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February 11, 2014

Superpowers
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:21 PM * 265 comments

It is a truth insufficiently universally acknowledged that people have superpowers: those weird things we can just do. We call them knacks, or gifts, or being a “natural” at things, but really, they’re superpowers. Others can learn the skills in question, but there are things we’re each born with.

For instance, I have a secret affinity with electrostatic* reproduction machines. Photocopiers and laser printers yield their rumpled and mutilated papers and squeeze out their last grains of toner when I lay hands upon them. I can tickle their sensors in just the right way to clear phantom jams, and when I riffle the paper in the paper tray, it feeds more smoothly than when anyone else has touched the stack.

The implications of this little quirk have always intrigued me. It’s clearly the product of nature, not nurture, since I wasn’t exactly trained in copier-whispering from earliest childhood†. So what if I’d lived a hundred years ago, before laser printers were invented? Would I still have the gift, but nowhere to exercise it?

And then comes the corollary: what superpowers do I have that I will never be able to use? Could I cook the tastiest grubs ever, if I was born into in a community that ate them? Would I have Kaylee’s knack with spaceship engines, if I lived in a society that flew among worlds?

Tell me about your current superpowers. Speculate about your past and future ones. Let’s form a League.


* but not letterpress, hot metal, inkjet, or daisy wheel
† unlike contract law, in which I was so trained

Comments on Superpowers:
#1 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:34 PM:

I was just walking with my son on Ave. C and there was a guy in a van trying to get out of a parking spot. He was spinning his wheels on the ice, and I immediately saw the problem. I tried to explain to him how to get out, but he couldn't do it.

After several attempts I said, "Let me try." He hopped out and I got into his van.

I straightened the wheel, back up, drove forward, feather-stepped on the gas pedal and pulled out of that spot on the first try. He'd been at it for a long time.

Growing up in Michigan made me a master at getting unstuck from snow and ice.

#2 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:37 PM:

This past weekend at Capricon, Mike Wren was passing around a shiny block that was an alloy of vanadium with other metals.

Thinking of Magneto, I began to speculate that someone might possess the ability to bend vanadium psychically. Not sure how useful that superpower would be.

Someone quickly pointed out that many of us encounter hunks of vanadium but rarely; one might live one's entire life without discovering one's vanadium-mastery superpower. This was a sad thought.

I spent the rest of the party attempting to move the vanadium with my mind. Nothing happened.

Next weekend, I'm moving on. I'm trying molybdenum.

#3 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:46 PM:

I'm Power Serge... Able not to crush idiotic commentators in a single punch. Most of the times.

#4 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:49 PM:

When I work with a thick fat book for a while--most often the lexicon of a foreign language, but sometimes a large reference work of a different sort--I come to be able to open it to exactly the right page, without aiming to.

Not because it has thumb indices (thumb tabs), or because I stare at the 3 inch thick closed book and try to eyeball where in that thickness the FRET- entries begin.

I just reach over to the closed book, flip it open, and it opens to the right page for the word I'm looking up, or perhaps a page on either side.

I suspect this is not an uncommon superpower among book people. It's monetary value is...about as nugatory as any other superpower widely shared by book people.

#5 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:50 PM:

My superpower is being able to cause patient cancellations on days when I'm working (even if the patients don't know I'm scheduled). A related superpower is the ability to predict how many patients will cancel on a given day.

Not working today. Hunkered down waiting for Ice Storm Pax (who names these things?). Forecast keeps flipping back and forth between freezing rain/wintry mix/snow. I vote snow, but apparently "ice storm" is becoming more and more likely. As in, thousands of people out of power for up to a week. Do Not Want.

#6 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:54 PM:

I wouldn't mind superspeed, but I'd also want superhealing because running faster than a speeding bullet might not be beneficial to my knees. (And the grocery bill to fuel my body would require a new source of income.)

#7 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:57 PM:

Bill@2: And rhenium the week after that? Good luck getting your hands on some hassium by early March, though.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 04:59 PM:

I can read maps - and match them with aerial and street views.
Sometimes this is actually useful.

#9 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:03 PM:

Serge @3:
I'm Power Serge... Able not to crush idiotic commentators in a single punch. Most of the times.

That's because you've got a Serge suppressor.

#10 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:19 PM:

I used to have the superpower of picking up a printed sheet of paper and finding misspellings on it without reading it (that is, I went directly to the misspelled words without having to read through). I don't think I have this anymore (my eyes, as Patrick has put it, no longer believe in bishops).

#11 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:25 PM:

People think I am a good person to ask for directions. On multiple occasions I have come to a city for the first time, and within 24 hours, someone more native to the region than me has asked me for directions, usually to a site I'd never heard of before that point.

So far the acme of this phenomenon was the incident in Vigo, Spain, where someone introduced himself and asked me for directions in broken English (without my having said anything first) -- so he must have subconsciously realized that I was not a local and he still thought I would know how to get places.

#12 ::: paxed ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:26 PM:

I've got an ability to locate things, which probably stems from me observing the surroundings unconsciously.

I can nearly unerringly find a book on the shelf of a library I've never been to before. I can point the exact direction (and can navigate back directly) to the hotel (or car, or whatever the starting point was) in an unknown city, but only if I've walked - using any other transportation method screws it up.

I'm also a mutant and can turn yellow(ish). Liver mutation, bilirubin, etc.

#13 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:29 PM:

I've got a moderately good direction bump, and I can generally find places I've driven to. Even from another direction, ten years later -- not sure if this still holds true.

And my earlier bit with a couple of different powers hit an internal server error -- I'm trying posting something different to see if that clears it up.

#14 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:32 PM:

I have more than one that I've discovered, but I feel weird about sharing them -- sort of like Hawk in "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones," I feel like "If I expected it, it wouldn't happen." That said, I'm moderately good at defusing tense situations, and I'm pretty good at finding odd book-like things.

Karen's secret super-power, we joke, is that she knows someone you know. Whoever you are. She's definitely a super-connector. I'm fair at having that happen -- she's brilliant.

As for what powers I'd have that I'll never discover -- who knows?

This is an experiment. I got an internal server error the first time I tried to post this; I put up another post; and now I'm seeing if this will post once, twice, or not at all.

#15 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:33 PM:

@10--

I have a related sub-power: sometimes I will look at a word and see that it is misspelled, without having any definite sense of which letters or absences of letters constitute its misspelling. It takes a while to localize it to this part of the word; to that pair of letters; oh, they are reversed. But long before that, there's a gestalt sense of wrongness.

("sub-power" because it seems *less* useful than the ordinary mechanical ability to scan through a word letter-by-letter matching it with the pattern-spelling in one's brain.)

#16 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:35 PM:

A friend of mine has suggested that I would be really good at deciphering alien* sentence structure if there were any alien sentence structure to decipher. (And if supposed aliens had sentences with structure.)

