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"Subway Challenge"

For some not necessarily comprehensible reason, two young New Yorkers are going to try to beat the current record of 25+ hours to ride the entire New York City subway system tomorrow. That's right--they're going to pass through every single station in the system, subsisting only on beef jerky. Read all about it here. [Via Esther.]

Part of me actually understands how tempting such an endeavor would be, although I personally would never do it: it's a way to do something sort of foolish and get a lot of attention, with relatively few risks to one's health.

Another part of me idly wonders why it's almost always men between the ages of, say, 16 and 30, who try to do this sort of thing. Is this the equivalent of older rituals that prove one's manhood, like walking on hot coals or circumcision in early adolescence? Is it that older people don't have time do try to ride the entire subway system? Is it that the part of one's brain that kicks in and prevents one from doing this hasn't yet matured in such men? And why don't women do this? Do they engage in equivalent feats of endurance designed to prove their womanhood? Do 3 inch heels accomplish the same goal?

This curious mind seeks to know. But I'm not seeking that hard. I have to get back to, you know, my paying job.

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you know, the second I read the first sentence of your post, I decided I wanted to do it too. I might subsist on more than beef jerky.

I can't explain what makes this feat jump out at me. I don't think its a manhood thing, as much as it is an awesome way to celebrate new york and our awesome transit system.
did you know your blog was quoted in AM New York today?!
No, I did not! Where? In what article? What was the context? And can you get me a copy, whoever you are? (I'm at work and likely won't leave in time to pick one up.) Thanks for telling me!
I think the "equivalent feats to prove our womanhood" are things like... oh, say, giving birth. Or breaking through the glass ceiling at work.
You know, reading this morning's New York Times article, and discovering that (1) one of the guys is a transportation engineer and (2) they engaged in taco-eating contests in college, I am drawn to the conclusion that it's a combination of celebrating New York's terrific public transit system and doing a "stupid boy thing." The gender-questioning part of me hates to label this sort of feat as primarily masculine, but I think this is one that may be irrefutable. I won't venture a guess as to whether it is biological or sociological in nature.
General Anna, you go! That is all.
I meant "You go!" in the sense of "You go, girl!" but I used the proper noun "General Anna" instead of "girl" and reversed the order. In case that wasn't clear. I sometimes forget that you can't see inflection in the written word, which can lead to ambiguity.
I think Steven Pinker discusses the evolutionary advantage to males doing this sort of thing, in one of his books, maybe "How the Mind Works." By doing risky things, males can increase their status, which makes them more likely to have access to females in a world where polygyny was the norm, or to have access to better quality females (ones whose children are more likely to survive and reproduce a lot) even in a monogamous society. It is advantageous to females to choose males of high status, since the things they have done to get high status prove their fitness (i.e. their likelihood of providing their children with the genes and inherited wealth needed to survive and reproduce a lot).

There are plenty of examples of this sort of thing that are much more risky. For example, I read somewhere that a certain number of people die every year from being crushed by soda machines (they weigh 1000 lbs) that they tilt in an effort to get a free soda. Almost all of them are males between the ages of 12 and 19. Not to mention wars, etc.

I knew a woman in college, Babs K.'68, who once claimed, in the alumni magazine, to have set the world record for eating jalapeno peppers, and to be listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. However, I didn't find her in Guiness, and I suspect this was her subtle way of poking fun at these sorts of contests; she did have that kind of sense of humor.

As for walking over hot coals, a physicist I knew at UCLA, Bernie L., enjoyed a moment of fame in the 1980s, including appearing on Letterman (or maybe Johnny Carson), by showing that anyone could do it without harm. The trick is to walk quickly, not walk over too long a distance, and not get any hot coals caught between your toes. It turns out that the heat capacity of your skin is great enough so that, if you follow those rules, you won't get burned.
I should make it clear that Bernie L. was mostly interested in debunking the notion, popular in the 1980s, that people who walk over hot coals have special supernatural powers. The fact that anyone can do it without getting burned does not mean that walking over hot coals is not a useful way for males to prove their willingness to take risks. On the contrary, if people always suffered severe burns from walking over hot coals, then doing it would only prove their stupidity, and lack of Darwinian fitness. It is only because it is possible to do without getting burned, but there is some risk of getting burned (if a coal gets caught between your toes), that it becomes a useful way for males to prove their willingness to take risks.
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