The Tiny Mistake:
In February of 2007, on a blustery afternoon of record trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the computer that controls the incomprehensible voodoo black magic of calculations that is the Dow Jones Industrial Average started chugging down to a snail-like crawl. This went on for about an hour, during which the computer eventually began running so slowly that it wasn't updating to show any trades as they were occurring.
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Some of the older traders had installed some "really nice" toolbars.
But unlike you when you've only got five minutes of your lunch break left and your computer's creeping too damn slowly to load that boxing cat video that your friend just shared on Facebook ("It's a cat! And it's boxing! And you won't let me watch it?! Burn in hell, you electronic torture machine!"), this wasn't a big deal. After all, we're talking about a single goddamn computer in what must be the massive network that makes the stock market tick, and it took Dow Jones literally seconds to switch to a backup computer once the problem was discovered.
Well, much like how that kitty never stops boxing (never), trading on the stock market doesn't stop just because you can't see it happening. Winning the stock market requires keeping a vigilant eye on what stocks are doing at any given moment throughout the trading day, so for the entire hour that the computer was malfunctioning, scads of investors saw that the Dow was sitting entirely unchanged. Then, once the problem was discovered and the switch to the backup computer was flipped, the average suddenly updated to its correct value -- which, to all those investors who had been unblinkingly glued to that number, looked precisely like the Dow Jones Industrial Average had just damn nigh instantaneously dropped by 200 points. And, in case you don't happen to be a stock trading wiz, 200 points is an A-1 shit your khakis-level drop.
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Traders assumed terrorists must have struck. And, worse, our portfolios were in danger.
This whipped investors into a sellsellsell frenzy that "pretty much collapsed" the New York Stock Exchange and caused the Dow to drop by a total of 546 points -- all within the last couple hours of the day's trading. To put this in terms that a person not wearing a business suit and possessing no less than three mobile devices in belt holsters might understand: There was a stock market crash in 1987. During that crash, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 508 points. This mess, brought about by a single computer system running slowly for a single hour, caused a larger drop than that.
Luckily, trading closed for the day before the problem could get any worse, and the New York Stock Exchange immediately issued a release saying that they would be upgrading their computer systems. They probably added a third one or something, so we're sure there's virtually zero chance of a repeat occurrence.
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Related Reading: Let's take our glitches to a creepy new level. Read about the terrifying Manimals of Red Dead Redemption. Hey, gaming history is often made by dumb mistakes. Laura Croft's infamous rack was all the result of an errant mouse click. Rather read about glitches that caused huge disasters? We've got more of those too.
For glitches that would actually be cool, check out If Real Life Had Video Game Glitches and Cheats.