*non-human aliens

#17 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 05:44 PM:

I have Thrift-Fu. When I go into a thrift store, minor prodigies appear on the racks: the $4 leather miniskirt, the $5 perfect 1950s cocktail dress (this was in a charity shop, NOT a twee vintage clothing boutique), the $7 yukata, I forget how much I paid for the electric-pink salwar suit but it was under $10, the $2 brown Bally flats which are only marked with a European size and which I suspect are actual crocodile...

I have never paid more than $10 for a cashmere sweater.

TexAnne's seen it in action. You can ask her about the White House/Black Market houndstooth sheath dress and the Etienne Aigner flats I scored when we made an impulse stop at a secondhand place.

I can sometimes extend the magic to my companions, but it's not quite as reliable. I have been able to exercise it on behalf of absent friends; a few years ago, when Seattle was having an uncharacteristically cold winter and a broke friend didn't have a suitable winter coat, I found her a black wool number with a velvet shawl collar and sparkly buttons. One of the buttons was missing, but the Included Spare was still present, sewn into the side seam. And despite the fact that we're of wildly different sizes, my guesstimate of "I can button it closed while still wearing my leather jacket and if it hits my ankles it should at least go past her knees" worked fine. I paid $12 for it. The shipping cost was more than that.

There are some limitations. I know that one reason it works is because I'm a small size, and small sizes get donated when people gain weight. And I can't generally go in looking for a specific item; I have to be willing to embrace what the universe sends me. (I did find the grey pencil skirt and the blue buttondown for the Rule 63 Jack Harkness costume in a single visit, but those items are horses, not zebras.)

But that is my superpower.

#18 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:01 PM:

Xopher@10: once when I got the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style in the mail, I cracked it open and immediately found a typo. In a page number. It wasn't even a pattern recognition thing -- I just happened to check a particular index entry that had digits reversed on the page number.

My brother, who is a professor of astronautics, showed his Ph.D. thesis to our father one day. Dad opened it and, yup, immediately pointed to a typo.

#19 ::: Michael Johnston ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:04 PM:

paxed @ #12: I have that, too. My wife and daughter call me "The Finder," because I can locate practically anything they've lost, which in my wife's case is a lot. I, too, think it's because I'm always subconsciously scanning my environment, combined with a stupidly good memory for text and spatial awareness. Often my wife will be freaking out, ask me if I know where X item is, and if I don't know immediately where it is, then I can usually walk to it and find it within a minute.

I also zero in on grammatical errors pretty quickly, which predates my employment as an English teacher. Usually it's a matter of almost seeing them flash, in red, on the page. This does not, sadly, prevent me from making my own errors, but it does help me catch them later. If I'm lucky, I catch them *before* I hit "post" and have to edit.

#20 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:09 PM:

When I was doing equipment repair for IBM in the 80's & 90's, I had the ability that a lot of repairfolk seem to have -- the ability to have things WORK when we're around. The corollary, of course, is that the equipment then fails again as soon as we're out of sight. I once sat at a customer's office for 2 hours waiting for an intermittent problem to pop up. 10 minutes after I left, it failed.

That stuff happened quite often. :)

These days, my only superpower is my smile.

#21 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:13 PM:

Zack @ #11, that happened more than once to my daughter in Moscow--in Russian. And yes, she was able to give them directions.

I also have pretty good thrift fu (two cashmere sweaters so far), and an uncanny ability to tell when ten minutes is up, to within a few seconds (from putting ice packs on people at work).

#22 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:14 PM:

I had a quite successful career in tech support because I had the ability to cause people to do the correct thing just by looking over their shoulder. Someone could come to me frustrated because they had been trying for 10 minutes to get their computer to do something and it wouldn't - I would walk to their desk and say "show me what you were doing" and when they tried it again it would work. Also, people are compelled to come to me when they are in stores asking where things are - they seem to think I work there, even when I am dressed totally unlike the store employee uniform. (This is less likely to happen when I am also chasing my toddler around the store, but still does on occasion).

I would like to think that this comes from some generalize air of competence - I'm not quite sure what superpower it could apply to in another realm. Maybe I would have been a great Oracle at Delphi. Or I could be excellent at fretzleing the jubbywhits on Planet Ortolaz, for instance.

#23 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:48 PM:

It's not a very glamorous superpower, but it's professionally useful. I can detect (not solve, just find) bugs in programs.

When I started my current job, they were just about to cut a new release of our program, and suggested I sit down and play with it and look for problems. I wrote up 4 pages of minor bugs without any problems.

Technically this superpower is know as "The poo touch"

#24 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:52 PM:

I can smell the additive in natural gas at such low concentrations that the workers from the utility company think there is no leak until they check with an electronic instrument.

I can also smell mice possibly better than some of my cats, who lost interest as soon as the mouse was out of sight.

#25 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:55 PM:

My hands can weigh things less than five pounds to within 10%, but only in the English system. My fingers can tell the temperature of hot objects, but only in Celsius.

#26 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 06:58 PM:

Oh, and I'm a fantastic judge of whether stuff will fit in containers (pots, bottles, canisters, bowls), as long as the stuff is liquid, sludgy or particulate (juice, stew, rice).

#27 ::: Trey ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:01 PM:

I have a few. But as ways to make a living, they stink.

My voice. I've been told I have a voice radio broadcasters would envy. Its useful in my current support role.

The tendency for people to ask me for directions. I can have three days beard, need a haircut and not taken a shower and the nice old couple will ask for directions.

I used to be able to handle hot glassware in the labs without gloves. I don't know if I still can do it.

Yup. Galactus is quaking in his boots.

#28 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:03 PM:

oliviacw @ #22: Sounds as though you have a reverse Pauli Effect.

#29 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:05 PM:

Not answering mine yet, as I haven't thought about it lately, but I have a related story to tell:

When I worked at LavaNet (the ISP I founded with friends) we came to the identical conclusion: everybody has a secret superpower. The guy who worked in billing, doing the overnight run of the invoices, could sing Hawaiian-style falsetto. One of our tech support people could calm the angriest and most upset customers and leave them in a good mood. Another could solve the most bizarre technical support problems with ease. Another staffer was an outstanding cartoonist. And so on... I turned out to have unexpected talents as a radio ad narrator, channeling '30s radio or movie serials.

Eventually we had promotional T-shirts made up reading "What's your secret superpower?"

#30 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:06 PM:

This thread makes me want to watch my dvd of "Mystery Men".

#31 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:19 PM:

Certain ancient applications (we're talking about 70s-80s legacy software) generate .log files that I can parse almost instantly. Open them in a file viewer, page down about three or four pages a second, and the patterns of light and shade generated by line breaks tell me whether anything has gone wrong.

There are skills that have fallen so far out of popularity that expertise now looks like a superpower. When I was a kid I tried on a few occasions to learn Pitman Shorthand, on the grounds that my handwriting speed was stifling my creativity. (What I needed, actually, was word-processing software, but I didn't have a printer for my home computer). It was a fascinating learning experience but I never got to the point where it was useful–my difficulties in doing thick and thin strokes with a biro pen were insurmountable–but I have much respect for the band of secretaries, now nearing retirement age, who have the skill.

