Delightful absurd complexities
December 19, 2016 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My friend is writing a book, in which a character makes a list of things that are absurdly complex in a delightful way. But we need more, especially from the non-US/UK world! See inside for some examples...

The relevant passage:
"But what delighted Syb most in the world was absurd complexity. If something was “complex” but efficient like, say, the hardware in a computer, that might be interesting but not delightful. If something was “absurd” but uncomplicated—the annual Australian tuna-throwing competition for instance—that might be funny, but not delightful. Syb kept a list of her favorite absurd complexities."

We have so far:
knots for men’s ties
invented languages
Darwinian evolution
lace
300-page proofs that 1 + 1 = 2
English spelling rules
mahjong
cribbage rules
silverware types and usage
kimono in Heian Japan
Robert's Rules of Order
racehorse naming conventions
ham radio etiquette

We need more that aren't British (or American)!
posted by exceptinsects to Writing & Language (53 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Danish counting system.
posted by kariebookish at 9:12 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Castell

Japanese tea ceremony
posted by vacapinta at 9:15 AM on December 19, 2016


Indian kolam/rangoli designs.
posted by peacheater at 10:03 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


To give you an idea of how far these designs can go.
posted by peacheater at 10:05 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you like the absurd complexity of Mah Jong, how about Pai Gow? Not the cards one, the tiles/dominoes one.
posted by mhum at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2016




Feng shui
posted by Kabanos at 10:22 AM on December 19, 2016


Livestock Branding Symbols
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:33 AM on December 19, 2016


Pretty U.S.-centric, but baseball's balk and infield fly rules...
posted by AJaffe at 10:50 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ithkuil.

The Malbolge programming language.
posted by dilaudid at 11:02 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Russian verbs of motion - different words for unidirectional and multidirectional, prefixes - there are literally whole books just about verbs of motion
posted by Vortisaur at 11:13 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


The geocentric model of the solar system
posted by rollick at 11:16 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pokemon Catch Rate
posted by radwolf76 at 11:30 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this fits, and it only fits for someone outside the culture if it fits, but Tibetan sand mandalas?

In general, I think cross-cultural examples are potentially problematic because the absurdity lies in the eye of a beholder outside the culture. The designation of something as absurd is ultimately the kind of judgement call that it might be difficult to make cleanly across culture.
posted by OmieWise at 11:31 AM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Roman numerals
posted by ecorrocio at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2016


In the same vein as Russian verbs of motion, we also have the Japanese counter words (Chinese and Korean have similar systems as well).
posted by mhum at 11:44 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]




Taxonomic rules! There are entire codes built around nomenclature and the rules for naming new species, and get this: the rules vary according to the kind of organism. Beautifully absurd and complex (and necessary!)
--The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature
--International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria
--Code for algae, fungi, and plants

Another one might be all the names for geology features that became obsolete with the development of plate tectonics. There's a few, like zeugogeosyncline , or epeirogenic geosynclinal basin, in this wikipedia page.
posted by barchan at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


knots for men’s ties

Along these lines, knots and lacing for shoes.
posted by mullacc at 12:20 PM on December 19, 2016


Semaphore
posted by OmieWise at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Dewey Decimal System

Ancient Greek particles (take a look at the table of contents of the standard guide)
posted by praemunire at 12:56 PM on December 19, 2016


How the bits of veggie move in a slowly simmering pot of soup. Full on complexity, in the sense of mathematical dynamics and chaos etc.

There's nothing out there harder to predict, though some things are equally hard.

Yet soup is entirely relatable and mundane, right there on your stovetop.
posted by SaltySalticid at 1:13 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Danish counting system.

Cf. French:
One, two, three, ..., fifteen, sixteen, ten-seven, ten-eight, ten-nine, twenty, twenty-and-one, twenty-two, ..., sixty-nine, sixty-ten, sixty-and-eleven, sixty-twelve, sixty-thirteen, ..., sixty-ten-seven, sixty-ten-eight, sixty-ten-nine, four-twenty, four-twenty-one, four-twenty-two, ..., four-twenty-nine, four-twenty-ten, four-twenty-eleven, four-twenty-twelve, four-twenty-thirteen, ..., four-twenty-ten-seven, four-twenty-ten-eight, four-twenty-ten-nine, hundred.

Thus, Prince would party like it's thousand-nine-hundred-four-twenty-ten-nine.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:13 PM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]


Astrology.
posted by gennessee at 1:53 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


If they are not US based, the Imperial Measurement System. If you didn't grow up in the US (or are over 60?) knowing how many feet are in a mile is totally whack!

Also, bit coin.
posted by saradarlin at 2:57 PM on December 19, 2016


Mosaic art. Labyrinths. Train stations. Airports. Really good infographics. Calligraphy. Snowflakes. Aerial photography. Fractals. Trees.
posted by danceswithlight at 3:01 PM on December 19, 2016


Computus, which is the calculation of the date of Easter for a given year.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:02 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not to quibble, but the rules of cribbage are not absurdly complex. If I read that list and cribbage was on it, it would trip me up for sure.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:17 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


But betting in Bridge certainly is.
I've been playing for six months and still...Stamen? Blackwood? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
posted by FakePalindrome at 3:47 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another one: In law, future interests, especially the rule against perpetuities.

(I'm kind of in with love future interests, because it's a place where you can really the English common law's ancient, feudal history poking through into the present. But most attorneys would consider this love to be prima facie evidence of insanity.)

