February 7, 2006

How to Cook an Egg (and Create a Viral Sensation)

Gelf talks to the author of the web's most delicious hoax.

David Goldenberg

Have you seen the article about how to cook an egg with two cellphones? Maybe you caught it on Slashdot. Or BoingBoing. Or Digg. Or one of many other sites that have linked to the story over the past few days. It is, as many have pointed out, not a viable way to cook. But how did the story come into being? Gelf talked with the author of the article to find out.

That should do it.
Despite what the piece says, neither Suzzanna Decantworthy nor Sean McCleanaugh had a hand in writing it. That's because neither of them exist outside of the realm of the Wymsey Village Web, the online home of a fictional English village. The real author of the article is Charlie Ivermee, who first created the Wymsey Chronicle back in 1998.

Ivermee, a 60-year old archiver in a law firm in South Hampton, has written almost all of the pieces on the Wymsey site, including the egg article, which he wrote back in 2000. In the piece, he outlines eight ridiculous steps for hard boiling an egg using the transmissions of two cellphones pointed at each other with the egg in between. Here's step No. 7:

Cooking time: This very much depends on the power output of your mobile phone. For instance, a pair of mobiles each with 2 Watts of transmitter output will take three minutes to boil a large free range egg. Check your user manual and remember that cooking time will be proportional to the inverse square of the output power for a given distance from egg to phone.

"I really underestimated how many people would take it seriously," he tells Gelf over email. "No other page on the site has grabbed people's attention and ire button as much as this one. What seems to be happening is that it 'travels' from blog to blog, forum to forum. It was big in Australia last year and seems to be big in the US right now."

According to Ivermee, the article got almost 50,000 hits during one week in September last year and last week got 18,500 hits. That number is sure to rise even more this week.

Why did he write the piece? "It was 6 years ago but I seem to recall that there was a lot of concern about people's brains getting fried and being from a radio/electronics background I found it all rather silly," he writes. "So I thought I'd add to the silliness."

He definitely did, though not everyone got the joke. According to Ivermee, an editor at a UK exam study site presented it as fact. The Three Wise Men unsuccessfully tried to replicate the experiment. And Ivermee has gotten lots of messages from readers, including one genuinely worried about the science:

I think you had that formula wrong. Cooking time for the egg is proportional to power and inversely proportional to the square root of the distance.

t = Kp/d**2

Time is some constant times power over distance squared.

And some from people worried about the effect it will have on the mobile phone industry:

People will take that thing seriously, and from there it gets worse. You're slandering an entire industry, and risking the jobs of people who are doing nothing wrong. And you /enjoy/ that? That's sad. And an exhibition of almost preternatural denial. Get thee to a head-shrinker, "sport."

Stupid. It wasn't funny, and it can't work in reality, even if you light the two phones on fire and place them under a pan with an egg in it. All you're doing is setting the cell-phone industry back 10 years in convincing people (rightly) that their product is safe. I hope they sue you for legal fees for every case they have to defend in the future.

Ivermee isn't worried about his effect on the phone industry, and he notes that the articles on the website are based on his personal philosophy. "Importantly," he adds, "all the piss-taking is done affectionately."

"My only regret is that I did not get a dime for every hit on that page."


Related on the Web

The Wall Street Journal (subscription only) ran a piece in 1999 about cooking food using other appliances.

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- Internet
- posted on Mar 14, 07

omg help me i have to do my coursework based on mobile phone and if they are dangerous! please help me out IM SO BOREDDDD

- Internet
- posted on Mar 15, 07

Mr. David,
I just know this things--about How to Cook an Egg-- when one of my friend send me your article in here.
I have a question for you..if our cellphone could cook an egg like this, then it means that our technology has a high temperature or heat or radiation and its dangerous for us..and about the egg..I think we cant consume that egg cos its already containing radiation from the cellphone, how could you explain this for me?

Thank you..


Article by David Goldenberg

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