Studying Pitman gave me a useful lesson in the phonology of English words, the rules of alternation of consonant and vowel. Given a cryptic crossword clue with a few intersecting letters I have a spooky intuition as to what letters are likely in the blank squares.

#32 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:31 PM:

oliviacw, #22: I used to be able to do that with one particular cow-orker. And then she'd say, "But that's what I did before, and it didn't work!" (On a procedure that had been working fine for months or years, and to which no changes had been made.) And I'd just shrug and walk away, having no way to evaluate the reality content of that statement.


My partner seems to have Google Maps in his head. Anywhere that he's been to once, or even looked at the map for, he doesn't get lost or turned around. Ever.

My superpower is a mild shopping-fu. It appears to function in 2 related ways. (1) If I decide to shop for Item X that I wouldn't normally be looking for, I will almost certainly find somebody having a really good sale on Item X. (2) If a friend tells me they're looking for Thing X and having no luck finding it, I'll run across it somewhere in the next few days. This can also apply to them telling me about their friend who's been looking unsuccessfully for Thing X.

#33 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:34 PM:

Tom @ #14 - I can vouch for Karen's secret superpower. I was quite bowled over when it turned out that she knew an old work acquaintance of mine from when I was at UC Irvine. Turns out it was a Mac conference thing, but not at all an expected connection.

#34 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:39 PM:

I have a friend who has the ability to magically find legal parking spaces, even in places where there are never any legal parking spaces.

My power is that I am the anti-Sherlock Holmes; I never forget anything useless. One of my co-workers occasionally refers to me as "Wikipedia."

#35 ::: tnv ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:42 PM:

My mother can tell by eye when things are not straight. Even to a fraction of a degree.

I can always find your sore spots on a shoulder rub, and I don't know how. Even on dogs. When we had rabbits, I was always the first one to notice when any of them were in the least bit ill.

I also have the "you're a good person to ask for directions" vibe about me. Often I can, but they ask me even when I've been in the town half an hour.

#36 ::: Chaz Brenchley ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:43 PM:

I had a root canal last week, during which my dentist was surprised to find that I had one more nerve-channel than the tooth actually required. "That's ... rather unusual," he said, with the expression of someone making a radical understatement.

I am a mutant, and my superpower is extra pain. Oh goodie.

#37 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:53 PM:

My mother has what we call "good parking karma," same as DaveL@34's friend. She also manages to have good weather when she needs it for events/plans, though I think the last few years of weather radicalism has weakened that.

I joke about having an anentropic field (the lighter form of technopathy, call it technosympathy), but really, I think it's just the tech recognizing someone who won't abuse it. On the other hand, a college friend definitely did (for all I know, still does, we're out of contact these days) have an entropic field--servers would head crash if she walked into the room. As her boyfriend-later-husband was a sysadmin, this was...fraught.

I think I'm still looking for mine. I'm not sure I'm the person to ask, because I can be remarkably unself-aware.

#38 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 07:53 PM:

Well, most of my petty superpowers either fit into the autistic-spectrum or the book-people constellations (which overlap some).

Most obvious are my sub-savant abilities, hyperlexia and "machine talent". (It took me a long time to realize that to most people, computers and the way they work don't actually make sense.)

I also seem to have part of the autistic drawing talent, though not the photographic-memory part. I mostly use it when drawing from a photograph, but it affects my drawing style in general -- f'rex, I don't necessarily start with something's outline or the obvious features, I'm as likely to do internal lines of the image that give me the proportions of how things fit together.

I can also find objects in a crowded field (that does fail under sensory overload). Combining this with the hyperlexia lets me find books on a shelf Really Fast. It helps when I was the one who shelved them, but that's not actually necessary. This has been noticed by my co-workers at the bookstore, so I regularly get detailed to help customers find the book they're looking for.

Judging from reactions, I'm also pretty good at gift-buying, at least for my family. There's a bit of shopping-fu in there too -- we do have lots of good stores around here, but I've rarely needed to visit more than one store for a gift. (I don't usually buy gifts online.) I just bought my Mom's birthday gift. It won't have quite the same symbolism to her as to me, but I do think she'll like it, and the color choice was based on browsing through some of her recent paintings.

#39 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:02 PM:

My batch of Hacker School participants idly chatted about putting on a talent show. This is when I discovered that one of my colleagues is very good at pointing north no matter where she is. Another can tell with uncanny precision when the car that she's in has gone one mile.

My husband always knows approximately what time it is.

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:08 PM:

When I was working (being now retired), I could look at stuff I was doing QC on, and say 'that can't be right', and about 90% of the time it wasn't right. It's weird and apparently wasn't teachable or transferable. But I have to have a drawing to make it work at all.

#41 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:08 PM:

My mutant power is textile arts. If it involves string, I can become competent at it in minutes.

#43 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:19 PM:

I've a variety of strange superpowers, most of which have to do with finding things.

If someone asks me "where did you buy item X", not only will I tell them the store, but I will more than likely give them turn-by-turn directions within the store, and directions within an aisle that are accurate to within +/-0.5m of shelf space. My Amazing Girlfriend was very impressed that I could tell her *exactly* where to find a bottle of raspberry wine at our local Trader Joe's a few years ago.

I'm generally the Human Object Localizer: I maintain a mental inventory of where everything lives in the apartment and in the lab. This might be related to my getting a little cranky if stuff gets moved without me knowing about it. My superpower is only useful in so much as my 3D map is accurate.

I've also got a variant of Abi's superpower, but it's limited to printers. I'm the lab's printer whisperer (I can make the two abused laser printers behave) and I'm a dab hand at making inkjets work again. The latter is why my Amazing Girlfriend and I have a 24" banner printer in our apartment.

I've also got abilities that come in very handy when it comes to editing scientific manuscripts and/or grading student papers. I get handed manuscripts to copy edit with some regularity in the lab, because I copy edit at a relatively unholy pace (although I occasionally ask my Amazing Girlfriend to copy edit my work, since after innumerable drafts I'm blind to local issues). The last time I had to grade 60 student papers (2-4pgs each; this would be May, 2011, on a plane to the Vision Sciences Society meeting), I think it took me about 45 minutes. My Amazing Girlfriend (who was TAing for the same class, and had her own stack of about 75 papers) was horrified.

#44 ::: Little John ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:20 PM:

I can recognize writing styles well enough that I can tell anon commenters apart on kink memes. I'm like the Don Foster of fandom porn. (Or ANTONIO SMITH, FORENSIC LINGUIST, for my fellow Narbonic fans out there.)

#45 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:23 PM:

I was a human compass as a child; I've gradually lost that one. I still have the super power of almost never getting lost. (When I do have trouble it's because I know which way to go, but I can't get there from where I am.)

I do get lost in video games, so I wonder if the real world superpower is related to my internal compass.

