As you read this, remind yourself that our country boasts the biggest, costliest public education system ever devised by human beings.
Here is some of what we get for it.
A dot on a map of New Jersey called “Ong’s Hat,” in the heart of the Pine Barrens, has fascinated people for years. What kind of town would have a name like that? Patty and I went there once, just to see it for ourselves. But there was nothing to see: just a lot of trees and a little-traveled road.
And then one Joseph Matheny in the 1990s invented an Internet game called “Ong’s Hat,” billed as “the secret to interdimensional travel.” And it took off.
“Alternate reality gaming” fans flocked to Ong’s Hat–which, remember, is nothing in particular–looking for a secret laboratory where rogue scientists discovered a way to visit parallel universes: not to mention the parallel universe now inhabited by some of these gamers. The most popular local legend had it that the place got its name from a man named Mr. Ong who, exasperated by a fight with his girlfriend, threw his hat into the air and lost it when it got caught in a tree. But now it was seen to be the nexus of a lot of far-out, conspiratorial goings-on. Gamers even went to Matheny’s house in California to peer through his windows, trying to spy out clues to the secret.
Finally, having decided that enough was enough already, Matheny discontinued the game in 2001. But a lot of people didn’t believe him when he said it was only a game that he’d made up. Sort of like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle refusing to believe Houdini’s admission that he had no genuine magical powers. “Yeah, right!” said Doyle.
Just this morning my editor, Susan, and I were talking about people who can’t seem to understand that science fiction isn’t real; and then Patty read me this article about the Ong’s Hat game which, for some, mutated into a full-blown delusion.
There is no interdimensional travel. There are no starships capable of faster-than-light “warp speed.” No time travel, no evidence that anything like a parallel universe exists, no Slender Man–and there was no secret science project headquartered in the nowhere that is Ong’s Hat.
And they say we’re credulous for believing the Bible.
Maybe we should’ve spent more time in college.