My name is Jason Eppink and this is my blog. At some point in time I will write three succinct sentences that clearly express who I am and what I do. Alas, we have not arrived at that point in time yet. (More!)

Monday, November 1, 2010 at 11:32 am

I'm very excited to finally be able to share this project I Am and I collaborated on recently.

The Shadow Machine is a hand-made analog projection system that reanimates two blacksmiths from the late 1800's, photographed by Eadweard Muybridge and compiled on plate #374 of his Animal Locomotion series.

The Shadow Machine was conceived of and created for the The Underbelly Project, an extraordinary, unauthorized exhibition of more than one hundred international street artists in an abandoned subway station in New York City. The Shadow Machine's projected, ghostly figures hammer away in complete darkness at the far end of the platform, ever-toiling spirits working on a never-finished station that was abandoned generations ago.

Inside the Machine, six frames hand-painted on clear plexiglass operate as gobos when lit from behind by narrow beam LEDs. A light sequence, controlled by an Arduino board with custom software using a 9V battery, casts each successive shadow in a loop.
The fantastic soundtrack is original work by Tyler Walker. You can read more about The Underbelly Project in the New York Times.
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Monday, September 20, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Newmindspace and I recently collaborated on a project to bring a little bit of magic back to the NYC subway:

The Spoiler Alert signs are faith-enhancing adjustments to New York City subway platforms, creating opportunities for trust in the city’s most important institution in the face of its overeager self-quantified broadcasts.

In 2007, the New York City Transit Authority began installing LED signs on subway platforms that display estimated wait times for arriving trains. Unfortunately the information is little more than trivia: except for a few stations, it is only visible to travelers after they’ve paid their fare, so the data has little bearing on commuter decision-making.

Their primary effect, then, is to erode faith in the system, to create expectations that can’t always be met, to raise false hopes, and to erase the mystery and magic of the wondrous system that transports more than five million riders a day.

These LED signs also threaten historical social behaviors, rendering obsolete the time-honored New York tradition of leaning over the platform edge with the hope of glimpsing headlights from an approaching train.

The Spoiler Alert signs warn waiting riders of this potentially unwanted information – allowing them to avert their eyes so they may preserve their spirit of adventure – while still leaving visible the data for travelers who wish to ruin the surprise for themselves.
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Monday, August 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

Here is a spam e-mail I received last week.

Recipe: Tuna Salad


1 ea Env. Golden Onion Soup Mix
1 1/2 c Milk
10 oz Frozen Peas & Carrots *
8 oz Medium Egg Noodles **
6 1/2 oz Tuna, Drained & Flaked
2 oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese ***


* Frozen Peas & Carrots should be thawed. ** Egg Noodles should be
cooked and drained. *** Cheese should equal 1/2 C

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, blend golden onion
recipe soup mix with milk; stir in peas & carrots, cooked noodles and
tuna. Turn into greased 2-quart oblong baking dish, then top with cheese.
Bake 20 minutes or until bubbling.

That's it. No links, no mention of viagra, nothing.

Spam has delved so far into the absurd that it's become generous and helpful! This is a gift! More of this, please!
3 Comments | Reply

Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 11:29 pm

If we spoke in the last four months, you probably asked what was up and I probably told you I was redesigning my website, and then I apologized that I didn't really have anything better to tell you, and really I was sorry for bringing it up in the first place, how are you?

Well, my friends, the days of those awkward social moments are over. Introducing:

Jason Eppink's Catalogue of Creative Triumphs

Currently only 22 of my most recent and successful efforts are available, but that number will continue to grow as I finish digitizing the back catalog. In the meantime, Senseless Venn Diagrams will stay live until I've finished the migration.

Also, Amtrak finally finished their job, so I was able to complete a video about the Astoria Scum River Bridge, embedded below. Enjoy!

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Friday, March 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

My dear friend Matt Green, fellow record holder and mystery bus tour guide, is leaving tomorrow for a nine-month walk across America.

I made him a website (with automatically geotagged maps!) which he'll be updating at least once a day with photos and video from his mobile phone: I'm Just Walkin'

Follow along!
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Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Hair is always a popular subject on this here blog. I have to renew my passport. Here's what border police will be looking at for the next ten years:

new passport photos

I ask that you now address me as Baron von Eppink.
14 Comments | Reply

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I made a Twenty-First Century Campfire for Flux Factory's inaugural show, Housebroken. It's a chandelier (as I originally envisioned the project) made from a 27" television I found on the street. If you're ever at Flux, have a look! It's hanging in the library.

