Twenty years ago this Friday, January 15, the internet changed forever. Wikipedia went live, gifting the world with a cavern of endless information, both helpful and potentially questionable. The ease with which you can look up Hannibal’s Retreat is matched only by the ease with which you can look up what happened in the season premiere of Hannibal—and you have Wikipedia to thank for that.
In the past 20 years, Wikipedia has been a shorthand source for facts both useful and useless—but it’s also been an incredible outlet for time-wasting, for clicking from page to page until you’re in so deep you can hardly remember where you started. Sometimes you return from those journeys with nothing, but other times, you come back with something you’ll never forget. To celebrate the birthday of Wikipedia, The Ringer recounts those glorious wormholes.
The Real Drama Behind MTV’s Short-lived Two-A-Days
Route: The Challenge (TV Series) → The Real World → MTV → List of Programs Broadcast by MTV → List of Programs Broadcast by MTV, Former Programming → Two-A-Days → Two-A-Days, Rush Propst Controversy
It’s not hard to get lost on Wikipedia—dazed, bored, link-hopping with hardly a thought. But then once in awhile, you land on something that snaps you back to life. That’s what happened when I found myself scrolling through the page for MTV’s high school football reality show, Two-A-Days. (You remember Two-A-Days, right? That show where every guy had that swoopy haircut?) Nothing about the actual show is illuminated by the entry, but then you get to the section about the guy who coached the team Two-A-Days focused on, Rush Propst. Let me just drop this in: “On October 30, 2007, Propst resigned from the head coaching position of Hoover High School effective at the end of the season, while admitting to extramarital affairs and living a double life. Propst revealed he was married to two women and had children with both.”
What the—why wasn’t this the show?! Or better yet, why doesn’t MTV stop playing Ridiculousness all day and start production on a fictionalized version of this story?! It’s like Friday Night Lights if Coach Taylor were an antihero. Anyways, thanks for the pick-me-up, Wikipedia. —Andrew Gruttadaro
Route: New York Mets → Fred Wilpon → Samuel Israel III → Faked Death and Ponzi Scheme (separate tabs) → Lawrence Joseph Bader
Fans (and enemies!) of the New York Mets will be unsurprised to learn that the rich tapestry of Wikipedia directory pages for both “People Who Faked Their Own Death” and “Pyramid and Ponzi Schemes” can be found only a few clicks away from the franchise’s main page. When the former team owners were revealed to have (knowingly?) gotten got by Bernie Madoff’s infamous fraud back in 2008, it wasn’t even the first time they’d been associated with a pyramid scheme. And the other instance might have been even stranger: Three years after Samuel Israel III’s hedge fund, Bayou—which the Madoffs had invested with—was indicted for fraud in 2005, Israel failed to show up for his prison sentence, faked his death with the help of a line from the TV show M*A*S*H, and was ultimately tracked down by the Feds at a campground.
Israel’s Wikipedia page links to both of the aforementioned directories, each of which could keep a person clicking all day long (and has!) but the one that stood out to me most was this story of Lawrence Joseph Bader, a father of three (with one more on the way) who disappeared during a fishing trip on Lake Erie in 1957, showed up four days later in Omaha as a man named Fritz Johnson, and then kinda went buck wild: He sat on a flagpole to raise money for polio research; he became “a bartender, radio announcer, and TV sports director;” he drove a hearse around town; he wore an eyepatch; he traipsed around at archery tournaments. Don Draper could never. Let’s go Mets! —Katie Baker
Prometheus, the God
Route: Prometheus (2012 film) → Prometheus (Greek Mythology) → Prometheus, Myths and Legends
This past summer, I wrote about Michael Cavic, a man who lost one of the closest and most controversial swim races in Olympic history to one of the greatest Olympians of all time. During a rather broad conversation, Cavic mentioned that he’s a fan of the movie Prometheus and tried to connect some of the underlying thematic elements of the film to his life. I was confused—I had not seen the movie and had no intention to (aliens and alien-related pop culture aren’t my thing), but I needed a primer on the picture. Wikipedia to the rescue. With apologies to Ridley Scott, I abandoned that page pretty quickly and found myself indulging in a Greek mythology refresher that’s been overdue since college—including and especially the origins of the world and humanity. TL;DR, Prometheus created man from clay and stole fire and gave it to the people. And whoa boy, were the other gods pissed about that. Especially Zeus. At the main man’s direction, Prometheus suffered all kinds of grisly torture as punishment, including having his liver eaten by an eagle, only for it to grow back the next day, only to have it eaten by an eagle AGAIN. And on and on it went for a while, because if there’s one thing the gods do not condone, it’s a fire heist. Anyway, remember to thank Prometheus’s liver next time you cook dinner. —John Gonzalez
What Would You Do If You Fell in This Wormhole?
