The rats are not what they seem. Also a new Yes Yes No.
Our theme song is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder.
Our ad music is by Build Buildings.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Hey PJ
PJ VOGT: Hey Alex
ALEX: Are you ready for this week’s episode, do you think?
PJ: Do I need to be ready in like a different way than normal?
ALEX: I’m just trying to prepare you, man.
ALEX: This one’s a weird one.
PJ: OK, I like a weird one.
ALEX: Ok. So, this is a story that I’ve been reporting for like the last month, and it’s honestly kind of taken over my life. But it starts small. It starts very small, with a guy named Eric Yearwood. About two and a half years ago, Eric embarked on this quintessential New York life change where he quit his job as a teacher in Florida and moved to the city to become an actor.
ERIC YEARWOOD: But it didn’t go so well. I haven’t made the kind of career I wanted for myself, I guess, and I’m kinda falling back on some plan Bs.
ALEX: That’s a tough racket.
ERIC: Really tough. And especially when I, I moved here, and I had a fiance, and because I wasn’t making a lot of money and it didn’t seem like I was headed towards a stable lifestyle, we split up. So I was pretty down and out mid-year, 2015.
ALEX: To make ends meet, Eric got jobs doing stuff like building stages for fancy schmancy events and some graphic design work, but Eric was not living his best life.
ERIC: I think when I was in college I wanted to be like a renaissance man, you know? I wanted to experience all of life. And, you know, but then you get a little older and you realize, “Hey I’ve just got this little pocket of stuff that I can do, and gotta be content with that.”
ALEX: We’re getting real heavy real quick here.
ERIC: Sorry to be Debbie Downer here. I didn’t know what to say, but I’m just answering questions, I guess, so. . .
ALEX: Eric was in the city – following his dreams and he was going nowhere. And then magic entered his life. In the form of an email.
ERIC: It was basically something like, you know, “Hello, I’m a performance artist. I go by the name of Zardulu. I have something that you might fit, you know, this role, and I was wondering if you might be willing, you know, for several hundred dollars to participate.”
ALEX: Zardulu. Eric still has no idea how or why this person found him. In fact, Eric barely knows anything about them beyond the fact that this person calls themselves Zardulu. But Zardulu took Eric, and made him part of something that became bigger than he could have ever imagined.
PJ: What do you mean, “Calls themselves ‘Zardulu’?”
ALEX: That’s their name. That’s what they go by. It’s like a – it’s like a mononym-pseudonym…mono-pseudonym…
PJ: It just sounds like. I mean, maybe it’s a common name somewhere. It sounds like something from, um…what was the movie where it’s David Bowie and they’re in a maze and it’s scary?
ALEX: It is very funny that you mention that. That movie’s called Labyrinth. And after exchanging a few emails Eric agreed to go to Zardulu’s studio. And this is what he said about meeting her.
ERIC: She was wearing robes when we met, so that was very odd. She looked like she was like maybe a villager from the Labyrinth.
ALEX: Was she wearing like a cloak?
ERIC: She, it was more, it wasn’t a cloak it was more like a kinda like a red like dashiki or something with some sort of embroidered symbols or something down the front of it. She was a little bit kind of, I don’t know mystical is a weird word, but that’s the way she seemed somehow.
ALEX: Eric said she was friendly but kind of inscrutable, you know what I mean? And then she start explaining what she wants from him.
ERIC: She just said “I want to create something viral”
ALEX: So this was Fall of last year, after Pizza rat, the video of a rat carrying a slice of pizza down a flight of subway stairs, went viral. And suddenly the internet couldn’t get enough of videos of rats carrying things. And Zardulu, apparently, wanted to manufacture one of these videos. So she says to Eric, “Here’s the plan. It’s gonna be a video starring you and a rat. But not just any subway rat, a rat that I trained. You’ll sit on the subway. The rat will crawl onto you, step on your phone, take a picture of itself, and then you will leap up in feigned surprise and run away. And I will be recording it.”
PJ: But then the rat would need to be able to unlock his phone.
ALEX: Yes. So there is a level of artifice involved in this, right? He has to unlock his phone, pretend to be asleep, let the rat crawl on him, take the picture, and then jump up frightened and run away.
PJ: But even if you’re faking it a little bit, that’s still like an extremely well-trained rat.
ALEX: PJ, You have no idea.
ALEX to ERIC: Was the rat there?
ERIC: Yeah, the rat was there, and there were other rats, too. And so they would run this maze. They would leap over little obstacles. They would go through, there was like a, like a, there was like a little pool that they would swim across to retrieve certain things. And she had them trained in a way that was pretty amazing.
ALEX: That is amazing.
ERIC: It is amazing. When I saw what she was doing with the rats, It went from being like, “Ok, this is just like I’m helping someone make a web series or something,” to “Wow, this person is doing something big. This isn’t just some Mickey Mouse operation.” No pun intended.
ALEX: And a couple days later they meet at about four in the morning in the subway. Zardulu shows up dressed as a civilian, with no robes, so as not to draw any attention to herself. And she brings another person to film the whole thing, so that she is free to do the rat wrangling.
ERIC: And initially, we were going to actually take the video on a subway car. But when we went down into the subway, we couldn’t find an empty car that was empty long enough. So we at some point, she kinda called an audible and said, “Let’s do it just on the platform.”