Twenty-First Century Campfire, Suspended
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Monday, January 25, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Astoria Scum River Bridge

A block away from the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd N-train stop, a giant puddle of standing water covers a heavily-trafficked sidewalk, a cesspool we endearingly refer to as Astoria Scum River. Seriously, it's gross, and in the winter the river ices over and becomes really dangerous.

A couple months ago, Posterchild and I simultaneously arrived at the same idea: build a bridge over Astoria Scum River! A few weeks later we found an abandoned work bench left for trash on the sidewalk and used rescued screws from a recently disassembled desk to turn the work bench into a bridge. Posterchild engraved an awesome plaque, and the bridge was installed as 2009 ended, christened the Astoria Scum River Bridge.

Our neighbors have really taken a liking to it, and just yesterday we received an e-mail from NYC Council Member Vallone's office thanking us for the bridge and pledging to work with Amtrak to solve the drainage problem! We couldn't have asked for a better outcome.

Anyway, here's my project page and here's Posterchild's! There are plenty of photos, with a video coming soon!
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 10:26 am

Pro Pants returned yet again this year to greet participants of Improv Everywhere's annual No Pants! Subway Ride. Two dozen passionate pants-lovers showed up to spread the good news to the 3000 pantsless riders emerging from the subway at Union Square.

This year we added a third pamphlet to our literature and sent four representatives to roam the park wearing sandwich boards. Our conversion rate was, once again, perfect! Within 24 hours, roughly 100% of the pantsless riders we encountered had accepted pants into their lives!

Read all about it on the Pro Pants! 2KX project page.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Hilarious news!

Pixelator is a runner up in the Babelgum Metropolis Art Prize. This means the Pixelator video will be screened on three jumbotrons in Times Square, jumbotrons that usually show advertising. Please take a moment to bask in the irony.

Improv Everywhere won the Audience Award for their Subway Yearbook Photos mission, so they'll be on the jumbotrons, too!

It all happens tomorrow night, including a screening of a new Guy Madden/Isabella Rosellini short featuring an electric chair, with Rosellini in person. Sweet!
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Monday, December 14, 2009 at 10:47 am

In 2006 I came up with the idea for the Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce, a roving handbell choir that would provide unexpected accompaniment for those ubiquitous Salvation Army bell ringers, with the hope that my sister and I could gather musically talented friends in Houston and tour around the city's busy shopping areas. It was a follow up to our two previous pranks, the Christmas Lights "Participation Award" Anti-Prank of 2005 and the Parking Lot Note Anti-Prank of 2004. Alas, we could never pull the project together.

But last year, after working with Improv Everywhere on the Subway Art Gallery Opening, I pitched the idea to Charlie to see if he wanted to help make it happen, and he was in! Three years later, the Guerrilla Handbell Strikeforce came to fruition!

Check out the video and Charlie's write-up. Hurray!

3 Comments | Reply

Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 5:53 pm

I received the following in the mail a couple days ago. It appears to be a reminder about a state law that went into effect last summer. (For some reason, the Board of Elections misread my name when I registered to vote, and despite repeated attempts to correct it, the misspelling remains on the books.)


"No More Mess!"

I decided to write back. For those who don't follow NYC politics, the letter, reproduced below, is annotated with hyperlinks!

Esteemed Council Member Vallone,

I appreciate your reminding me about the Lawn Litter Law, but surely you see the irony in doing so by sending me an unsolicited flier (on my own taxpaying dime, no less). In return, I am sending you some unsolicited criticisms.

The copy on the back of your flier is misleading, at best. Simply displaying the card isn't enough; landlords and homeowners must submit written complaints to the Department of Sanitation in order for fines to be levied. Really, it's a difficult law to enforce, and I expected that as a lawmaker you would know the details of the actual law. However, I suspect this flier is merely disguised as a public service in order to trick your constituents into thinking you're doing something worthwhile for them. The "Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. Says:" at the top of the notice is especially egregious ego-stroking. Why is your name on this, exactly? The Lawn Litter Law was the state's doing, not the city council's, as I'm sure you're well aware.

