Assignment for Friday

For Friday’s class, I want you to write a brief analysis of the Rocket Car story from Wired. As yourself (a) why does this story work, (b) why doesn’t it work, (c) what are the critical elements in convincing you that it is the true story or a made up one, and finally (d) what we as a class should learn from this story. Post your analysis in the blog before class on Friday so everyone else will have a chance to read and think about what you had to say before class.

Tags: ,

9 Responses to “Assignment for Friday”

  1. LealaK says:

    Well, as we have been observing in other hoaxes, when the narrator of the story starts with “your may not believe it but…..” That really sucks you in. You think Ok so if I believe this I’m not stupid. Also the story of the Jet/Car is told with names, names of folks we do not know but names not this guy or that girl, my friend. It has Jimmy, Sal, Beck. We feel more comfortable with names not labels. And of course all the stats, and the thinking it through, and the planning, and agonizing, makes it seem real. Not to mention how long the story is a tall tell for sure but it sucks you in and you figure sure why not.

  2. KellyKreis says:

    Okay, so when I went into the reading of this piece I went in looking for the elements that made it a hoax, as I found the story just a little too far out there to be completely true and as I read I found a lot of the same elements that we found in the “Violence of the Lambs” piece. The Rocket Car piece works for a number of reasons:

    1. A personal element. The author begins by telling the reader that when he heard the story he had to laugh because he realized that it was his actions that probably started the story; after telling the reader this he gives a very vague version of the story and explains which elements change with the retelling.

    2. The element of disbelief and the use of facts to explain away the disbelief (facts being hard science and scientific theories). The author goes through the entire story giving essential elements and basically tells the reader I know that this sounds like it wouldn’t work and we looked at all the ways that would prevent it from working and we thought it wouldn’t. Then he goes on to tell us what they did to make it work, using terms that sometimes the reader might find a little difficult to understand. On page five the example of top-fuel dragsters was used. It is assumed that the reader will have a basic knowledge of thrust and top-fuel dragsters (or a basic understanding that attaching a military rocket to a car would cause the car to move really quickly and lose control.) And while I will be the first to admit that I don’t know if the example that was given to explain why it wouldn’t work is using the right theories to explain it, the whole idea that this just wouldn’t work makes sense to me. It seems to be a case of its not what you know its what you say.

    3. Slowly building of an incredible story. This myth also works just because its a pretty funny story that seems very fantastical. The author spends pages upon pages building up the story; he expalins every detail and even takes time to say, “Before I go on, I think I should take a minute to explain why this whole stroy is getting so lengthy…Besides, the techinal details of the whole project turned out to be more involved that I initially remembered. when I started writing, I recalled a simple 1-2-3 process that took place over the course of a few weeks. But as I wrote, I realized I had to supply a lot more detail than I’d originally intended to show that we actually thought about systems to make the car work and to keep the story from sounding completely stupid.”

    4. Vagueness (This is also a reason this story doesn’t work). To begin with the stories that circulate always happen “in some out-of-the-way part of the country,” and the one in Wired Magazine is no different except the author gives even less of a description and says, “In 1978,…in a place I won’t specify except to say it was somewhere in the desert.” The vagueness of the author on where this happened and then the lack of evidence that was produced (which was a criticism of the Darwin Award’s version) helped and hurt the article all at the same time.

    5. This story explains one of the many online stories that have people wondering, “how did that happen?” “Who was dumb enough to try that?” or “How did that get started?” This hoax meets the desire to have actions of others explained, and it explains where the story came from.

    Reasons that the story doesn’t work:

    1. Can’t be verified. None of the things that have been presented in this story can be verified. There are many different versions of this online and in the movies. In fact Darwin Awards which is mentioned in the Wired article, now says that the story of the Rocket Car is an urban legend. (I did have to laugh at the end though when he begins talking about Back to the Future III. For some reason I didn’t make that connection until it was pointed out to me.)

    2. The length of the story. While a successful hoax doesn’t have to be something short this story seemed to drag out a little too long. It seems as though the author was trying to explain everything and tell us everything while trying to make us believe this story. I found that he lost my attention by giving me so much information and the play-by-play action. I felt as though the author was spending too much time trying to make the story he was telling believable.

