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Internet Oracle

The Internet Oracle [1] (http://cgi.cs.indiana.edu/~oracle/about.cgi), formerly known as The Usenet Oracle, is a collaborative effort at collective humor in a pseudo-socratic question and answer format.

A petitioner asks question to the Oracle via email, and in short order the answer arrives, also by email. As "payment", the petitioner must answer a question sent to him from the question queue.

A representative (and famous) exchange is:

  The Usenet Oracle has pondered your question deeply.
  Your question was:

    > Why is a cow?

  And in response, thus spake the oracle:

    } Mu.

Many of the oracularities contain Zen references and witty wordplay.

A complex Oracle mythos has also evolved around the figure of an omniscient, anthropomorphic, geeky deity and a host of groveling priests and attendants. Other staples in conversation with the oracle include:

  • A *ZOT* is earned when the Oracle is irritated. (Think of a lightning strike.)
  • Woodchuck questions are a sure way to earn a *ZOT*. Especially The Woodchuck Question
  • Traditionally questions to the Oracle open with a suitable grovel such as "High and Mighty Oracle, please answer my most humble question."
  • Answers from the Oracle traditionally contain a request for payment such as "You owe the Oracle a rubber chicken and a Cadillac"

An assorted mythos of recurring characters -- or in-jokes -- has accumulated over the years. These include the worthless High Priest Zadoc, the Oracle's girlfriend Lisa, an assortment of deities, and the caveman[?] figure Og. Many Oracle fans have mixed feelings about the mythos, as passing off an in-joke reference or story often becomes uncreative.

The "Oracularities" are compiled into periodic digests by a team of volunteer "priests," who cull the responses and select what they consider the best. These are posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.humor.oracle.

The Oracle was started in the mid 1980s by Steve Kinzler[?], as an indirect descendant of an older game program written by Peter Langston in 1975-1976 at the Harvard Science Center[?].

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