ERIC: So we found a platform that was empty enough and we had peanut butter smeared on the phone. And they put the rat on top of me. And then took it from there.
ALEX: Where was the peanut butter on the phone?
ERIC: It was at the spot where you press the button.
ALEX: I’m sorry, I need to need a moment.
ERIC: I know. I know.
TV SOUND: It appears that Kim Kardashian isn’t the only one that loves selfies. Rats apparently like them, too.
ALEX: Zardulu took the video, and sent it to a Connecticut TV station posing as someone called Don Richards. And that’s how selfie rat was born. And it was everywhere. For a couple days it became the “weird news” story on the 11 o’clock news all over the country. It was blurry and you couldn’t tell that it was Eric, but the video was seen millions of times.
TV SOUND: In the process, he dropped his cell phone which somehow snapped a photo of the imposing critter. Richards caught the whole thing on video and now the sleeping man has a forever memento of “Selfie Rat.” Christina Behr, Pix 11 news.
PJ: What does the mouse look like in the photo?
ALEX: Uhh…I can show you a picture of it?
PJ: Oh. He looks like some it’s like pretty blurry, but it makes him look like, like a rat from like The Muppets. Like, it makes him look really cute ’cause it’s just like, you see like the pink of his nose and like I don’t know, it’s, I like it.
ALEX: Yeah, I mean it’s adorable. So at this point, I’m asking myself, “What kind of person puts this herculean effort into this relatively inconsequential rat hoax?” And Eric says to me that Zardulu told him Selfie Rat, Selfie Rat is just the beginning.
ERIC: She has a big vision and she was describing the project as a piece. A puzzle piece. In this grand tapestry of illusions that she wants to create in New York City.
ERIC: Yeah, she would say, you know like, “The world isn’t prepared for what I have in store.” You know just things that are just like, “Ok.” They’re kind of enigmatic head scratchers.
ALEX: But after looking at her studio. Eric was ready to believe her.
ERIC: A lot of the things I was looking at I didn’t really understand. Like she had there were these geometric shapes that she had cobbled together from iron and wood and she had like a, I remember there was a big suit made of hair. It looked like human hair, it didn’t look like fur. So that was bizarre.
ALEX: That is bizarre.
ERIC: And then she had a lot, there were a lot of like drills and industrial stuff that she uses to make bigger objects, I guess.
ALEX: Eric told me that all of that stuff in Zardulu’s studio, the suit made of human hair, the shapes made of iron and wood, all of those things that he couldn’t quite understand–they’re part of her master plan to unleash something huge on New York City.
PJ: Wow. She sounds like an art villain.
ALEX: But is she an art villain? I mean. . .
ALEX: How was she villainous in this situation?
PJ: Well – she’s saying she’s gonna unleash a series of illusions. When was the last time you heard of a hero who was talking about a) unleashing anything, but particularly illusions.
ALEX: Again, I am I am paraphrasing.
PJ: But magicians –
ALEX: And –
PJ: -should work with consent.
ALEX: Magicians do illusions all the time.
PJ: Magicians are, like, on the villainous gradient. Anyway.
ALEX: So part of doing this project, was that Eric wasn’t supposed to say anything about it to anyone. And he wouldn’t have, were it not for the fact that some person anonymously contacted the website Gothamist and said, “Listen, this ‘Selfie Rat’ video is fake.” And to this day, we have no idea who it is that contacted Gothamist, but whoever it was they said, you know, “This video’s fake, I know the guy who was in it. His name’s Eric.”
ALEX: And the author of the article contacted Eric and was like, “Hey, the jig is up, I know this was you,” and so he was like, “Yeah, alright, I’ll talk to you about it.” So Gothamist puts up the article, but the big headline wasn’t even about Selfie Rat. Instead, it was about Pizza Rat. The headline was “Is Pizza Rat a Hoax.” I talked to Matt Little, the guy who filmed Pizza Rat, and unlike Eric, he says it wasn’t staged. He insists Pizza Rat is not a hoax.
MATT LITTLE: It was myself and my friend Pat Baer. We were heading home from work late one night and we looked down and there’s a rat dragging a slice of pizza twice his size, his or her size, down the stairs. And it was one of those moments where I was like “I have to take my phone out and videotape this ’cause my friends will never believe this if I just tell them I saw it.”
ALEX: For Matt, Pizza rat’s success was just this strange and hilarious moment in his life. He did a ton of interviews. He made a Pizza Rat T-shirt. It was just a serendipitous, right-place-right-time kind of thing. And then he got an email from a reporter at Gothamist. The same reporter who had talked to Eric
MATT: And I said “Ok, I just need more context of what you’re, what you wanna know,” right? And I check my email about an hour later again and he’s emailed me twice. He said he, he’s pretty sure it was faked and, two, that he needs to hear from me by 3:30 if I want a quote in the article. And also congratulations on pulling off such a hoax. Which, like, is very flattering that he thought I was smart enough to fool the entire world this way. And I called him and I realized that he was serious. And the first thing I did was laugh. I was like, “One, why why do you think this was staged?” Like, who has the time? Who has the time to do something like that?
