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No, You Can't: World Record Ideas That Didn't Cut It

Oct 27, 2011
Originally published on November 3, 2011 7:24 pm

Guinness World Records keeps more than 50,000 records of people who can say they are the most, the fastest or the highest in a range of quirky and impressive feats.

But when the company recently released its latest annual book — which added new records like Most Dogs Skipping On A Rope and Fastest Wedding Chapel, a wedding chapel on wheels — it makes you wonder: What isn't a world record?

There are actually guidelines; you can't just think of any record and try to break it. (Unless of course you're Homer Simpson, who tries for a record for the longest anyone's ever made one particular, incredibly annoying noise, and upon hearing that it's already been set, decides he'll break one for playing the banjo with a cobra).

For the rest of us, Guinness World Records does not accept claims for things like perfect attendance, silent reading or elbow licking.

"In reality, a lot of people can do it," explains Mike Janela, head of the U.S. Records Management Team at Guinness World Records.

Janela says that in general, the key to a potential new world record is that it must be measurable, breakable, verifiable and also interesting.

According to the guidelines, then, the organization won't accept records for something like a massage marathon, because they say they "cannot visually judge style and form as to be correctly done for a long time."

In other words, Janela says, "after two or three hours, what does a massage become really, except maybe just keeping your hands on someone's back?"

Another no-no from Guinness is beauty, though that certainly doesn't stop people from claiming to be the fairest of them all.

Truth be told, some of the alleged records rejected by Guinness are every bit as interesting as the ones they take.

There was the man who claims to use mind control over sporting events, and another who swears he's set a record for romantic brush-offs. Every time the man asked a woman who'd agreed to a date with him to actually set a time and a place to go, the woman would say she's busy and can't make it.

"And he applied to us saying, 'It's been going on for more than a year,' and he was wondering if that was a record for the longest time between asking someone out on a date and actually going on it,' " Janela says.

On the flip side of all this is a guy like Ashrita Furman. He has the world record for, well, breaking the most world records, and currently holds more than 100 titles.

One of his favorites, he says, is racing the fastest mile in a sack.

"I did that in about 16 minutes and change," Furman says. "But I raced in Mongolia against a yak. Of course, I was in the sack, not the yak."

But Furman says even some of his submissions to Guinness have been denied, including one for Most Salt Shakers Balanced On Edge.

"I submitted it, and they sent me back a notice saying, 'No, it's not something we're interested in,' " he says.

Whatever the record, and whether or not it's accepted, there is one common thread.

"The No. 1 thing that connects everyone together is that you want to say, 'I can do this better than anybody else on this planet,' " says Janela, the Guinness World Records adjudicator.

Perhaps the hardest part? Figuring out exactly what that is.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From a quadruple lutz, now, to the record for the most dogs jumping rope - 13. That's just one of the more than 50,000 feats chronicled in the latest print edition of "Guinness World Records," released last month. In addition to those skipping dogs, there's also a new record for the longest tongue and the fastest wedding chapel. That would be a wedding chapel on wheels. All this got NPR's Jinae West wondering, what isn't a world record?

JINAE WEST, BYLINE: Actually, there are guidelines. You can't just think of any record and try to break it, unless you're Homer Simpson.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SIMPSONS")

WEST: For the rest of us, Guinness World Records does not accept claims for perfect attendance, silent reading, elbow licking.

MIKE JANELA: In reality, a lot of people can do it.

WEST: That's Mike Janela, head of the U.S. Records Management Team at Guinness. He says in general, the key to a potential new world record is that it must be...

JANELA: Measurable, breakable, verifiable - and also interesting.

WEST: According to the guidelines then, the organization won't accept massage marathon records because Guinness, quote, cannot visually judge style and form as to be correctly done for a long time. In other words...

JANELA: After two or three hours, what does a massage become, really, except maybe just keeping your hands on someone's back?

WEST: Here's another no-go from Guinness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "SNOW WHITE")

WEST: Beauty - though that doesn't stop people from claiming to be the fairest. Truth be told, some of the alleged records rejected by Guinness are every bit as interesting as the ones they take. There was the man who claims to use mind control over sporting events, and another who swears he set the record for romantic brush-offs.

JANELA: And every time he keeps asking her to try and actually set a date and a time and a place to go, she says she's busy and that she can't make it. And he applied to us, saying it's been going on for more than a year, and he was wondering if that was a record for the longest time between asking someone out on a date and actually going on it.

WEST: On the flip side of all this is a guy like Ashrita Furman. He has the world record for - well, breaking the most world records. He currently holds more than a hundred titles. One of his favorites...

ASHRITA FURMAN: ...is racing for the fastest mile in a sack. And I did that in about 16 minutes and change, but I raced in Mongolia against a yak. Of course, I was in the sack, not the yak.

WEST: But Furman says even some of his submissions to Guinness have been denied, including one...

FURMAN: ...for most salt shakers balanced on edge. So I submitted it, and they sent me back a notice saying no; it's not something we're interested in.

WEST: So whatever the record - whether it's the most, the fastest, the highest - and whether or not it's accepted, there is one, common thread. Again, here's Guinness World Records adjudicator Mike Janela.

JANELA: The number one thing that connects everyone together is that you want to say, I can do this better than anybody else on this planet.

WEST: Perhaps the hardest part? Figuring out exactly what that is.

Jinae West, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYTHING YOU CAN DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.