My grandmother had the superpower of being able to close her ears so water couldn't get in and doctors couldn't look inside them.

#46 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:24 PM:

Well, my family nickname is Samclopedia; I share a superpower with DaveL.

My real superpower, though, is almost entirely useless. Animals that are not dogs like and trust me. I can pet/catch/hold almost anything--if it tolerates it from anyone, it will tolerate it from me. This superpower extends to babies most of the time, but I pay for it with dogs--which hate me on general principles, and in all known particulars.

#47 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:25 PM:

Serge #3: There must, consequently, be someone out there who is a whole-house Serge Protector.

#48 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:27 PM:

My superpower is hearing or reading a random phrase and happening to notice what tune it can be sung to; useful in making up impromptu songs, useful for accidentally memorizing my bank account number without really trying, but gives me a lot of earworms.

I didn't always have this skill; it only developed within the past three years or so.

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:28 PM:

Theophylac #25: I used to have a touch of that one myself.

#50 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:32 PM:

Fragano @ 7... After I brought a database down, back in the pioneer days, someone did say they needed one.

#51 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:34 PM:

I think my superpower is remembering things. (As long as it's not names or faces.) It's especially strong with patterns, to the point where song covers drive me nuts because the other band is doing the timing differently. I only like song covers if they're an extraordinarily close match, or they're so wildly different that I can't pattern-match on the original.

#52 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:34 PM:

To paraphrase the tag line for 1978's "Superman"...

"You will believe a pun can fry."

#53 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 08:50 PM:

I'm not sure what my superpowers might be. Many of them are trained-- general weapons-grade calm before kiddos, for example. So they don't count. Others are in the general word-oriented spectrum, and they ebb and flow as my text environment changes.

#54 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 09:00 PM:

Chaz Brenchley @16 writes:

> my dentist was surprised to find that I had one more nerve-channel than the tooth actually required.

My wife has had all five of her wisdom teeth removed.

#55 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 09:14 PM:

I am a Young Adult librarian at a public library. I know our YA section very well; and it's shelved against a wall, so you don't have to go between shelves to find anything. As a result, if someone asks me, "Do you have X?" and I say "Yes, I think we have X," then I can usually walk directly to the spot on the shelf where the book should be and pull it out, with almost no pause for browsing the titles. This tends to impress people.

(It's based on me knowing REALLY well which shelves hold which letters of the alphabet, and also me being able to recognize a lot of books by their spines -- so if someone is looking for the Hunger Games, I just scan for the big hardcovers by Cassandra Clare or Rosemary Clement-Moore, and then scan a little to the right.)

#56 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 09:19 PM:

I also have that gift for finding the sore spot on your back.

I can find parking spaces in San Francisco, but that's learned rather than an innate superpower. You go to the steepest hill in the neighborhood, because that's the last place everyone else wants to park.

#57 ::: nnyhav ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 09:32 PM:

In social gatherings I have exercised the ability to make a comment that dissolves one person, and only one person, in laughter. Which prompts the others present to look strangely at him or her, but not at me.

But I never know beforehand which person.

#58 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 09:39 PM:

My superpower is the ability to produce a decent Petrarchan sonnet in half an hour. It would take me longer to do so in Spanish or Portuguese because I don't have the feel for hendecasyllabics that I do for iambic and trochaic meters.

#59 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:00 PM:

Animals. I can spot wildlife (or previous traces of wildlife) and/or figure out where said critters are currently hanging out better than most people. I sometimes take a lunch out, find a nice place in the woods, sit down, and watch the critters stroll by. I'm usually just dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and not trying for concealment. Meanwhile, friends with gilly suits, anti-scent products, and years of hunting experience will swear the same patch of woods is lifeless. *shrug*

I sometimes hunt for the table, and I always carry aat least a sidearm (due to endemic rabies) and yet I see plenty of game even when I have a gun with me. So it's not a matter of the animals being able to spot a predator or smell a gun. I honestly can't explain it.

Anti-superpower? I kill cell phones. I don't think I've ever had one last more than six months no matter how careful I am. I don't break them, they just quit working.

#60 ::: Arete ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:05 PM:

SamChevre @ 46

I was thinking deep about possible superpowers I had, until you reminded of one that I forget until its necessary: other people's pets adore me. ESPECIALLY if they don't like other people, even the rest of the family of the owner.

What's funny? I've never owned a pet other than a hermit crab. Not a dog, not a cat, not even a hamster (mom's allergic to ALL animal dander). Cats that HATE everyone in the family, will demand my lap and pettings. A dog that a volunteer was walking for a shelter that was terrified of everyone approached me for head scritch. Bunnies, weasels, rats... if they are pets, they think I'm awesome and should pet them.

(If I ever do end up with a pet, it'll probably be a cat though.)

#61 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:10 PM:

@58--

that's actually pretty darned enviable.

I don't mind getting a bit lost or having pets turn up their noses at me or waiting for someone else to fix the printer, but I sure wish I could write a sonnet in a half-hour.

#62 ::: Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:18 PM:

Oh, I'm good at pattern matching. My day job is selling doll accessories on eBay, particularly shoes. Much of my inventory comes in the form of giant lots of hundreds or thousands used doll shoes purchased from other sellers. It only takes me a few seconds per pair to find all the perfect matches in a lot. And I find this FUN, in a zen sort of way.

(I would wonder how other sellers ended up with thousands of doll shoes, but at one point, I had two 5 gallon buckets of loose doll shoes in my office.)

Related acquired skill: I can tell you what (vinyl fashion) doll a shoe is for a good percentage of the time, how old it is, and what other shoes will fit the same doll.

And I can walk into a thrift store and find vintage dolls, almost every time. I've been teased that I have an internal vintage doll compass ... found a $200 doll recently for $2.50 in a thrift store. :-)

#63 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 10:22 PM:

Another superpower of mine... Dogs who are afraid of men will jump all over yours truly to kiss him.

#64 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 11:22 PM:

I'm not sure it's a superpower, but I'm much better at jigsaw puzzles than many people. I can stand over a table with a partially-completed puzzle on it for a few minutes, then reach out and pick up a piece and put it in place.

Naomi, #45: I do get lost in video games, so I wonder if the real world superpower is related to my internal compass.

Very likely. I can't play FPS games at all, because I get lost very quickly -- the disconnect between visual and kinesic cues means I lose track of where I've been and which direction I'm facing.

#65 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2014, 11:58 PM:

Oliviacw @22
My former co-worker Dennis had a similar superpower. If you called him over to fix a broken program or figure out why it didn't work, it would work perfectly. I tested this by telling him a program wasn't working, would he come over and chat. He stood talking to me while I ran the program just fine, and he went back to his desk without ever looking at the computer. And the programs would keep working. All my fellow employees called it "the Dennis effect".