While I am disappointed you explicitly ignored the will of the electorate by giving yourself the chance at a third term, I am hopeful that these next four years you will spend less time constructing elaborate photo opportunities for yourself and instead use your family's political capital to address actual problems!

For example, instead of convincing bodegas to stop selling a specific energy drink because it makes a reference to graffiti (a political triumph, for sure) perhaps you could spend your time educating the public on the health effects of energy drinks and other popular beverages laden with high fructose corn syrup and unhealthy additives. Or instead of trying to keep art supplies out of the hands of budding young artists because a fraction of them may scrawl their name in a back alley somewhere, maybe you could address the multi-million dollar industry of corporate vandals that plaster the sides of buildings all across New York City with illegal advertising.

These are just a couple of ideas. If you're interested in doing something productive with your ill-gained power instead of engaging in the same old back-patting publicity stunts, I'd be happy to have a dialogue.

And I'll leave the snark at home. I promise.

Your Friend,
Jason Eppinle or Current Resident
2 Comments | Reply

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Come see me blab about myself this Friday at Art, Advertising, Activism, & Alchemy with Jordan Seiler, Specter, and Posterchild. It's going to be totally sweet!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Jen and I finally don our shirtsJen and I have been making bets on Flickr photos since we first became friends in 2006. It started when we noticed a ton of photos on Flickr from large scale public events like Newmindspace pillow fights and bubble battles, roving street parties like One Night of Fire, and crazy costume processions like the Mermaid Parade. We would attend these happenings and then bet on how many photos from the event would be up on Flickr by the end of the week tagged with an obvious, agreed upon tag. Whoever was closest won a free drink from the loser the next time we hung out.

The game was both a criticism and celebration of NYC's penchant for over documentation of public space spectacles. It was also a way to not take that last sentence too seriously.

In 2007 we had an idea to become a part of the game! We would choose a sure-to-be over photographed happening, then the two of us would don shirts with the text "Tag me on Flickr as JasonWinsTheBet" or "Tag me on Flickr as JenWinsTheBet". The main rule would be that we couldn't offer unsolicited explanations of the bet. We could only tell people about it if they asked first. And no bribing! At the end of the week, whoever was tagged the most received a free dinner from the loser!

At Burning Man later that year, Jen rolled up with a surprise. Her mom had made the shirts for us! Awesome! They were even pink and blue like the Flickr logo! We agreed to tuck them away until we could find the perfect event at which to unveil them.

Fast forward two years. Newmindspace was planning a "People photographing people photographing people" meta-event at South Street Seaport. PERFECT. We showed up and started snapping our own photos. People caught on pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, no one had taken into account that humans are not flat, but in fact, cylindrical, and my tag—JasonWinsTheBet—which is two characters longer than Jen's tag—JenWinsTheBet— was often lost under my arm pits or just partially obscured by my slender physique.

Jen ended up winning the bet 5 to 0 because of these flaws, but maybe also because she's prettier to look at. I took her out for dumplings and tried not to gnash my teeth too much. After all, this was only round one.

I think we'll submit this to Conflux next year. Hopefully I can convince Jen to wear the shirts all weekend, and then the loser has to buy drinks not just for the winner, but for everyone who tagged the winner on Flickr!

2 Comments | Reply

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Last month I was invited to participate in the Conflux Festival! What an honor! Conflux—"the art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space"—is one of my favorite happenings in the fall. I was asked to lead a workshop and to exhibit Pixelator at Conflux HQ.

Pixelator LoungeI've struggled with how the Pixelator should work in a gallery setting because one of the most important aspects of the project is that, in its natural environment, the Pixelator filters unwanted information in public spaces. (My conundrum was: if you can control the source material and the space, then what's the point?)

What I ended up proposing and installing was the Pixelator Lounge, which features a double-sided Pixelator suspended from the ceiling. Live digital television is projected on the back, a single armchair provides a perfect spot from which to view the pixelated image on the front, and Nevin's incredible album Rambler fills the space with an ambient soundtrack. I think adapting the project to this method of media consumption—invoking a living room setting and piping in actual live television—addressed the conceptual challenge nicely. People seemed to like it, at least!

