Loco In The Headwinds

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Nigel Holmes changed the way Time magazine readers in 1977 consumed visual data. By extension, he influenced an entire generation of data viz designers, perhaps even the entire data viz business long before the internet made information graphics an essential part of the visual language. He has put his talents to the test with his new tome, “Crazy Competitions: 100 Weird and Wonderful Rituals from Around the World” (Taschen). There were many more that were not odd enough, but every nation, people and tribe has some recipe for releasing their lunacy and Holmes has found the most well-known and equally obscure. I asked him about how insane the research process must have been.


The boss said yes, but wanted 100 events, and a larger format than I had envisioned. Julius hooked me up with Chris Mizsak, a researcher in England.The three of us put together a list of possibles. It was surprisingly easy to find 100, by the way—I could probably do a second volume.

I have some idea about a few of these, the famous ones, like Nathan’s Hot Dog eating, but what for you is the most bizarre and surprising of all the competitions?

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The book is much more than a list or guide to 100 competitive “sports”, its a blow by blow description. This is up your alley, but where did the information come from?Many, but not all of the events have official websites; and there’s a ton of eye witness and local news reports about every one of the 100. Chris and others at Taschen checked everything I did and came back to me with questions. Originally, I had intended the book to be rather simple, with one bold graphic per spread. But the more I did, the more I realized how much detail I could include for each one. At some point in 2016, I suggested that one of the final list should be completely made up. I told no one which it was until a copy researcher came back to me thinking I’d made a mistake in the location of what was in fact the fake one. But he didn’t question the event itself! (My son Rowland had created a very convincing website for it.) There was talk of Taschen running a sort of spot-the-fake contest, but I haven’t heard about that lately. Maybe it’s a casualty of the current “fake news” horror show.

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And, more to the point, did you partake in any of the 100?The only one I went to was the hotdog eating contest. (But not as a participant!)

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What would you say is the most dangerous of them all?

The Onbashira Festival. Once every 6 years, teams of very brave men from Suwa, Japan, cut down and drag 12-ton tree trunks 12 miles, then straddle them as the trunks careen down a steep slope before being installed at four shrines at the bottom of the hill. It’s difficult to stay on the tree trunks. If team members fall off, others, keen to prove their bravery, try to jump onto the speeding wooden missiles. There have been crushed limbs and fatal accidents.

I must admit the Kuno Gassen Fighting Spiders gives me the creeps. What of all the competitions troubles, if that’s the right word, you the most?I wouldn’t take part in Kudu Dung Spitting.

What do you want the reader to take away?I hope people have fun reading the book, and looking at the different styles of drawing I’ve used to show very different types of event. Perhaps readers will be inspired to attend Pig-n-Ford races in the US; to watch Bog Snorkelling or Dwile Flonking in England; or to keep clear of the bees at the Bee Bearding Championship in China. But even if they just read about them here, I hope they will marvel at some of the wild stuff we people do when we don’t take things too seriously.