ALEX: So in answer to your question. . .
MATT: Oh, yeah yeah.
ALEX: . . .who would do this. . .
MATT: Apparently this person.
ALEX: When you hear the name Zardulu, what do you think?
MATT: Well, when I first thought, I thought “terrible startup.”
MATT: When I hear the name Zardulu I think of the opening act for a Houdini escape exhibit at like a vaudeville theater in the 30’s.
ALEX: So, Matt Little says that he does not know Zardulu. He says that he’s never met Eric. Matt says that he was not collaborating with some robe wearing labyrinth dweller. He was just hanging out in the subway late at night and saw a rat carrying a ridiculously huge piece of pizza. But if you’re a conspiracy theorist there’s one thing that ties these two guys together which is that they both take classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. And that’s a detail which the Gothamist treats like a smoking gun.
PJ: Okay I feel like I can maybe dispatch with that specific conspiracy theory. I don’t think that the fact that both Matt and Eric both are affiliated with Upright Citizens’ Brigade theater means that they’re collaborating. Just because like UCB is a comedy theater in New York that I really really really love. I go to the shows all the time. I know a nerdy amount about like which performers do what and whatever. And, anyway all this to say that theater is huge. There’s like thousands of people associated with it. Two people, both being quote unquote “UCB people” is like two people having gone to the same, like, mid- to large-sized university.
ALEX: Right. And like I said, they say that they don’t know each other. But when I was talking with Eric, the guy who conspired with Zardulu on Selfie Rat, I asked him if he thought that Zardulu could also be responsible Pizza Rat.
ERIC: Well, she’s got an armada of highly trained rats to deploy to create viral content. So it doesn’t take a mental leap to think that she could be. But is she or do I know that she is? I don’t have any knowledge of such a thing.
ALEX: I even asked Eric to go back and look at the Pizza Rat video for clues.
ALEX to ERIC: So does that rat look plausibly like one of the rats you might have seen?
ERIC: Hmm. Well I have to say, the main rat that Zardulu uses is named Whiskers. And that did look somewhat like Whiskers. Zardulu’s capable of doing things that you can’t even imagine. And so the the possibility that some people took a video that they didn’t know was created by Zardulu, I mean, it’s it’s not beyond the realm of the imagination.
ALEX: Oh my god.
ALEX: I went from being like eighty percent sure that he was involved in and isolated performance art piece and this other thing was completely separate to like starting to wonder what’s real.
PJ: Yeah. Well I think that a Selfie Rat is inferior to a Pizza Rat as, like, a video. It’s a more complicated thing to stage, and so you know, if this person is doing like a series of illusions designed to, like, “terrify and betwixt New York City” or whatever it was. Like, you’d start with Pizza Rat. You’d go to Selfie Rat. Then maybe it’s, like, Rat Riding a Motorcycle. Then maybe it’s like Rat President. Like, it, like they, there’s a – there is a progression of like, complexity that makes sense. ‘Cause the other thing, now that I think about it, is, like, why would a rat carry a whole slice of pizza? Like, and the pizza was like, perfect. Like, it wasn’t like a crumpled up thing that had been on the floor. Like, the way I remember it it looked like a slice that had been purchased by the rat.
ALEX: So you see, it’s like making you question what what is real.
PJ: Yeah now I do feel like a little bit of a rat-truther.
ALEX: Right. I mean, my first impulse when I found out Pizza Rat might be a hoax was just to be mad because I felt like this one incredible moment where the universe distilled everything New York City into this encounter with a rat on the subway steps was a lie. But then I started thinking like, “Who is the liar in this situation?” And it seems like it’s this person who is looking down over the city and basically leading us through mazes to get a reward. Just, just delivering a little joy to our rat-like lives.
PJ: Right a world where a rat carries a slice of pizza is more interesting than a world where it doesn’t. But a world where a lady trains rats to carry a slice of pizza is more interesting than either of those worlds.
ALEX: Yes. It is such an attractive idea. So attractive in fact that I proposed it to Matt Little, the guy from Pizza Rat video and even he was willing to entertain it.
ALEX to MATT: How do you know that you weren’t an unwitting pawn in some kind of massive Zardulu illusion. Or micro Zardulu illusion?
MATT: Well that’s an interesting question. I think that, I think that one could never know.
ALEX: You can really go down a pretty serious rabbit hole with this discussion.
MATT: Are you Zardulu?
ALEX: I would so. . .
MATT: If you’re Zardulu you have to tell me. It’s the law.
ALEX: Oh, it’s like, it’s like if I’m a cop and you’re trying to sell me cigarettes? I would love to be Zardulu, because I would love to have a vision like this.
ALEX: But I’m not.
ALEX: So after this Gothamist article comes out everyone in New York City is talking about viral rat videos again. Including a woman named Laura Duch.
LAURA DUCH: It was in my head, I think, like just because that morning, I had read something online about how pizza rat was a hoax and it was such a big bummer. This rat is, you know, just wants its freakin’ slice of pizza and it’s gonna do anything to get it. It was just kind of like embodied the New York spirit.
ALEX: So Laura’s coming home from dinner thinking about Pizza Rat and she goes into the 34th Street/Herald Square subway stop.
LAURA: I was walking down the stairs and I noticed something moving by my feet.
