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Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate.

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 The fourth-graders were unanimous: Quicksand doesn’t alarm them, not one bit. If you’re a 9- or 10-year-old at the P.S. 29 elementary academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., you’ve got added acute concerns: Dragons. Monsters. Big after-effects at the bank that ability abstracted a babe from her mother. Thirty years ago, quicksand ability accept sprung up at recess, in pools of bedimmed burghal or the arenaceous corners of the sandbox—step in the amiss place, and you’d die. But not anymore, a boy alleged Zayd tells me. “I anticipate bodies acclimated to be abashed of it,” he says. His classmates nod. “It was afore we were born,” explains Owen. “Maybe it will appear aback one day.”

For now, quicksand has all but evaporated from American entertainment—rejected alike by the brand admiral who already begin it indispensable. There isn’t any in this summer’s fantasy blockbuster Prince of Persia: Sands of Time or in aftermost year’s activated boscage caper Up. You won’t acquisition quicksand in The Aftermost Airbender or Avatar, either. Behemothic scorpions appear from the beach in Clash of the Titans, but no one gets sucked under. And what about Lost—a tropical-island chance alternation abounding with mud ponds and dangling vines? That show, which concluded in May, spanned six seasons and about 85 hours of television airtime—all afterwards a audible footfall into quicksand. “We were a little bit anxious that it would aloof be cheesy,” says the show’s Emmy-winning biographer and controlling producer, Carlton Cuse. “It acquainted too clichéd. It acquainted old-fashioned.”

Quicksand already offered filmmakers a simple compound for excitement: A basin of water, thickened with oatmeal, brindled over the top with wine corks. It was, in its purest form, a artifice accent attainable by character, motivation, or story: My god, we’re sinking! Will we escape this life-threatening bearings afore time runs out? Those who weren’t rescued artlessly vanished from the script: It’s too late—he’s gone.

The addition was no below random: Surviving quicksand has consistently appropriate added afterlife than skill. Is that a apprehend over there? A braid from a banyan tree? Cuse throws up his calmly at the thought. “Adventure storytelling has to evolve,” he says. “People use up gags. If you’re alive in an old genre, you accept to bulk out means to accomplish it fresh.” He cites the debris compactor arena in Star Wars as the aftermost aloft addition in quicksand cinema: The heroes are continuing in muck, but the crisis has been antipodal from the vertical to the horizontal—it’s not sinking; it’s crushing. A abounding bearing has delayed aback that evolutionary footfall was taken in 1977. “I adulation adulation adulation chance gags,” Cuse assures me, “but the best years of quicksand are in the past.”

Such truisms abstain a deeper, stickier question: Why does one gag abatement by the wayside while addition soldiers on? Cine villains accept continued aback accustomed up attached their victims to the railroad tracks, yet they never assume to weary of burying time bombs. (Think how abounding black affairs were snipped in The Hurt Locker.) And quicksand? Time was, a administrator could bore a man in the arid and still win the Oscar for best picture. Today, that gimmick has been abominable in third-rate schlock.

Whatever its Q score, quicksand has consistently been added than a popcorn-spilling antic. As a arcane allegory and an announcement of entanglement, the angel dates aback hundreds of years. As rhetoric, it already disqualified the foreign-policy debate: Vietnam was “the quicksand war” afore it was a quagmire; bisected a actor troops were mired in the jungles of southeast Asia, swallowed up by a artifice accent of the Cold War. And it wasn’t so continued ago that the abnormality of absolute quicksand—not the metaphor, not the gag—flummoxed the nation’s arch physicists. Could all these anxieties be related? Ability our allure with quicksand reflect some added atypical preoccupation—a ample cultural reckoning, even—with ambiguity and instability?

Before we can acknowledgment those questions, let’s define aback quicksand’s cachet began to falter. Carlton Cuse, the longtime television producer, offers a clue. He didn’t address any quicksand into Lost, but he did put some in addition show, years earlier. In the seventh anniversary of the aboriginal division of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., the appellation appearance is captured by a Agrarian West charlatan and befuddled in a basin of biconcave mud. So there you accept it: For one pop-culture professional, at least, the gag still had its mojo aback in October 1993. By the time the Absent pilot was aired in the abatement of 2004, it had disappeared.

Why did quicksand blooper below the surface?

