Let’s get this out of the way first: Bronies are dudes (bros) who are really into My Little Pony, specifically the cartoon TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Their annual convention has drawn more than 4000 enthusiasts to New York in recent years, but this year it’s coming to Baltimore instead. Will you attend?
You know how every summer, the Inner Harbor suddenly fills with people dressed as if they wished there was a way to actually live inside a video game? That’s thanks to Otakon, the anime/manga/video game/nerd conference that’s been held in Baltimore since 1999 — and which happened to pump $15 million into the local economy last year. No longer content to confine their fandom to a summer weekend, the folks behind Otakon have planned the first-ever Otakon Music Festival, which is set to descend on Baltimore the first weekend in November, and which will feature “Anime song supergroup JAM PROJECT.” Um, we pretty much can’t wait.
On March 16, Will Shortz hosted the World Palindrome Competition, matching up seven of the world’s top palindromists in a fight to the death — well, actually a fight to find out who can make up reversible phrases the most quickly.
The competitors were all men, and included MIT professors, software analysts, stand-up comedians, and one former employee of the Harvard bookstore. Each had 75 minutes to complete palindromes with at least one of the following constraints:
- Use an x and a z in the palindrome;
- Write a palindrome on a person or event prominent in the news during the last 12 months; or
- Write a palindrome about this competition.
Some of the winning phrases below:
If you happen to know any teenagers who would rather spend the summer building robots and spaghetti-bridges than lifeguarding or sleeping in, be sure to point them toward Johns Hopkins’ Engineering Innovation. Over the past decade, the program has hosted enthusiastic high school math/science buffs who spend a month “develop[ing] the skills to think and problem solve like engineers.”
Clearly, this program isn’t for everyone. For one, participants have to have completed Algebra II and Trigonometry, as well as be comfortable using a spreadsheet program like Excel. For another, they have to be stoked at the idea of spending the summer with like-minded — and we mean this in the most celebratory, positive sense possible — nerds. Those who are so inclined will spend their time crafting elaborate mousetraps, elegantly complex spaghetti bridges, an listening to lectures on dimensional reasoning, digital systems, and something called “truss analysis.” And presumably making friends, developing crushes, talking nerd talk, etc. Check out these photos for evidence of how much fun these kids must have.
Financial aid — including full scholarships — is available for those who need it, and kids who leave the summer class with an A or B grade can get three college credits from Hopkins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ninety percent of program grads go on to study engineering (or science) in college. The deadline is March 15. Alert your favorite nerds.
In Geeks, a new study of the high school misfit, Alexandra Robbins tracks a host of teen nerd archetypes: “the loner, the gamer, the nerd, the new girl, the band geek and the weird girl.”
According to Robbins’ “Quirk Theory,” the very qualities that might get a kid sidelined as a nerd/geek/”cafeteria fringe” are the same traits that will help her succeed in the long run. Not much new there, at least if you’ve kept up with teen movies, or considered the many famous teen-nerd-makes-it-big celebrity stories (JK Rowling, Bruce Springsteen… Megan Foxx?!)
What’s new (or new-ish), according to Robbins, is that teachers, administrators, and parents are increasingly trying to mold these kids to be more like their popular equivalents. Creativity, individuality, a willingness to go against the grain — all are traits that would serve kids well as adults. That is, if they don’t get disciplined out of them by adults who would prefer that they fit in. It doesn’t help that teachers and administrators tend to promote students who are athletes or cheerleaders to act as de facto representatives of their schools, neglecting the quirky kid in the corner who might be both nicer and more brilliant. Robbins also points out that teenagers’ hypersensitivity extends to the adults around them, and that their awareness of cliques and popularity differences between teachers doesn’t help matters, either.
And so, “young people are trying frantically to force themselves into an unbending mold of expectations, convinced that they live in a two-tiered system in which they are either a resounding success or they have already failed.” The homogenization of the US educational system and the competitive atmosphere of many schools leaves kids feeling that non-conformity is akin to social death — which, to a hyped-up teenage mind, is pretty much actual death.
It’s a pretty dire picture — does it ring true with you? In a city that celebrates its quirks, are oddball students getting the recognition and support they need?