Route: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit → Ryan Toby → City High
Whenever Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit comes on cable, I do what any right-minded person does—I google why Hollywood failed to deliver a third installment. Thankfully, Disney has changed their mind about this matter, but I would like to discuss a particular internet journey I took because of this query. One day, after I found myself clapping on my couch to the “Oh Happy Day” choir scene for the 876th time, I decided to find out what happened to the actor who played Ahmal. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would unearth something so spectacular: Allow me to introduce Ryan Toby’s page.
Before the Killers graced us with the anthem of the decade, “Mr. Brightside,” there was an impeccable track released in 2001 called “What Would You Do?” It’s a perfect song; if you’re of a certain age, I guarantee you’re singing the hook right now. And, well, I’m ecstatic to report that one of the people responsible for that song was Ryan Toby, who made up one-third of City High, the R&B trio who performed that song. My life changed that day, and it changed because of one website. If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and use Wikipedia. —Bridget Geerlings
The Graphical Timeline of the Band Santana
Route: List of 1960s Musical Artists → Carlos Santana → Santana (Band) → Santana (Band), Timeline
As a devotee of dad rock—or granddad rock, depending on one’s frame of reference—who listens to a lot of music made by bands that broke up long ago, I have a soft spot for zombie bands that outlived their life expectancy and continue to tour or record. I’m talking about gray-bearded bands that have soldiered on for decades despite departures and deaths, their ever-shifting formations often winnowed to one founding member (at most) who carries on their legacy and retains the legal rights to their name. These groups are like the Lazarus taxa of the entertainment industry, and it’s difficult to document their histories from original lineups to current incarnations. Fortunately, a fossil record exists: Industrious editors on Wikipedia have preserved some of their rosters and timelines in graphical form; the sprawling displays are something to behold. REO Speedwagon. Steppenwolf. The Temptations. The Beach Boys. The Flying Burrito Brothers. Earth, Wind & Fire. And maybe the most voluminous of all: a scrollable, color-coded roll call of the almost 70 past or present members of Santana, ranging from drummers or bassists who came and went in one year to the 55-year tenure of Carlos Santana himself. This is information, but it’s also art. Now I just need enough wall space to turn some of these suckers into framed prints and hang them in my home. —Ben Lindbergh
All Roads Lead to Rockets
Route: Sir Arthur Currie → Battle of the Somme → Mines on the First Day of the Somme → Largest Artificial Nonnuclear Explosions → N1 Rocket → Sea Dragon (rocket) (separate tab)
Years ago, I was listening to the World War I series of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History when further reading about a Canadian general mentioned therein led to underground explosives at a battle he was involved in, which led to one of the best pages on all of Wikipedia: “Largest Artificial Nonnuclear Explosions.” Every single one of these is worth reading about, and my love for this page has surfaced on The Ringer in articles about Texas City and For All Mankind. The N1 is one of the most powerful rockets ever devised, but would have been dwarfed by NASA’s proposed Sea Dragon, a vehicle so massive it could have been launched only by floating it in the middle of the ocean because no facility on Earth could accommodate it. (Here it is depicted in a post-credits sequence in For All Mankind.) My point is: All Wikipedia wormholes lead to giant rockets and/or giant explosions. —Michael Baumann
The Extremely Dangerous (No, Seriously) History of Action Park
Route: Action Park → Action Park, Factors Contributing to the Park’s Safety Record → Action Park, Fatalities
What begins as a romp through America’s most infamous amusement park eventually turns terrifying. There’s a breakdown of the place’s ugly safety record, which notes that minors were allowed to operate rides and that accidents were often not reported. Then, gulp, there’s a chronological list of the six fatalities that occurred at the park.
Unsurprisingly, I’m one of many who’s fallen into the Action Park wormhole. The Wiki page was featured on Longform.org; Johnny Knoxville even starred in a movie called Action Point that’s loosely based on the place, and there have now been documentaries made about the long-shuttered New Jersey destination.
Growing up in New England, I sadly never got to visit the dangerous Action Park. But its Wiki entry is so extensive that I feel like I have. —Alan Siegel
The List of Unusual Deaths
Route: Who the hell even knows?
I’m sure (I’m not sure) that there’s a perfectly reasonable path of clicks that first led me to the “List of Unusual Deaths”. I’ve long since forgotten it, but I keep the list bookmarked for the simple reason that there is no better source of endless Wikipedia wormholes. With entries spanning from the present all the way back to 620 B.C.E, there’s plenty that’s unusual: The deaths include everything from a fatal blow from a falling tortoise to a deadly toothpick-swallowing to one unlucky teenager’s demise after, and I quote, “a circus clown swung him around by his heels.” Nearly every entry offers a handful of links to additional pages—about the dearly departed, the palace intrigue, the poison, or, um, death by sawing. Pour one out for those taken too soon, and may your journeys through the list’s many burrows carry you safely to your destination. —Claire McNear