Zaphod’s In The Phone Book: Finding Hidden Gems Of Geekdom

Have you ever run across something geeky where you least expected it?

There are plenty of deliberate shout-outs within the fantasy/science fiction genre, like Easter eggs in video games and so forth. I’m referring to those little gems of geekdom you sometimes stumble across in the wider world.

I’ve posted about how I fell in love with The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy after discovering it in the most unexpected of places: the library of my prim-n-proper girls’ school. Afterwards I became obsessed with all things Hitchhiker’s. This being the days before the Internet, and even before BBSes, there was no one with whom to share my newfound passion.

So I would find myself sitting alone in my room, doing bored tweenager things like leafing through the phone book to see if anyone happened to have the same names as the characters. I figured there was a chance of an Arthur Dent or a Ford Prefect, but I giggled as I flipped to the B’s, knowing there wouldn’t be a Zaphod Beeblebrox.

But there was!

Zaphod Beeblebrox, it said. I had to read it several times to be sure. An Arthur Dent or a Ford Prefect could be coincidence, but this? My curiosity overrode my shy nature, and the wrath of my adoptive parents. I called. One ring. Two rings. Three.

“Hello! You’ve reached Zaphod Beeblebrox! I’m sorry I can’t take your call right now but I’ve got a few things going on…”

The recording played some clips from the radio series, and concluded with a Groucho Marx impression. To say I was thrilled was an understatement. Someone geeky had gone through all the trouble of making that recording and putting the entry in the phone book, just in case another geek might come across it. It was like a little “hello” across the wide, boring universe.

Nerds like to do this, it seems. We like to write notes to each other and stash them in unlikely places. I notice it in IT, with server names. It’s always fun to see that “fancywebserver.bigcompany.com” has a private name like “sithlord” or “nazgul”. (You can often tell how much the geeks enjoy working at the company based on what they name the servers.)

Some geek jokes have transcended their origins, like our term for junk mail, “spam”, which comes from the Monty Python sketch. You’ve seen 404 errors on Web sites: “page not found”. I hear there’s a proposal to honor Ray Bradbury with HTML error code 451, to be used when governments block web sites: “Forbidden: unavailable for legal reasons”. That’s a geeky joke that makes a hell of a statement.

I wonder what happened to the person who set up that Zaphod Beeblebrox recording. I hope they’re somewhere on the Internet making memes.

What awesomely geeky things have you found in unexpected places? Share in the comments!

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