My superpower is organizing stuff. After telling jan that my grandmother worked in TRW's record center for years, then went to Toyota and turned a huge room full of boxed paperwork into a real records center, that my mother keeps her quilt fabric sorted by major color group in labeled boxes, and while he's watching me turn chaos into neat piles of labeled stuff, he said, "so this organizational is genetic." Well, yes. My best friend stopped me before we entered the house of a mild hoarder, put her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said very firmly, "Don't organize it." I was good. I didn't touch the stack of magazines I was sitting next to that was clearly out of date order. She was very proud of me.

#66 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:34 AM:

I am at a loss.

I have a lot of competencies and strengths, but nothing extraordinary or quirky.

#67 ::: Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:44 AM:

I'm another one with the random bits of facts and trivia superpower. We might have to form a sub-group of the League!

#68 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:50 AM:

I have the (common on this thread) typo-finding power. I have an excellent memory for numbers and tunes. I think all of that is pattern-matching.

My late husband John was a great dead reckoner. I need a map. He used maps as information sources to feed the map in his head.

#69 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:02 AM:

Chaz Brenchley #36: I actually have a non-standard nerve arrangement around my jaw. My dentist had seen it before, but not often -- under 1% of his patient population.

The effect is to refer pain between parts of my mouth, so I need extra shots of anaesthetic in extra places. I really should get the details pinned down when I see him next week, and write them down -- last time we discussed it, I was too stressed (dental work does that to me) to retain the info.

#70 ::: Cal Dunn ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:22 AM:

One of mine that hasn't been mentioned: real-life Tetris skills. This is great for moving house with the minimum number of trips, or fitting the contents of a three-bedroom house into a two-bedroom-size storage unit, or living in a caravan. (It's not so good now that I'm doing a seven-hour-plus trip with multiple changes between home and The Big City for work every other weekend, because I pack way too much into my backpack and then I can't lift it.)

I also have an excellent memory for colour, which is particularly odd because it's not visual - I don't see colours when I close my eyes(*) - but I could walk into an op shop (I think this is Australian for thrift store) and know whether this potential new garment X would match already-acquired garment Y that has been in a box for three years.

I'm also pretty good at finding things, but usually it only works when I'm not specifically looking for them.

(*) An anti-superpower: I don't see anything when I close my eyes, which is either congenital or an artefact of a concussion when I was very young.

#71 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:26 AM:

Cal, #70: Most of us don't see anything when we close our eyes, I would think.

#72 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:42 AM:

My mother calls me the Google Queen because I can find anything on the internet. I didn't know even googling was a skill.

Also I can read a five hundred page book in a few hours, but I'm not sure how unusual it is.

#73 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 02:35 AM:

Karen and I both do good jobs of packing cars. Since her father worked on the Apollo missions, she didn't quite believe I was good at it until I showed her.

Lylassandra -- Googling is a definite skill, and it's akin to the librarianship gene. It's knowing what information to keep and what to discard. Most people I know are okay at it, but a few people are simply wizard. And it is a skill -- it gets much better with practice, particularly if one uses the "bug, not stupidity" approach mentioned over in the DFD thread. (For those who haven't been following there: there's an essay linked there which suggests that most errors in learning are more akin to a bug in a program than to being stupid. Intentional practice -- paying attention to what changes actually make a difference -- is necessary to learning. My own words for what I took from it, YMMV.)

#74 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 02:50 AM:

Like Fragano, I can write a sonnet in half an hour. Unlike Fragano, my sonnets aren't very good.

I can fix machines without knowing what I'm doing. I once saved a showing of Hannah and Her Sisters when the projector wouldn't run. "Do you have a volt-ohmmeter?" They did. I measured something. "Try it again." Free tickets!

I'm very good at being successfully phonily psychic without knowing how to fake it (if that makes any sense). I once picked out two separate couples I'd never met in a crowded hotel and directed them to the party we were all attending.

I can find a word in a book not in English.

But the one most reliable superpower I have is one that served me well for a time and now drives me crazy: I don't exist. It was inspired, I guess, by Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stones* (that story guided my life for I don't know how many years) and my desire to not show up to Special Services, whoever they might be. Accordingly, the first time I was mentioned in a national magazine, I was, literally, described as "nameless".

This trend continued on. In the mid-eighties, I wore dreadlocks and an untrimmed beard. Other than in my mom's stuff, I only know of one picture of me during that time, and I just heard today it was probably destroyed.

Later that decade, I made a great impromptu speech at a demonstration being suppressed by the police. How great? It was the centerpiece of an column written about it, so it was probably pretty good. The column got spiked. No one running audio recorders--there were several--got it. The guy videotaping the bands--there were several--taped most of the demonstration, too. When I spoke? He was changing tapes. So, how good was it? That good, I guess.

The worst incident is when I was quoted in the Ronnie Hawkins biography. My byline was most certainly on that story, but it was listed as just "from the Grapevine", the paper I was writing for.

Those are the most notable times it happened, but there were others. While I do exist on the record, there are great gaping gaps, mostly in times and places where I wasn't unhappy at the time to go unnoticed. But it could stop now.

*And like Tom and Hawk, I've practiced not expecting nice things to happen in order to get them to keep happening. It works, but only with strangers. (With folks you know, it's just a crappy way to behave.) I guess that's a superpower, too.

#75 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 02:54 AM:

I don't think it's dependably operational any more, but I used to be able to attend a convention, get High from remaining active and sleepless for more than 48 hours (once, over 70), go to bed for a two-hour (or whatever) nap, and awaken between five and ten minutes before the target time. Nowadays, the internal clock still usually works, but I wouldn't want to rely on it for anything expensive.

#76 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:11 AM:

Don, I have that superpower, too. I used it tonight to take a short nap, then wake up for something. I did. Then I fell back asleep for just long enough to make me a little late. It doesn't work like it did back in the day.

(And now I'm on my second cup of hot chocolate and maybe able to go back to sleep.)

#77 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:29 AM:

Zack @11: I have that in a limited form. If I'm in a zoo, in any country, people will come up to me and ask for directions to the lion/hippo/elephant enclosure. Even when I'm wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a backpack, and carrying a camera, which you would think would scream "tourist" (I can only assume that something about my body language says I belong).

The superpower I have which a number of other people have found useful is finding things other people have lost (e.g. gold necklace in a field at a horse show, small earring on a highly-patterned pub carpet (six other people had already been looking for it for several minutes), transparent nose pad from someone's eyeglasses, on a pavement (sidewalk). In the case of the necklace, the owner didn't even know she had lost it; not only did I spot it (in maybe 3-4 inches high grass) but I remembered who I had seen wearing it an hour or so before (and jewelery is not something I usually take much notice of). I say that other people have found it useful, becaue it does not work when I'm the person who has lost something.

Tom Whitmore @73: packing cars, or at least my own car - yup.

Fragano Ledgister @58: I've gone past envy on that one - I just enjoy the results of your superpower.

Spotting the typos? Join the club*.

*Which pretty much guarantees there will be a typo in this post.

