#21 RPGs

I think that nerds have a great deal of trouble accepting that magic isn't real.  I'm sure that everyone goes through a depressing disillusionment at some time in one's life, as the realization dawns that riding a dragon, summoning fireballs out of thin air with graceful gestures, apotheosis, and looking stylish in a pointy red hat are just not going to be possible in the real world.  It seems to be the case that most people are able to accept these harsh facts, and get on with the business of working 37 hours a week so as to have enough money to buy large televisions for escaping the real world.  Nerds, however, cling a bit tighter to the illusion.  They band together in order to pretend for hours at a time that they have the strength to assault a massive dork tower, or the mental power to kill a troll with a thought.  The use of dice is key here.  Polyhedra are the faberge eggs of the nerd world; the opportunity to combine that with a long-held dream of owning a flamberge is just too tempting to resist.  It would be remiss of me not to add that the personal interaction over a table top is too intense for some nerds, and for this variety the notion of banding together is satisfied far better by clicking in frenzied fashion on the computer.  To each his own.

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#20 Using 'One' as a Pronoun

This is about the American nerd, as any Brit will do this without thinking.  In American English we sadly lack a gender-neutral singular third person pronoun, and so we compensate with grammatic monstrosities like using 'they', alternating 'he' and 'she', or the worst--using 'you'.  This last example is particularly prominent in quotes from athletes and rock stars: "We did definitely get some breaks and took advantage of them. That's what you've got to do here" (quote from curling champion Jeff Stoughton).  What *I've* got to do? All I need to do is sit on my couch and solve my Nurikabe.

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#18 Stuff Used for Breadboarding

Apparently also unnecessary alliteration.  The EE nerd is always willing to spend an immense amount of time building custom electronic gadgets by hand.  In our dorm there were a number of people who had built themselves Gandalf staffs that glowed on command; other people I've heard of built a fake bomb solely for others to defuse.  Partly it's that writing assembly code is a great break from Lisp.  Partly it's just cool to build a personal little power grid, even if it wasn't very hard.  Partly it's that they had to find something to do after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was cancelled.  But a bigger part of it is that the bits and pieces are just so fun.  Labs are stocked with bins of components, thus being in lab is fun; it's the penny arcade of the modern era.

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#19 Shows Cancelled Before The Third Season

There is nothing more delightful to a nerd than to be one of those people who discovered a good show just before the big bad network cancelled it. Not only is there a thrill to being one of the few people who truly understands just how good a show is, but the small fan base means that the love often flows back to the audience, like current though a zener diode.  But I think the greatest thing of all about these shows is that they end before they have a chance to disappoint, like the last season of Babylon 5.

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#17 Trivial Games

Games which can be won instantly and yet played forever are a category of game of which the world seems largely unaware.  That's... probably for the best actually.  The world doesn't need the ugly arguments that ensue when trying to determine whether Puerto Rico counts as a country or an unincorporated territory, or the amount of paper wasted when playing one of these games through the mail over thirteen years.

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#15 Anything by Joss Whedon

I have a confession.  I have never watched any show about vampires.  I'm pretty sure every single one of my friends has, which occasionally makes me feel persona non grata at parties.  When one of his shows was described to me as 'a western set in space,' I was completely uninterested (though I was wrong; I was also wrong when I thought Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was going to be awesome, so maybe I just have terrible predictive powers).  Yet by the time the writers went on strike and a viral musical blog starring the amazingly talented Neil Patrick Harris (side note: how many of us were jealous of the fact that Doogie Howser got to go to medical school that young?  Show of hands), I was perched at my computer awaiting each release.

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#16 Webcomics

At some point some clever individual realized that while many people are on the internet, nerds spend far more time on it than the average individual does, or indeed than perhaps is healthy.  Thus the internet is the perfect conduit for more than watching bootleg Red Dwarf videos; it can also deliver to these individuals targeted humor that the wider world might not find enjoyable.  As a side benefit it also allows bizarre humor from other parts of the world to be available, which is always a positive from the nerd's perspective.

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#14 British Humour

I have this belief that all nerd children spent their entire childhood glued to PBS watching British comedies that they could not possibly understand and yet somehow still enjoyed, because I did. Pinpointing why is difficult--is it that men are inherently more dashing in a fedora? The rampant cross-dressing? Over time that childhood delight ripens into a true understanding and belief that people in the UK are just funnier than anyone in the United States could ever be.

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#13 Board Game Geek's Top 35 Ranked Games

Remember Life? Clue? Monopoly? Yeah, nerds don't play those (exception: Solar Quest is awesome, no matter that it is a Monopoly clone with even less interesting gameplay). Nerds enjoy games that cost at least $41, have lots of little wooden pieces that must be guarded carefully so as to not end up inside the nearest cat or child, and whose rules take many hours to explain. I will also note that although I call them board games, many do not in fact involve a board at all. There may be a randomization element that creates some amount of chance in the game, but it can almost always be won by good strategy over luck. New players may be stumped when a lengthy recitation of rules provides little illumination, and their condescending companions tell them "don't worry, you'll figure it out." Such games provide a necessary social outlet, in that they are a great deal like computer games, but usually require other people in order to play. Plus they encourage such mature and witty jokes as "I've got wood for your sheep" (which sadly is a step up from the "three physicists walk into a bar" style jokes).

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#11 Modus Ponens

The simplest of logical arguments, modus ponens has a name that's fun to say, and quite convenient when nerds are children trying to scheme to make their peers feel stupid.  Or when they are adults trying to make their peers feel stupid.