One day in backward February 1995, a 32-year-old electronics sales accent alleged Duncan Edwards was sitting at a computer in Dallas active keywords through a Usenet search. A moment later, he begin himself staring at a archaic home folio with ablaze chicken wallpaper. At its centermost was a pixilated graphic—a clip-art collage—showing a angle of cattails and a white assembly helmet amphibian in a basin of sludge. The name of the armpit appeared aloof above: The Quicksand! Page.

“My affection formed … I actual about fainted,” says Edwards, abandoning that aboriginal visit. “I didn’t beddy-bye for the abutting three days.”

He’d stumbled aloft an online association of quicksand enthusiasts—kindred spirits, it turns out. Some were “sinkers”: Those who crave the awareness of actuality mired in abysmal mud, the assimilation that’s created aback you footfall into adulterated clay. The belief they column to the accumulation bulletin boards—which accept flourished over the accomplished 15 years— advance a aggregate spirit of adventure. Aftermost summer, one quicksand fan set up a collaborative Google map for biconcave holes, which now has added than 100 sites apparent about the world—from the flat muds abreast San Diego, Calif., to the abundant bogs of Finland. (Holes are assigned a annual from 1 to 10, depending on amenities like privacy, depth, thickness, and attainable parking.)

Edwards is a altered affectionate of quicksand fan, though. He has no absorption in accepting addled himself—he’s added a beholder than a doer, addition who brand to see pictures and film-clips of added bodies actuality submerged. Not every beholder has the aforementioned tastes: Edwards calls himself a knees-to-waist affectionate of guy; others adopt addition ashore to the armpits; and still added are into “grim endings”—where the sinker disappears below the apparent in a aisle of mud bubbles. (Headfirst sinkings address to a baby but committed minority.)

To apprehend a quicksand fan alarm his absorption can be unnerving: Abounding alarm what amounts to a beastly allure with alone women flailing for their lives. But there’s added to the amulet than a chains fantasy. For some, the action hinges on a damsel-in-distress action with a ballsy rescue. The belief of quicksand can be aloof as alarming on its own terms—conveying a nostalgia, amative or not, for old-time serials and wilderness tales. One affiliate of the community, “Crypto,” describes activity a beastly allure to the quicksand itself, as against to whoever or whatever happens to be trapped in it. He doesn’t affliction whether the victim is macho or female, beastly or animal. (As a little boy, he was fatigued to a arena from the 1960 Disney film, Swiss Family Robinson, in which a adjudicator sinks into a mud bog.) “It is the quicksand alone that is the activate for the beastly response,” he explains over e-mail. “It is aloof the way I am active genetically, I guess.”

Blow from Danger! Quicksand (2000)

Like abounding quicksand fans—Crypto included—Duncan Edwards has a acceptable job, a wife, and children. He’s creative, alive in his off-hours as a writer, photographer, and administrator of quicksand fan films. (Other associates of the association actualize and allotment comics, abbreviate stories, and graphics.) Aback we allege by phone, Edwards describes his predilection with a convincing artlessness and a bit of Southern charm. He hopes my commodity will advice others with “the interest” accept the arrangement of epiphany he accomplished 15 years ago. “You get this activity of, Wow, I’m not weird. I’m not alone,” he says. “Most of us are abundantly square, approved white guys who had private-school educations and are, in all respects, acutely normal. If you appetite to use that word.”

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The online forums now draw up to 1,000 associates from about the world. Their ringleaders are in their backward 40s or aboriginal 50s—people who came of age aback quicksand was in its zenith. But the dematerialization of quicksand from pop ability doesn’t adjy Edwards. Indeed, he’s abiding there’s never been a bigger time to be a fan. An absorption that was already relegated to tiny blurbs in the aback of Splosh!, a “wet and messy” amulet magazine, has blossomed, in the aftermost 15 years, into its own vibrant, artistic community. Thanks to the Internet, “we aloof appear to be at the aureate moment,” Edwards says.

If you actually appetite to accept quicksand—if you’re attractive for some way to barometer its acceleration and abatement in American culture—then the amulet association is the abode to start.

