Today we’re featuring stories about YouTube pranksters, marathon cheats, cephalopods, sleep and a massive collection of restaurant menus.

1. Vigilantes for Views: The YouTube Pranksters Harassing Suspected Scam Callers in India

Andrew Deck and Raksha Kumar | Rest of World | January 10, 2023 | 5,737 words

Justice can mean equality, and it can also mean retribution. In the case of Artsiom Kulik and Ashton Bingham, who have carved out a robust career orchestrating “scambusting” videos, their conception seems to skew heavily to the latter. But Kulik and Bingham’s gleeful payback has a discomfiting subtext. Somewhere along the way, Trilogy Media graduated from simply annoying phone scammers to releasing mice and cockroaches into a Kolkata call center — and as the stakes have gotten bigger, so has the sense that this isn’t really about justice at all. Andrew Deck and Raksha Kumar’s piece is a profile on its face, and an investigation at its core. With the fake Best Picture Oscar on display in their office, the Trilogy duo sees itself as destined for bigger and better things; what they don’t see is that they’ve gone from coming up to punching down. This isn’t the first story to reveal the craven heart of a content creator’s ambition, but it’s the rare example that goes a step farther to tease out the troubling power dynamics at play. —PR

2. The Not-Quite-Redemption of South Africa’s Infamous Ultra-Marathon Cheats

Ryan Lenora Brown | Business Insider | December 30, 2022 | 5,363 words

In 1999, Sergio and Arnold Motsoeneng stunned the running world by cheating in the Comrades, an ultra-marathon in South Africa. The country was barely out of apartheid’s grip, and the twin brothers’ decision to swap clothes in a portable toilet was seen as a betrayal. In the eyes of racists, it was also a harbinger. “It felt to many like it was saying something … about the moral character of Black South Africans generally,” Ryan Lenora Brown writes. “Look, they said, this is who you’ve handed our country to.” Twenty-three years after the fact, Brown found the brothers, and they agreed to be interviewed. The resulting feature is a “where are they now” story, but Brown also considers where they were then. When the brothers cheated, there was serious money on the line — the Comrades winner would receive the equivalent of more than 70 years’ worth of the salary earned by the twins’ father. “Nobody wants to be poor forever,” Sergio told Brown. This is a complicated story, written with grace, and Brown does a memorable job describing both scenes and their stakes. —SD

3. Downward Spiral

Kate Evans | bioGraphic | June 4, 2022 | 4,304 words

Stumbling upon this piece, I didn’t expect to find it gripping, never having had a particular penchant for giant snails. I was wrong. The world of the nautilus is fascinating, and Kate Evans’ buoyant writing had me hooked. Only a handful of scientists have studied these creatures, even though they have survived all five of Earth’s past major extinction events; for centuries, writes Evans, their beautiful swirling shape has inspired “art, architecture, and math across many cultures.” These guys are both survivors and influencers. They are also smart: In one experiment, they are taught to navigate to deeper water by a beacon in their tank, but when the beacon moves and the tank shifts, they unexpectedly start to orient themselves using a wall poster of 20th-century chemist Rosalind Franklin, which hangs in the lab. I appreciated Evans taking the time to break from the science and detail their cheeky side — spending time with some nautiluses is akin to hanging out with “a gang of troublesome 12-year-olds.” However, it is not all lighthearted, and the nautilus researchers Evans spends time with have some stark warnings about a warming ocean; climate change may be the one event these cephalopods can’t survive. —CW

4. Trying to Stay Awake

Jenny Diski | London Review of Books | July 31, 2008 | 2,791 words

In the last few years, sleep and I have had a strained relationship. I make appropriate advances in the form of a consistent bedtime, dutifully parking my screen for a paperback during pre-sleep reading. My phone remains in Do Not Disturb mode 24/7, yet sleep spurns me. As humans, we always want what we can’t have. That’s why I was drawn to the late Jenny Diski’s 2008 essay at the London Review of Books about her childhood love affair with the process of falling asleep, of lingering in that liminal stage between sleep and wakefulness, confident in the fact that sleep would surely come. (If only!) “Inexpert though I am in all other fields, I am a connoisseur of sleep. Actually, my speciality is not sleep itself, but the hinterland of sleep, the point of entry to unconsciousness. So I remember it, and so it still is, at its best, the border territory of sleep. The whole point is to extend the unsleeping moment, and to drop into a state where all logic and reason disappears, while I nevertheless retain an essential degree of awareness of the strangeness I’ve achieved. ” —KS

5. Getting Lost in the World’s Largest Stack of Menus

Adam Reiner | Taste | January 1, 2023 | 2,243 words

“Menus provide a window into history, a vital connection to our foodways,” writes Adam Reiner in this fun read about restaurant menus. Frank E. Buttolph, a volunteer archivist at the New York Public Library, amassed 25,000 menus from around the world before she died in 1924. Today, the NYPL’s Buttolph Collection numbers 40,000, dating back to 1843, with most menus from between 1890 and 1910. What was served in the first Japanese and French restaurants in New York? What dishes were considered expensive or high-end or adventurous in the early 1900s? The collection’s menus, writes Reiner, are sources of inspiration for today’s chefs, researchers, and the simply (epi)curious. The scanned ones featured in his story are lovely to look at, and make you want to visit the NYPL yourself so you can pore over these pages. In our era of restaurant apps and QR codes, Reiner has also opened my eyes to the value of a physical, printed menu; I’ve always enjoyed reading the descriptions of dishes and cocktails, but after reading his piece, I realize how much a menu can also illuminate the historical and cultural context of the food they describe. —CLR


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