ALEX: When she gets to the bottom of the stairs, she pulls out her phone. And this time, instead of a rat pulling a piece of pizza down the stairs, it’s two rats valiantly pulling a piece of Pita Bread up the stairs.
LAURA: I’m not looking to have a viral video. I never was, but I just thought that I could not not film that.
ALEX: It’s hard to deny that the timing is pretty weird. The Gothamist article about Pizza Rat and Selfie Rat came out just the week before. But I talked to Laura for about an hour and she was certain that Zardulu had nothing to do with what she’d seen. That there was no conspiracy. That rats just like to eat pita.
LAURA: Pita rats are not, these are just real rats. I mean, I know I have no proof that I’m not lying, but I never thought I would have to back up my story ever.
ALEX: Oh, I don’t think that you’re lying. I guess what I’m, I guess what I’m asking is, considering how well coordinated those two rats were, pulling that pita up the stairs, could you entertain the possibility even for a second that there might have been some rat trainer somewhere hiding in the subway?
LAURA: I mean I guess I could admit that there’s, you know, a a brigade of trained rats have been released upon New York City now that you’ve told me all of this background information. How do, how do I know any rat is not one of Zardulu’s rats? I mean I guess they could have been planted there.
ALEX: At one point during my interview with Laura, my producer Tim stepped in and asked a couple questions,
TIM HOWARD: How far is Herald Square from UCB
ALEX: Very close
TIM: Really? Like how close?
ALEX: It’s 34th and 6th and UCB is 26th and 8th. But that doesn’t mean anything. That’s just coincidence.
TIM: Well, I mean there’s a lot of coincidences. I’m just trying to figure out if like Zardulu, if there’s somebody unusual, I’m wondering if there’s somebody unusual at the top of the stairs, but you didn’t, you wouldn’t, you would’ve mentioned if you saw something odd like that.
LAURA: Um. . .
AG: Yeah, if you saw someone with a cage? Yeah, I’d imagine.
TIM: Well let her answer.
LAURA: There was a, there was a guy at the top of the stairs. I assumed he was a homeless person. He was kind of shouting nonsensical things. You know, yelling about being hungry and are you hungry and it does look like he’s tossing like some kind of item at the rat. I don’t know if it’s a crumb of something or a piece of something. And then it’s I don’t film any after that. But it is but I do have a couple seconds of that. I don’t know if he’s involved. I just – I don’t even I really didn’t think that I didn’t give him much thought as someone who could have been like working in the background to facilitate this.
ALEX: Laura says that there was Also a woman standing near her at the bottom of the stairs who was asking people not to get too close so Laura could film. Since the Gothamist article came out, Zardulu has declined numerous interviews. Including a request from me. But once her name was public, she did two things. First, she started a Twitter account and a Facebook account. And second she issued a statement, which is totally amazing. She said quote, “I think there are better stories to tell. Why wake the world from a beautiful dream when the waking world is all so drab?'”
PJ: Wow. “Why wake the world from a beautiful dream when the waking world is all so drab?” What was her avatar like?
ALEX: Oh, I would be delighted to show you.
PJ: Yes. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God. Ahhhh. . .
ALEX: Yeah, that’s Zardulu.
PJ: Ok, I’ll try to describe it. Her. Seems like a woman. She’s wearing a purple robe as a sorcerer would. She’s she’s got a some kind of like it’s not like a turban, it’s like a turban and like a magician’s hat like jammed together but her face is covered in this like what looks like a death mask for like a man or billy goat and then she has pink hair behind that. And it’s just a very like, it’s a creepy like, other-worldly like, kind of menacing goofiness, and then she’s holding a golden staff of a rat eating its own tail like ouroboros.
PJ: Alex. Very enjoyable, this whole creepy thing.
ALEX: So Zardulu’s social media presence, if I could borrow a phrase from Eric Yearwood, is just basically a bunch of “enigmatic head scratchers.”
ALEX: Her tweets are written in the voice of someone who is like all powerful and all knowing.
PJ: What does that type of person tweet like?
ALEX: Here are a couple of her tweets. “Follow me out of the sunlight of reason and in the darkness we’ll play.”
ALEX: I have no memories of my actual life. I can only recall what was captured and replayed in digital images.
PJ: Wow. Same. What does she mean?
ALEX: I think what she means, I think her whole sort of worldview is that the media create myths. Like, you and I, we make a radio show where we have narratives. Our narratives are tightly controlled by us and our editing process so we are mythmakers.
PJ: Uh huh.
ALEX: According to her. And so she exists just to manipulate us and make her own myths. So, she’s really into Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster, because those were the efforts of a lot of people to try and fool a lot of other people into believing something that was kind of magical or supernatural.
PJ: Right, and also those were myths that weren’t created by a, you know, the CIA or NBC. Like, they were created by people.
PJ: Who like we’ll never know.
ALEX: And, in fact, her Twitter handle is iamthemythmaker.
PJ: Feels like if you’re gonna be the mythmaker maybe you shouldn’t tell everyone you’re the myth maker.
ALEX: So, the since she has a social media presence I tried getting in touch with her. And normally when I ask for interviews, I say like, “Hi, my name is Alex Goldman. I work on this podcast called Reply All. And we have X listeners and I think your story would be good on our show for X reasons.” But with Zardulu I, I just like, I just went totally off script.