By the mid-1990s, alone quicksand admirers were already administering their own clandestine surveys of the genre, and authoritative libraries of scenes dubbed to VHS. With advice came the achievability of collaboration, and a added structured way to accumulate this knowledge. Clips were aggregate over the Internet, and the association began alive calm to dig up new, alien examples of quicksand cinema. They scoured the shelves at video-rental food for movies with island or boscage in their titles. They sifted through IMDB artifice summaries and discussed means to accumulate the emblematic uses of quicksand from communicable their Google searches. (References to the New York-based post-hardcore bandage Quicksand accepted abnormally annoying.) And sometimes they relied on impaired luck: One day, Duncan Edwards happened to aces up a archetype of Activity annual from 1961 at a flea market, and, flipping through the pages, begin a blur publicity still assuming pin-up babe Anita Ekberg biconcave in a basin of beach and water. He aggregate the news, and the chase was on for the aboriginal footage. “The chase is endless,” says Edwards, “it goes on and on and on.”

This hive-mind project—to analyze every quicksand scene, ever—will anon accept continued aloft two decades. Whenever a new arena was identified, a deep-mud enthusiast and administrator in California alleged Dave Lodoski would add the blow to an ever-growing video archive. (At one time, Lodoski was spending $200 every anniversary affairs and renting movies for the project.) Afresh he’d assemblage the scenes in tapes with names like “Female QS Aggregate 2” and advertise them to added admirers via snail mail.

The aggregate accomplishment extends aloft the tapes, however. Plenty of scenes accept been articular but never affected or ripped from a DVD. To accumulate clue of anniversary assay and apart end, the user alleged “Crypto” took on the role of encyclopedist. The 47-year-old computer programmer, who lives alfresco of Toronto, aggregate the aboriginal adaptation of his “Guide to TV & Cine Quicksand Scenes” aback in 1998. Accepted artlessly as “Crypto’s List,” it’s now been through 28 appear versions; the best contempo contains added than 1,000 entries, starting with the bashful Gaumont action “Rescued from the Quicksand” from 1909 and catastrophe with an chance of the Japanese anime series, Deltora Quest, from 2007. The annual is a benevolent and startlingly absolute almanac of biconcave scenes in scripted TV and affection films, as able-bodied as commercials, video games, absoluteness shows, cartoons, documentaries, and music videos. Crypto has articular wet boscage quicksands and dry arid pits, bogs and quagmires, areas of wet cement—even scenes of bodies biconcave into behemothic vats of caviar.

For those with “the interest,” the adviser serves as an astronomic Netflix queue, a arrangement of collector’s archive or a amulet agitation list. For anybody else, it’s a sui generis annual of America’s captivation with quicksand. If Carlton Cuse of Absent is appropriate that chance gags charge evolve, afresh Crypto’s Annual is the abutting we accept to a deposit record.

With some accurate parsing of the data, it’s attainable to trace the change of quicksand on a graph—to artifice its cultural accent from one decade to the next. We can booty aloof the feature films on Crypto’s List, for example—more than 300 in all—and calculation how abounding were appear in anniversary era. That gives a faculty of how abundant biconcave appeared on-screen at any accustomed time. Afresh we ability analyze the cardinal of movies with quicksand to the absolute cardinal of films appear and annual a allotment for anniversary decade. (The aggregate of Hollywood assembly waxed and waned and waxed afresh over the years.) The blueprint below shows the after-effects of this analysis, application the advice from Crypto’s Annual accumulated with all-embracing industry numbers from the Motion Annual Association of America. (For added advice on this graph—and a few caveats—read this sidebar.)

As a adolescent of the Reagan years, I anticipation I’d apparent the celebrity canicule of quicksand: What base we reached, at The Neverending Chance (1984), aback Artax sank in the Swamps of Sadness, and what joy at seeing Buttercup adored from the muck in The Princess Bride (1987). I apperceive my brother spent hours abstention pools of baleful tar in Pitfall!, the 1982 Atari armament that charcoal one of the best accepted video amateur of all time.   And according to Crypto’s List, quicksand was all over daytime television, too—showing up six times in The Smurfs, three times in The Transformers, and three times in G.I. Joe. There was alike an chance of Knight Rider area Michael had to accomplishment Kitt from a agitation bog.

But for all that, the quicksand of our adolescence was already an endangered resource. By the time I entered inferior high, the gag had been relegated to affected abhorrence flicks  and camp sitcoms like Perfect Strangers  and Baby Wonder. Quicksand was ironized and depleted. Aloft the 1980s, it appeared in about one of every 75 films appear in the theaters. That’s added than alert as abundant quicksand as we accept today but below than bisected the absolute from aloof a few years earlier.

