The Weekender, August 23, 2019

1) “Welcome to the World of Competitive Wiffle Ball” (The Ringer, August 2019, 22 minutes). 

Even at 7 in the morning, Memorial Park is hot. Really hot. By noon, the Weather app will put the heat index at 108 degrees; already, with the overnight dew still glittering in the outfield grass, some teams arriving early to the 40th annual World Wiffle Ball Championship are removing layers of clothing to shag fly balls shirtless, or gulping from buckets of water after completing a warm-up jog, or strategically positioning tents along the painted foul lines to ward off the rising sun.

But the main weather question has less to do with the heat than the wind, which Wiffle enthusiasts are quick to highlight as the key tactical concern when approaching a competitive game. “Is it blowing out?” one pitcher asks a teammate who has just returned from checking field conditions. “My ERA’s [earned run average, a pitching stat] going to go up.”

Welcome to the world of competitive Wiffle ball, specifically the annual tournament now held in the Chicago suburb of Midlothian, Illinois, in late July, believed to be the oldest in the country but now just one of hundreds that dot the summer calendar nationwide. Long a sport that lived primarily in kids’ backyards, Wiffle ball over the past decade has boomed for adults, too: as a nostalgic reminder of youth, as a conduit for intense competition, and as a spectator sport all in one.

2)  “The Strange Saga of Oliver Cromwell’s Head” (Mental Floss, 8 minutes, July 2019). This is so crazy, they hung an already-dead guy.

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

MondayDenim Dresses Were The Old Black: The witness who went to jail for wearing pants. (Really.)

TuesdayWhy We Pour Milk on our Cereal: I maintain that Grape-Nuts are gross, but many of you wrote in to tell me how wrong I am.

Wednesday: Seeing Orange: Why we think carrots improve our vision.

ThursdayThe Crime-Busting Pizza Topping: A creative — and really smart — way to use the Pizza Hut app.


4) “In defense of reading the same book over and over again” (Vox, 7 minutes, August 2019). I’m a book re-reader, and while a lot of these points aren’t why I do it, I like the overall point. (And I’ve read each Harry Potter book at least twice.)

Harry Potter is the best-selling book series of all time. Even people who haven’t read Harry Potter likely have at least the cursory understanding that it is about a boy wizard. Talking about it online, however, is done at the poster’s own risk.

“Read another book,” demand Twitter users the moment a tweet about the widely beloved fantasy series gains a small amount of attention. “I’m begging you,” they plead. Elsewhere on the internet, it’s the same. There are subreddits and Facebook groups devoted to eradicating the plague of Harry Potter fans, not for liking the books themselves but for committing the sin of not reading enough books.

Like tacos on Tinder profiles or Game of Thrones GIFs, Harry Potter has, in the 20 years since its first publication, become an avatar for basicness that transcends taste: Professing to love Harry Potter online doesn’t just mean that you’re just like everybody else; it also means you’re maybe a neoliberal and call yourself a Slytherin when you are actually just 32.

5) “How ‘Sesame Street’ Started a Musical Revolution” (New York Times, August 2019, 7 minutes). I’m biased, of course, but this is a really great behind-the-scenes.

Have a great weekend!