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April 11-17, 2007

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Trimming the Herd

Darwin Awards enjoy nonsurvival of the thickest

By Patricia Lynn Henley


OK, maybe it's not in the best taste to laugh at someone's demise, but there are tragic ends that definitely have comic aspects, at least when viewed from a comfortable distance. Editor Wendy Northcutt celebrates these tales of death by stupidity at online and in her latest book, The Darwin Awards 4: Intelligent Design (Dutton; $19.95). The awards are named in honor of Charles Darwin, the father of evolution. As the website explains, they "salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it, thus ensuring that the next generation is one idiot smarter. Of necessity, the awards are generally bestowed posthumously." Northcutt appears at SSU on April 19.

There's the Brazilian, for example, who wanted to disassemble a rocket-propelled grenade to salvage the scrap metal. He drove a car over it, and when that didn't work he pounded it with a sledgehammer. The explosion took him, six cars and the repair shop where he was working.

Or there's the guy on Mammoth Mountain who at 3am stole the yellow safety foam intended to protect skiers from a lift tower, used it to slide down the run and died after hitting the tower he robbed to create his makeshift ride.

After earning a degree in molecular biology from University of California at Berkeley, Northcutt was working in a Stanford University research lab when she started collecting stories of what one English newspaper termed "non-survival of the thickest." In 1994 Northcutt founded the website with about 10 tales, focused on the fact that sometimes the tree of life is decidedly self-trimming. The website now details more than 650 "enterprising demises," and Northcutt is promoting her fourth volume of collected tales. Ending her longstanding ban on public appearances, she toured bookstores last fall and has now widened her scope to college campuses.


On Thursday, April 19, Northcutt tells of entertaining deaths at the SSU Cooperage. 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 8pm. $10 general; SSU students, free. 707.664.2382.


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