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SUPERNICHE issue 3 a hobby zine

SUPERNICHE issue 3 a hobby zine


What The Bug? by Magda Strompf

A sudden and welcoming rain breaks up the humidity of the dense Maine forest as I follow Chai Culler along a narrow and winding trail. Culler is an actor. His lifelong career arguably reached its apex with an appearance in episode 104 of the hit 90’s television show Frazier. In a bit lasting a little less than a minute, Culler plays a nameless huckster of smarmy intent trying to sell the dweeby brother Miles a timeshare in Iceland to impress his suspiciously absent wife, Merit, whose existence is never actually confirmed by the show. More recently, Culler has been in several community theatre productions and local TV commercials. “I’m known as the Christmas Tree Guy, because I’m always in the Fisher Family Farm Cut-Yer-Own Christmas Tree commercials. I’m a bit of a local celeb. I go to events and sign stuff for people. There’s even a Christmas ornament of me doing this,” Culler pauses and strikes a cheesy pose amid the ash and oak of the woods. Culler is also an armchair entomologist. A factoid that plays a hefty role in his current pursuit, walking stork-like through tall grass. He keenly cranes his neck to and fro. What’s he looking for, you might wonder? “Ah-ha!” He says as he adroitly caps a lid on a jar, trapping an enormous yellow and black beetle with intimidating tusks. “Oh, he’s a beaut!” Without much delay, we hastily make our way back to Culler’s self-built and designed reverse solar bungalow. A man of many talents, Culler dedicates the majority of his time to collecting insects for taxidermy works of art that he sells on Etsy and the heated hobby of bug mortal combat. “This is dynastes tityus, an eastern Hercules beetle. A fully developed male will grow to be 2.5 inches long. This one is pretty close. I’ll feed it some good, nutrient-rich food for a few weeks before I take him


to the ring,” Culler explains as he loosens the cap on the jar and eases the enormous insect into a terrarium. Culler notices that I take an instinctual step back. “Don’t worry! He won’t bite. But he will battle another male to the death for a female,” Culler says with a smile.

Culler holding his catch.

Culler is a competitor in the Northeastern Hercules Beetle Battles, an organization that holds skirmishes across the Mid-Atlantic and New England. Competitors bring their beetles to the ring for often deathly showdowns, using female beetles as bait. “Some raise their own, but I’ve never had much success with it. I’d rather do wild catch,” Culler says as he gives me a tour of his garage which he’s converted to suit his hobbies. One half is glowing terrariums crawling with insects, the other half is workstations for drowning, pinning, preserving, and displaying the little creatures. Brilliant butterflies and splayed grasshoppers rest on velvet and hang in frames. 3

Katydids and praying mantis dance in an ornate masquerade constructed within a sideways bottle. There’s no doubt that Culler is a man who enjoys making masterpieces—albeit odd ones. A few weeks later I meet Culler in the surprisingly packed parking lot outside an event center in Hyacinth, New Hampshire. With a gleeful grin, he gives me my day pass. Pinned proudly to his shirt pocket is a gold competitor pass. “Sorry, I’m just so excited!” Culler says as he dabs perspiration away from his forehead with a well-worn hanky that he promptly shoves back into the pocket of his Bermuda shorts. We enter the event and I’m immediately stunned by just how many people are in attendance. A great range of competitors are standing around with their bugs in carrying cases, showing off their goods, trading insights, and good-natured barbs. Vendors of all varieties have set up stands in the atrium. Terrarium accoutrement dealers demonstrate their wares, little jungles squirming with coral snakes, bug breeders with yellow-edged catalogs feed crickets to a tarantula, a leopordist from the state of New Hampshire Fish & Wildlife Department has brought specimens in glass houses for educational purposes. “I found out about these events because I started selling at a table. I did well, but I got more interested in the actual sportsmanship of it all,” Culler explains as he shows me around. The main event occurs on four different octagon-shaped tables with handfuls of participants watching matches with devilish smirks. Beetle embroiled in the heat of battle robotically take one another on, all for an indifferent female munching on greenery beneath the dome of a bell jar. “It’s a friendly competition. We all want to have a good time. Last year the grand champion was a 12year-old boy from upstate New York. Here’s the brackets and the competitor information,” Culler says as he hands me a thick booklet containing the match-ups, competitor bios, and an unexpectedly long list of sponsors. I just can’t believe this many people care about the sport of beetle duels. But according to Culler and confirmed by the Northeast Regional President, author, and international beetle superstar coleopterist Leif Pillbower-Brandt. I manage to meet up with him before Culler’s heat and pick his brain on why this hobby has taken off at such an explosive rate.


