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It’s The First 31 Hours That Matter Most

Every hackathon should begin with the organizing team locked out of its offices. That’s precisely what happened to the Cultivated Wit team at Code For America—the kind folks letting us post up for a week at their office—on Saturday morning. But after some remote reprogramming of the access cards and reassignment of wartime satellite resources (sorry, military industrial complex!), we were able to collect our things and kick off the second-ever Comedy Hack Day.

Thanks to extraordinary help from the Twitter events team, we welcomed 64 comedians and developers with wifi, breakfast, champagne, and a bangin’ playlist. The API sponsors showcased their platforms, and the participants pitched 56 ideas live from stage. Standout concepts included:

  • for religion (just answer a few questions and get matched with the God for you. No matches? Start your own religion!)
  • Friend Or Die / Kill Your Friends (a game that tests your knowledge of your Facebook friends, and unfriends people you clearly don’t know that well)
  • Is This ‘ist? (Way to find out if something is racist or sexist)

Then we waited as 16 teams took shape and got to work. The rest of the day and night and early morning was a blur of Korean food, Anchor Steam beer, whiteboard scribbles, coding, corn hole (explanation for non-Midwesterners), befriending security guards, late-night Vine interviews, gallons of coffee, pizza, and shouts of “is anyone here an iOS developer!?” But as time tends to do, it passed, and very quickly the 12:30 pm Sunday deadline struck. It was showtime.

It’s Like A Comedy Show With Even More Awkward Performers

Then came 12:31 pm, when we immediately began tearing the room to pieces (in a good way). “Break down these tables!” “More chairs here!” “Who’s charger is this?” “Move the beer outside!” “Where should the judges sit!?” “Craig! Where’s Craig!?” Music played the whole time, but really, those shouts were the chorus of Sunday afternoon.

By 3:00 more than 200 guests had rolled in and we had standing-room only. Cameras were streaming, whiskey was poured, Baratunde had a microphone in his hand, and we were off. Every team would have only a few minutes to impress the panel of judges comprised of W. Kamau Bell, Shanti Charan, DJ Patil, Mike Winter, and Shannon Spanhake.

Demos got under way—fittingly enough—with an alarm clock app, and from there Baratunde did his best to keep things rolling as seamlessly as possible by serving both as emcee and Apple support representative. Seriously, the man’s got mad VGA-DVI skills.

The show highlights were too many to list, but over the next few weeks you can be sure we’ll share as many as possible via written word, video, and other various forms of media. You know how the internet works… But for the sake of this recap, here are a few moments that stood out to the three of us:

  • “Positivity trolling” @BowensWhiskey, the Twitter account of our whiskey provider (aka one dude in Bakersfield) who had nine followers and zero mentions. Needless to say, his Klout score went up a bit Sunday.
  • A hack called “Balls” not working. Baratunde converting the layup with a “blue balls” joke.
  • A project that allowed comedians to make fake audio tours of real places (Fraudio Tours) getting connected to the City of San Francisco live on stage by judge Shannon Spanhake, who works as the city’s deputy innovation officer when she’s not judging hackathons.
  • The team that built an app that crowdsources your flirtatious texts with potential hookups displaying their open forum on the screen above them and being immediately undermined by their own creation as heckles pour in via real-time text.
  • Judge Mike Winter, who won the first-ever Robot Wars, does math (repeatedly) and mentions robots (repeatedly) on stage. Fraudio Tour’s Matt Latkiewicz told him in the day’s final demo: “You live in a different world, and it seems like an awesome world, but I can’t really relate to you. I’m sorry.”
  • A quote from Kamau that is better context free: “You’re the Malcom X of cracked phones.”
  • Funny Or Die unveiling a clip from their upcoming release iSteve, in which Justin Long (as Steve Jobs) berates the Justin Long character on the set of an Apple commercial.
  • DJ Patil’s reversible disco hoodie.
  • Our winners receiving trophies. Then more trophies. Then more trophies. Then more trophies. Then a few more trophies.
Okay, Okay… We Get It, A Lot Happened. But Who Won?

The MailChimp Super Awesome Way-Better-Than-Everybody-Else Award
Team: Citation Needed
Team Members: A crew from the Stanford Flipside including Zach Galant, Jeremy Keeshin, Conor Doherty, Akiko Kozato, Matt LaVan, Rahul Prabala, Lucas Hanson, Ansh Shukla and Corbin Foucart
What It Is: An easy platform for lending credibility to the bullshit you make up on the spot. Select a Wikipedia entry, feed it whatever “fact” you want proven, and Citation Needed creates a replica page that looks like the real thing except this version just happens to support your claim that the original Space Jam script was actually written with Toni Kukoc in mind for the lead actor.
Why It Won: It fulfils a real need in our society, namely backing the lies we tell our friends to boost our sense of self worth. Also, Conor & Zach gave a great demo, the team wisely specified the whole thing for mobile where these types of arguments are settled most, and Citation Needed brought that gut-level “holy shit that’s brilliant” element maybe better than anybody.