    3. The lack of witnesses. The thing that really killed this for me though was the lack of witnesses. Through out the story only four people knew what was going on. I know its a small town in the desert but really no one noticed that there was a group of boys going to the desert with a run down 57 impala in the bed of a truck? And in the end one of the four boys dies, one goes missing, one goes into the navy, and one goes to work for a high profile company. But basically they all lose touch and never get the chance to truly talk about the events ever again.

    There were two critical elements that made this unbelievable for me (even though in a way they go together). The problem that I found with the was how vague he was while at the same time how many details he gave me. He didn’t seem to find the balance that is necessary for a truely believeable hoax. He is vague when it comes to where this happened and this vagueness leads to a lack of evidence. But even with this vaguenes of location (which could work in his favor if he had named some small town that no one has ever heard of) he gives so many details about how they built the car, what they used to make the breaks, the type of rocket and where he got it from, the type of track that they put the car on, and just in general every step they made that it made it too hard to believe. And yet with all these details, there was no evidence produced to verify what happened (even though the car was stuck under the rubble in mine with the back four feet of it sticking out for a few days). I think that this is something the class can learn from. We need to be able to find the balance between not enough information and too much information because when you are too vague you lose credibility and when you are overly informative people are given more than enough information to try and refute our story.

  3. kpetz says:

    A) Worked.
    First of all, this hoax is intriguing because it has a very focused audience. The people that would even check out are the techies, gamers, and people that are into sci-fi. On the one hand, this would be considered a very intelligent crowd. On the other, these are some people who would love for something like a Rocket Car to be true. It was originally posted on, which is a random site, which also looked like it would have a unique crowd. The point being, the author was not being particularly flashy or overeager to have the whole world know about his ‘big story’.

    The introduction is also interesting, since he brings up that he was the one to start the story in a casual manner. It almost seemed like he was trying to decide if he should actually say this. The hestitancy pulls the reader in.

    Another point for him was how he made the story personal. He definitely played up the roles of his buddies and then delightfully kicked them out of his life at the end, so he did not have to give any details beyond that, which may have also have contributed to not performing a redo.

    Despite how off-the-wall this story sounds like it would be, he threw in the story about how his dad went to military auctions and had all of this junk from those piled up in their back yard, which adds some plausibility. He did say that they were supposed to return things of this nature and you would think rockets were kind of large to just happen to get looked over when getting tossed out, but it is just that insane that it might work. Oh, and I have never heard of such an auction, so you would have to know this field too in order to disprove that. (Draws the reader in..)

    B) Failed.
    One thing that makes his story hard to believe was in the details he offered about himself. First, he is a bio teacher with no desire to learn how to use the internet (what?!). Next thing you know, he is an eager 22 year-old trying to figure out how to strap rockets on the back of an impala. Either the Navy severely tamed his imagination or he was confused about his interest in technology. He comes across as being inconsistent – about himself, odd.

    Also, the length of the story was torturous. He did a pretty good job covering his bases, but just a little too well. For something to have happened in 1978 and still be this clear in 2000, there had to have been a lot of embellishment, which he does not claim to have done. He is a very good story-teller.

    Besides basically killing off his friends, at the end, it is also odd that the whole thing just disappeared. I think his story could have been a little more clever. At least make it blow up or something exciting like that. It is plausible that his friends all just happened to leave at that time. The car needed a more exciting end though.

    C) Convincing Elements:
    The details he gave about putting the car together and having a car savvy friend supposedly check their work was critical. Setting the story in a small town in the middle of the desert. Setting the story back far enough that it would be hard to fact check.
    Revealing Elements:
    No remains. For a group of guys not really trying to cover up what they did, there was still no evidence. Too clean.

    D)Essentials: need to have expert opinions. needs to take place a while back. pick a location that is not well known.

  4. Lisa Payne says:

    Rocket Car Analysis:

    Why the story works:

    · On the first page he admits that it sounds a little off the wall and crazy. “I’m sure this sounds pretty ridiculous” He’s telling the reader that the story sounds absurd but bare with him and he will explain how everything flows together.

    · He admits that he’s not a rocket scientist, car expert or has must interest in urban legends

    · He’s careful on how he writes the story and how he builds the story up gradually. He talks about being a biology teacher, how he found the story on the internet and why he decided to write his version.