“I stepped into this arena with one motivation: save the beetles, raise awareness. With an intense marketing campaign and a 400-page action plan, we hope to save the beetles. Did you know 6 species of beetles go extinct in the rainforests across the planet every day?” Pillbower-Brandt says to me, his eyes bulbous and incredulous behind his two-inch thick lenses. I am almost afraid to admit that I did not know that. “I’ve literally seen it. I’ve watched as the last of a species went literally belly-up. I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of repercussions this has on the planet as a whole. It’s an absolute devastation. The greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs! Fortunately, we’re here to witness it and therefore can do something about it! We won’t have to be building Coleoptera Park anytime soon. But I tell you, I’d be the Dr. Hammond of that cockamamy project, I have no doubt!” I rejoin Chai Culler just in time for the fight against competitor Suzellen Starr, an 8-year-old from Muck Kill, New York. She found her beetle after a class project required her to capture some insects. Her mother, Terry Clapstone reluctantly brought her the 4-hour drive. “Well, she enrolled herself. Stole my phone. The last time she did that she

Terry Clapstone, mother, lets out a silent scream of regret.

bought about $800 worth of lab mice.


The delivery guy thought we were a school or something. No, just the home to a really unique third grader. She’s been taking care of Petunia ever since she caught him, and he’s gotten really big, so, I guess we’ll see,” Terry Starr explains as she rubs at her weary eyes. Beside Culler, I watch as the gates are raised and the two beetles survey the fighting rink. For about two minutes, the two size one another up, jouncing up and town, flicking their wings, and twisting to show off their enormous horns. Suzellen’s bug makes the first move and the battle is on. In mere moments, Petunia pierces straight through the middle of Culler’s beetle and throws it halfway across the table, a shocking display of brutality that I am ashamed to admit got my heart pumping. “Better luck next year!” Culler says with a resigned shrug. He adds, “The real prize is knowing that we’ve raised thousands of dollars for beetle awareness here today.” ∆

Culler screams with excitement at the prospect of saving beetles despite losing to a little girl. 6

“Walt Ferb, You’ve Been Chopped” by Florin Merryweather Every year in the torturously small town of Tournament, Massachusetts, Tuck Waterford hosts a very unique contest. Waterford, a restauranteur with a boyish face and doughy physique, began hosting the event on a small scale at his first business, a now-shuttered bar called Tuck Me Sideways. He wanted to bring attention to his ailing business so he concocted the first ever Celebrity Chef Look-a-Like Contest. While the bar ultimately failed (Waterford blames high rent and taxes instead of his sophomoric cuisine and pretentious style) the contest prevailed. “The following October, Facebook friends of the bar were like, ‘Hey, when’s the next contest? I wanna be Bobby Flay,’ even though the bar had closed, ya know? So, I thought, dang I can’t let these people down,” Waterford explains as he fingers a hideous goatee. He went to a friend and owner of Kitch Nightclub and asked to use the venue to host the 2nd Annual CCLALC. It was a big success, according to Waterford, one of the more unreliable narrators in league with Patrick Bateman but with the looks of Holden Caulfield. He claims supporters of the closed bar came en masse. Where were they before? I couldn’t help wonder, but I let Waterford plow forward using his abundant chin to chisel what little space between us uncomfortably remained. “It was a big success. People had to pay to be part of the competition, you could show up looking like Emeril Lagasse but unless you coughed up 20 bucks, you weren’t going to win the grand prize. With that money, I was able to open the place I have now, and we’ve had the contest every year since,” Waterford tells me as we sit in the low lighting of his predictably steampunk-themed steakhouse called Mr. Hyde’s. It’s before the dinner rush but hopping swing music is playing and a vampiric bartender is alchemizing mixed drinks for us. He ordered for me. Classy/obnoxious? You be the judge. Waterford got the idea for the contest when he auditioned to be a contestant on the Food Network’s game show Chopped, where foodies compete for 10k by making ridiculous meals out of random ingredients in narrow slots of time, and then are judged by chefs who critique them for undercooked food


