What is it that drives some members of the human community to defy their physical limits, to exceed the norms of logic and reason, and to stand alone on the frontier of the impossible?  I had occasion to contemplate these questions at the first bi-annual Hot Wing Challenge, held the other weekend at the Grand Marketplace, a suburban bazaar in Willingboro, New Jersey.

The event was hosted by Mild to Wild, Curly’s Creations, and Stolzfus Meats — the last supplying the wings, the first two the sauce. The Mild to Wild store stocks a variety of sauces including “F” Milk, Larry’s Hot Pussy Sauce, Salvation, and Neal’s Hairy Ass. But Curly’s Creations is the local brand, and Curly was there to fine-tune the sauces for the competition.

First round: super hot.

Second round: super-duper hot.

Third round: hottest on the planet.

Possible final elimination round: capable of blinding… More…

At first glance, you might mistake Guinness World Records 2009 for a book-sized can of some energy drink. Its metal foil cover shimmers with such pulsating greenish-gold intensity it could give a disco ball a headache. Inside, its pages are jam-packed with factoids and photographs, including life-sized 3-D portraits of the world’s tiniest man and the world’s largest tarantula. Such touches are gimmicky but necessary: While the phrase “world record” once conveyed a sense of accomplishment so palpable no 3-D glasses were required to see it, those days are long gone.

The first edition of Guinness, then called The Guinness Book of Records, was published in England in 1954. As journalist Larry Olmsted recounts in Getting Into Guinness, his new history of the book that has sold more copies worldwide than any other title in history save the Bible and the Koran, it was the brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver,… More…

It ought to be mentioned just once that American Idol is one of the best pieces of culture produced on this planet so far in the 21st century. It is also to be admitted that the century is young. Other things will happen. But I don’t want the people of the future to think that we, the people of today, were oblivious to the things happening around us. In many ways, I’m speaking to them. I’m speaking to the people of tomorrow as one who was here, who saw it all unfold in real time.

American Idol is generally categorized as “Reality Television.” Reality Television is itself a product, essentially, of the 21st century. The idea (so the story goes) was that scripted television, the “situations” of situational comedy and so forth, had become a little tired. Ratings at the end of the 20th century confirmed this intuition. “Reality” was… More…