Talking about Jenny HolzerAs for the workshop, I figured what I could most offer was a way of seeing: a way of noticing and reimagining the city. My lecture and walk was entitled Adventures in Urban Alchemy, and it gave me a chance to define the specific practice of urban engagement I'm interested in. If alchemy is the art of transformation, then urban alchemy is the art of transforming common public structures and systems into rare moments of unauthorized culture. It mixes street art, culture jamming, and pranksterism into a whimsical, site-specific, moment of public engagement.

The workshop went so great! The whole group was very participatory, and we came up with some awesome ideas. Hurray! Also, Fast Company wrote a really nice piece the day before the talk, and I was invited back by David Darts, Conflux's Curatorial Director, to lead my talk/walk again with his media literacy class at NYU.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 11:06 pm

I was invited to submit a project to Winkel and Balktick's annual "Stranded" party, an event for people in the Burning Man community that, for whatever reason, are not at Burning Man. This year the party's theme was the Galapagos Islands, dovetailing off Burning Man's "Evolution" theme. One thing I really like about Winkel and Balktick's parties is that they focus significant attention on creative works in the event space. Fiscal support of art projects is actually built into the budget.

Thinking about ocean islands, extinction, and evolution, I remembered a childhood game from elementary school fairs: for one ticket you could rent a fishing pole, "bait" it with a paper fish and dip it behind a booth. Behind the booth, below your line of sight, an attendant would remove the fish and replace it with a piece of candy and tug on your line. Awesome!

I wanted to recreate this interaction model, but in three dimensions. So I constructed a triangular "pier" or "shore" from plywood stage platforms, inside which a 12'x12'x17' "pond" of folded poster board was suspended. Prospective fishers left their shoes for collateral at the Fishin' Pole Rental station and received a fishin' pole, a temporary fishin' license, and access to materials with which to construct their own bait: play-doh and pipe cleaners. Once their bait was ready, fishers climbed onto the shore, lowered their bait into the fishin' hole, and waited. Underneath, Fishin' Hole staff exchanged bait for beer fish (a can of PBR with googly eyes, fins, and a tail), water fish (a water bottle with googly eyes, fins, and a tail), or candy fish (candy taped to a paper cut-out of a fish). Creative bait was rewarded with beer fish. Bait that took some effort was rewarded with water fish. Half-ass bait was rewarded with candy fish, if anything. Sometimes fishers got a bite within a couple minutes. Sometimes they spent thirty minutes without a nibble. The pond was pretty much fished to extinction by the time we left at 3 a.m.

Reactions were enthusiastic, as they are any time you're giving away free beer. While there were certainly some petulant and entitled moments, many fishers were creative, excited, and grateful, and really, the evening was a smash success. Perhaps most important, the patrons were very happy. Balktick cited the Fishin' Hole as his favorite interactive art project, and Winkel invited me back.

Some of the best interactions of the night were completed unplanned and unexpected. One reveler showed up to the party with an alligator hand puppet, found his way underwater, and started snapping at fishing lines. The fishers LOVED it and for long stretches of time completely forgot about the original task at hand because they were too busy trying to feed the alligator. Heather, who was helping under water, decided she didn't want the second half of a sandwich she'd brought along and decided to hook it to a fisher's line. That catch became a legend; for the rest of the evening, people were asking if the pond was stocked with any more sandwich fish.

Unfortunately, because the project was so conceptual, the photos don't do it much justice, and one of the main things I would improve is the Fishin' Hole's aesthetics. But the project turned out to be pretty evocative:
  • Transactions are typically judged by their speed and efficiency, but the Fishin' Hole purposefully created a communication barrier which slowed down the transaction and created less precise communication. Though spoken language is more precise than play-doh figurines, it isn't perfect either.
  • Creative works are often meant to last and be admired by many, but fishers created art objects for bait that were intentionally ephemeral. Many collective hours were spent crafting play-doh and pipe cleaner masterpieces, only for them to never be seen again.
  • For urban dwellers, fishing is neither safe nor are opportunities readily available. Engaging in a simulacrum of the exercise seems a crude gesture, but is a strangely comforting reminder of the uncertainty and chaos we're surrounded by, whether in the middle of the woods or a bustling city.
  • I continue to be really interested in interactive party art. It can create really magical experiences for the less-than-sober, and the limitations are challenging:
    • The project can't be fragile or too precious.
    • The interaction model must be immediately apparent or easily explainable.
    • The project must reward interaction immediately but must also reward sustained interaction.
    • The project cannot rely on audio.
Really, I'm quite proud of the Fishin' Hole and can't wait to do it again. Super huge thanks to Matt, Albert, Heather, Naomi, Jen, Aaron, and Abe for all your tremendous help. I couldn't have done it without any of you. Thanks, friends!
  hangin at the fishin hole
Temporary Fishin' License
makin some bait
some of the bait
a beer fish!
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Friday, October 9, 2009 at 7:58 am

Good Magazine's Good 100Some suckers at an outfit called Good Magazine decided I was one of the top 100 most important, exciting, and innovative people, ideas, and projects making our world better and changing the way we live.

