nickm.com > classes > the word made digital, spring 2008

Outcomes of an in-class writing exercise in Nick Montfort's The World Made Digital, 31 March 2008, MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and Comparative Media Studies Program.


We started class with a writing game to generate FAQs. Participants wrote each line without seeing anything that had already been written.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hot Coffee

Q: What is its use?
A: We're having carrots.

Q: Why is the sky blue?
A: It is an empty space.

Q: Hello?
A: Because the washing machines were all full.

Frequently Asked Questions about Baker House

Q: What's for lunch?
A: Because procrastination on lab reports can cause one to pull an all-nighter.

Q: Why is Raleigh scattering wavelength dependent?
A: It is white, black and red all over.

Q: Does anything really matter?
A: Of course not.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Horse and Buggy Cart

Q: Why was Spring Break so short?
A: Because the world is a crazy place.

Q: What does it look like?
A: Squares are rectangles.

Q: Why is coffee delicious?
A: Blue.

Frequently Asked Questions about Baseball

Q: What color is the sky?
A: That which can't be seen.

Q: No, I didn't hear — what?
A: Because my friend is staying in PINK's apartment in LA.

Q: What is the sound of one foot clapping?
A: Because that's the way it is.

Frequently Asked Questions about Iced Coffee

Q: Why did it stop?
A: The answer is 42.

Q: What's in a name?
A: I couldn't tell you, I wasn't listening either.

Q: Where are we?
A: Forty-two.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Highway

Q: Why do you move me?
A: No one really knows for sure.

Q: What time is it?
A: There are some things mankind cannot fathom.

Q: How did it come here?
A: This is the end.


Then we did a similarly-structured HOWTO exercise, which was Manuel Rivas's idea.

Breaking Your Last Text Message HOWTO

  1. Open the door.
  2. Remove egg.
  3. Take over the world.

Studying Computer Viruses HOWTO

  1. Lots of money
  2. PROFIT!

Smelling a Cupcake HOWTO

  1. Lay down.
  2. Rinse off towel.
  3. ... Profit!

Exploiting Text HOWTO

  1. Draw 6 lines.
  2. Then you pull your 2nd pants leg on.
  3. Allow it to cool for ten minutes.

Compiling Books HOWTO

  1. Brilliant idea.
  2. Run sudo rm -r.
  3. Close box and clean your surroundings.

Parsing Sunshine HOWTO

  1. Catch a pigeon.
  2. Run around frantically.
  3. Don't forget to close the latch.

Running a Papermill HOWTO

  1. First get a group of people together in Central Park.
  2. Paint the whole thing RED.
  3. Admire your handiwork.

Getting Pink Lecture Chalk HOWTO

  1. First, you take your fingernails and run them over the chalkboard.
  2. Look at the arrows.
  3. Finally yell goodbye to "Steve" and wave.

Throwing Giraffes HOWTO

  1. Open bag.
  2. Think of a happy thought and flap arms.
  3. Run away!

Misconstuing Elephants HOWTO

  1. Get peanut butter, bread, and your preferred jelly variety.
  2. Next, lie face down on the grass.
  3. By now, you should be prepared — just finish with some jumping jacks.