5 Spectacularly Failed Attempts to Set World Records

Even succeeding at these would be pointless. Failing is tragic
5 Spectacularly Failed Attempts to Set World Records

In 1951, a beer magnate was shooting birds with a friend when they started arguing over whether the one he targeted was really the fastest bird in Europe. Unable to find the answer on Google (because the search results were filled with unreliable Quora replies), he resolved to write a reference book to compile such facts. The Guinness Book of World Records was born

At least, that’s how the story goes. Guinness has offered a few accounts of how this went down, including that they came up with the idea to foster a love of trivia to boost pub visits and beer sales. Either way, the book eventually changed from a collection of existing information to a list of feats people wanted to beat and finally to a company you could pay to create a world record for you. World records stopped becoming real accomplishments and became stunts from whoever wanted to be famous. That’s when we stopped rooting for record breakers. We started instead rooting for record failures. Such failures as when...

The Biggest Sandwich Was Eaten Too Quickly

In 2008, the municipality of Tehran announced they were building the longest sandwich in history, and it would stretch for nearly one mile. This is a textbook example (or Guinness Book example) of a feat that attracts notice without being especially impressive. Hey, Tehran, you’re a city. You have the logistical capabilities to build roads and maintain a police force — a police force that has gone increasingly nuts in recent years. We have no doubt that you can put a bunch of sandwich ingredients together. That doesn’t mean you should. 

They successfully crafted the sandwich, which was really just thousands of footlongs laid end-to-end rather than some marvel of bread engineering. Guinness judges were on hand, but it’s possible that not all the city officials knew what role the judges played. Because before Guinness could measure the sandwich, they sliced the sandwich up, and the pieces went into the hands of the hungry public, who’d been waiting there since 8 a.m. They were so keen to eat it because the sandwich contained half a ton of ostrich meat, and that’s not something you get to eat every day. 

We first told you about this story 15 years ago this weekend, and at the time, Iran remained hopeful that Guinness might give them the record simply on the basis of video evidence. Today, Guinness says the longest sandwich is a shorter chicken sandwich made in Lebanon in 2011. That one actually did contain two continuous 2,400-foot slices of bread, so that was one worth celebrating. 

A Snapple Stunt Flooded Its Surrounding Area With Melted Ice Pop

Snapple tried for their own “biggest food” record in 2005, freezing 17.5 tons of juice to make the world’s biggest popsicle. Here as well, we see a feat that’s not that hard considering the actor involved. It takes about 35,000 Snapple bottles’ worth of juice to build a popsicle that big. If you, the individual reading this, made one of that size, that would be amazing, but no one doubts Snapple has that much juice to spare or the facilities to freeze it.

The only reason no other juice company had tried making a popsicle this big, to try to beat the previous record set eight years earlier, is a popsicle of that size is useless. The standard popsicle nicely fits the orifice for which it is intended, and unlike a mile-long sandwich, you can’t even easily cut up and serve a 25-foot-tall popsicle. Still, Snapple froze themselves a giant chuck of juice, and they trucked it into Manhattan on an 80-degree summer day. You’ve already guessed what happened next, but Snapple somehow never did. 

The popsicle swiftly melted, unleashing thousands of gallons of strawberry-kiwi stickiness into the street. Pedestrians fled. Firefighters closed off the area and took out their hoses to fight the menace. 

Snapple had to withdraw from consideration as a record before judges could officially measure the collapsing cube, but Guinness officials were still on hand to give a statement. “What was unsettling was that the fluid just kept coming,” said one of them. “It was quite a lot of fluid.” Such words are often spoken after someone tries to demonstrate their size. 

Most People Who Try to Break the Water Speed Record Die

Speaking of fluid, you better stay as far as you can from liquids of all kinds or you may drown. In 1978, an Australian piloting a wooden speed boat set the world record for the fastest speed ever managed by a watercraft. In the nearly half century since, no one’s broken that record. Two people tried, and both of them died in the process. 

1974 three-point hydroplane "Spirit of Australia"


Even the 1978 record holder died, this year... of natural causes, at the age of 83.

In their defense, it’s a hell of a record to beat. Ken Warby set a record by zooming at 317 miles per hour in his homemade boat. Two years later, previous record holder Lee Taylor tried sailing a rocket-powered boat across Lake Tahoe even faster. The boat disintegrated, and Taylor drowned. At the end of the decade, experienced racer Craig Arfons tried his hand with a jet hydroplane on Jackson Lake in Florida. He actually did travel faster than 317 miles per hour. Unfortunately, his vessel left the surface of the water and somersaulted in the process, which disqualified this as a water speed record — and also killed him. 

That’s just if we look at people who tried breaking the current record. If we look at all attempts since 1930, when Sir Henry Segrave set a record by going just a scootch under 100 miles per hour, 13 people have tried breaking the record, and seven of them died in the attempt. Suddenly, dumb records about food don’t sound so bad.

The World’s Most Expensive Cocktail

Okay then, let’s discuss another dumb record about food. A London bartender aimed to make the most expensive cocktail, which is an absurd record because the price of a cocktail is whatever price you assign it. You could make the most expensive cocktail yourself by mixing Pabst Blue Ribbon and Dr. Pepper and charging eleventy trillion dollars for it. 

Same deal with many gimmicky expensive foods. If someone sells the “world’s most expensive burger” for $10,000 because it contains shaved gold, that’s just a price they made up. Gold leaf does not cost very much. You can go buy several sheets of 24 karat gold leaf yourself for less than the price of a regular hamburger. 

Still, London’s Playboy Club got Guinness to come by to adjudicate their “world’s most expensive cocktail” in 2012. They declared this cocktail to be worthy of the title rather than arbitrarily priced because it would use as an ingredient a 234-year-old cognac, which had separately fetched £50,000 at auction. 

1788 Clos de Griffier Cognac


Oh, well that’s an objectively reasonable price then.

It was going to use as an ingredient that 234-year-old cognac. But before they could mix the cocktail, a customer ordered two glasses of the pure cognac, for £5,000 each (the cocktail would cost barely more per glass, £5,050). The customer asked to examine the bottle. He then accidentally knocked it to the floor, shattering it. 

The bottle had been insured. However, the insurance policy expired the moment the bottle was opened, which was shortly before this guy broke it. That's just as well, otherwise we'd be convinced this whole thing was an elaborate case of insurance fraud. In fact, we're still not quite sure it wasn't, it just didn't succeed. 

The Great Chess Champion

In 1951, Robert Wade declared that he would play 30 different competitors in 30 different chess games, simultaneously. This sounds like a crazy feat indeed. Wade had two facts on his side, though. One, he was an international master, a title even more impressive than a national champion. Two, he was competing against schoolchildren 14 and under. They were Soviet children, who were good at chess, sure, but still, they were children. 

Robert Wade

GFHund/Wiki Commons

In a street brawl, he could have taken at least two Soviet kids, easy.

He played for seven hours. He did not win a single match. He lost 20 of them, and the remaining 10 were draws. 

So, he didn’t quite manage to show off his prowess in the manner he expected. He did manage to score a world record, however. His attempt earned him the title for worst-ever chess performance in a simultaneous exhibition match. Today, chess fans remember many champions. But we, who have no special interest in chess? We remember Robert Wade.

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