Also, I will say that "Darwinian evolution" strikes me as a kind of odd choice, here. I can see how many evolved systems could be seen as exhibiting the kind of complexity you're describing, but Darwin's actual description of evolution centers on a few very basic principles that are pretty easy to explain and understand.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:48 PM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not to quibble, but the rules of cribbage are not absurdly complex.

Maybe not "the rules of", but the arcane terminology and scoring steps certainly give a newbie pause.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:50 PM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


If they are not US based, the Imperial Measurement System. If you didn't grow up in the US (or are over 60?) knowing how many feet are in a mile is totally whack!

How many other units can be evenly divided by eleven? It's one larger! Take that, metric system.

Also: Kanji/Hanzi are quite complicated, so the Chinese government set out to simplify them, that is, create more characters to memorize, since the old ones are not going away.
posted by kurumi at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2016


Collective nouns for animals, e.g. a pride of lions, a murder of crows, a crash of rhinos, etc.
posted by Homer42 at 4:44 PM on December 19, 2016


Egyptian Fractions
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:39 PM on December 19, 2016


There's the Finnish Wife Carrying Championship
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2016


How the bits of veggie move in a slowly simmering pot of soup. Full on complexity, in the sense of mathematical dynamics and chaos et

Brownian motion?

Also, the rules of cricket (I find cricket much more complex than cribbage, myself)
posted by ananci at 5:42 PM on December 19, 2016


Japanese flower arrangement and bonsai cultivation.

Pretty much every aspect of society in Heian Japan meets this criteria. Poetry composition involved complex allusions, puns, and references and was a major part of aristocratic life. There were taboos on traveling in unlucky directions that could change at any time and result in one's having to stay put no matter where they were or where they needed to be. It was considered improper to refer to someone by their given name, so in literature characters' names change as they get promotions, marry, etc. In the translation process characters are given a fixed name, and are often named after their geographic location, job title, or a poetic allusion.
posted by fox problems at 6:45 PM on December 19, 2016


Childbirth or the birth process of mammals. Someone from another planet would be like who thought that up? An organism grows inside another organism until it's huge and then comes out of the host's body.
posted by gt2 at 7:36 PM on December 19, 2016


The Cones of Dunshire?
posted by LynnDee at 7:49 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]




Two from geoscience that students certainly find absurdly complex and that I think are delightful:

Cloud formation, especially adiabatic lifting.

The nitrogen cycle
posted by hydropsyche at 4:48 AM on December 20, 2016


The circle of fifths, perhaps?
posted by Boxenmacher at 6:07 AM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Fibonaci Sequence? I've always found it absurd in a sort of unbelievably absurdly beautiful way.
posted by OmieWise at 6:39 AM on December 20, 2016


Heraldry
posted by taltalim at 7:03 AM on December 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


The music of Conlon Nancarrow: previously.

The modern equivalent: Black MIDI
posted by chillmost at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2016


Jewish prohibitions against working on the Sabbath and more critically, the extensive scholarly tradition dedicated to interpreting the rules and figuring out how to get around them.
posted by yeahlikethat at 9:58 AM on December 20, 2016


I agree that there are many things more complicated than cribbage, but its rules (or perhaps more properly, conventions) are so delightfully ornamental and unnecessary!
In general, I think we are looking for things that are made by humans, i.e. taxonomy is a much better example than Darwinian evolution, so thanks for that!
posted by exceptinsects at 10:01 AM on December 20, 2016


Also to be totally fair, many (most?) other religions have also made an art out of turning broad simple concepts into complicated structures and rituals. You could even stretch it and consider all religions as the result of beanplating the idea of a greater power, but some specific examples that come to mind:
Similar to the Jewish example, varying interpretations of Islamic law also sometimes leads to absurd workarounds
Don't sin => Catholic system of indulgences
Live simply => Dozens of subgroups of Amish, each with their own slightly distinct code of conduct
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:01 PM on December 20, 2016


BitTorrent file transfers
posted by Wild_Eep at 1:06 PM on December 20, 2016


The Hebrew calendar. It's conceptually based on observing the moon, but for the past 1800 years it's been based on an algorithmic approximation of where the moon would be. So you have all the original workarounds ("If people report seeing the new moon, but it's too late in the day to bring the proper sacrifices for the new month, then defer the new month by a day") codified in this algorithm specifically to preserve the orderly workings of a Temple that hadn't existed for more than a hundred years at the time the algorithm was put together.

Oh, and it's overlaid with things like a cycle to read all the Five Books of Moses over the course of exactly a year, and the necessity to fit in other readings that hadn't even been considered when the calendar was designed, And there are also odd bits and pieces that are based on the solar calendar, but not the actual solar calendar, just the one that was in use at the time the add-on was introduced. And this happened more than once ...
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:14 PM on December 20, 2016


American football defense, and especially rules for interactions with an intended pass receiver. Even the commentators can't keep it straight.
posted by acm at 3:12 PM on December 20, 2016


How about the language of flowers, or the possibly fictional language of fans, or the unlikely (to Western eyes) yet apparently real concept of the war fan (Japanese, Korean)?
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:12 PM on December 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


Chladni figures. Put sand on a metal plate, make the plate resonate, and then watch the resonance drive the sand into abstract organic patterns.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:17 AM on December 21, 2016


« Older What are the best XBox sites?   |   Butterfly pea jam? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.