PJ: Uh huh.
ALEX: I mean, here’s something that’s actually wrote in an email to her. This is not, I’m quoting right now. It says:
“You’ve successfully cracked my brain wide open, so congratulations to you on that. Your very existence has basically made me open to believing anything is real and simultaneously that anything is an illusion.”
I mean, I was offering to do an interview where she sat behind a screen so that I can’t see her and I would just hold the microphone just beyond the screen. I was writing these messages that said knowing she exists didn’t make the waking world more drab, it actually made it more amazing, because it made it like more unpredictable. And I was telling her that learning of her existence totally changed the way that I saw the world. And she eventually declined to do an interview by not really responding to me anymore, but she did say at one point “Be assured that the breadth and magnitude of my work would astound you.”
PJ: Was it true, what you said, that it was making you see the world differently, see the city differently?
ALEX: Yes. I have put my phone down. And I watch people now. And I am suspect of everyone.
PJ: I’m a, I’m I like that this has happened to you. I’m moderately skeptical. Like, you think everybody could be part of a Zardulu hoax?
ALEX: Have you noticed that the Carroll Street stop there is a woman that is very well dressed in like a cloak who’s constantly asking for spare change?
ALEX: She exists. She’s tall and thin and very very impeccably dressed. And stands at the entrance to the subway asking for spare change every day.
PJ: In an impeccable cloak?
ALEX: It’s like there are tiny things that I’ve been noticing.
PJ: Give me another one.
ALEX: I was on the subway the other day and there was a couple dancing with one another. No music. Just dancing.
PJ: Like, slow dancing? Fast dancing?
ALEX: Slow dancing. It felt like a slow dance at the prom.
PJ: Old couple, young couple?
ALEX: Middle aged.
ALEX: Probably in their forties or fifties.
ALEX: It’s like all of a sudden everything could be Zardulu.
PJ: That’s so funny.
ALEX: And Eric, who, if you’ll remember, is the only person who admitted to me he’s met Zardulu, he makes it sound like there’s almost nothing she can’t do.
ERIC: It’s a good thing that Zardulu is using her powers for good. Because if she were to use her powers for evil, that would not be good.
ALEX: Can you, can you give a doomsday scenario? Imagine her using her powers for evil. What would she be doing?
ERIC: Well, a doomsday scenario would be that Zardulu is using her abilities to create myths to completely disorient our federal government. All of our, the utilities in the city, all of our metropolitan infrastructure, mass hysteria, people’s lives being upended, just panic in the streets. I think that Zardulu could cause complete Armageddon.
PJ: Justify that position. Because “I can like, convince people to blog about something that seems fantastic” to “I can convince world leaders to do things” is like, in my mind, actually, a pretty large jump.
ALEX: He thinks that he saw things that were much larger in scope than rat tricks.
PJ: Like what? Like a, like a, like a robot of President Obama that was completely life-like?
ALEX: I dunno, man, maybe that body suit of human hair. Who knows what that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be used for? Maybe she’s gonna be a Sasquatch next.
PJ: Ohhh, God. Ok. But so, even then. You’re like Justin Trudeau. You’re walking down a street in Montreal, thinking about, like, what Canada’s monetary policy should be, and like a really life-like Sasquatch jumps out of an alleyway and it’s like, “Raise interest rates!” and then disappears. I don’t think you’re going to listen to that advice.
ALEX: Ok. Here’s what I’ll say. If I were Justin Trudeau, retaining all of my Alex Goldman-y traits.
PJ: Yeah. You’d be a very handsome Alex Goldman who could speak French.
ALEX: But, if I were to retain sort of like my terrible personality, my weak, shriveled posture. All of the things that make me essentially Alex Goldman?
ALEX: And a Sasquatch ran up to me and told me to raise interest rates? You’d better believe that not only would I be raising interest rates, I would be putting all of my national defense money into Sasquatch elimination.
PJ: Why do you assume that Sasquatch is out to get you?
ALEX: Because the way that you described him was like a growling, terrifying monster.
PJ: Yeah, you know what, that’s true. That’s fair.
ALEX: I mean I know that Zardulu probably can’t actually cause Armageddon, but her very existence has definitely made my life way more unpredictable. And I’m just kind of waiting for the moment that she strikes again. So, Zardulu, if you’re out there listening to this, I want you to know, that I take the F Train between 34th St and Carroll Street every morning between 9 and 10, and most nights between 5 and 6. I’ll be looking for you.
ALEX: After the break a new “Yes, Yes, No” with our boss Alex Blumberg.
ALEX: Welcome to “Yes, Yes, No,” the segment on the show where Alex Blumberg gets a babysitter so he can come hang out with us and learn about what goes on on the internet. Alex comes to us with tweets that he doesn’t understand and hopefully we can decipher them for him.
ALEX BLUMBERG: And I am really, I’m I’m really excited. This is like one super mystifying tweet. Like, I’m baffled.
PJ: Like 0% comprehension?
BLUMBERG: 0% comprehension.
BLUMBERG: All right. Are you guys ready?
PJ: I’m excited.