    · To make his story sound more believable he finds flaws in the Darwin’s version. He points the flaws out in his story about how Darwin’s version wouldn’t work or just plain stupid to even attempt “What strikes me as incredible silly about the Darwin Award version of the story is that the pilot chose to test his vehicle on a road with a c curve in it”.

    · The background information was very thorough. He’s extremely careful to include everything (plus more) to make the story plausible. He talks about his father owning a scrap yard and how they obtained their materials “we lived near a major US Army storage facility, a lot of the scrap my father bought and sold came from government auctions . . . Of course I’m telling you this because it’s how I managed to get hold of the JATO bottle we used for our rocket car” (how convenient). He also went in great depths about his friends that helped him build the rocket car and why he decided to choose them. “Jimmy and I met in the third grade and were best friends for most of our growing up . . . Jimmy went to college to study ‘mechanical engineering’ ”.

    Why the story doesn’t work:

    · Even though he gave information on how everything came together – on choosing his friends, how they put the rocket car together, and where they did the test run I feel he went too far in depth with the information. It made me feel that he thought too long and hard on the process of how to make the story sound believable. Listing details was a great idea but he over did it on the number of details he used. The story was extremely drawn out.

    · He was also vague in certain parts of the story which made the reader doubt the creditability. “I won’t specify except to say it was somewhere in the desert”. Red flag goes up.

    · There’s no way to prove that this story was true or not.

    The critical elements in the story that convinced me that it was made up were the amount of details he added to the story. He wanted the story to sound believable and in order to do that he thought he had to add a step-by-step description of how he came about to build the rocket car and how they pulled it off. There’s a fine line of how much detail one should add to a story to make it sound plausible. The story was drawn out and I admit it made me lose interest half way through. Another critical element was the lack of evidence the story had. There was no way of finding out if this really took place or not, especially since he just said it happened in the desert somewhere. What we can learn from this is to make a story believable it does not need to be drawn out nor does it need an excessive amount of detail.

  5. bessie says:

    Why This Works:
    1. Time is on this legend’s side. If the story really has been around as long as the author of this article states in the preface (”fast forward”), this leads readers to believe that nothing (or at least nothing substantial) has stopped this rumour from spreading around and even crossing into the realm of factual anecdote.
    2. The author immediately dismisses any kind of association s/he could have had with the legend, saying things like “I have no interest in urban legends”, “I’m not a car expert or an aerospace engineer or anything”, etc. This adds credibility in ways similar to those employed by the author of the “Violence of the Lambs” piece we read earlier on; clearly coming from a cynic’s perspective, this totally ludicrous story must be legitimate because even said cynic is convinced.
    3. Specific biographical details are provided throughout the course of the article, leading us to believe that this man relates personally to the story in more than just a “hey, yeah, that was me, lol”, surface-y kind of way.

    Why It Doesn’t Work:
    1. It’s too long! People won’t get through all those details that are clearly placed within the article to legitimize it (specific numbers, speeds, mechanical effects, etc.), so they’re only left to wonder about its reality.
    2. There actually don’t seem to be enough of aforementioned details. The side notes about each of the characters with whom the author deals in his endeavour make it seem like s/he is getting off on tangents to distract readers from the real point s/he is attempting to communicate, that being: “I started the rocket car legend”.

    Most Critical Element in Expressing Falsity:
    My second point in the aforementioned section of my analysis is probably what threw me the farthest from believing this guy. If he was genuine, he probably would have skipped all the trite, irrelevant details about his life as he would have realized they’re not at all pertinent to this situation. To me it really seems like he would have stuck more closely to the topic at hand if he truly intended to prove his point.

    What We Can Learn:
    I think the single most important thing we can take from this example is the idea that you cannot mix business and pleasure, ie include too much that alludes to your personal life, be it in the past or present. People are not only generally uninterested, but in my experience historians detailing a particular event are not overly concerned with the players’ having met each other “in third grade, or thereabouts”. (The coy David Bowie reference was nice, though.) In addition, as stated by kpetz, the time frame of the story makes it difficult to check facts, and the location of the story (a remote, virtually anonymous location) makes the story slightly harder still to verify.

  6. TimG says:

    What it did well.
    1. The amount of information that he included in the story; how they built it, where they got the JATO, how he is a teacher who doesn’t understand the internet. The information presented seems to be believable, maybe too believable.