Runner-Up Award For Almost Winning But Not Quite
Team: HipCrax
Team Members: Matt Klinman, Craig Cannon, John Brewer
What It Is: Customize wallpapers and games specifically for the crack pattern on your shattered smartphone. HipCrax wants to turn your cracked phone from a point of shame into a badge of honor.
Why It Won: Again, talk about another “holy shit that’s brilliant” kind of idea. Far, far too many people have lived for days or weeks or years with broken screens, and with that has his starting point Matt (of Shout Roulette fame)

Least-Viable Product
Team: Zombie Roulette
Team Members: Angel Inokon
What It Is: With this year marking the 30 year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Zombie Roulette helps you learn the dance, share moves with your friends, and eventually join a movement to conduct the world’s largest Thriller dance on October 31st in San Francisco.
Why It Won: There’s a general rule in life that if you dance, people will cheer. Angel used that to her advantage to get people’s attention, and from there it was likely her commitment to applying the product to something tangible outside in the real world where that bright thing burns you from the sky.

Best Game Sponsored By Funny Or Die
Team: SMS And Tell
Team Members: Aaron Karo, Blake Benthall
What It Is: Crowdsource your wingman with this service that offers a full suite of mobile flirting services. Give or receive help on how to text with that guy/girl you met last night, fully automate your sexting, or even rate how “into you” somebody is based on texts using SMS And Tell’s “galgorithm” technology.
Why It Won: All it really took was four words: we are gamifying sexting. There you have it. The crowd seemed to dance between cheers and jeers through the entire thing (funny how objectifying genders has that effect), but Aaron and Blake wisely noted that SMS And Tell had the potential to be an equal opportunity offender. And really, at the end of the day, all is fair in love and text messages.

Most Ridiculous Use Of A Mashery API
Team: The Magic Story Factory
Team Members: Brian Fountain, Toby Muresianu
What It Is: Kids always want the same books read to them, but let’s be honest, do they even know or care what you’re saying? The Magic Story Factory is an iPad app that puts that to the test by taking news articles you want to read and feeding them into a delightfully illustrated child’s book.
Why It Won: Brian raised the point in his demo that if you read a USA Today article about pesticides with the same inflections you would use to read Dr. Suess, maybe everybody could grow to love storytime equally. The novelty of that concept outfitted in a really beautifully designed iPad app resulted in something that—if kids prove as dumb as we think they are—could change bedtime forever.

Best Improv Hack Sponsored By TokBox
Team: Reality Check
Team Members: Evan Winchester, Christian Hansen, Sean Conroy, Duncan Wold, Bret Peterson
What It Is: The first mobile app catered to the working professional who is totally tripping balls, right now. If your hallucinogenic of choice has you in a bad place, get a Reality Check to remind you that you’re a good person, with good skills, and everything will be okay.
Why It Won: The app was hilarious and well built, but the performance is what set these guys apart the most. Dressed in kimonos, because why not, they rolled through technical difficulties by singing the song that was supposed to be playing.

Best Music Hack Sponsored By Rdio
Team: Up In A Gif
Team Members: Ricky Robinett
What It Is: An alarm clock that punishes you for snoozing by snapping photos of you, turning them into a gif, and pushing them out to your entire social network.
Why It Won: Working music into the actual alarm itself qualified them for the award, but the cool tech involved in automatically snapping images, converting them to a gif, and tweeting it out is what set this app apart. As with any great Comedy Hack Day creation, the effectiveness of that tech is also what made everybody immediately fear it.

Always. Be. Closing Your Blog Posts With Social Analytics & Glimpses Into The Future

Screen shot 2013-04-09 at 9.15.09 AM

So many Tweets! Honestly, thousands of them. This must be what The Beatles felt like, only they received actual hand-written fan mail and we have a lot of “LMAO”s and whiskey photos.

For a great perspective on the event, check out this interface that Mahaya put together for us called Seen. It gives a nice sense of the weekend’s highlights through the eyes of our attendees. That can at least tide us over until Baratunde unleashes an army of Fancy Hands assistants on all that data.

So that’s it! I wish we had a few trophies left over to give you for reading through this 1800 word post. If you missed the whole thing and have three or four hours to kill, you can still watch the entire livestream right here. Like I said before, we’ll be cutting more videos and compiling highlights as the week goes on.

Oh, and to answer the inevitable question: Boston. This fall. At the MIT Media Lab. Stay tuned.

– The Cultivated Wit Team