using buzz-terms like flavor profile and palette obliterator. “They said, ‘we can’t take you because you look way too much like Jeff Mauro.’ I hadn’t even heard of this guy before but he’s considered the Prince Joffrey of sandwiches, apparently. I looked him up and yeah, I do look like him, and I thought to myself, man, too bad there wasn’t a 10 grand prize for the person who looks most like Jeff Mauro, I’d win that. Well, Now there is.” Last year, 6 Jeff Mauro look-a-likes showed up, 15 Bobby Flays, 6 Alton Browns, 20 Martha Stewarts, 5 Action Bronsons. “Of course like two dozen Guy Fieris show up every year,” Waterford says with a dry laugh as he sips on a concoction with an ingredient list as cryptic as modern art.

The boy sandwich king Jeff Mauro.

“Sometimes there’s gender-bending. I love that.

Then there’s the Bobby Flats, this thing where people show up with cardboard cutouts of Bobby Flay, and the Wolfgang Clucks, they dress up as chickens. There’s a cult quality to it, and it’s right near Halloween, so people have fun. We’re in our 10th year and this year the Food Network is going to cover it, I think Gordon Ramsay might be hosting, but I haven’t received confirmation on that yet. He’s going to love the number of people who dress up as him just so they can scream obscenities and snort coke in the bathroom—er, that’s off the record.” Unfortunately for Tuck Waterford nothing is “off the record” with this reporter. SUPERNICHE is hardhitting journalism which is why I couldn’t be more annoyed with our editor WALT FERB for putting me on this insubstantial story.


A ghostlike server brings me an order of truffle fries which taste like pure acid and ground skeletons, and Waterford continues talking at me with his smudge of a grin and his thumb-bland face about how much he hates the Food Network, and me too a little bit for inspiring this insipid hobby. Consider this my resignation, WALT FERB, you sly bastard. Yours in professionalism, Florin Merryweather ∆

Former-reporter Florin Merryweather flushing his career down the toilet.


A Puzzling Pastime for Thrill Seekers by Verica Honeycut

While no formal organization exists, no competition is attended by large droves of supporters, no spokesperson hurdles their stalwart mission, akin to distance runners who trek multi-day epochs, thruhikers who forego common sense to spend months on the brink of starvation in the woods, weightlifters who push their bodies to the absolute capacity of human strength by pulling 18 wheelers with logging chains, extreme puzzlers are rising group of radical hobbyists. Their format is mainly social media-driven, displaying their feats on Instagram and YouTube, complete 100, 1000, 5000 piece jigsaw puzzles in chaotic conditions and under extreme stress. Extreme puzzler, Tor Königsmann completed a 100 piece puzzle of sharks while holding his breath underwater on Facebook Live. 5000 viewers from across the planet hopped on to watch as the 6’6’’ Icelander finished the puzzle in nine minutes, only coming up for air once. Königsmann, a resident of San Fransisco and founder of the tech startup X-IT, an app and digital service that helps people plan trips to extreme destinations for novel experiences, call himself an adrenaline junkie in our over-the-phone interview. “I got into it because it was just another thing to help me push my limits. I have a lot of followers, but I’m not the most extreme. Königsmann comes up for air at the end of his Facebook Live feed.


Mat Suzuki once completed a 50 piece picture-less puzzle while on fire. That means, there’s no picture to reference, you just have to match the shapes together. He’s gotta be a genius.” Königsmann directs me to a whole slew of extreme puzzlers using the hashtag #xpuzz on social media to link up to others like them. “It might be a kid in his basement who can do a puzzle while hanging upside down. It might be a girl in Scotland who can complete a whole puzzle while blindfolded in less than fifteen minutes,” Königsmann explains. In fact, both of those are actual feats found under the #xpuzz hashtag. Ellinor Hummel in a soft-spoken twenty-something kiwi living in Wellington, New Zealand. She chats with me from her well-lit apartment via Skype. A playful cat popping in and

Mat Suzuki engulfed in flames.