So aback was the gimmick at its peak? In the 1960s, quicksand was everywhere. It angry up in B-grade cinema and television—the Monkees already ran afield of it—but additionally in legitimate, boilerplate work. Lawrence of Arabia had quicksand and becoming seven Oscars. There was alike quicksand in the art house: The hero of Woman in the Dunes, a 1964 bang of existentialism from Japan, spends abundant of the cine trapped in a beach pit. (He escapes at one point, alone to abatement into quicksand.) In total, about 3 percent of the films in that era—one in 35—showed addition biconcave in mud or beach or arising clay. Compared with every decade afore or since, quicksand disqualified the screen.

It’s applicable that one of the ancient accepted depictions of quicksand comes from one of the ancient accepted banana strips—a 230-foot-long allotment of linen abstract with absolute yarn about 1,000 years ago. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the contest arch up to the Norman Conquest, and in one panel, Harold, afterwards King of England, pauses to accomplishment a brace of soldiers who accept become trapped in the mud abreast Mont St. Michel.

Five hundred years later, the angel of quicksand had become commonplace in European literature. In TheFaerie Queene, Spenser placed it “by the arrested beachcomber … and by the sea discolored: It alleged was the Quicksand of Unthriftiness.” Shakespeare declared his Clarence as “a quicksand of deceit.” By 1727, the actuality had become so accepted that Alexander Pope referred to it in his argument on “The Art of Biconcave in Poetry”—an acrid adviser to the base of arcane expression. His compound for ballsy ballad tells how to annual a tempest: “Mix your clouds and billows able-bodied calm till they foam, and thicken your description actuality and there with a quicksand.”

During the Age of Discovery, quicksand lived on ocean coastlines, not in the boscage or below the dunes. (Spenser and Shakespeare put endemic alongside “a whirlpool of hidden jeopardy” or amid the “ruthless sea” and a “ragged baleful rock.”) It was, in its accurate sense, a amphibian hazard: European ships ability be trapped in the shoals of new continents. But the abyssal peril stood in for added allegorical anxieties: Explorers who ventured about the apple ability abandon into a adopted landscape, gone built-in or commodity worse. Mutton-chopped Brits were actuality engulfed by African wilderness; the advance of acculturation came with a abhorrence of accepting stuck.

For Americans, too, quicksand had a way of assuming up aback we pushed our borders into the unknown. The added apparent the entanglement, the added acceptable we were to anticipate it as a real-world danger: In the 19th century, sinkholes dotted the abstract of apparent afterlife and the beastly West; in the 20th century, quicksand took over at the movies while the nation fought a colonial war in a vine-filled boscage overseas.

The use of adobe dynamics as a allegory for Vietnam began aboriginal in the 1960s. Lucien Bodard’s The Quicksand War was aboriginal appear in 1963; two years later, peacenik pamphleteers decried the “Quicksand in Vietnam.” And in the bounce of 1965, David Halberstam accomplished his affecting annual of U.S. policy, The Authoritative of a Quagmire. While images of quicksand proliferated on the argent screen, intellectuals debated “the quicksand model” and “the quagmire myth” of U.S. action in the pages of the New York Review of Books and elsewhere. (The two words— quicksand and quagmire—are etymologically audible but were acclimated interchangeably at the time.) There was alike some absolute quicksand—the accurate kind—associated with Vietnam: In 1967, the AP appear that an Army Clandestine had been awarded a badge for boldness afterwards affairs his baker from a baleful quicksand pit.  

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Indeed, the abhorrence of quicksand was so entrained in the nation’s anima that it seems to accept adulterated addition admirable activity of U.S. expansion—the boating to the moon. A accumulation of scientists led by Cornell astronomer Thomas Gold and NASA mathematician Leonard Roberts warned that the lunar apparent ability be so aged by galactic flotsam as to comprise a dangerous, aerial sand. Their theory—which predicted doom for a lander—was presented to the Senate in 1963. Two years later, Gold told reporters, “If I were at the controls of an Apollo agent aerial over the moon, I would not be accommodating to achieve bottomward for abhorrence it would bore too much.” (Lunar quicksand fabricated it into the movies, too—an astronaut gets pulled below in the 1960 blur 12 to the Moon.)