    What it didn’t do well.
    1. Again the amount of information in this story seems to be plentiful. All the information on the mechanical side is there, but any information on where it takes place, or who was involved is mostly absence, making proving or disproving difficult. Without any identifying information really makes this hard to believe.

    2. How events began to cover their tracks; starting with the sand storm, then Beck being killed, Sal going missing, and the subsequent removal of the car all prevent anybody from confirming the story.

    Also having never lived on a military base that sold equipment, does anyone know if this actually happens, or is allowed?

    What I think we should take away from this story is that we should give out plenty of information about our hoax, but not some much that it seems like, well, that we made it up.

  7. jmockler says:

    Reasons why the story worked:

    First, he used the same method that the author from “Violence of the Lambs” used. He admitted that the story was ridiculous and unbelievable. In addition the story was chalk full of detail. He gives each person in the story an identity, which is more than the actual myth does. He personalized it. He also states that the myth is an exaggeration of the actual events that unfolded. He gives background information such as his dad owning a junk yard that make it plausible for him to get his hands on a JATO rocket. It’s also realistic in the sense that he discredits the project as impossible, but then goes in to list in sometimes painful detail about how they adapted the car to be able to hold the rocket. Though the actual scientific data might not actually be correct, his target crowd probably does not have much knowledge of physics to completely comprehend it. For me, it sounded pretty well researched, and he seemed to know what he was talking about, but then again I’m a history major. He gave what seemed like accurate information about the specifics which gave him more credibility. Also, the story was so long, I found myself fast forwarding through the sections that were really detailed because I just wanted to get to the end of it, so the length worked in his advantage. In the end his story sounded a lot more plausible then the actual myth. It’s not that hard to believe four young guys getting together and doing something stupid…in fact it happens all the time. So with the information to back it, he passed it off. He made it a funny, personal story, that sounded like something my dad would have done when he was a kid growing up.

    Elements that didn’t work:

    The vagueness of the story made it a little hard to believe. He didn’t give an actually location, he just simply stated it was somewhere in the desert. However, that doesn’t really hurt him in my opinion because he made it seem like he was doing it to protect his own identity. Who wants to give out personal information that reveals your identity with all the crazy people living out there in the world today. Therefore I don’t think the vagueness took away from his credibility too much.

    Critical elements that convinced me:
    I think the critical elements that would convince me, were that he discredited the original myth stating it was an exaggeration of the truth and changed the story from something ridiculous to something more plausible. He also used a lot of detail which gave him more credibility.

    I think what we can learn from this is we need to have a lot of detail. The more detail we have the more plausible or hoax is going to seem.

  8. Kristin says:

    Why the story works:
    -He mentions in the beginning that the idea sounds crazy, but it’s true (according to him). It’s a lot like the “Violence of the Lambs” article we read at the beginning of the semester.
    -He uses phrases like “Of course I’m telling you this because…” like he wants to let the audience in on a secret.
    -The details of his friend, Jimmy- his dad ran an auto-body shop, they lived right down the street and their families were “pretty close”. It all seems believable and like something you’d come across in every day America.
    -Uses a vast array of vocabulary (centrifugal force, structural stress, etc.) that make him seem like he knows the ins and outs of building such a vehicle.
    -When it comes to the stopping mechanism, he uses perfect examples of a drogue chute and how it’s used on things some people see often (fuel dragsters and fighter planes)
    -Bolding of particular phrases. This one struck me as convincing: “The last obstacle to running the car was gone. Suddenly the whole thing seemed insane and dangerous and illegal as hell.” It shows vulnerability when it comes to the team and what they’re risking.

    Why the story doesn’t work:
    -Vague details (not descriptive about the location of where he tested the car)
    -Uses phrases like “And so on and so on”. This makes the reader question “What is this ‘so on and so on’ he’s referring to, and if I asked him, would he be able to answer my questions?”
    -The problems they encounter seem to remedy themselves quite quickly, and there really isn’t trial and error (we tried this and it didn’t work, so we moved to this, and then this, etc.), which there seems like there should be, especially when building a vehicle of the magnitude they were “building”.
    - The details of how he got the vehicle and the supplies from the army are too convenient. He just happened to live near the army base and his dad just happened to have a Chevy Impala they could strap to a rocket.
    -While the details help add to the realness of the story, they also get carried away by just going on and on about this, that and the other thing, and at some points they’re not completely relevant.

