Magazine article The New Yorker

WHO'S COUNTING?; TOP THIS DEPT. Series: 5/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

WHO'S COUNTING?; TOP THIS DEPT. Series: 5/5

Article excerpt

On the scale of public ignominy, the last person to squeeze into a crowded New York elevator rates somewhere between the guy who hits "reply all" to group e-mails and the one who blocks the box. So the other night, in the lobby of the Le Parker Meridien hotel, on Fifty-seventh Street, a latecomer who stepped out so that the doors could close was surprised to hear the other passengers beckoning her back. The elevator, it turned out, was full of world record- holders. They were heading to a gala that the Guinness Book of Records was throwing to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. "Let's see how many we can get in here!" a man with a cast on his right arm--Furthest Basketball Dunk from a Trampoline?--called out.

Once the passengers reached the forty-second floor (the building's highest, naturally), they were treated to a buffet dinner and a program that included videotaped salutations from Donald Trump and Regis Philbin and remarks by Stuart Claxton, Guinness's head adjudicator in North America. According to Claxton, all records, as long as they are verifiable, measurable, and breakable, are considered equally laudable (excepting such nonstarters as the dog with the fewest legs, the longest time staring at the sun, and an attempt, by a family in Hungary, to build the world's biggest wall of sausages). Claxton's speech was largely ignored. The recordholders were eager to get started meeting each other:

"Dan Netherland, two thousand and fifty pounds of concrete broken in 17.45 seconds."

"Arthur Blessitt. I've walked through three hundred and one nations, island groups, and territories."

"My name is Martin Strel, from Slovenia. You know where is Slovenia?"

It was possible, in the course of the evening, to decipher a pecking order, of sorts. For example, in ascending order of prestige: Most Bridal Bouquets Caught, Greatest Distance Moonwalked in One Hour, Most Golf Balls Stacked, Highest Shallow Dive, Most Sword Cuts Survived (this last one is in the process of being verified). At the top of the heap were Jackie Bibby, a Texan who can hold eight live rattlesnakes in his mouth for 12.5 seconds, and Ashrita Furman, of New York, who, with the most individual world records set (eighty-six), is something of a record breaker's record breaker. …

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