#78 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:45 AM:

@Chaz Brenchley no. 36, Dave Harmon no. 69: SIBLINGS!!!! My dentist, who I want to say up front is an awesome dentist of awesome awesomeness, had to go get the horse needle and shoot me in the roof of my mouth so I could get my wisdom teeth out. I was much more needle-phobic then than I am now, but he and his assistants talked me through it. Also it basically felt like the worst ice cream headache ever, cubed, until the numbness set in. And then he proceeded to remove my incredibly deep-rooted wisdom teeth with such skill that, even though at one point he had to have one knee up on the chair for leverage, I had no idea that anything had actually come out until the second tooth went "clink" in the receiving pan. Once the numbness wore off, I just itched for a while. So I guess his superpower is totally defeating dental pain.

On a less medical topic, my other superpower is that after steadily rolling a particular set of dice for a while, as in a Yahtzee game, I can often decide how the dice are going to fall. I win about half the time in a group of four players of similar age and math skill. This superpower doesn't seem to work on dice with more sides.

My other other superpower is hard to describe. Hold up your hand with your index finger and thumb making a C. Do the same thing with the other hand. Now, with both hands in this position, move your hands so that the thumbs and pointers seem to form the ends of a plus sign. When I do this, I can feel something like an invisible ball bearing rolling against the pads of my index fingers and thumbs. When I was down in the single digits, I used to be able to identify whether a block was "edgy" (rectangular solid, cube, pyramid) or "rounded" (cylinder, sphere) if someone held it no more than a child's fingerwidth from the bare skin of my back or upper arm. (Maybe the front of my body too, but we didn't have anything to use for a blindfold.) Maybe these two things are connected.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:52 AM:

Oh, I have the car-packing power. Wen I packed the van to move us to the Netherlands, I did it too well, and the neat, perfect vertical stack only took up 2/3 of the van space. I had to go back and repack it less well so that nothing would fall over in transit.

I also have the right-angle detection superpower, but not the tell-when-photo-is-tilted one. Alas.

#80 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:22 AM:

I am able to find that book that is out of place (much of the time), and other book-related or library-related anomalies. This includes noticing that the two volumes of something have been given the wrong call number (i.e., v.1 marked v.2 and v.v.).

Also, I have quite good experiential navigation - with streets, library stacks, or book pages - although I'm not sure it's *quite* a superpower, as I have to do the route more than once, usually.

Naomi Parkhurst @45, Lee @64, I also get lost in video games; I think for me it has to do with physically moving around the space [and the fact that in video games I have no damn peripheral vision! This is part of why the Oculus Rift VR headset was an amazing experience]

I can notice that someone has an accent, even if very subtle (although I cannot pinpoint it unless I have *formal* knowledge of the accent markers).

All of these, I think, come down eventually to the bone-deep attraction to patterns that drives most of my academic interests - and learning very quickly.

I also have the now-nearly-useless (in the end of my schooling) superpower of doing very well on standardized tests without trying.

Steve Taylor @54, I have no wisdom teeth at all, and never did, courtesy my father's genetics.

Fragano @58, and very good use you make of it!

#81 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:47 AM:

I have an infallible ability to detect crap fiction when I read it.

This certainly seems uncommon.

#82 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 05:46 AM:

I can feel directions. If I ever looked at a map of a place, I can feel where I want to go, or the points of the compass. Even without looking at a map I can feel the direction of "where I started out from". It also works in books, I feel the coordinates in space of some sentence I read and remembered.

I can become unnoticable. I stand there, tall, long black coat, big black hat, and people's eyes just wander around me and they never notice I'm there. (I feel like the man from the CIA in the rhyme! Career option?)

Stray cats will come to me to be petted.

Unfortunatley, none of those powers are 100% reliable. Should I ever want to use them to fight crime or take over the world, they are going to need some development.

#83 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 07:54 AM:

I wrote the previous comment late last night, and was thinking of specific talents, not superpower. My superpower is pattern analysis. I see patterns in data, things, behaviors. So, Tetris In Real Life, I has it. To the point that I get to pack all suitcases, cars and boxes-for-moving. My then-not-ex-mother-in-law, she who moved 42 times in 20 years, came over to help pack for moving. She looked at the boxes I'd packed but not sealed and said, "you don't need my help."

Downside to packing this well is that my suitcases are quite heavy. Lifting one to the overhead bin inevitably gets volunteers leaping to assist.

#84 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:15 AM:

I have a good memory for trivia (it's not uncannily good, but it's good). As far as my memory is concerned, map directions are trivia, and therefore retained until needed.

I can sense how long something needs to cook, before I start cooking it (not the prep, per se, just the "on the hob" time). This has multiple times allowed me to have 3-4 cooked components of the same meal completed at the same time, to the astonishment of assisting cooks and innocent bystanders. When asked to explain it, the best I can do is "but it's bleedingly obvious, no?"

I have an uncanny ability to ignore pain, if necessary. I will blatantly refuse to give examples.

I have a pretty good (but not foolproof) sense of where the acute problem(s) exist in a complex system (doesn't always work for chronic problems, but when it does, hearing a description of the system gives me a queasy feeling, like I've just eaten slightly spoiled butter or drunken just-off milk). This, as it turns out, is a professionally-useful skill.

#85 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:23 AM:

I used to date a guy who had Packing Tetris; he once got all of our stuff for two weeks at Pennsic into my two-door Nissan Sentra.

My other superpower is like a toned-down version of John A Arkansawyer's: I don't show up in random photographs. You can take a picture of me if you set out to, but if someone's taking snapshots of a party or something, the best they'll get of me is "Oh, that must be my elbow" or similar. Once, in a party in a large room, someone stood up in the middle and took a shot of the half I was not in, turned around to get the half I was in...and as they hit the button, someone walked between me and the camera.

#86 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:56 AM:

I am also a finder, though not particularly because I observe my environment so closely. I just... know, though the ability seems to come and go. Unfortunately so many people on this thread seem to have the finder ability that I'm half inclined to stop thinking of it as a superpower.

I've also got thrift-fu, though in a different form than what's listed above - I don't find the perfect thing so much as drive by the thrift store and know that SOMETHING I need is there. (My kids keep losing silverware, and recently I knew that something was there at the the thrift store and the "something" turned out to be a bag of forty knives/forks/spoons for $7.00.) Now that I think about it, my thrift-fu and my finder power may spring from some root ability to know where stuff is.

I'm also a very natural punster, though it seems to be mainly conversational rather than written - I can grind any conversation into pun powder

#87 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:15 AM:

My spouse has all the usual OCD superpowers of knowing where every book in his vast collection is (or ought to be, which is the frustrating part); or of being able to detect smells that I can’t.

I used to encounter a lot of coincidences of the kind mentioned by Karen – I’d hear a guy at an open mic night singing a song about the Kobe earthquake, mention to him afterwards that I’d been in Kobe some years earlier with my father, and find out he’d gone to Japan after having been one of my father’s students; then I’d tell this story to someone at a church picnic two days later, and discover that the singer was her son. This stopped happening after my friend Mike moved out west, so I’ve concluded that it was our shared Wonder Twin power, and only worked when we had regular contact with each other.

