Even in so-called "normal" times, Wikipedia is a tremendous resource and a reminder that the internet doesn't have to be terrible. Launched in January 2001, the now massive online encyclopedia, which can still be edited by anyone and remains an ad-free nonprofit, provides easy access to information to people who need answers to some of life's most important, challenging, and difficult questions. It's also still a great way to kill a few hours.
With so many people stuck indoors and looking for ways to pass the time during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there's never been a better time to brush up on some classic strange Wikipedia articles and perhaps discover a new bizarre favorite. You might not have the willpower required to write your own version of King Lear while in lockdown, but you definitely have the energy to skim this "List of titles of works taken from Shakespeare." From pro wrestling drama and mythical creatures to disastrous roller-skate musicals and unsolved hijacking mysteries, these are some of our favorite Wiki wormholes.
You can often tell how good a Wikipedia article will be by looking at the table of contents. If there are more than five sections with multiple subsections within them -- and especially if one of those sections is titled "theories and conjectures" -- you've likely stumbled onto a topic that's worth your time. For Twin Peaks fans, D.B. Cooper is perhaps best known for inspiring enigmatic creator David Lynch to give his FBI agent protagonist the name Dale Cooper, but the actual man behind the name has enough twists and turns in his Wiki page to support his own premium cable miniseries. Using the alias Dan Cooper, he hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft, collected a hefty ransom, and parachuted into the sky to a likely death, never to be seen again. Or did he survive? Depending on how much you know about the case going in, this is one of those Wiki articles that can convince you of one theory for a paragraph and then change your mind in the next. Pour yourself a damn fine cup of coffee and enjoy. -- Dan Jackson
It's like something out of the setup of an X-Files episode: at the start of February 1959, nine Russian trekkers, mostly students from the local Ural Polytechnical Institute and experienced skiiers, scaled the slopes of a pass deep in the Ural Mountains, set up camp, and disappeared. Days later, the remains of their camp and their bodies were found, strewn in different places around the site, seemingly having fled their tent inadequately dressed for the snowy, subzero weather and died from various unexplained causes: hypothermia, fractured bones, missing eyes. No one ever found out what happened -- in fact, no one's even gotten close, which is why over the years the incident has become convoluted conspiracy theory soup and a pretty good example of a classic Soviet cover-up. Was it mountain lions? Aliens? Katabatic winds? Secret Soviet military weapons? The Hum? The official Russian investigation could only conclude that the hikers' panic must have been induced by a "compelling natural force," which sounds awesome, unless it's happening to you. -- Emma Stefansky
If you're familiar with Alcatraz, the prison that incarcerated some of America's most notorious criminals during the 20th century, you know it was on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. But despite being in the middle of the ocean, that didn't stop prisoners from attempting to escape during its 29-year run. In fact, there were 14 escape attempts, and this long list detailing each plan is a treat for true-crime fans. Some of the attempts are more heinous than others, like the Battle of Alcatraz, which involved a hostage situation, whereas others are very intricate and read like an absurd old crime movie. What's most fascinating, though, are the potentially successful attempts that placed several names on the FBI's Most Wanted list. If you're a true-crime obsessive, one quick read of this will give you much to sleuth around regarding the escapees' whereabouts. -- Sadie Bell
Axl Rose, circa 1990 | Photo by Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage
The awkward name of this page alone is enough to mark it as one of the best Wikipedia entries of all time, but scroll through to find that it gets so much better. In addition to plenty of links to famous fiascos like Guns N Roses' Chinese Democracy, this article provides some of the most brutal dunks in music writing on one convenient page, from Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" ("it's difficult to think of a song more likely to plunge you into suicidal despondency than this"), The Enemy's album Streets in the Sky ("shite, in the noonday sun, attracting flies"; "the un-music"), and Phil Collins' "Sussudio" ("indefensibly stupid"; "'Sussudio' brings me out in a cold sweat"). Are these actually the worst songs of all time? That's for you to decide, but the fact that something like Neil Young's atrocious album Everybody's Rockin' is currently excluded says this list is still yet incomplete. Next, try its associated, much shorter, but equally as good article: list of classical music concerts with an unruly audience response.-- Leanne Butkovic
The owner of the company that manufactures Segways died after accidentally driving a Segway off a cliff. Joseph Hadyn was beheaded posthumously by dabblers in phrenology and his skull wasn't reunited with his body for nearly for 150 years. Sherwood Anderson perished because he swallowed a toothpick. These are just three of the many macabre trivia nuggets I've picked up from deep dives into this immensely diverting list of lists. Like a simple, serene mountain lake that serves as the source of multiple important rivers, this category page flows out to more than 60 Wikipedia entries where you can click further downstream to learn more about notable people who died in various ways. Some of these subpages are incredibly sad (e.g., List of suicides), some weirdly specific (e.g., List of volcano eruption deaths), and some so eerie (e.g., List of unusual deaths) that you'll worry that you'll be included on one of them some day, along with the British man who laughed himself to death watching a wacky comedy sketch. Despite tragically failing to include the wildly entertaining page Death by coconut (but making up for it with Death during consensual sex), this compendium will provide endless procrastination fodder for anyone who is fascinated by tragic histories, the Darwin Awards, unsolved deaths (the Kaspar Hauser entry is a highlight), the works of Edward Gorey, and death conspiracy theories. -- John Sellers
