my name's Martin. Martin Rees. Always a pleasure to meet the new students!" I decided to go into astronomical instrumentation after that.
Editorial note for non-astronomers: Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, is one of the world's most famous astrophysicists.

THE CHICKEN DROP

David Rusin, drusin@cfa.harvard.edu
Each spring at my college, the Society of Physics Students (SPS) sponsored an egg drop contest. The goal was to build a contraption that would allow an egg to survive being dropped off the roof of the library (about three stories high). During my senior year, I was helping run the contest along with the president of the SPS (Ana), and my friend
John, who worked at the library. We collected the entries from the contestants and brought them up to the roof. Most of the entries were rather commonplace in their design, but one did catch our attention. A pair of Russian twins handed us a closed shoebox, told us not to open it until we got to the roof, and then simply dump the contents out. Once on the roof, we opened the box and were surprised to find a live chicken inside. This chicken had clearly seen better days, and had probably been kept in that box for way too long. Though this entry was certainly unorthodox, and none of us had ever seen a chicken fly before, the three of us convinced ourselves that the chicken could at least manage to "glide" safely to the ground. And besides, what better way to end the contest than for a chicken -- nature's perfect egg holder -- to triumphantly swoop down in front of the waiting contestants. After some careful thought, we decided to go for it, and John promptly heaved the chicken off the roof. Well, to make a long story short, the chicken dropped like a bomb. It hit the ground with a thud, got up and walked around for a few seconds, then dropped dead. The crowd of twenty or so people were in shock. "What the hell are you doing?" someone yelled. News spread quickly through campus that chickens were being killed, and more people began to gather. The scene was made all the worse by the fact that the previous entry had used red jelly to suspend their egg, which splattered into a giant red mess on the ground. Needless to say, many people suspected that the method of execution had been far more horrible. The three of us snuck out the back, and I recall hiding in my dorm room for the next week or so.
Lesson learned: Chickens don't fly. (However, the Russian twins insisted that we had just "thrown it wrong.")
Consequences: A special edition of the school paper was published with the headline "Egg Drop Contest Ends in Tragedy". The contest did not take place the following year. The twins went back to Russia and were never heard from again. Ana was not re-elected president of the college environmental club. and the author went on to a career in science. Nobody knows what happened to the chicken, though we suspect it turned into soup that night.
Editorial note: David Rusin was my 1st grad student, refueling the nature vs nurture debate.

TIGHTY-WHITIES

Aaron Parsons, aparsons@astron.berkeley.edu
I ran track in high school, and being being of short stature (allowing for good acceleration and cornering), I often ran the first leg of a 4x100m relay. One cold spring day in Colorado, shortly before this race was to begin at a conference track meet, I summoned up the nerve to ask a crush of mine--a cute girl on my team--to hold my starting blocks for me. Her job (which she accepted), was to stand behind me and ensure that my blocks did not move when I pushed off them at the start of the race.

I said it was a cold spring day, and in fact it was starting to snow lightly, so I had all my warmest clothing on while warming up, although I would have to run in shorts for the race. When the time finally arrived, the starting judge called "Runners to your marks", and I removed my sweats and began taking my place at that starting line. My crush, giggling, asked, "Are you going to run in that?", whereupon I looked down to find that along with my sweats, I had also removed my shorts. So in front of my crush, and the entire crowd in the stands, I was in my "tighty-whities", as they say. No one other than my crush really noticed, however, until the starting judge called "Get Set!", and I called back "WAIT!". Then every head in the arena turned.

I ran to the side of the track and tried in vain to get my shorts back on, but my spiked shoes (used for sprinting) got caught as I stepped into my shorts, and as I hopped embarrassingly from side to side, I heard the competing runners on the track snickering. The starting judge was openly pointing at me and laughing. Eventually, I managed to put on my shorts, and I retook my starting position. The girl holding my blocks continued to giggle behind me as the race began. The one mitigating detail of the whole experience was that our team one the race, perhaps as a result of sheer embarrassment on my behalf.

And being from a small town (Rangely) in Colorado, everyone in town knew before I had even arrived home. The nickname "Streak" held for several months.

CACTUS KITTY

Steve Bradt, bradt@pobox.upenn.edu
Here's a goof for you, courtesy of one of our pets. Allegra was sitting downstairs in our loft-type apartment one Friday morning eating breakfast (I had already left for work). Meanwhile our cat, Mr. Bean, was upstairs performing his daily flip-out: Every morning around 7:45 he flies around the apartment at top speed, literally banking sideways along walls and furniture. Suddenly, as if in slow-motion (as she reports it), Allegra watched Mr. Bean go sailing over the balcony above her head and land directly on top of ... a cactus. And not just any itty-bitty cactus -- this one was a foot in diameter with many sharp, inch-long quills. Mr. Bean's timing could not have been worse in that it was June (wedding and graduation season!) and we were supposed to attend three out-of-town events in the following 48 hours: my brother's graduation that night, my cousin's wedding the following day, and some friends' wedding the day after that. Needless to say, once he was discharged from the vet that afternoon Mr. Bean required pretty much constant care, so we had to do the events in shifts -- I went to the graduation and first wedding, then drove back to Philly as Allegra was driving north to hit the second wedding. I guess my absence at that wedding made me and Mr. Bean celebrities: it was a small event and it somehow got announced that a guest was unable to attend because his cat had fallen on a cactus. I subsequently met someone who had been at that wedding and they gave a knowing nod and said, "You're the one whose cat fell on the cactus, right?" To this day Mr. Bean also retains a great degree of notoriety at his veterinarian's office, which had never seen an animal tangle with a cactus in quite that way. The vet bills came to several hundred dollars.

SPLASH CAT

Mats Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden, pelotard@hotmail.com, reported Jan 15 2004
My parents had a cat called Mia. As cats habitually do, she got in fights with other cats regarding territory. She was no wimpy, regularly pulling home rabbits almost as big as herself, wanting us to help her out with the actual kill; my brother once witnessed her chasing a fox down the street, which makes it all the more interesting that on this particular occasion, she was chased around my parent's lawn by another cat. This other cat, apparently, had a very hazy idea about the physical layout of my parent's lawn. Mia ran up to a low, circular fence - about 4 inches high, some 15 feet in diameter - and started running alongside it. The other cat looked a bit puzzled at this, since the fence posed no obstacle to a reasonably fit cat, or even a very unfit cat, but decided to take the short-cut and jumped over the fence. Down into the swimming pool.
According to eyewitnesses, there was a scream such as they had never heard from a living creature before, and the newcomer cat appeared to only toch the water with its claws as it actually ran across the pool (causing some religious debate later), never to return.

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