#88 ::: cyllan ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:34 AM:

I'm intimidating. I'm not entirely sure why; I'm a plump, average-height, middle-aged woman who is mostly a pacifist, and who believes firmly that the way to resolve conflicts is through reasoned discussion about feelings and needs, but I have had any number of Very Scary People tell me that they are intimidated by me. The 6'6" ex-college football playing racist/sexist jerk? The Army Major? Various black-belt instructors over the years? They have all said that I am either 'scary' or 'intimidating.'

As this comes with a bonus side-power of "Can walk into almost anywhere," I don't really object to this particular super-power. It just puzzles me.

#89 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:40 AM:

I can feel high-voltage power lines. I get a tingling spidey-sense sensation when I'm close to one, often before I see it.

I'd like to know what could cause that.

#90 ::: Jen Birren ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:45 AM:

My superpower is also copyediting, but it's gradually being eroded by reading stuff online; once you see a word correctly spelt and mis-spelt equally often, it gets confusing.

My superweakness ("For every very mild superpower, there's a very mild superweakness"; David O'Doherty, Very Mild Superpowers) is being worse than average at holding strings of three or more numbers in working memory- I forget classmarks between the catalogue and the shelves.

#91 ::: Arkady Martine ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:48 AM:

I have long-term location memory for small objects. This is a very useful superpower which achieves fantastic levels of obsolescence whenever I move houses (which is -- often). Do you want to know where the screwdriver is? I can tell you! For the house I lived in 15 years ago! This is especially unhelpful when I'm trying to remember whether I currently own something, as I will usually recall where it was, not where it is, if I have it at all.

I can also taste aspartame at forty meters, or the gustatory equivalent.

#92 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:58 AM:

Navigation. I inherited this mutation from my mother. Give me one or two landmarks (anything from a major highway to a faraway mountain), or a clear sky, and I can get anywhere.

If I look at a map once, it's memorized, and I can navigate through that area. If I've driven to a place once, directed by someone else, it's mapped into my head, and I can get there again.

When driving somewhere I've never been, if I run into a traffic jam, I can dead-reckon my way around the jam on alternate roads. (I have secret back ways to get to the Readercon hotel because the exit the directions give you is always jammed up the wazoo on a Thursday evening.)

This is why I will never own a GPS. My internal radar is much more useful.

#93 ::: L.N. Hammer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:05 AM:

I am a friend to cats. I would not mind a slightly more practical superpower, such as always having enough spare change or the ability to find a parking spot quickly, but at least I'm not lonely.

---L.

#94 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:20 AM:

Stefan Jones (66): Me, too. I guess we're sidekicks.

#95 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:01 AM:

Lylassandra, #72: There's definitely a skill involved in knowing how to set up a Google search. I generally cast my net far too wide the first time, and have to figure out what further terms to add to narrow it down to the category I actually want to see.


A friend of mine has the superpower of finding the way to the con hotel when the driver has gotten lost. He doesn't do it by internal mapping; he rolls down the window, sniffs the air, says, "Consuite! Beer!" and points. The method has a success rate well above random chance.

My partner has a micrometer-calibrated eye for design. He can score 100% on any kerning test in the world, and detect a picture being 2 degrees of arc off dead straight. This has occasionally caused Incidents because he expects me to have the same level of ability, and I don't.

#96 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:03 AM:

I have, or had, a mildly evil superpower. I apparently could make radio controlled model airplanes crash just by telling them to. This surfaced during my one summer quarter at Iowa State. I was living in the Maple-Willow-Larch dorm complex, right by a large open field from which RC hobbyists flew their planes. One afternoon I was studying and one of the planes was buzzing the building in a very annoying manner. I went to the window and said something like "Crash, dammit!" - and its wing came off in midair. There were a couple more incidents of a similar sort that summer. Freaked me out a bit, and I tried to ignore the planes entirely. Months later, my brother and his roommate and I walked by the field, and I told them about my apparent superpower. The friend started asking how I did it, and in the course of the conversation, trying to explain, I pointed up at one and said "Crash." It went straight into a nosedive into the field.

I haven't done it since.

#97 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:06 AM:

Anne, I wonder if you can do it with actual drones?

Come to think, I hope you never find out.

#98 ::: Duncan Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:33 AM:

I have a number of these powers:
1) I can make computers work and solve software glitches by just standing there. My co-workers use this ability quite often.
2) I can give directions remotely. For example, my daughter will call me from somewhere after becoming lost. I can direct her to the nearest major highway to return home. The only requirement here is that I have been to that location at some time in the past.
3) I am a stray/other people's cats magnet. This does not apply to my own cats.
4) I have the "that picture is not quite straight/level" gene.
5) I have the "Packing Tetris" ability as well.

Unfortunately, these abilities do not all work at all times or to exceptionally high levels of awesome. Jack of all Superpowers, Master of None.

#99 ::: Ali Burtt ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:54 AM:

This is so fun. Yep, I have Packing Tetris too. My husband has learned not to taunt me when I say that I can fit all of the suitcases into the trunk or all the dishes in the sink into the dishwasher because if I say I can, then I can. By the way, this is an inherited superpower because my mother is the same way. She also gave me her whiz-bang parallel parking gene, which is probably related. I can parallel park on a steep hill in a tiny space without making multiple attempts. Totally not useful in a world without cars.

#100 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:54 AM:

The thing I most often call "my superpower" is inside my wallet. Fermilab employees are allowed to request borrowing privileges at the University of Chicago Library.

So I have a library card.

Which unlocks Eight. Million. Books.

Using Worldcat, I keep a list of books that come to my attention. I make a note of those I can find only at the U. of C. Every now and then, I make the drive, more than an hour long, to Hyde Park. I bring a large, sturdy satchel. Nodding to the ghost of Enrico Fermi's atomic pile, I find a parking place on Ellis Avenue. I raid the Regenstein Library, or the Crear, or both. I work with the catalogue to learn the locations of the books I want, and attempt to plot an optimal path through the stacks. The satchel becomes heavy.

I usually bring a camera to copy articles or pictures when I am only interested in a brief part of a book.

If there is time, I might also visit the bookstores of 57th Street. Feels a little foolish, though, to be shopping for used books when there are twenty-five pounds of unread books in my car.

My privileges are professor-equivalent, so I can hang onto the books for many months if I need to.

This superpower has greatly enriched my life, and enabled some of the research behind talks and articles I've written. I am very, very grateful for it.

#101 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:03 PM:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey @ 100: I know this isn't a contest, but in my book (heh), you win anyway.