BLUMBERG: I’m really hoping you can help me out. All right. It actually comes from a listener. Alex Pretzlav who tweeted at me and said, “Ideal ‘Yes, Yes, No material?” And Alex, I have to agree, I believe this is ideal “Yes, Yes, No” material. He included a link to this tweet in his tweet. All right so it, the tweet in question is from a a a Twitter user named “kate, latte birdie.” And it’s a photoshopped poster of like, sort of like some sort of town hall. And it says, “Bernie or Hillary? Be informed. Compare them on issues that matter.” And it’s got their two pictures. And then, and then it says “Issue.” And here’s where the photoshopping begins. Whatever the issue that was there before, it’s been boxed out and now there’s a new thing written in which is “Issue: 0.5x A Presses.”
PJ: Uh huh.
BLUMBERG: And then under Bernie’s picture where it had a quote that sort of like represented how he felt about that issue. Now it says, “First off, I need to talk about parallel universes.” And then under Hillary’s picture, where the new quote has been photoshopped in it says, quote, “An A press is an A press. You can’t say it’s only half.” So that’s totally fucking confusing.
BLUMBERG: I have no idea what that is. I don’t know what “.5x A presses” means. I don’t know what they’re talking about but here’s the weird thing. In this tweet it got 1,209 retweets and it got 1,602 likes.
PJ: That’s insane.
BLUMBERG: And then kate, latte birdy said, “I ran out of the shower to make this because I was so proud of it.” All right so that’s, I am, I’m beyond confused by this one.
BLUMBERG: PJ Vogt, do you understand this tweet?
PJ: I’m at like 50% comprehension.
BLUMBERG: Alex Goldman, do you understand this tweet?
ALEX: I understand the joke format. But I don’t understand. . .
PJ: Yeah exactly.
ALEX: . . .the content that is contained therein. Alex Blumberg, do you understand this tweet?
PJ: I think we can get you to like, I don’t think we can get you all the way on this one.
ALEX: We can get you to like, “hhmmm. . .huh, ok.”
BLUMBERG: We’re really going to have to detective this now aren’t we.
PJ: Ok. So, the the basic thing the like joke format thing that Alex and I both understand is like, there’s this meme, I don’t actually know where the meme, like, I don’t know what the, basically there’s this poster, as you can see, where it’s comparing Bernie and Hillary on like any specific campaign issue. And there’s like a quote box from him and a quote box from her.
PJ: And the joke that keeps cropping up over and over and over again, which like there’s a lot of talk around whether the joke is okay or not. But the joke is that whatever the issue is, Bernie’s answer will always be very long, kind of like wonkish. Like perhaps like more detail than is necessary. And then Hillary’s answer will always be like kind of vapid and straight forward and like wrong but enthusiastic.
BLUMBERG: Got it. Ok.
PJ: And so like people like the joke because it’s versatile and you can apply it to like any weird specific subculture issue. Like, imagine if the candidates had opinion about whatever this is.
PJ: But, some people don’t like the joke because they’re like it’s just straight forwardly sexist because Hillary Clinton isn’t somebody who like has super facile opinions about stuff. But I don’t know. . .
BLUMBERG: It’s both sexist and agist.
PJ: I think it’s sexist and agist, honestly.
BLUMBERG: Got you. All right. So wait, so so can you give me some examples of the joke the way in a form that we would understand it?
PJ: Okay, so from this Slate article about like why this was maybe problematic. Here’s like the best example I’ve ever seen actually. So, “Issue: Harry Potter.” Bernie’s side, “Huge fan. Read all the books. Know all the trivia. I bet Hillary doesn’t even know what a muggle is.” And then Hillary says, “I’m a Hofflepump.” When really the house would be Hufflepu. ..Huffle? What is it?
PJ: Hufflepuff. So now it’s like. . .
ALEX: It’s messed up that knew to go to me with that. It’s even more messed up that I knew the answer. I haven’t read those books, but I still read the IMDB trivia section for every movie I’ve ever seen so I just know all the trivia.
BLUMBERG: Oh my God.
PJ: You could’ve also known it from the movie.
ALEX: Yeah, possibly.
BLUMBERG: “I’m a Hoffle. . .”
BLUMBERG: It should be Hufflepuff and it’s Hoffle. . . .
ALEX: . . .pomp. Alex, you really like this sexist agist joke.
BLUMBERG: Read me more read me more.
PJ: Ok, here’s here’s here’s one that I also think is really good. Okay, oh actually this one isn’t going to make sense because it has like another embedded “Yes, Yes, No” problem in it, I think. Which is fine. So, “Issue: White Vans.” Does that mean anything to you?
ALEX: Yeah, I know the white vans thing.
PJ: You should like you just saw a war crime happen.
ALEX: I hate that dumb joke.
PJ: Oh, you’re broken. Ok, so the issue “White Vans.” “Hillary: Don’t get into strangers cars kids.” “Bernie: Damn, Daniel.”
PJ: How do you hate that joke?
ALEX: It’s just stupid.
PJ: You’re so broken. Ok.
BLUMBERG: Explain that one to me.
PJ: Ok, so. . .
BLUMBERG: Oh, this is a two-fer.