    The critical elements that lead me to believe the story was false were his details. At some points, he’d be extremely descriptive, but then he’d be so vague, he could be talking about anyone or anything across the world. Usually, if a story is true, the author is consistent with their details. Also, the idea of him getting the materials from an army base and the car just happened to be on his dad’s lot are way too convenient. Usually, there has to be some searching as to what will be used and how they’ll get it. As a class, I think we can learn that we need to make sure to keep our details consistent, regardless if we decide to go crazy and add a lot of details, or just keep it vague enough so we can convince people. We also need to make it look like we did research (have lots of sources), where as the author of his article seemed to have only one source for his findings.

  9. Rachael says:

    Well I’m embarrassed I forgot my log-in for so long- anyways- what I wrote.

    Why does the story work?

    -It introduces it as a rumor- as I shouldn’t believe this, I normally don’t believe or care about stuff like this- and then puts down all the elements of it that make it ridiculous first. As he points out, “from an intellectual point of view, this story isn’t as entertaining as some of the others that have come and gone. The one about McDonald’s shoveling worms into the grinders that produce Big Macs, for instance, beats it by a mile.

    -He humbles himself, refers to his job as a high school biology teacher, implies he doesn’t know much and he’s just putting his opinion out there. You know, I only pay attention to this because I might have started it on accident that one time.

    -The author includes anecdotes about his own life as a teacher and how a student “got him” on a topic- real life, folksy-ish stuff that sucks people in.

    -Talking about how insane the actual tale is and how there are so many mistakes with it- how could anyone believe it?

    -Telling the entire story about his experiments with a jet-powered car and having none of the experience, skills or money- this story doesn’t necessarily make this guy look good- in our image-obsessed society, it seems weird to think that a guy would put an entire story out there about himself that’s unflattering if it’s not true.

    -The details about his dad’s job and skills draw the reader in even more.

    -The physics descriptions from his friend Jimmy sound very legit- with the example at hand really making sense to the reader. Why it wouldn’t work- and then how it could. It’s a very -ahah- moment- a very simple solution that could solve all the problems.

    -The details about the silver mine and the bucket cars makes the story much more believable- including even the type of tool used to bash the connection between cars.

    -It’s so long!

    Why doesn’t it work?

    It’s a little too well crafted for it to be a story by someone who just wrote it down one day- it’s a little too clever and witty.

    -Really? He got from trying to find the name of HMS Beagle to the Darwin awards where he just happened to see the rocket car myth on there, from three years ago in the timeline? It seems too convenient. In addition the thought that -none- of the sites showing up online for the search “Darwin” had anything to do with Charles Darwin is a bit incredible, even in 1998. I just searched on google and the darwin awards don’t even show up on the results until 7th down the screen.

    -His dad just happened to have a scrapyard in the middle of the desert? That seems…convenient. And why on earth would the army get rid of two working jet assembly units? And for that matter, how would his dad simply not notice when he kept stealing all this stuff from the scrapyard?

    -Is it likely the author would have really put out a story calling his friends dope-smoking degenerates and not too swift, even twenty years after the fact? I mean- most people avoid that type of blunt criticism because there’s no benefit to that- they’ll lose friends and get trouble they don’t want.

    What are the critical elements in convincing you that it is the true story or a made up one?

    He says he doesn’t have much interest in urban legends yet says that the story isn’t as entertaining as “some of the others,” showing he clearly has read up on urban legends over the years to refer to them so casually.

    “Somewhere in the desert?” What did he forget where it was? There’s nothing keeping him from providing this detail if the story was true- he keeps it back though, because as he said himself, “throwing in a lot of facts and figures…gives the nonbelievers plenty of details they can use to refute the story.”

    -the detail of scrap dealers having to sign a form saying they’d return any “explosive, ordnance, fuse, detonator, or other chemically viable part or assembly of a weapons system”? I ran a search on it and the only place it showed up was in this story. Seems like it would be more places than that, as an official document.

    What we as a class should learn from this story?

    A story with plot, well-drawn characters and human elements such as emotion, and sensory details help convince someone something is true. Details are good, but only as long as they don’t disprove the story when checked up. The style of the writing and presentation should match the supposed author- professional stuff should be professional- amateurish maybe should have some mistakes and sound less clever. If you deny something in the story and put its feasibility down- it makes it more believable when you say you figured out a way to make it work.