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Round-writing challenge breaks the internet

Published February 9, 2024

Eric Keihl is the managing editor for Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Each week, he will accept a reader challenge to write a entire, quiz-ready trivia round on some tricky or obscure subject. You can challenge Eric here.

This week’s theme is “HTTP response codes,” suggested by Twitch quizzer Jason Ronis. Thanks Jason!

In case you’re not technically savvy, HTTP response codes are basically online whoopsie explainers. Too basic? Okay: Think of them like the little dashboard warnings on your car: They exist to help you understand what exactly is going wrong with your Internet experience.

If you’ve encountered one of these codes, it’s probably the humble 404. It just means your browser can’t find a page, either because the URL changed, or you typed it wrong, or about a jillion other things that can go awry in the musty hallways of the Internet. 

Because the error is so common, companies love to use their 404 pages to show off what fun-loving mega-conglomerates they are. Amazon flashes a picture of one of the 10,000-some doggies their employees have brought to work (reload and you’ll get a different pupper every time.) Clorox yanks clumsily at the heartstrings, Disney and Marvel drop little in-jokes, Spotify went with a reference that hasn’t aged so well, and Peugeot is so committed to the bit that they made a car called the 404… in 1960.

But there are dozens of other, rarer response codes out there just waiting to be explored. Let’s see what happens when we skid off the information superhighway!

1. Most of the status codes you know and love were created for CERN, the collider-buildin’ organization for nuclear research on what continent? Europe

Yup, CERN (with the help of Tim Berners-Lee) created the World Wide Web and a collider that can observe protons traveling at 99.9999% the speed of light. Pretty cool, you nerds, but where are my hoverpants?

2. Tweeting too many seashell toilet memes used to cause a “420 Enhance Your Calm” error, a reference to what ’90s film where Snipes and Stallone get unfrozen? Demolition Man

In the future of Demolition Man the only remaining restaurant is Taco Bell, so suddenly the multiple toilets makes sense. In international markets they swapped in Pizza Hut as the sole surviving eatery, a change which does absolutely nothing to derail my classy toilet joke.

3. If an error code starts with “4” then YOU probably screwed up, but a “5” means a problem with what sort of webbed-up computer that’s often stored in racks? Server

Servers function best when the room is real, real cold, so Facebook built one of their largest data centers wayyyy up in the Swedish Lapland where they can pump in polar air from the outside. It probably plays hell with Santa’s cell phone.

4. Rami Malek says Hacking for Dummies helped him prep for what USA show whose final episodes include “409 Conflict” and “410 Gone”? Mr. Robot

Malek also had a typing coach, because the show’s producers said he worked a keyboard like he was “playing the piano.” Oh, man, I’m totally banking that insult for my programmer friends.

5. Code 302 just redirects you to a different website, like how “ClemsonRejects.com” bounces you straight to the nearby University of what state? South Carolina

Michiganrejects.com of course redirects straight to Ohio State’s website, while OSUrejects takes you straight to… Sesame Street’s homepage. Well played, Wolverines.

6. It was a pleasure to browse: In honor of Ray Bradbury, an error code for sites blocked by government censors has what blazing three-digit designation? 451

As in Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury banged that novel out on a rented typewriter in the UCLA library, racking up $9.80 in usage fees, because his daughters wouldn’t stop bothering him when he worked at home. 

7. Complete with evil hot dogs, the Wendy’s 404 page lets you play a version of what apropos arcade game starring Chef Peter Pepper? BurgerTime

Got four hours of free time you’re desperate to fritter away? Check out Twitch streamer J.D. Lowe piling up a bonkers 7.78 million points in an emulated version of BurgerTime. And then look back at your life and try to figure out what happened.

8. The “418” error code is just some nerd’s April Fools’ joke: It’s supposed to trigger when you ask what short and stout vessels to brew coffee? Teapots

An American scientist practically re-started the War of 1812 in January with a book that suggested making tea with warm milk and a micro-pinch of salt to tone down the leaves’ natural bitterness. I tried it myself, and I’ll be darned if it isn’t really good. We win again, limeys!

Bonus: This geektastic 403 error page is missing what word that you’re meant to shout while smashing your staff into the ground like a boss? Pass

That’s a reference to Fellowship of the Ring, obviously, or I guess to this cracking Ian McKellen guest spot on Extras. That’s right, kids: Ricky Gervais used to do comedy about stuff other than how he’s not “allowed” to do comedy anymore. Imagine that!