PJ: This is a two-fer. Somebody posted this video. I just kind of have to show you the video. It’s like, it’s so wonderful but in ways that are like actually kind of hard to put into words or at least until you’ve seen it.
PJ: So, oh my God, it makes me so happy to show you this. There’s like so few things that are any good and this is so good. Ok, so all it is is a Twitter video that one high school kid shot. It’s like a montage of a bunch of different shots of his friend. And just like, in case you are just hearing this and you can’t see the video. It’s basically a bunch of like tight jump cuts of this one kid who is wearing a bunch of different really great outfits and you can’t see the person filming him, but you hear him reacting to all of them.
VIDEO: Damn, Daniel. Back at it again with the white Van. Damn, Daniel. Damn, Daniel. Damn, Daniel. Damn, Daniel. Damn, Daniel. Back at it again with the white Vans. Stasty, man. Damn, Daniel.
PJ: So. . .
BLUMBERG: So, then so then this the. . .
PJ: Bernie or HIllary. “Issue: White Vans.” “Bernie: Damn Daniel.” Like he gets it.
BLUMBERG: Uh huh.
PJ: And then “Hillary: Don’t get into strangers cars kids.” Like, she thinks it’s just like a white van.
BLUMBERG: Got it.
BLUMBERG: Got it.
PJ: This is not so much a great joke as two internet jokes hitting each other and people being excited about it.
BLUMBERG: Right. Ok. So there’s a bunch of these Bernie or Hillary photoshopped posters.
BLUMBERG: Ok. Got it. So then back to the issue at hand.
PJ: Back to the issue at hand, which what was it again?
ALEX: “0.5 A presses.”
BLUMBERG: “0.5x A presses.” “First off I need to talk about parallel universes.”
ALEX: All right. I’ve been looking it up while we’ve been talking.
BLUMBERG: “An A press is an A press. You can’t say it’s only half.”
PJ: You look like you’re processing information.
ALEX: This is so confusing. It has something to do with Super Mario 64.
PJ: What. . .
ALEX: This guy made a long and complicated video about completing this stage in Super Mario 64 using only 0.5 A presses.
PJ: That’s impossible.
ALEX: Yes. So the A button makes you jump. You can’t do half, you can’t press a half a button. Once you press the button it’s pressed.
PJ: Was it like a speed run?
ALEX: No, it’s a long and complicated video about completing a stage using only 0.5 A presses. “It’s ridiculous and amazing but at one point he responds to a comment by TJ Henry Yoshi who claimed that 0.5 A presses aren’t real.”
PJ: Because you can’t half press a button.
ALEX: “The poster of the video then took some time to explain how 0.5 A presses are real and exactly how they work. The overall ridiculousness of the video has caused it to become an internet meme and Henry is, of course, a part of it.”
PJ: You can spend your life any way you want. It’s so great.
ALEX: And this is what we’ve chosen.
PJ: No. This is what they’ve chosen. We make sense. Ok. So this is a person who found a way to beat Super Mario 64, a video game from. . .
ALEX: 1996, maybe?
PJ: A level in Super Mario 64. A video game from, maybe 1996. So so a person who beat a very old video game and they did it by putting an artificial encumbrance on themselves which is that they would only press the jump button half a time. Which again makes no sense.
BLUMBERG: So how do you half press a button?
PJ: Well, let’s hear . .
VIDEO: But in a full game run you’d round it down to two. So, in conclusion, since that first A press counts in some contexts but adds no additional A presses in other contexts. . .
ALEX: I’m miserable. . .
VIDEO: . . .we refer to it as a half A press.
ALEX: I. . .
VIDEO: So going back to the video…
PJ: This guy’s totally right. He should not be made fun of. He’s totally right.
ALEX: You’re out of your fuckin’ mind.
PJ: Do you get it?
PJ: It’s not that crazy. People are deliberately misunderstanding. . .
BLUMBERG: I get it.
BLUMBERG: I’ve never played, I don’t know what Super Mario is. And I’ve never played it before, but like, it just sounds like he’s saying like, when you’re on one level you press the button and then you don’t release the button.
ALEX: Until the level’s over.
BLUMBERG: Until the level’s o. . .
PJ: No, until the next level’s over.
BLUMBERG: Until the next level’s over where you’re like, got, and then you move it to half and then you press, move it. ..
ALEX: Oh, so you spread it, you spread your A button press across multiple levels.
PJ: It’s like. . .
BLUMBERG: You don’t ever let it up.
ALEX: This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Like, the guy sounds like a putz.
PJ: That’s rude.
ALEX: I’m sorry.
PJ: The people that you have problems with on the internet.
ALEX: I agree with JT Yoshi Henry.
PJ: You’re mad at the guy for doing a speedrun.
BLUMBERG: You’d be one of the people who would like, had you known about this you would’ve been like, “There’s no such thing as a half press douchebag.”
ALEX: I believe, I agree with Hillary on this one.
ALEX: There’s no such thing as a half press.
PJ: But, like, it just makes me want to picture you in high school cuz you’re like you’re like yelling at the nerds. You’re mean to the kids who are just like goofy fashion kids. Like you don’t like anything.
ALEX: I was very, I was very lonely in high school.
PJ: Hmmmm.. .
