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The Darwin Awards II

The Darwin Awards II

Unnatural Selection

Wendy Northcutt - Author

Paperback | $13.00 | add to cart | view cart
ISBN 9780452284012 | 256 pages | 25 Mar 2003 | Plume | 5.39 x 7.12in | 18 - AND UP
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The New York Times bestselling phenomenon returns with a hilarious new compendium of mishaps, misadventures, and fatal missteps that show once again how far we’ve climbed the evolutionary food chain

The Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection brings together a fresh collection of the hapless, the heedless, and the just plain foolhardy among us.  Salute the owner of an equipment training school who demonstrates the dangers of driving a forklift by failing to survive the filming of his own safety video. Gawk at the couple who go to sleep on a sloping roof. Witness the shepherd who leaves his rifle unsecured—only to be accidentally shot by one of his own flock.

With over one hundred Darwin Award Winners, Honorable Mentions, and debunked Urban Legends, plus science and safety tips for avoiding the scythe of natural selection, The Darwin Awards II proves once again how uncommon common sense can be.

Chapter One


Penance:
Seven Deadly Sins


The tree of life is self-pruning.


Religions have long waged war against the seven deadly sins. Here's proof that evolution is fighting the same battle. Lust, vanity, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and wrath: all are fatal when carried to excess. From sensual skunk play to the vanity of amateur liposuction, indulgence in the deadly vices leads to trouble.


Discussion: Kismet, Karma, Destiny


Are you superstitious?

    We enjoy believing in abstract balancing principles. There ought to be a force that gives each what he's earned, call it kismet, karma, or destiny. And yet we also believe in the opposite—lucky slot machines and winning streaks. Don't you sometimes walk around a ladder, or kiss your exam paper for good luck? Superstitious beliefs are imbedded in our personalities.

    The Darwin Awards celebrate another sort of religion—that of final justice according to the divine laws of nature. Darwin winners suffer a practical form of karma. They prove our theory that if you don't use your head to enhance your survival, you'll be fingered by the impartial hand of fate.

    There is a solid basis for the "religion" of the Darwin Awards: Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. In a single lifetime one finds ample proof that natural selection leads to evolution. We've seen evolution happen before our very eyes. Broccoli, dog breeds, nectarines, and modern corn all resulted from random mutations combined with natural (or artificial) selection.

    Weeds provide an example of evolution happening in your own front lawn.

    Dandelions are ubiquitous and very difficult to eliminate.

    A handful of wild dandelion seeds will grow into adults of assorted heights, which scatter their seeds far and wide to begin the process again. But weekly lawn mowing schedules are a new selective pressure! We created a new environmental hazard for dandelions. And they rose, or rather shrunk, to meet the challenge.

    Regular cutting of lawns selects for very short dandelions, ones that hug the ground too closely to be slashed by mower blades, and send up flowers that seed within days to avoid the reaper's scythe. A new short dandelion variant is branching off the general dandelion population. Over time the lawn dandelions may well diverge from the wild dandelions, increasingly specialized for the modern lawn environment, and a new species—the lawnlion?—will dawn.

    Because examples of natural selection are easy to come by, the "religion" of the Darwin Awards stands on firm scientific footing. The interesting and powerful mechanism of natural selection is a blindly omniscient tool to increase the long-term survival of the human race—and provide a measure of immortality to comfort our transient personal existence.

    The stories that follow show the Darwinian repercussions to those who ignore religious strictures, and indulge in the seven deadly sins.


Darwin Award: Vanity
Liposuction Tragedy

Unconfirmed by Darwin

September 1999, New York


David, a forty-four-year-old Mineola man, was more desperate to be rid of his flab than most. Why not save money and allow his friend to perform amateur liposuction on him in his garage? As you might guess, using a vacuum for liposuction is not the safest of weight loss programs. David died in the makeshift medical clinic, the victim of a lidocaine overdose. Anyone foolish enough to lie back and take the medical ministrations of a unlicensed liposuctionist in his garage workshop deserves to win a Darwin for heedless vanity.

    The fake physician apologized to the man's family.

Reference: Associated Press
* More vacuum peril: Fantastic Plastic Lover, page 88


"I don't think, therefore I am not."


Darwin Award: Vanity
Perilous Pose

Unconfirmed by Darwin

September 2000, Germany


The picturesque medieval city of Rothenburg was recently the scene of a dramatic artistic effort. A fifty-three-year-old man from Baden-Würtemberg was posing nude in front of his camera, balanced atop a stone wall, when he lost his balance and fell sixteen feet to the ground below. Unlike its erstwhile owner, the camera remained safely settled on the tripod on the wall, and police plan to develop the film for clues to the man's death. Darwin anticipates that this story will stand as a testament to the self-pruning nature of the tree of life.

Reference: Ananova.com
* Another poorly framed photograph: Enraged Elephant, page 30


Darwin Award: Wrath
Throwing Stones

Confirmed by Darwin

11 October 2000, Samaria


The violent unrest in the Middle East has created a new Darwin Award winner. Three friends went to the Eli junction to enjoy a favorite activity: throwing stones at passing cars. They scored on a truck, then one walked into the street, stones in hand, to attack a passing car. The driver tried to swerve away from the man, lost control of his vehicle, and overturned, killing the stone thrower and severely injuring himself. Judea and Samaria district police jointly determined that the accidental crash was caused by the stone-throwing young men.

    Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Reference: Ha'aretz, Itim
* Throwing snowballs: Snowball's Chance in Hell, page 73


Darwin Award: Greed
Crystal Daze

2000, Mexico Confirmed by Darwin


Chihuahua, Mexico, is home to two hot caverns containing the largest natural crystals known to man. "Walking into either of these caves is like stepping into a sweltering, gigantic geode," described one awed observer. Some of the clear crystals of selenite are over twenty feet long.

    The newly discovered caverns buried twelve hundred feet below the surface of the earth carry a curse for those who seek to plunder their riches. A man recently tried to steal one of the magnificent crystals from the roof, and might have succeeded if he hadn't stood directly beneath it while chopping it free. He was crushed by the sparkling stalactite as it heeded the call of gravity.

Reference: Discovery Channel News
* Another thief thwarted by a natural force:
Ferguson 2, Thieves 0, page 162


"To be or not to be ..."


Darwin Award: Sloth
Sleepfalling

Confirmed by Darwin

19 June 1999, Amsterdam


On a warm summer night in the Netherlands, an Italian resident who had picked up the habit of sleeping in the open air during sweltering Mediterranean summer nights decided to bed down on the roof. He climbed to the top of his apartment and arranged a comfortable bed, but paid little heed to the slope of the roof. Perhaps the night would have ended more happily if he had tucked himself in securely. Instead he fell asleep on top of his blanket, rolled down the incline, and plunged to his death.

Reference: Mobile Alabama Press Register
* Another fateful snooze: Sheep Sleep, page 116


A high IQ doesn't make up for
a lack of common sense.


Darwin Award: Envy
Flames of Passion

Confirmed by Darwin

17 November 1999, Germany


Germany's image as a peaceful utopia has been tarnished by an acrimonious divorce. After bitter legal proceedings, Uwe of Brandenburg found that he had lost everything but his lederhosen knickerbockers. Among other possessions, the settlement demanded that Uwe turn over ownership of his house to his newly estranged wife.

    Enraged by his wife's unmitigated legal victory, the forty-year-old man decided to follow the sage advice of an obscure German proverb: "If life gives you lemons, burn them."

    Descending into the basement with his trusty drill, Uwe proceeded to bore several holes into a rather large oil tank. He then set fire to the fuel as it poured in erratic streams onto the floor. To his delight, the entire basement was engulfed in flames within seconds.

    His joy turned to ashes, however, when he realized that he was now in the middle of a Hindenburg-sized house fire. Despite a valiant effort to save himself, Uwe died in the flames of his own vengeance. His wife got the last laugh.

Reference: Düsseldorf Express
* More revenge gone wrong: Aircraft Airhead, page 35


Darwin Award: Envy
Moscow Marauder

Confirmed by Darwin

8 September 2000, Russia


A man who threatened to "deal with" his wife and her lover, instead dealt with himself in a revenge attempt gone wrong. He blew himself up with a homemade bomb in the far eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk. The device exploded when the man tried to attach it to the door of the lovers' not-so-secret apartment boudoir.

Reference: Reuters, Tass
* More men playing with bombs: Shell Shot, page 133


Darwin Award: Gluttony
Ethanol Schmethanol

Unconfirmed by Darwin

May 2001, England

We'll soon find out if I'm a scientist or not!
I'll drop a pellet of the compound I created
into this test tube ...

— Stan Lee's Spiderman, November 1963


With those murmured words, a Russian professor quaffed an aliquot of clear fluid from a beaker ... and slowly succumbed to alcohol poisoning. The Oxford University professor had been in the habit of drinking laboratory ethanol, until he unwittingly poured his last drink from a bottle of methanol.

    According to Usenet scientists, methanol is a common lab solvent that looks and smells like ethanol but is "five times as toxic and five times less intoxicating." Those who drink it invariably drink too much.

    The forty-four-year-old professor of ecology was said to have had poor vision, and probably misread the label.


Reference: solstice.crest.org, London Telegraph
* A gopher's experience with mind-altering substances:
Revenge of the Gopher, page 203


The line between genius and stupidity is very fine.


Honorable Mention: Gluttony
Men Eating Chili

Unconfirmed by Darwin

May 1999, Philippines


Three men attempting to land in the Guinness Book of World Records were hospitalized in Legaspi after eating excessive amounts of chili peppers. They were treated for acute gastritis and high blood pressure, and released with a warning to moderate their intake.

Reference: UPI, The Star
* Another try for the Guinness Book of World Records: Rubbish, page 31
* Another serious case of indigestion: The Last Supper, page 199

"Delightfully funny, The Darwin Awards, taken together, constitute a delicious sermon in support of common sense." —The Baltimore Sun

"The Darwin Awards is a riot to read.  Deeply entertaining." —San Francisco Weekly


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