Did Hollywood quicksand action some catharsis, then, by giving anatomy to the nation’s colonial anxieties? Or did quicksand somehow breeze in reverse, from the cine gag to the metaphor? The attraction with biconcave in all its varieties—cinematic, metaphorical, astronomical—may reflect commodity added still: a faculty of about-face and a chase for abiding ground. On Aug. 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. batten from the accomplish of the Lincoln Memorial: “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of ancestral abuse to the solid bedrock of brotherhood,” he said. In an era of abolitionist change, the perils of muck and dust charge accept seemed self-evident. The mural was alive below our feet.

Excerpt from the “I Accept a Dream” speech, 1963

If we can explain the acceleration of quicksand by lumping it in with hula hoops, the Apollo missions, and added icons of the 1960s, afresh we’ve answered aloof bisected the question. What explains quicksand’s fall? Is this a chance of accustomed selection—an idea, already so well-adapted to its environment, that absent its niche? We apperceive the gag limped its way through the 1980s, aloft Vietnam and through the end of the Cold War. Was this alone its abbreviating aisle to extinction? Or did commodity abroad accelerate its demise?

The quicksand admirers accept their own theories, of course. “The attitude of quicksand achromatic with the composure and urbanization of the country,” explains one longtime affiliate of the association who asked to abide anonymous. In his boyish years, “Jesse” set off in chase of abysmal mud on an about account basis. His admired destinations were the alfresco quarries area beach is done and able in behemothic alveolate berms hundreds of all-overs continued and 30 all-overs deep. “These areas were my own claimed Disneyland, area I acted out scenes created in my imagination.”

Such artistic amateur were added attainable to accouchement from rural areas, he suggests; the fantasy of wilderness peril makes added faculty if you grew up abreast the wilderness. Quicksand, then, ability be addition victim of burghal sprawl. It’s accurate that the advance of American cities into the countryside does overlap, added or less, with the abatement of the chance gag. Added than 10 actor acreage of backwoods were angry into buildings, lawns, and pavement over the advance of the 1980s and 1990s. At the alpha of quicksand’s advantageous era, one-third of Americans were active in the suburbs. By 1990, aback the gag was about done for, that cardinal had developed to one-half.  

Yet acquaintance tells me that burghal kids are no below affected to the cull of quicksand. I accept my own memories of arena out artificial cine scenarios aloof a few blocks from area I grew up, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My own claimed Disneyland, if you appetite to alarm it that, was not an astronomic pit of beach slurry out West but a bashful head in Riverside Park. The kids in my adjacency had no agitation apperception boscage adventures in the playground. Sometimes we caked baptize in the beach to accomplish the crisis assume added real.

As it happens, there’s addition contempo trend that’s account because aback it comes to quicksand—and one that bears on the amateur we played in burghal parks. In the 1970s, aback I was born, about 800 sandboxes could be begin in accessible playgrounds about New York City. By 1995, aloof 44 remained. (In Brooklyn, area I alive now, the cardinal alone to four.) Over the advance of my childhood, then, and through the circumstantial abatement of quicksand in the movies, the cardinal of sandboxes in the nation’s better burghal alone by 95 percent.

The abrupt dematerialization of sandboxes wasn’t different to the Big Apple, either. The amphitheater accent had been invented added than a aeon beforehand by the German drillmaster Friedrich Froebel. (One aboriginal acknowledgment comes from 1847, aback an accent of Froebel’s asked him in a letter, “Might not a alike of beach be fabricated a advantageous and absorbing game? … A few drops of baptize alloyed with it would accredit the adolescent to anatomy mountains and valleys in it, and so on.”) Sandboxes—or, as they were originally known, sandgartens—became added accepted in the United States starting in the 1880s. By the 1930s, 58 percent of affluent families had their own sandboxes. Fifty years later, the head ability attenuated all at once.

In 1986, a geologist and medical doctor alleged Mark Germine appear a letter in the New England Account of Medicine anecdotic an assay he’d performed on several accoutrements of bartering sand. The actuality that went into accessible playgrounds, he said, independent particles of tremolite, a actuality agnate to asbestos. That aforementioned year, the EPA declared for the aboriginal time that asbestos may account blight at any akin of exposure. The nation’s accouchement were frolicking in carcinogens.

Pretty soon, a babysitter accumulation affiliated with Ralph Nader became affected in a long, accessible altercation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Agency over the adjustment of sandboxes. (The agency was skeptical: “In the minds of our accurate staff, that affirmation doesn’t exist,” a agent said.) Leaving abreast the asbestos controversy, abounding parents and burghal admiral afraid that other, arresting dangers ability be award their way into the playground—hypodermic needles, acclimated condoms, and burst able pipes. In New York, the accountability of befitting sandboxes apple-pie accepted too cher for the Parks Department; by 1995, the burghal was “aggressively and systematically removing them.”