But seriously, I'm flattered to be among such incredible company as my friend Jordan Seiler, The Yes Men, and the freakin' Allen Telescope Array.

Here's the scan and here's the post online.

Oh my, there's so much more to write about! More soon about the Fishin' Hole at Stranded, my talk and installation at Conflux Festival, and my jaunt around Iceland...
1 Comment | Reply

Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Posterchild was in town recently, which is always party times, but this time we decided to throw some extra special parties, inspired by Post's FlyerPlanter Boxes: some Print After Parties!

The Print After Parties are a series of unauthorized notional raves thrown in the abandoned distribution infrastructure of crumbling print institutions. (They're pretend parties, not real ones.)

While dead tree publishers loudly lament the fate of their aging information delivery system in the wake of the internet, enterprising trailblazers have found cheaper, faster ways to successfully meet public demand for celebrity gossip and sex scandals without razing forests, filling dumps, or obsessing over boring foreign affairs.

Abandoned by floundering media conglomerates, thousands of neglected newsracks command valuable real estate on busy street corners across New York City, remnants of diminishing demand and a disintegrating economy. Many have already been reclaimed and transformed by urban alchemists, whether as canvases for stickers and paint or clever conceptual works that turn the once important vessels of information into repositories for garbage.

The Print After Parties continue this line of collaboration with blinking LEDs, disco balls, cut-out silhouettes, and handheld radios. When the last vestiges of a collapsed empire litter the landscape, there's only one thing to do: throw a bumpin' party and dance on the ruins.
Video available on: blip.tv, Dailymotion, Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube. Make sure you read the write-up on Posterchild's Blade Diary!
2 Comments | Reply

Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 11:12 pm

coming soon to this location

A collaboration with Posterchild, riffing on NPA's dubious attempts to skirt third-party sign regulations.

EDIT: (modified from a comment I made on Urban Prankster)

As someone with libertarian instincts, I’m sympathetic to the "It's their property, they can do whatever they want" argument.

However, there are many laws restricting what a landowner can or cannot do with their land, especially in dense urban areas where someone's actions on their property affect a lot of people not on their property. There are many compromises we pay to live around other people, and I expect most people would agree with many of them.

For example, you can’t modify buildings that are deemed historical landmarks, blast loud music at all hours, or release harmful chemicals.

Public advertising isn’t innocuous building decoration; it’s well-funded and highly engineered to modify the way you think. It frames discourse, influences language and behavior, and sets cultural standards and values.

Advertising is POWERFUL, and a city that values its unique history, culture, and culture makers - like NYC - is right to regulate its visual landscape, just like it regulates other gray areas in the realm between public and private.

Third-party sign regulations are already on the books! We’re just asking NYC to enforce its own laws and reap MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in fines in the process.
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Last month, Matt and I led a day-long mystery bus tour (in which participants have no idea where they're going or what they're doing, only what to bring and where to meet) for Flux Factory's summer series Going Places, Doing Stuff Part II. Our tour was entitled The Quest for Immortality!

Here's how it all went down, using the magic of PRESENT TENSE so it feels like you're right there with us!

Friday, 12:45 a.m.

In e-mails sent a day before the tour, recipients are instructed to bring pants, a bathing suit, a picnic dinner, and a specific mystery item. (Mystery items include a box of toothpicks, a bag of rubber bands, a bag of plastic straws, a box of paperclips, Cheerios, Skittles, Diet Coke, cucumbers, apples, grapes, lemons, and pineapples.)

Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

Thirty-one bold adventurers meet at the new Flux Factory HQ to sign waivers and hop on VROOM (the Vehicle for Radical Organizing and Other Madness), a vegetable oil-powered converted school bus owned and operated by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a radical marching band and dance troupe.

