Wear a lampshade when playing chess

Geniuses and their exploding brains

Matmail: Just received this urgent e-mail. “Doctors are blaming a rare electrical imbalance in the brain for the bizarre death of a chess player whose head literally exploded in the middle of a championship game. No one else was hurt, but four players and three officials at the Moscow Candidate Masters’ Chess Championships were sprayed with blood and brain matter when Nickolai Titov’s head suddenly blew apart. Experts say he suffered from a condition called Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis or HCE. ‘He was deep in concentration with his eyes focused on the board. All of a sudden his hands flew to his temples and he screamed in pain.... Then, as if someone had put a bomb in his cranium, his head popped like a firecracker, ’ said his opponent.... Five people are known to have died of HCE in the last 25 years, including European psychic Barbara Nicole, whose death was reported in newspapers around the world....

“Said Dr. Anatoly Martinenko, ‘It is a condition in which the circuits of the brain become overloaded by the body’s own electricity. The explosions happen during periods of intense mental activity, when lots of current is surging through the brain. Victims are highly intelligent people with great powers of concentration. It could be said, they are too smart for their own good. ’ The doctor urges people to take it easy and not think too hard for long periods of time....” — WhatTheHeck?DotCom

I immediately gave the research elves the week off so they could check their circuit breakers and soothe their little domes in ice-water baths. Grandma Alice has revved up the Ouija board. She’s trying to contact Ms. Nicole for confirmation and all the grisly details. Personally, I contend you can’t channel somebody, even a psychic, whose head has exploded, but Grandma’s determined. I’ve perused Dr. Martinenko’s list of the seven warning signs of HCE (Does your head ache, do your ears ring when you think too hard? Do you overuse your brain?). Certainly no health menace for you Alicelanders. Chronic oversleeping is the best preventive regimen.

Does the sender of this bulletin want facts? It seems a shame to spoil the story. The article appeared in the Weekly World News about four years ago, datelined Moscow. Since then it’s circulated through the office fax/e-mail network in one form or another. The roots of nonsense are always hard to trace, especially four-year-old nonsense. But this seems to have been a droll Russian chess players’ joke — a spoof of all the apparent brainpower and concentration it takes to play the game at tournament levels. And they knocked the story together plausibly enough for one or two folks to actually believe it. The Weekly World News loves stuff like this. If the brain could generate that kind of wattage, we would have our energy problem solved. Your next dinner party could be lighted by a dozen dueling chess masters wearing lampshades, with light bulbs in their ears.

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