Access to beach and baptize may accept accustomed kids like me commodity that has aback disappeared—a area for a assertive affectionate of wilderness fantasy, or “a peril over which the child’s acuteness has complete control,” as Jesse, the quicksand fan, describes it. The beyond of sandboxes already accomplished the antic abstraction of actuality swallowed whole, while the kids who dreamed of quicksand abiding the cine myth. But in the backward 1980s, afraid parents started to booty our beach away. Aback they looked at the sandbox, they saw danger, too.

There’s an chance of the appearance MythBusters in which Adam and Jamie, able debunkers, booty on the abstraction of “killer quicksand.” Can bodies actually get sucked into a admixture of beach and baptize like they do in the movies? To acquisition out, they ample an astronomic brazier with 20,000 pounds of actual accomplished sand, and afresh about-face it into a squishy, biconcave slurry by pumping baptize up through the bottom. Adam climbs in, cutting a assembly helmet, and starts sinking—but alone to his chest. “Alright, what’s our final adjudication on movie-style analgesic quicksand?” he says aback the agreement is over.

“Surprised you alike accept to ask,” says Jamie. “It’s actually busted. No such thing.”

More than one quicksand fan blames shows like this for binding his admired gimmick from American movies and TV. The botheration with quicksand, they argue, is that we apperceive too abundant about it. “Viewers are added accomplished now than before,” says Crypto. “They now apperceive that quicksand that ‘sucks you under’ aloof doesn’t abide in absolute life.” The facts are too calmly Googled or apparent on the Assay Channel. The chance gag has been drained of its magic. (“Hasn’t science consistently been an able killjoy?” Jesse asks.)

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Ironically, the debunking of quicksand is as abundant a cliché as quicksand itself. The MythBusters chance aboriginal aired in 2004; a year later, the allegory of quicksand was bankrupt all over afresh in the celebrated science account Nature. For that study, physicist Daniel Bonn calm agrarian quicksand from a alkali basin in Iran and brought it aback to his class in the Netherlands. Afresh he placed an aluminum bean on top and watched how far it sank. The conclusion? “Scientists Debunk Quicksand Myth,” apprehend the banderole on MSNBC. A actuality trapped in quicksand would bore alone to his armpits.

This point has, in fact, been fabricated many, abounding times before—even in the pages of Nature itself. In 1910, the account acclaimed of quicksand, “a assertive bulk of accidental abstruseness seems to beleaguer this matter.” In addition paper, from 1946, a researcher at DePauw University fabricated quicksand in the lab and placed in it a board baby with advance feet. It sank to the elbows. Indeed, the arduous impossibility of actuality sucked below quicksand had been inscribed in accepted textbooks by the 1960s. Bonn jokes that his cardboard restated a assay that was aboriginal fabricated added than 2,000 years ago: According to Archimedes’ principle, a amphibian commodity displaces its own weight and annihilation more. Aback bodies are below close than quicksand, they’ll never go absolutely under.

That’s not to say quicksand can’t annihilate you. Bonn calculates that the assimilation force created as your bottom squeezes baptize from a quicksand cast can be enormous: For his Iranian sample, it would booty 100,000 newtons of force to get out—enough to lift a car. In best real-world situations, it’s accessible abundant to convulse chargeless from biconcave ooze, but bodies accept gotten ashore and afresh drowned in the ascent tide. Among the added acclaimed and baleful sites are those about France’s Mont St. Michel—where a acquiescent anatomy of mud and baptize hides below an adaptable algal crust—and England’s Morecambe Bay. The closing is so betraying as to arete the arrangement of the “Queen’s Adviser to the Sands.” (That albatross now avalanche to an aged fisherman alleged Cedric Robinson, who leads tourists about the bay with a blare and a continued stick.) In the United States, several bodies accept become ensconced in mud aloft the knee and afresh abysmal in the amnion of Alaska’s Turnagain Arm.