En route to our first destination, Matt and I introduce the theme of our trip: The Quest for Immortality! We initiate a time capsule with an empty paint can, an instant camera (Fujifilm Instax 200), and a notebook. Adventurers are instructed to pass the time capsule around, recording their thoughts and impressions from the day to be left behind at our final destination.

10:45 a.m.

First stop: Jamaica, Queens. We walk halfway around the block of Thomas A. Edison Vocational and Technical High School, leaving room on the sidewalk for the occasional skinny European running towards us.

Matt gathers the group and reads the first few paragraphs of "Run Like Fire Once More" from Harper's Magazine, which slowly reveals the staggering Self-Transcendence 3100, the longest foot race in the world. Founded by Sri Chinmoy, a late guru who taught self-transcendence through feats of strength and endurance, the Self-Transcendence 3100 has runners circle the same city block 5649 times - 3100 miles - over the course of six to eight weeks. Participants run every day from 6 a.m. to midnight and must complete at least 50 miles a day or risk disqualification.

We walk to the base camp to visit the support staff. Rupantar Larusso, the race director, greets us and tells us about their strategies to combat weight loss (eat lots of sugars and fats on the run), blisters (cut the toes out of shoes), and quickly disintegrating soles (replace some of the sole with tire rubber). Chinmoy's disciples are just as excited to meet us as we are to meet them! (Read their thoughts on the Sri Chinmoy Centre website, the Self-Transcendence 3100 blog, and Perfection Journey, another blog about the race.)

I really cherish that our first stop is something that is impossible to communicate with images. To the eye, it's just a dozen people running some laps!

11:30 a.m.

We gather in the school's parking lot and meet Ashrita Furman, who has set 242 Guinness World Records and currently holds 98.

Ashrita's records include fastest time to skip a marathon (6 hours), fastest mile while balancing a milk bottle on head (8 minutes), longest continuous distance to somersault (12 miles), longest time to hula hoop under water (2.5 minutes), fastest time to peel and eat a lemon (11 seconds), most t-shirts torn in half in one minute (14), most cloves of garlic eaten in one minute (22), most vinyl records smashed in thirty seconds (32), most cucumbers snapped in one minute (87), most eggs crushed with head in 30 seconds (53), and most apples sliced in mid-air with a samurai sword (29).

Also a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, Ashrita travels the world setting records and talking about transcendental meditation. Ashrita admits he was never very athletic in his youth; his quest began when he entered a 24-hour bike ride and Chinmoy's expectations for how many miles Ashrita would ride pushed Ashrita well past his own expectations. (He ended up riding over 400 miles.) Now in his fifties, Ashrita is in exceptional shape.

Ashrita demonstrates his record for most apples sliced in mid-air by a samurai sword and most chocolate malt balls (Maltesers) thrown from 15 feet away caught in one's mouth in one minute. (Ashrita already holds the Malteser record, but is attempting to best it.) Then we all skip around the parking lot while Ashrita runs around with us, balancing a milk jug on his head. "You can't help but smile when you're skipping," Ashrita notes.

12:00 p.m.

Adventurers are instructed to retrieve their mystery items from the bus and bring them back to the parking lot. With the mystery items assembled, we introduce the Universal Record Database:

There's a high barrier for setting a Guinness-verified world record, including proposing a new record ahead of time and receiving press coverage. An alternative is the Universal Record Database, which is a more grassroots record-keeping website that only requires a witness and documentation. (URDB began at Burning Man as the Playa Book of Records.)

The URDB philosophy is that everyone in the world can and should be the best at something. I love that! During our research, Matt and I went to a couple of the URDB Record Appreciation Nights, met the founders, and set our own record.

The assembled mystery items are materials for setting new world records! I have a video camera in tow and am ready to tape anyone's record attempt. Jean (Artistic Director at Flux Factory) suggests the entire group simultaneously floss their teeth with a single piece of dental floss. So we do! A new world record!

In smaller groups, adventurers put the most toothpicks in a cucumber, put the most rubber bands around their head in one minute, and get the most people simultaneously drinking from a pineapple with straws, and more! (Good Morning America attempts to break our pineapple-drinking record a couple weeks later.)

1:30 p.m.

