With more than 4.9 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you’re throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or you’re so meta even this acronym. We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 4,936,523-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: List of lists of lists
What it’s about: This week marks the 100th entry in our 4,936,523-week series, so before we start, a minute to thank all of you readers for bringing Wiki Wormhole from a little-read offshoot of “Great Job, Internet!” to The A.V. Club’s most popular and beloved feature (I haven’t fact-checked that), and to thank the site’s editors for making space for a not-terribly-pop-culture-related feature on a pop culture website, and for bringing the feature back from cancellation early in its run.
Over the course of researching and writing 99 of these, I’ve discovered that Wikipedia really likes lists. And what better way to organize those lists than more lists? But there’s something behind those lists as well—the dark, slumbering heart of Wikipedia, the Gordian knot at the center of the entire tangled mess: a list of every list that points you to smaller lists. A list of lists… of lists.
Strangest fact: Even Wikipedia can’t handle how sprawling Wikipedia is. Despite containing more than 600 lists of lists, the “list of lists of lists” starts with the heading, “This incomplete list is frequently updated to include new information.”
Biggest controversy: Wedged innocuously between lists of actors by television series and lists of albums is the lists of pornographic actors. That list links to lists of African-American, Asian, and British porn actors (no other races, regions, or nationalities are listed, oddly), a list of female pornographic actors sorted by decade, and a list of male performers in gay porn films.
Thing we were happiest to learn: We’re set for material for at least the next 100 Wiki Wormholes. Lists of hoards. Lists of active separatist movements. Lists of most expensive items. Former FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Lists of endangered languages. List of ghost towns in Canada. No one who sees this list of lists of lists will ever be productive at work again!
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: There’s no real rhyme or reason to which lists make the list of lists of lists. Countries and regions gives us ranked lists of Chilean regions, lists of Oregon-related topics, and lists of townlands of County Cork, but no similar lists for other countries, states, or counties. Sports gives us lists about every type of football player—American, Australian, association, rugby, college (Michigan Wolverines only)—but doesn’t mention basketball or hockey, and the only baseball list is about ballparks. We have a list of military aircraft by nation, but the only air force that gets its own mention is, you guessed it, Bulgaria. The lists can be as broad as lists of pairs, and specific as the list of road junctions in the United Kingdom.
Also noteworthy: Much like Mitt Romney, the list has lists of women. In fact, there are plenty of broad categories of people listed—bisexual people, black people, celebrities, heroes, and just to make sure all the bases are covered, people.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: As if this whole exercise wasn’t self-referential enough, list of lists of lists actually links back to list of lists of lists, which we’re pretty sure is how you create a black hole.
Further down the wormhole: Starting here, at a page that links to hundreds of pages which themselves are lists of links to hundreds more pages each, you could probably end up on any conceivable subject within a few clicks. We were intrigued by lists of fictional hybrids (meaning creatures who are part human and part something else, not beloved Priuses from literature). One of the lists on that list of lists is the list of piscine and amphibian humanoids, which includes Triton, the Ningyo, and Kermit The Frog, but sadly doesn’t include the other kind of mermaid, with the fish part on the top and the lady part on the bottom. It does, however, link to another list: mythological human hybrids. We’ll see what lists that list leads to next week.