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#12 Sports that ESPN Rarely Shows

This is again more specifically about the American nerd, who often eschews sports that are broadly televised, instead focusing neurotic attention on sports enjoyed exclusively by people in other countries or possibly by no one at all.  Another example of the self-segregation that the nerd chooses as a lifestyle, it nonetheless means that if one walks into an MIT lounge and asks who won the world series blank stares will ensue; ask about the Bodyline incident and watch the resulting furor.  It's almost as bad as if you were to mention the Monty Python swallow sketch.

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#9 ER Jokes

Why is saying 'but I...' after any word ending in '-er' inherently funny?  Honestly, I have no idea, but it is.

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#10 Programming Languages that Heavily Use Parentheses

This may go out of fashion now that 6.001 is no more, and young MIT CS majors are learning python instead of spending interminable hours trying to visually match parens.  Knights of the Lambda Calculus go forth into the world carrying a sentimentality about SICP that shades their language preferences forever.  Moreover it actually *is* a club, albeit a club with a lot of members who never talk to each other, or have anything binding them except a pin received freshman year.  Paren-lovers are identifiable by observing their odd paren-matching gestures while staring intently at a computer screen.

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# 8 Science Fiction Television

Often dismissed by those not in the know, this genre is the ideal conduit for hopes and dreams, played out in a world where the universe is thrown open and there is a massive race for the galaxy.  No one alive now is likely to still be here when we find intelligent life, let alone succeed in communicating with it.  None of us are likely to see a day that poverty is eliminated, war is over and all fences mended, with a chicken in every pot and the DVDs of Fawlty Towers for every girl and boy.  Through these works of fiction, what-ifs are played out in a non-threatening environment. Themes like prejudice, sometimes easy to dismiss in ordinary contexts, appear entirely different as the quirks of an alien society.  Not to mention the fact that everyone needs something to do when their WoW server is full.

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#7 Phrases in Latin

Pretentious? Yes. A way to bore people into oblivion? Yes. However, they do provide an excellent way for two nerds to identify each other at parties.  "Quid agis?" "Oh, I see!  You speak Latin therefore you are a fellow nerd, what a small world we live in!"  Really boring parties.

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#6 Shows by Aaron Sorkin

Which brings me to Aaron Sorkin, the messiah of screenplay writing for the cultured nerd.  Whatever he writes, nerds will delight in.  No matter that the show happens to have the same premise as a much better show on a different network.  No matter that the show heavily features a tired and uninteresting romance that will not die no matter how much the audience wants it to. No matter that the show within the show isn't funny.  Nerds will watch it, and they will be sad yet relieved when it is cancelled.  Why?  A warm halo suffuses all that is Sorkin because all nerds remember when POTUS rode his bicycle into a tree, and the meaning of 'post hoc ergo propter hoc'.  Everything he touches is inherently awesome, therefore if he wrote it, it must be awesome.

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#4 Logic Puzzles

Ah, nerd crack.  The sad truth about the world is that it has many boring parts, like waiting for the train at Mornington Crescent, commercials for the next revolutionary vacuum cleaner, and Adam Sandler movies; nerd brains crave entertainment at times that their bodies may be trapped by social custom or physical exhaustion after too much ultimate frisbee.  To others, who only know the 9-by-9 grid phenomenon, coloring in little black boxes on a grid might seem a repetitive and dull task, but it just so happens to exercise whatever part of the brain makes a nerd a nerd.

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#5 Prime Numbers

It may seem obvious, but nerds really really love numbers.  This is true both in the reasonable sense--enjoying statistics that prove obscure points of view like Angel being a better show than Buffy because of ratings, memorizing far too many digits of some number as a bizarre party trick, or optimizing the mileage of a Nissan Pathfinder--and also in the not-so-reasonable activity of replacing perfectly good words and concepts with uninterpretable numeric counterparts. More exciting than all that though, are numbers with characteristics that can be described to completely disinterested parties while on an unsuccessful first date.

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#3 Sentences that Use Mathematical Vocabulary in a Non-Mathematical Context

This perhaps doesn't even qualify as something nerds like, but rather are entirely unable to avoid doing--the use of words that the majority of the population would think are only found in mathematics textbooks. The field of mathematics is so lush with terms that describe so specifically our environment that it's hard to resist the use of them, even when talking to my 7-year old cousin about the crayons she was using to deface her dollhouse. Sample conversation:

Cousin: I like blue
Me: Any particular shades of blue?
Cousin: Blue!
Me: Ok, but blue isn't a proper subset of blue, so what I'm asking is...
Cousin: Blue!!!

Apparently the Great Blue Defense works for more things than just the Color-Country game.

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#1 Songs About Math or Science

I'm not entirely sure why hearing about equations in song form is so much more titillating than in lecture or even on television or movie screen.  Nerds can sleep through any engineering lecture, but listening to Tom Lehrer calculate in base 8, or hearing a cube-mate start singing The Galaxy Song under his breath while writing code is an instant upper.  One would think that the set of people cool enough to get albums published would be entirely disjoint from the set of people who think math is recreational; the realization that there is in fact an intersection gives nerds the sense of not having burned all of their bridges.

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#2 Linux

Before the Apple fans out there raise objections, yes of course, nerds also like Macs quite a bit too. I will contend though that the do-it-yourself nature of open source makes this the ideal nerd operating system. Nerds are able to ignore the extreme inconvenience of needing to write their own drivers and not being able to run games released in the current millennium for the joy of having complete control. (Tangentially, this may explain fan fiction as well--one can make Inara from Firefly do absolutely anything in imagination.) Nothing good has come out since Civ, right?

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