Two weeks ago Daniel Drucker went to Metafilter with a request.
"My father passed away this morning," he wrote. "I'm going through his file, and I came across JOKES.TXT ... which contains only the punchlines." Could the Metafilter hivemind work backward and supply the missing jokes?
It could, and rapidly. Drucker posted his query at 4:49 pm; four hours later, 30 of the 31 jokes were solved, so to speak. The final one -- a "broken" joke about a talking golf ball -- was cracked two days later.
So take, for example, one of the punchlines on the list, "More ducks on that side." Alone, it's pretty useless, as punchlines without setups tend to be.
Ten minutes after Drucker posted the list to Metafilter, user O9scar provided the joke's missing half: "When ducks fly in a V formation do you know why one side is longer than the other? Because there are more ducks on that side."
A half hour later, Elsa gave some guidance on the joke's delivery:
O9scar outlines the riddle above, but it's worth mentioning that this one works best deployed not as a joke but as a casual bit of trivia tossed off when you see a V of birds in formation.
Person 1 [points to birds]: Hey, y'know when you see birds flying in V-formation? And sometimes one side of the V is longer than the other? You know why that is?
Person 2: No, why?
Person 1: More birds on that side.
If you do it casually enough and your friends are sufficiently curious about random subjects, you may even be able to use it on the same person more than once.
She closed on a personal note:
I caught my own much-missed father with that gag several times. My sorrow for your loss, and thank you for that happy memory.
And that's how the posts tended to go, with users prefacing or closing their jokes with a note of condolence, or a sympathetic memory. "I'm so sorry for your loss," they began. "Here's the ridiculous, crass joke you're looking for," they continued without skipping a beat.
Daniel says (in an interview conducted over email) that his father wasn't really a "joke teller" in the traditional, formulaic sense. "He was a deeply funny, witty guy, and always had something clever and original to say, rather than just repeating someone else's joke."
But Daniel wasn't too surprised to find the list. David was a writer and journalist for many years, and Daniel estimates that when he passed away, "He left behind almost a half a gigabyte of text -- that's the equivalent of about 500 Moby-Dicks (which I believe is the literary equivalent of the football field in measurement?)." There were notes on everything -- especially anything to do with the Grateful Dead, of whom David was a devoted fan. "I found pages and pages of notes from individual concerts; notes about the setlist, the equipment he used to record, whom he was with, what the crowd was like," and so on.
As to why David would have created a list of just punchlines, Daniel says he has no idea. Some of the entries are more keywords than punchlines, so presumably it was just an aid David made for jogging his memory to recall jokes he liked -- which is useful if you already know the jokes, but totally meaningless if the list is all you've got.
The response of the Metafilter community was, Daniel says, "phenomenal." The thread even inspired a second thread (a meta-metathread, if you will), of appreciation for the original.
There, one user, HotToddy, summed the whole episode up perfectly. "What an amazing thing," she wrote, "your dad inadvertently arranging for your friends to tell you jokes all day long on the day he dies."