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The question How do I make my document look like it was written by a Cthulhu-worshipping madman? has seen a rise to fame not known to tex.sx before. It's currently the question with the second most votes and views.

I understand mods have access to more statistical data that might explain how this stardom came to be. Is there anything (that you can share) that hints at how the Madman Question became a chart hit "over night"? Explanations by non-mods are welcome, too, of course.


Edit: Thank you for the answers so far, they shed some light on the issue. Would it be possible that a mod said something about referrer stats, i.e. how many users came from twitter vs. hackernews vs. metafiler vs. tex.sx itself?

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    I've been wondering this myself to be honest. – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:07
  • I also posted an example of the use I put the answers to if anyone wants to see. – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:14
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Very interesting question. :-)

IMHO our community is known as very technical and straight to the point. To quote Jeff himself:

I agree that TeX is so technical that nobody should really end up here by accident.

That said, from time to time we happen to see questions that somehow tease our senses. First of all, the title was very catchy; these three words - cthulhu | worshipping | madman - provoked our curiosity. And now enters in action something that I find amusing: most of us come from academia, we are researchers. We look for answers, to not only ask why, but sometimes how. So, when you see an unusual title standing out from the plethora of questions, you are compelled to check it out. And better, we are compelled to actually find a solution, no matter what the question is about!

TeX.sx is a friendly place, and there is no place for trolling. Our humour is savvy, witty. And it's very enjoyable to read such pearls. I particulary love this comment written by percusse on Alan's answer:

That is a very calm, professional, psychopath handwriting. Mad, angry but disciplined! :) – percusse Sep 26 at 12:32

When I came up with my own answer, the whole process was funny. From the casual visitor to the active user, from the newbie to the TeXpert, it was quite enjoyable!

As a similar question, I can think of the LaTeX/Math jokes thread. The same rule applies. And even I experienced some of this curiosity that unusual questions arouse when I posted Adding slurs to words in a text; as Jon Purdy wrote in a comment:

From the title, I thought you wanted to insert ethnic slurs at random points within words throughout a text, like some bad imitation of Tourette's. The conclusions we jump to… – Jon Purdy Aug 14 at 3:17

In the chat, Andrew Stacey suggested a very witty question title. What would we do if we read a question with the following title: How do I swallow glue? I'm sure it'd have a lot of views! :-)

In short, Caramdir pointed out that Jeff wrote on Twitter about it. We got a lot of traffic from that. Also, people in general probably got curious on this "LaTeX thing" and its community of Cthulhu worshipping madmen. Even the madness has its own methods. And with a beautiful typeset, that's for sure! :-)

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    Regarding out-of-context titles: check gaming-SE for inspiration, they routinely have these. Current favourite: How can I tell if a corpse is safe to eat – Martin Tapankov Oct 3 '11 at 5:30
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    Something I've learned from ask.metafilter is that if you want people to help you, you first have to get their attention. You still have to ask a clear question, but 'Help me exorcise my demonic paper-eating printer' will get more eyeballs then 'Help me fix my printer'. – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:12
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Just a quick addendum to Paulo's post: it's also a very good question when assessed purely as an SE-type question. The actual question is very clear and easy to understand, well-framed, and it is easy to judge an answer. Many of our other highly-voted questions are a bit dubious and I'm not so happy having them as a prime example of what is a good contribution to this site, but this one is great. It would be a good thing to do to compare this with the "LaTeX Jokes" one which wasn't so well formed.

So Patrick and Caramdir answer why this is externally popular, but Paulo's answer says why it is popular to the existing users as well.

  • Good observation, thank you! – topskip Oct 3 '11 at 8:37
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    Thank you. I'll admit that I had to edit it a couple of times to clarify it after the first few comments. – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:07
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Jeff wrote on Twitter about it.

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    Another question could be: "How do you get Jeff to twit your question"? – ℝaphink Oct 3 '11 at 16:31
  • @Raphink: Write a good question (so that it goes to the hot questions list) and give it a catchy title to get his attention. See Paulo's answer. – Caramdir Oct 3 '11 at 21:36
  • Even then, There's tons of questions everyday, he's not really likely to see it ;-) – ℝaphink Oct 3 '11 at 21:41
  • Holy cow, he has a ton of followers. I take it he is someone (internet) famous? – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:10
  • @Raphink Make your question interesting and eye-catching would be my best advice, gained from that and a couple of ask.mefis. – Canageek Oct 3 '11 at 22:15
  • @Canageek: You could indeed say so. Jeff is one of the two founders of StackOverflow and the entire StackExchange network: stackexchange.com/about/management – doncherry Oct 3 '11 at 22:23
  • @don it also got on Hacker News, it wasn't just a tweet, etc. – Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 1:39
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It was on Hackernews and made it to the front page. This usually involves a lot of traffic. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3036501

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    It was also linked from metafilter: metafilter.com/107868/… – kgr Oct 4 '11 at 19:12
  • @kgr Sadly, even though I'm a passionate MeFite I missed that until after everyone had left the thread. – Canageek Aug 1 '13 at 18:55
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Because this is a cool question.


EDIT: Oh my. I intended that terse and sort of vacuous remark you can find above to be a tongue-in-cheek answer, on which I would then more seriously elaborate. But then I forgot to do it ;) Thanks to whoever downvoted it, as it brought it to my attention again.

My point about the “coolness” of the Cthulhu question is that it shows you the joy of TeX, to borrow the title of Spivak's book. Among so many “everyday” questions (including mine) of how to align something, insert something, move something, draw something etc. there sometimes pops up a question that shows you how great TeX and its friends can be (not that the “ordinary” questions can't do that). In this case, how flexible it is, i.e. how far you can get away from neat lines, perfect composition, beautiful fonts – in short, things TeX was born to deal with – to emulate the writings of a madman. And also, how much fun you can have trying to do it.

The great reasons given here by TeXnicians largely explain why the Cthulu post got so many views. I think my answer might partly account for the huge number of upvotes.

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