out of the frame vying for her attention. “Well, I got started because I am very into challenging myself,” Hummel explains. Two years ago, the millennial made headlines by completing a successful (and illegal) sailing expedition from New Zealand to Patagonia. Her harrowing journey with met with much media fodder but it was not without its determent. “I almost died,” she explains. “It was quite stupid of me, actually, but I love it. Anyway, after that, my dad banned me from going back on the ocean. So I did the opposite.” 11

Hummel has completed puzzles on some of the highest and most dangerous peaks on the planet. “I’m in the book of world records, yeah? For being the only person to complete a thousand piece jigsaw on top of Mount Cook,” Hummel says. Mount Cook or Aoraki is the highest mountain in New Zealand. “I’ve also done puzzles on Denali, K4 in the Andes, and Pokalde—which is in the Himalayas. I am preparing to do a puzzle on Everest before I’m 30.” Jacopo Kunkle’s YouTube channel was featured in Boostle Magazine’s article Top 50 Up & Coming YouTubers Ya Gotta Keep an Eye On. “i think i take XPuzz to the extreme,” writes the 20-year-old from New Jersey who was only available for an E-mail interview. And indeed, he does. Kunkle jumped into extreme puzzling just a year ago posting videos of himself completing a 5, 000 piecer while naked in January’s arctic blast deemed Winter Storm Voldemort. “Yo, i got frostbite on my dingding,” writes Kunkle and because the interview happened by way of E-mail, it was impossible to verify whether that was a joke.

Jacopo Kunkle smiling like a real goonberry.

The majority of Kunkle’s videos take place in dangerous outdoor conditions while nude. His YouTube handle is NaxedXXXPuzz for that reason. “i found my nitch [sic] so i had to stick wit it. i did it as a joke, I mean, because I lvoe to be naked. But then my friend showed me how mnay followers ome poeple get on Utube o I was ike yeah i can do dat. So i DID IT.” 12

One of Kunkle’s videos depicts him departing on his family’s private jet in Northern New Jersey for West Palm Beach, Florida just before the arrival of Hurricane Adora. “[Expletive] yo, i almost lost my teeth ‘cause a board hit my face because of the wind bein wo wild n liek,” writes Kunkle. And indeed, in the video, the wind was “so wild and like” a board does fly up and smack him, knocking him immediately unconscious. A nervous girl runs from behind the camera, whips out a mobile phone and calls for emergency services. “That’s my sister Athena i’m alwys making her do buckwild [expletive],” Kunkle writes in the E-mail describing the video. “The future of extreme puzzling is endless. Some people are already getting sponsors. NASA did a riff on it doing a puzzle up in the space station. So I see a lot of potential here for growth, especially… I’m going to throw a term at you that will make you cringe… Generation Z. GenZ is all about doing the most random, wild stuff to top one another and get the most views and likes. It’s all they care about,” says Dr. Spiridon Ilyas McMahon a professor of social sciences at Princeton University and a member of the #xpuzz community himself. Dr. McMahon’s Instagram based #xpuzz demonstrations are not on scale with completing a puzzle while surrounded by alligators like Florida-based puzzler Despina Causer. But his following is notable with one viral video that put him on the map. “It got picked up by ButtFeed and New York Slimes. Many GenZ followers for those sites. I became a weird hero for them. The weirder, the more original, the better,” says the young professor when I visit his home in Princeton. Dr. McMahon shows me the video on his phone. It depicts the staunch sweater vest-clad scientist completing a puzzle while in a vat filled with a Hercules beetle larva. The larva, a South American variety, are between 6 to 10 inches long and at least 4 inches thick; they’re puffy, white monsters. “I do loads of puzzles anyway, I think it’s good for my brain. I lost a bet with the entomology department and that’s kind of what got me started on this path. But honestly, after that, all beetles can go to hell.” ∆ 13

SUPERNICHE is a work of fiction created, edited & written by Katiebird Yates.

want to visit our website? well, we don’t have one. also, don’t light yourself on fire and do a puzzle to become famous. it’s dumb. you’ll die.

© Katiebird Yates Brunswick, Maine 2018



Bug combat, celebrity chef look-a-likes, and extreme puzzlers.


Bug combat, celebrity chef look-a-likes, and extreme puzzlers.