BLUMBERG: I didn’t mean to take us to such a dark place Goldman. I think we’re not celebrating our victorious arrival at “Yes, Yes, Yes” properly.
PJ: Are we at “Yes, Yes. . .” LIke do you feel like. . .
BLUMBERG: I think we’re at “Yes, Yes, Yes.” Alright, You ready?
ALEX and PJ: Yes.
BLUMBERG: All right. So, kate latte birdy sent out the following tweet. It’s a picture of a Bernie or Hillary sign. Where it’s like, “Be informed. Compare them on the issues that matter.” And then there was “Issue:” and then it’s clearly something has been superimposed over the original issue that was on the original poster. And the superimposed issue is “0.5x A presses.” And then under Bernie his real answer has been photoshopped out and the fake answer is, “First off I need to talk about parallel universes.” And under Hillary it says, An A press is an A press. You can’t say it’s only half.”
I now know everything about this at this this thing that was utterly mystifying has completely clear to me. All right. And there’s a lot of memes. This is the, this is the most complicated one I think we’ve done so far.
PJ: This is like a turducken.
BLUMBERG: There’s so much going on here. So, all right. So, there’s two memes that are sort of intersecting here. The first meme is one that I, that I was not aware of which was the photoshopped Bernie or Hillary sign. So that’s like something that’s happening on the internet a lot. There’s people are taking this original Bernie or Hillary sign which some well meaning group put up to inform people on the issues of how different the candidates were and it has just, just been sort of like ridiculed on the internet by people putting up fake issues and fake answers to Bernie and Hillary. All right, so that’s been out there. And then this particular iteration of that meme references another meme which gets deep into nostalgia video game affinity groups.
PJ: Right. Yeah.
BLUMBERG: There’s lots and lots of people who play an old video game called Super Mario 64. Correct?
BLUMBERG: And they talk about on the internet about how to beat different levels of Super Mario 64. And this one guy talked about beating this one level by doing a “half press” of the A key?
ALEX: I would call it a button.
PJ: We’ll call it a button, yeah.
ALEX: But that’s close.
BLUMBERG: A half press of of the A button. Which erupted in controversy and that is the thing that is referenced in this tweet from kate latte birdy. It is as if Hillary and Bernie were weighing in on the issue of whether there is such a thing as a half A press in the Super Mario 64 video game.
ALEX: I feel like we’re pretty much at “Yes, Yes, Yes.”
PJ: What’s your asterisk?
ALEX: Bernie’s saying, “First we have to talk about parallel universes.”
PJ: Oh, yeah yeah yeah. Ok, we’re basically “Yes, Yes, Yes.” I don’t know what that is about.
BLUMBERG: I don’t know what that’s about either but that’s just, yeah. . .
ALEX: In the interest of. . .
BLUMBERG: We can let that one go.
ALEX: In the interest of full disclosure, we did not watch the entire half hour video so who knows. . .
BLUMBERG: There might be a mention of parallel universes in the half hour. . .
ALEX: What could have happened.
BLUMBERG: Yeah, Super Mario 64 video, yeah. Exactly.
PJ: But we can like, we can retreat from this and call it a “Yes, Yes, Yes,” right?
ALEX: Reply All is PJ Vogt and me Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Bennin. Our editor is Peter Clowney. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Special thanks this week to Lydia Derosche of Sit Stay Dog Training; she trains rats for the Broadway play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and she was very gracious with her time. Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder and our ad music is by Build Buildings. Matt Lieber is Zardulu. He could be. You can find more episodes at itunes.com/replyall. Our website is replyall.ninja.
Shortly before I finished this episode, after many attempts to get her to come on the show, Zardulu reached out to me to reveal some of her secrets, but she asked that I not share them. All that I can say is that I believe big things are coming.
We’re taking next week off to work on some stories, but we’ll see you in a couple weeks. Thank you for listening.
ALEX: Can I tell you guys a weird story?
PJ: Uh huh.
ALEX: One time I was in the grocery store. I was checking out. And the guy in front of me had tattooed on his arm–he was very muscular–had tattooed on his arm The Great Gazoo, who is a, who is like an alien from The Jetsons.
PJ: And The Flintstones.
ALEX: Oh, no. Excuse me. Thank you. Who’s an alien from The Flintstones. And he was flirting with the woman who was checking him out. And he was like, “What do you know about The Great Gazoo?” This is true. I swear. . .
PJ: Good opener. Yeah, no no. . .
ALEX: I swear to God. And she was like, “What?”
And he was like, “Who’s this?” He pointed at his bicep.
And she said, “Marvin the Martian.”
And he was like, “You don’t know anything about The Great Gazoo!”
PJ: What. . .
BLUMBERG: And that man is one of the lead bloggers of the manosphere.
PJ: That man is also like sorta similar to you. Where he was like, “I’ve decided this piece of culture is really important. You’ve never heard of it. You never cared about how you’d never heard of it. And now I’m going to berate you for the fact that you haven’t heard of it. And then I’m going to leave.”
BLUMBERG: You don’t know anything about the Bone Zone.
ALEX: I would never ever get anything tattooed on my body then yell at people for not knowing what it is.
PJ: That’s true. You wouldn’t get it tattooed. You’d wear it on a hoodie.
ALEX: Yeah. That’s right.