YEAR-END LIST: The Top 20 Nerdy Things of 2016
Written by Jessica Uelmen, Cap Blackard, and Matt Spill
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: 2016 was a dumpster fire. But we’re not here to talk about that! No, we’re here to regale you with tales of the most nerdy occurrences this forsaken year had to offer. From sci-fi short films to WWE wrestling, and tech innovations to must-read comics; 2016 was actually a pretty great year for geek happenings.
Below you’ll find the full list, ranked from bottom to top. If you’re curious to learn more about why these honored few made the grade, check out our annual Final Boss podcast and hear hosts from across The Nerdy Show Network share their stories and nerd out about all this year’s entries:
2016 Nerd Superlatives
Before we kick off the countdown, we’ve got some superlatives to share. Consider these a primer for the ranked list to come – these outstanding nerdy achievements made the universe a geekier place to live in:
Nerdiest Music Video of the Year: OK Go’s “Upside Down & Inside Out”
OK Go’s music has served as a pallet for myriad nerdy experiments and experiences over the years. More often than not their music videos have ushered in some kind of innovation in engineering and filmmaking, and each successive video they top themselves. Well, speaking purely from a altitudinal perspective, they’ll be hard-pressed to top this one: the world’s first zero gravity music video. A demonstration of weightless zaniness, and choreography that’s destined to be shown in physics classes for decades to come.
Nerdy Achievement Award: Arby’s Inexplicably Geeky Online Marketing
Truth be told, we haven’t been “thinkin’ Arby’s” for a long, long time. That all changed this year, when Arby’s social media turned their respective feeds into a veritable buffet of nerd in-jokes, complex papercraft, and clever pop culture parodies. The Goku above is only the tip of the iceberg, have a look at their facebook, twitter, or instagram for deep-cut references and charming food sculptures from the minds of Roar Groupe Art Director Jennifer Barclay and Arby’s Social Media Director, Josh Martin.
Aw Yeah, Sci-Tech! Award: NASA’s Juno Mission
The Jovin System is full of mysteries, and few mysteries are as big as Jupiter itself. Enter: NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Launched in 2011, the probe entered Jupiter’s orbit this year and in its few months there has completely rewritten the book on the gas giant. Take for example the never-before-seen north pole of Jupiter (seen above), with its bluish hues and unique cloud patterns. The probe will continue making passes at the planet into 2017, taking new images and collecting data – potentially discovering what’s at Jupiter’s core. All the while, citizen scientists can join in on the project with JunoCam, a community-driven analysis of the incoming images.
And now, without further preamble, Nerdy Show is proud to present…
The Top 20 Nerdy Things of 2016!
#20 Chronicles of Time
This project comes from the team behind 2013’s Secret of Mana tribute album, Spectrum of Mana, and features the talents of Stemage (of Metroid Metal), Dale North, OneUps guitarists William Carlos Reyes and Tim Yarbrough, Super Soul Bros., Descendants of Erdrick, Eight Bit Disaster, Super Guitar Bros., Marshall Art, Corey Johnson, Careless, Lauren the Flute, and myriad folks from the Dwelling of Duels and OverClocked ReMix communities – to name but a few. The collection spans a multitude of genres and each of the five discs collects the tracks into tonal playlists which mirror the vibe of the game’s time periods.
Not only is it a fantastic collection of music, but it’s for a good cause – all proceeds from the record are donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Filmmaker Oscar Sharp and technologist partner Ross Goodwin fed hundreds of sci-fi TV and movie scripts to an LSTM recurrent neural network. They then asked Benjamin to create a script of its own, complete with stage direction. Actors Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), Elisabeth Gray, and Humphrey Ker were then randomly assigned parts and asked to interpret and perform Benjamin’s script.
The result is a delightfully eerie piece of art and a fascinating moment of sci-fi merging with reality. But don’t take our word for it, check out the film above.
#18 The New Day’s WrestleMania Entrance
There’s been a lot of sensational entrances in wrestling history, but this is one for the record books. You can watch the whole spectacle above, and then continue on to marvel at the ongoing, awesome antics of The New Day.
