Heckle Hill at Cincinnati’s Kings CX featuring the digital Ghoul and the Piñata. © Thomas Nguyen
Taking heckling to the next level.
CINCINNATI, OHIO — Behold an amazing technological revolution for cyclocross: the digital Ghoul by Primax Studio. Unveiled at Cincinnati’s Kings CX Zipp OVCX Tour cyclocross race on December 4, the Ghoul is a cloud-based digital heckling machine that seamlessly integrates digital technology with innate human psychological architecture to create a revolutionary new form of communications that could literally change the way we watch cyclocross. The technology has already been endorsed by at least one world-class rider. Georgia Gould has enthusiastically tweeted about the Ghoul no fewer than three times, including “Whoever thought this up is my Hero,” and, “Hope I get to experience it live.” She is not alone, as many Midwestern cycling fans also want to see Georgia “Ghouled.”
Check out the machine in action at Kings CX in Corey Green’s video:
Like the Apple iPod that preceded it, the Ghoul is comprised of rather ordinary hardware wrapped in an eye-catching design whose real genius is a spectacular user interface from a proprietary website. By accessing www.HeckleOnline.com from a computer or smart phone, hecklers choose their event and enter their juiciest one-liners. The Ghoul’s software then voice-synthesizes those written words and delivers them through the Ghoul’s built-in loudspeaker. The result is a stream of random consciousness heckling that’s hard to describe; but try to imagine Don Rickles, Hunter S. Thompson and James Joyce collaborating on one of those Xtranormal.com online video cartoons and you have the general idea. In its debut at Kings CX, the Ghoul delivered 2,285 heckles in one day according to the event log at www.HeckleOnline.com. That’s an astonishing average of nearly six-and-a-half insults per minute non-stop throughout an entire six hour race day.
The revolutionary brilliance of the concept is that heckling is now untied from physical constraints that have previously limited heckling creativity. Using a smart phone, it’s now possible to heckle riders on one side of the course while sitting in a porta-John on the opposite side of the park. Imagine the possibilities: in this era of inexpensive world-wide webcasting, fans can “support” their favorite racers while drinking beer and watching a live webcast of a race from a couch that’s twelve time zones away, turning a formerly temporal and intensely personal activity into a form of mass entertainment. There is even a section at HeckleOnline.com that highlights the most popular heckles of the event. Theoretically, Heckling Ghoul technology can also be used for other purposes, such as allowing more intimate communications between spectators and coaches of NFL teams with 4-8 records, or visually-impaired baseball umpires.
So what spawned the heckling Ghoul? According to Corey Green, the promoter of the Kings CX race in Cincinnati, where the Ghoul was unveiled, “Here is how it started. I wanted to bring more than racing to Kings CX, especially since we’re taking over the Saturday slot at next year’s Cincy3 UCI Festival. The racing brings people in, but the memory brings them back. So, my goal was to try to build a memory, a memory that would say that ‘we couldn’t possibly miss Kings next year.’ So, I knew three local teams that were pretty good at heckling, and I had this design for the course that would slow the riders down, force them to dismount and run a set of stairs that would be slow — and the rain made it SUPER slow. So slow that it was nearly pulling riders shoes off their feet. But, anyhow, I put up a bottle of scotch and a case of Little Kings to the “winner” of the first Heckle-Off at Kings CX. My only goal was to make it memorable and get people to have fun on the hill created at Kings.”
“The result was creativity that I had never expected — from costumes to handups to a fully automated, iHeckle machine. Team Shamrock was the leader in heckling up until this point. They were consistent all season and were notable in the St Mary’s video for their dollar bill handups at the barriers in that race, but more notably for their blow-up doll antics at USGP Louisville. They were asked to stop by the UCI during that race, and their legend was known far and wide as a result. The Ghoul was masterminded by James O’Laughlin and Matt Harbaugh from Team Hungry. Rogue Racing was the third entry. They had a piñata that was a white horse, but added a unicorn horn and streamers to make it look like it was, ummm, having a rainbow come out of its mouth. They stuffed it with money, beads, and GU’s to be beaten by riders as they were running up the run up. One rider knocked the pinata down, grabbed it, and mounted it on his bike. He then rode an entire lap back to the runup with the pinata mounted on his top tube, making it appear that he was riding the pinata around the course. He dropped it the next time by the run up, but came back later for it. When he returned, he found out that it had been stuffed with money and GU’s, but that another rider had found it and beat the stuffing out of it to get the money and GU’s.”
While creative, and while Team Shamrock won the heckling contest (they were heckled for “stuffing the ballot box”), Team Hungry’s Ghoul succeeded in creating the most memorable experience. “The Heckle robot was beautiful and worked awesome,” says Green. “At one point I think I saw almost 30 people on the hill, all face down in their iPhones and Android phones typing in a heckle to submit to HeckleOnline.com. Within a couple seconds, the typed-in heckle would be broadcast over a speaker next to the run up. It was amazing and people were totally into it.” Indeed, nobody who was at Kings CX fails to mention the “heckle machine”. Already, there are four entries in next year’s “Heckle-Off Rematch”, which will undoubtedly be hugely popular with UCI officials as Kings CX is replacing the much-loved Sunset Park venue as the Saturday race of Cincinnati’s annual three-day UCI Cyclocross Festival. The Cincy3 Festival is also rejoining the Zipp OVCX Tour presented by Papa John’s in 2012. Look for race dates on www.OVCX.com in January or early February when the UCI releases its International Calendar of Cyclocross events.
Before then, Team Hungry and Primax Studio are reportedly planning to take the Ghoul to at least one more major race this season. To lobby (or bribe) Team Hungry and Primax Studio to bring this revolutionary technology to a race near you, contact HeckleOnline.com at “effort / at / gmail.com”. And remember, it’s a beautiful thing that the inventors of a remote, automated heckling machine won’t publish their email with the actual “@” because they don’t want to receive automated messages.