When you consider how humans have only explored 5% of the world's oceans, it doesn't seem so crazy to think that mermaids might really exist. Like, they're probably out there and smarter than us or look a little different than how we picture them! Their Wikipedia page, all about their appearance in folklore and sightings, might have you even more convinced -- or it's at least fun to imagine. If Disney's take on Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid is one of your only exposures to the classic half-human-half-fish, the Wiki entry is like a sunken treasure chest of gems about the magical creature's history across cultures, from China to the UK, and whether they were seen as controlling natural disasters, luring sailors to their deaths, or benevolent. The myths recounted on the page are interesting reads, and the sightings and hoaxes will really get you spiraling. Sure, there's no "scientific ground" to their existence, but it's magical to read about their worldwide influence and think 'why not?' -- SB
Wikipedia pages for individual professional wrestlers are notoriously long and packed with details, often stretching on for longer than similar biographies of U.S. Presidents and acclaimed authors. The obsessive fans who keep these pages updated are meticulous, providing casual wrestling fans like me with hours of trivia and history to pore over. So, it's no surprise that the "Montreal Screwjob," a controversial event involving then-reigning WWF champion Bret Hart, scheming challenger Shawn Michaels, and WWF head honcho Vince McMahon that took place during the WWF's Survivor Series pay-per-view in 1997, has a Wiki page that rivals the JFK assassination its thoroughness. Why did Michaels and McMahon screw over Hart? Who knew what when? Was the whole thing a "worked shoot," the wrestling term for an event the creative team wants to look "real" but is actually scripted? By the end, you'll be obsessively watching wrestling YouTube matches and interviews for hours to decipher the truth. -- DJ
Perhaps you saw Cats. Perhaps you just heard about Cats. Perhaps in knowing about Cats and being perplexed about Cats, you decided to dive into the Wikipedia page for Cats. Perhaps you thought it was crazy. Well, here's something crazier for you: the Wikipedia Page for Starlight Express. What's Starlight Express? Why, it's Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about trains in which humans play various locomotives on roller skates. Does Starlight Express need to be seen to be believed? Sort of, but you can also just get lost in its Wiki page with its very detailed plot summary. You can try to wrap your head around sentences like these: "The reigning champion -- a diesel engine called Greaseball -- enters with his gang. They boast of diesel's supremacy ('Rolling Stock'). Next, a steam engine called Rusty enters. Greaseball mocks Rusty, who replies that he will win the championship, despite steam being obsolete compared to diesel ('Call Me Rusty'). Control intervenes and orders Rusty to collect the coaches from the marshalling yard." Just reading the character descriptions is like taking a hit of ecstasy. How to describe Buffy the Buffet Car? Well, she's "smart and sassy, hot and cheap and quick." That's a wild way to describe a vehicle. Dig down deep and you'll find links to reviews like "'Starlight Express' is a rolling disaster" from the Chicago Tribune, but having spent time with the Wiki you'll realize that something about this show is a masterpiece. -- Esther Zuckerman
Does a reclusive someone know something the rest of us don't about spiritual resurrection on Jupiter that looks like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or are these near-identically styled linoleum tiles found embedded in roads and sidewalks in cities across North and South America just an esoteric street art project? The Toynbee tiles are one of our planet's greatest and lowest stakes unsolved mysteries since the late '80s, when they were first photographed, with their origins and purpose still unknown to this day, though articles and documentaries have tried to pin it down. The conspiratorial Wikipedia page may seem short, but it contains so much embedded intrigue that soon you'll be clicking through to pages for British philosopher and historian Arnold J. Toynbee and learning about culture jamming. Then, next time you spot one -- New Yorkers, there's one on Bowery and Prince -- you can share the cryptic wisdom of the Toynbee tiles with anyone who'll listen.-- LB
Evolutionary biologists and paleontologists are in agreement that whale evolution is, to use a scientific phrase, completely bananas. If we agree that life on land began when a fish took a few-hundred-million-years-long step out of the sea with its little fish foot, grew some legs and some hair and started breathing air, why then, WHY THEN would a cohort of these weird little guys decide to give up life in the dirt and go back into the water? That's what happened, though, which is why whales' closest living land-dwelling relative is the hippopotamus. If you've got an afternoon and lots of time to kill, this article will take you through a few epochs of mammal evolution, with tons of pictures and links to the reasons why, according to the fossil record, early whales looked exceedingly messed up. Not to mention all the words like "archaeocete" and "artiodactyl" and "Brygmophyseter" that will make you look extra knowledgeable and cool at all the dinner parties you attend the next time we're allowed to go do that. Afterward, you will be kept up at night thinking about the fact that whales have hands, and it makes sense. -- ES
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