#17 Game of Thrones‘ Game Changer
HBO’s Game of Thrones had already brought televised fantasy to new heights of mainstream respectability. Dragon queens and ice zombies have become commonplace water cooler conversations. This year, however, the epic rose to new heights and the particular item of the series that we’re celebrating on this list is so spoilerific we’ve redacted it. Click the blurred text below if you’ve seen season 6 or you don’t mind it being spoiled. We also censored our podcast discussion in our Top 20 episode, but you can hear us talk at length about this sensitive information here:
#16 Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
The film offers an incredible and multi-faceted feature-length story the likes of which could never have made it to the screen (big or small) 50 years ago: legions of evil Batman clones, zero gravity battles, and subtle adult humor that simultaneously lampoons and celebrates the series. Longtime fans will be treated to the appearance of the entire ’66 rogues gallery and tons of in-jokes and sight gags referencing the show’s illustrious history.
It’s a multi-chapter, point and click adventure in a medieval fantasy setting where you have to solve puzzles to progress. Okay, that’s been done more than a few times… It uses live streaming videos with actors to disseminate story and clues. Interesting, that’s a bit different. It was a timed contest with the entire Internet racing to the end. Wow, okay. The game engine is Adobe Photoshop. Wait, WHAT?!
Yup, this is actually the third year in a row that Adobe has celebrated Halloween by treating the stout of heart to a PSMystery, but it’s never been so complex. As you’ll see in the playthrough video above, the game is built around complex scenes that can be deconstructed into layers of design and illustration. Hidden within them are 3D objects, sounds, even spells that require more than a little brainpower and ‘Shopping skills to figure out. The contest is over, but you can still play the game here and see if you have what it takes to explore 21 different scenes, 5 chapters, and more than 1,100 Photoshop layers as you uncover the mystery unfolding around you.
The futuristic theme park, Westworld, is a place for the rich to play. Set in the Wild West, guests are attended to by “hosts”: robots with superior A.I., who appear human in every way imaginable. Guests can play through a wealth of interactive storylines, or make their own story with the hosts in whatever manner they choose – through normal conversation, violence, sex, or any combination therein.
But what happens when these “hosts” gain sentience after decades of horror willfully inflicted on them by humans? How do you differentiate the “real” from the created? This is the story of Westworld. And you should most definitely be watching.
#13 Lemon Demon’s Spirit Phone
In Spirit Phone, Cicierega channels the oddball greats before him like Oingo Boingo and 10cc to create a masterwork of strange pop music. It’s dancey, it’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s lavishly produced. Song narratives span resurrecting dead celebrities (an omen for things to come in 2016), falling in love with an unknowable horror, flirting with sentient mist, exhuming corpses to turn them into medicine, and a scientist who’s transplanted himself into an arcade cabinet. If you like your music fun and spooky, then you’ve been waiting for this record your whole life.
#12 The Adventures of Indiana Jones by Patrick Schoenmaker
And now get frustrated that it’s just a minute and forty seconds long. This stunning intro to a non-existent animated series is the end result of five years of work, near single-handedly created by one person: artist Patrick Schoenmaker. He got an official gig drawing Indy for a poster when Crystal Skull came out and got so hooked on the notion of an animated Indy that he pursued it like the Holy Grail. Fingers crossed that Lucasfilm takes note!
#11 IRL Nausicaä Glider
After flying a miniature version of the infamous glider, Kazuhiko Hachiya’s OpenSky project has attempted to build a real-life, scale version. This year, they succeeded in their first flight, a five-minute journey of 70 meters with Hachiya steering using only his body weight. Watch the full historic flight above.
From custom yogurt branding to identity theft, Matstuda’s world, while terrifying, doesn’t seem too far-removed from a potential future reality. It’s one of the best sci-fi films you’ll see all year and a fascinating cautionary tale of how our reliance on tech can subvert our sense of self, and even reality at large.
#9 Young Animal
DC comics have really turned themselves around this year. After years of fallout from a poorly-planned universe-wide reboot, the publisher has once again embraced the fun inherent in their legions of classic characters. But it’s not just the usual Justice Leaguers that are getting a chance to shine again. DC has a rich history of weird, mature readers tales, and with the new imprint, Young Animal, the DCU just got a much-needed injection of the unusual.
The imprint comes from Gerard Way, frontman for My Chemical Romance, and celebrated comics author. Together with a hand-picked selection of artists, writers, and co-creators he’s summoned the ghost of 90s Vertigo, when titles like Sandman and Hellblazer reigned supreme. The resulting four books, Doom Patrol, Mother Panic, Shade the Changing Girl, and Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye celebrate funky and obscure characters while breathing new life into these old bones. (Want a taste? Pre-order Way and Nick Derington’s Doom Patrol.)
#8 Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem – LIVE!