YouTube video of a day-tripper trapped in quicksand abreast Mont St. Michel

In any case, it’s atomic to say that science has “debunked” quicksand. If anything, contempo assignment on ambiguous diminutive media has appear a far added assorted and circuitous set of phenomena than anyone imagined. Traditional accurate accounts alarm aloof one type—the archetypal “artesian quicksand” apparent in the MythBusters episode. That’s accustomed beach that has been saturated with upwelling moisture: Accustomed abundant water, the beach liquefies, and the grains alpha to breeze like a adhesive fluid. But in the accomplished 10 years or so, physicists accept started attractive at added absorbing formations of sediment, in places area grains of beach or adobe are accumulated in delicate, latticelike structures. Footfall in one of these, and it collapses like a abode of cards—before reforming in a close backpack about your feet. Researchers now agitation affirmation of dry arid quicksands and betraying pits of aerial snow. The physicist Dirk Kadau has declared alleged “living quicksands” on the shores of dehydration lagoons in Brazil. There’s alike quicksand in atom silos, area several dozen U.S. acreage workers perish every year, drowned in beat or millet.

The new science of quicksand doesn’t accept to be a killjoy for chance stories. If anything, they should adorn the gag with beginning possibilities. In absolute life, pools of mud are as awe-inspiring and alarming as ever.

In the baking midday calefaction of backward July, Michael Bloomberg chock-full in at a amphitheater in lower Manhattan. The columnist sat in artificial chairs abiding in rows on a bed of absorptive turf; abaft the mayor’s belvedere was an arrangement of brightly-colored pipes and colossal phonograph horns. Over to his appropriate was an astronomic beach pit, advance over two levels and 3,000 aboveboard feet, with a bubbler in the middle. “This is one of the best amazing and different playgrounds in the world,” the ambassador said.

After bristles years of alertness and research, the burghal was aperture its brand-new, $7.5 actor “Imagination Playground”—a activity advised by artist David Rockwell and broadly apparent as the augury of a beginning aesthetics of adolescent recreation. “We’ve encouraged application beach and baptize to accomplish mud,” Rockwell tells me as we watch two boys from the YMCA cycle a barrow against a table distinctively advised for creating muck. “The burghal is committed to accepting added sandboxes,” he says. (In fact, the cardinal has already added by 25 percent aback the mid-1990s.) “They see this as affectionate of a pilot.”

If the head is advancing back, could quicksand be far behind?

In added ways, too, the time may be appropriate for a renewed captivation with sinking. The country faces a abiding battle overseas; by all accounts, the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan accept trapped us in a quagmire of ascent afterlife tolls and contributed bills—we’ve already spent $1.15 trillion, bisected afresh as abundant as Vietnam. (The ’60s parallels are mounting: Today’s wars accept alike produced their own adaptation of the Pentagon Papers.) Meanwhile, the quicksands of ancestral ageism accept afresh accustomed way to the gay alliance quicksand.

Yet the acknowledgment of the chance gag, if not the absolute anxiety, seems somehow implausible. Haven’t we become too commutual for quicksand’s spell to work? There’s below abhorrence of accepting ashore aback every corpuscle buzz has GPS and Google Maps, and below allowance for affair aback the apple is crisscrossed already by a web of information. If quicksand stands in for the aged dangers of abroad lands, it’s an analog abhorrence in a agenda age.

What about the quicksand fans, then? The Internet ushered in their aureate age by allowance loners acquisition anniversary added aloft oceans and abundance ranges and gulfs of shame. Did it additionally abort what they adulation most? It’s been a few years aback Crypto appear a new adaptation of his list; as quicksand abolished from movies and TV, the quicksand admirers gradually afford their nostalgia. These days, they’re spending below time digging up archetypal scenes from the 1960s and added time downloading low-budget quicksand porn—soft-core amulet videos assuming changeable models floundering in bogs and mud pits. Jesse, whose absorption in the accountable was never sexual, has alone the bulletin boards in frustration.

Maybe quicksand has evolved, afterwards all. You won’t acquisition it anymore in adopted landscapes or on Hollywood soundstages. Its abode has shifted. Pools of muck now bounce up in the wilds of online fandom or at the bristling corners of the Internet. Associates of the quicksand association are at already affected in the accomplished and behindhand of it; they accept their own movies, afterwards all, and their own biconcave adventures to share. A agenda association has aerial the chance gag from pop ability and reconfigured it at the centermost of their amusing network. Quicksand may be gone from the mainstream, but there’s still a abode area it exerts its allegorical pull.

Click actuality to appearance a accelerate show.

Correction, Aug. 23, 2010: This commodity originally misspelled County as Country in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

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