Lunch time! We walk a couple blocks to Annam Brahma (translation: "food is God"), which is owned and staffed by more disciples of Sri Chinmoy. The restaurant hosts some of Chinmoy's 16 million Soul Bird drawings, two of his 200,000 paintings, a selection of his 1500 books, and photographs of Chinmoy lifting weights and people. (Over the course of two decades, Chinmoy lifted more than 8300 individuals - "Heads of State, diplomats, spiritual and religious leaders of many faiths, distinguished achievers in the arts and in literature, Nobel laureates, and world class athletes" - to encourage, inspire, and show appreciation for their achievements.)

We plow into the Indian curry buffet, served by a smiling staff in saris. Pranika offers us copper water, tells us about witnessing Chinmoy's record-breaking lift, and introduces "The Spirit of a Runner", a lovely half-hour documentary about Suprabha Beckjord, the only person to finish every Self-Transcendence race and the only female competitor in the history of the race.

3:30 p.m.

Stuffed, we hop on the bus and head to Bay Ridge. We unload at the Crete Wonder Garden, where 81-year-old George Kortsolakis has been building a monument to his home island of Crete in his back yard for seven years. George dreams about the Wonder Garden every night and brings his visions to fruition the next morning with pebbles, shells, and figurines.

The island's mountains are constructed from broken concrete and Liquid Nails, the surrounding ocean a pool of blue pebbles. Miniature olive trees and street lamps line the streets, populated by Alexander the Great's mermaid sister, wild goats, Ithacus (post-ocean plunge), and of course George's own home, all housed beneath an elaborate plexiglass shed.

4:30 p.m.

We cross the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island and pull into a Pathmark parking lot in Rossville. Time to change into pants! We warn everyone that we will be engaging in minor trespassing and that anyone uncomfortable with this is welcome to wait at the bus for us to return. No one stays behind (including our driver, Marcus).

We cross the street and head into the woods. A quarter mile later, we emerge at the base of one of two abandoned liquid natural gas towers that stand about 150 feet tall. These LNG towers have never been used because before they were put into operation, an explosion at an LNG tower further north in Bloomfield claimed 37 lives, energizing local opposition to keep the pair of tanks in Rossville from being filled. As a result, the tanks have remained untouched and unused for more than three decades.

In two groups we climb the north tank, which offers a spectacular view of a ship graveyard and the Fresh Kills cell where the remains of the World Trade Center are interred. We are on top of the world.

6:45 p.m.

The bus pulls into Lemon Creek Park on the South Shore of Staten Island. Swimsuit time! We walk along a quarter-mile stretch of beach lined with rock cairns, then meet their creator, Douglas Schwartz, who has been building and maintaining the cairns for ten years. Doug is a zookeeper at the Staten Island zoo, and he cares for (and houses!) Chuck the Groundhog (who recently bit Mayor Bloomberg).

Doug has transformed how people treat the once rundown, garbage-strewn beach. The project started when Doug began collecting trash on the beach and grouping it in separate piles based on color. Beachgoers left his piles largely untouched, and Doug realized that the deliberateness of the piles kept most people from interfering. So he started stacking rocks. Initially they were knocked down by, presumably, ne'er-do-well kids, but every Friday morning, Doug would reassemble what had been toppled and begin constructing more. Eventually, beachgoers realized the cairns weren't going anywhere and accepted them as part of the landscape. (Sure, they're still knocked down occasionally - once by a co-worker of Doug's who assumed they were part of some satanic ritual - but not with the frequency they once were.) The existence of the cairns, I posit, gives the space structure and focus, a visual reminder of the steady attention the beach receives. The cairns are not authoritarian or imposing; they're affirming: someone cares about this space, and you should, too!

To be able to change a space for the better (irrefutably!) through sheer dedicated artistic labor, while completely avoiding the absurd bureaucracy that often surrounds such public projects, is an incredible, inspiring coup.

After ten years, Doug has a real intimacy with the rocks. He points to one stone that he says had been missing for a couple years before recently turning up in the water again. He also notices when neighbors "borrow" the cairns for lawn decoration. We were able to get in touch with Doug through James Curcuru, who wrote a profile of Doug, "The Rock Artist", for Gelf Magazine and joined us on the tour!

As the sunlight wanes, we eat dinner, pass drinks, watch the sunset, swim in the ocean, then run back to the bus as the bugs start biting, leaving the time capsule behind with the camera, dozens of photos, and our log. It's at 40.510969,-74.210256 behind a fence post, if you want to find it.

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