While there might not have been a live band, the singing and puppeteering was quite real. The charm and whimsy of the characters was in full effect, the performances were heartfelt, and not a single person in the crowd doubted for a moment that they were being rocked by a sextet of cultural icons – they just happened to be puppets. The set was brief, but the magic of these characters coming to life is tangible, even from simply viewing the above video. Here’s hoping they take this show on the road!
Deadpool is high-powered fan love in action. Only by Reynolds taking matters into his own hands, burning up his own funds, and using guerrilla tactics did DP get his due. And it was perfect. Disruptive, counter-culture, 4th-wall-breaking, irreverent as all get-out – Deadpool came to life. And to prove that Hollywood had it wrong all along, the film wasn’t only the highest grossing X-Men film, it’s the highest grossing R-rated film of all-time.
#6 Back to the Future: Continuum Conundrum
Let’s first start by saying Back to the Future is a perfect trilogy and doesn’t need to be added to… but hear us out. The comic book story Back to the Future: Continuum Conundrum is ESSENTIAL for any fan of the series. Written by BttF creator Bob Gale and John Barber, the story sees Marty, shortly after returning to 1985, struggling with living a normal life after his life-threatening, time traveling adventure. Cue a mysterious letter from Doc’s 19th century wife, Clara, the discovery of Doc’s secret lab, and the appearance Doc himself – amnesiac from hazardous time travel. Turns out that time train didn’t get made from 1800s parts alone!
It’s a new time trotting adventure for Doc, Marty, and Jennifer that captures everything you love about the series, while twisting your perspective with shocking revelations and bold new territory. For instance, we all know what 2015 looked like in 1985, but what does 20 years in OUR future look like? Prepare yourself for a scathing parody of our present and an adventure you won’t soon forget.
#5 Majora’s Mask – Terrible Fate
We’re always suckers for fan projects here at Nerdy Show. But the level of craftsmanship that went into this film is on another plane. Honestly, it’s better than any feature Nintendo has ever created.
#4 Space X Lands Reusable Rocket on Barge
We may still be a ways off from Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars, but this is a crucial step forward and proof of the problem-solving, dream-making powers of science.
#3 Pokémon Go
Wait — hear us out! Yes, Pokémon Go ended up being a flash in the pan, but for a number of weeks it took the world by storm. Almost everyone was playing — whether they had any prior interaction with the franchise or not!
There were stampedes in Taipei and Tokyo. We learned not to visit lures after midnight. We were undeterred by dead bodies. Bust mostly, we interacted in ways we never had before when playing a video game. We organized “Pokèwalks” and struck up conversations with random strangers. We bonded in our new quest to be the greatest trainer of them all.
Then, as they say, it all came crashing down. After players stalled around level 20, ran out of new Pokèmon to catch, and lacked any kind of peer-to-peer battle system, they abandoned the game in droves. In another bout of too little too late, Niantic recently announced the launch of Gen 2 Pokémon, but so far all that’s available is 8 pre-evolutions that can be hatched from eggs.
Perhaps one day we’ll all return to the game, but until then, we’ll remember those few weeks fondly.
#2 Stranger Things
Stranger Things shouldn’t have been as good as it was. A period piece sampling heavily from the tropes of Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, reverencing beloved pop culture at every turn? Sounds like a pandering mess. And yet, it was a masterpiece.
With Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers distilled Spielberg and King into a super-specific paranormal subgenre, one that could only exist in a small town in the late 7os/ mid-80s. The horror comes from unknowns – not just otherworldly horror, but humanity at the last gasp of the pre-digital age reaching out into the unknown of the 21st century. It’s Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” infused with John Carpenter and H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a reflection of the myriad boogeymen that, three decades back, haunted us at night under the gaze of their Star Wars figures and movie posters. It’s a specific time and a specific place to conjure feelings for a very specific demographic. It’s nostalgic, but not in any saccharine sense – it’s a nostalgia for a nightmare.
#1 School Bus VR Field Trip to Mars
They mapped over 200 square miles in Washington DC to a replica of Mars surface, created using the Unreal 4 engine. The team built custom switchable 4K window displays, so that students wouldn’t suspect a thing, until the switch is flipped and they embark on their journey to Mars. Using GPS, a 3-axis accelerometer, magnetometer, and laser surface velocimeter the team ensured that as the bus moved, their map moved, too.
It’s an absolutely incredible project, and we fervently hope this program is rolled out in a big way for future virtual excursions.