#102 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:17 PM:

I have a couple of superpowers that come in very handy at my job (pharmaceutical manufacturing discrepancy investigation). The most handy (yet frustrating) one is that I can look at a set of data or observations relating to an event and identify "a wrongness in the Force" long before I can tell you exactly what the issue involves. (In a highly scientific field, this leads to an unfortunate Cassandra problem. There have been a number of times when I've spent a lot of energy metaphorically waving my arms and shouting, "There's something very wrong going on here and it's going to cost us a lot of money eventually if we don't spend the resources to figure out what it is right now!" Six months later after the unaddressed issue has cost us a lot of money, someone finally assigns the resources and personnel to validate my spidey-sense.)

Not sure if it's right to consider it a super power, but I can make the English language jump through hoops and do backflips. Company directors and VPs have been known to phone me up and ask me to wordsmith key texts for them because of my demonstrated ability. Another useful work super power is to sense exactly when two people are operating with different understandings of the same statement and "translate" them to each other. I don't think it's so much that my linguistics training enables me to do these things, but rather than having the ability led me to an interest in linguistics.

Among my hobbies, I have the super power to pick up a new craft that I've never done before and create an acceptably half-assed project the first time. This annoys my crafty friends no end, but it also means that I rarely take the time to learn a craft deeply and "properly". (E.g., I've knit everything from socks to gloves to sweaters to 3D sculptures, but I've never learned to read a knitting pattern.)

#103 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:22 PM:

Zack @11 et al, I too find myself asked for directions wherever I go. I seemed even more plausible a guide when I was in Australia despite being ghost-pale; it turns out that's also an Australian look, although an unpopular one. Part of it is that I stick out of a crowd being tall.

I also have the power to appear shorter in the past. Every time I meet someone I don't see frequently there is some variation of "Have you grown?" The answer has been no, since 1997. Part of this is that I generally try to avoid looming over people by slouching, sitting down, don't fill the entire field of view, leaning on things, standing further back etc. and generally blend into the background.

Now I come to think of it, perhaps I have limited (height) invisibility, as I recall from a time when I was in a pub with friends and noticed another friend arrive across the crowded room. I stood up straight and generally changed my body language from nothing to see here to look at me! to attract their attention. The friends who I had been standing with for the previous half hour suddenly discovered that I was really tall, and commented loudly on it.

#104 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:24 PM:

Heather* 102: Another useful work super power is to sense exactly when two people are operating with different understandings of the same statement and "translate" them to each other. I don't think it's so much that my linguistics training enables me to do these things, but rather than having the ability led me to an interest in linguistics.

I have that too...and some linguistic training. Not sure which way that goes either.

It's supposedly saleable as "business analysis" if the two perspectives are "business user" and "developer." Trying to sell that myself.

*Or are you "Heather Rose"? I made that mistake with Mary Aileen, and I'm not sure what your answer was last time I asked, sorry.

#105 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:36 PM:

I have a low-level generalized "find weakness" superpower, which manifests in the ability to find the one thing that doesn't make a scene/script/manuscript/book work, in customer service interpretation, fixing hardware and it works particularly well for picking out gifts for people. Is this specialized intuition? inductive reasoning?

#106 ::: Another Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 12:55 PM:

I'm a very good vocal mimic. I can't produce new phrases in an accent, nor can I sing or speak in the style of person X, but if I've ever heard a specific phrase, I can reproduce it with the appropriate accent and inflection.

Fragano @58 reminds me that I am also a dab hand at scansion, but I'm pretty sure that one's learned. It still impresses my students, though.

(BTW, I hope I haven't stolen anyone's name. The trouble with being a Sarah. If I need to further rename myself, do let me know? I used to comment as just plain Sarah, but that was ages ago.)

#107 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:04 PM:

Superpower -- data retrieval, including subjects I that I have little knowledge of -- when asked for said data it appears in my mind as a page in a book,* and I tell my questioner what I see. When I go looking for the book to learn more, I can find texts that support the data, but never the actual book I read it from...

Minor power -- I can tell when a problem with a computer and its connected hardware is a hardware failure or a software problem. While I can't fix either, the folks in IT said I saved them time when they came to fix it. Works with photocopiers too.

Oh, and the ability to tell when an electrical outlet is live or dead by passing my hand over it.

*It can also present as a magazine or newspaper article, and again, I have never been able to find the original source, just supporting documents.

#108 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:07 PM:

I am superstitious about my superpower. I am afraid to say it out loud lest it stop working. After all, it could be pure luck.

There was one time I thought my luck had run out, on the highway leading away from Madison after WisCon....and then the police officer pulled over the car directly behind me.

There's a family superpower that causes us to never be summoned for jury duty. We don't LIKE that one, though; all of us think that jury duty would be really interesting. (My father did finally get called and even got to serve. None of the rest of us, though. Also, you can apparently marry into this superpower; my husband's never been called, either.)

#109 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:09 PM:

Also, I can't believe no one's mentioned Justine Larbelestier's book "How to Ditch Your Fairy" -- the extremely specialized minor superpower is the premise of the book.

#110 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 01:14 PM:

Xopher @ 104

You were right the first time: it's just "Heather" not "Heather-Rose". I tend to use "Heather Jones" versus "Heather Rose Jones" to compartmentalize my life. For my day job (and when I was in grad school) it's the relatively anonymous "Heather Jones". But I've always had in mind that the full "Heather Rose Jones" is so distinctive and poetic that it's worth using to "brand" my creative endeavors. So I've always used the full version in fandom, for my music, and for my writing. The "Rose" is for my great-grandmother but back in the late '50s when I was named, "Heather" was pretty exotic and outlandish, evidently. My parents figured that with a last name like Jones they should give us something a little more distinctive on the front end. So the four of us siblings each got one name with family connections and one "unusual" name (at least in the social context my parents were operating in).

The name also comes in handy for providing me with floral mascots, though roses are much easier to grow in my climate than heather is. (I think the last time I counted I had well over three dozen different roses growing on my property.)

#111 ::: LE ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 02:36 PM:

It's not so much a superpower as an annoying power. I form lines, or rather, people line up behind me. Bus stations are particularly annoying because if I stop moving for five seconds a line of people will spontaneously pop up behind me, no matter how far I am from where people should be congregating. I don't know how many times I've turned around only to hop to one side with an apologetic "Oh, I'm not in line!" to the line of people that forms instantaneously behind me. I'm very conscious of making sure I'm nowhere near the line for X (supermarket checkout, airplane boarding, bank teller, bus stop) before stoping to dig for something in my purse or otherwise pausing for any reason. And i's not just blocking the flow of traffic - the people behind me aren't trying to get past me or anything, they just seem to think that I'm where the line for X starts.

I imagine this would be vaguely useful if it ever meant that I got a better place in actual lines I needed to be in or moved through them faster or something, but I also seem to have a talent for getting in line behind the guy who is trying to buy cigarettes with a $100 bill at the supermarket, requiring the intervention of a manager, so it doesn't seem to work that way.

#112 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:15 PM:

My ex had a negative superpowe. And may have it still but I haven't been around to experience it. He's not invisible in most instances, but when trying to walk thru a crowd, people walk in such a way as to make it impossible for him to move. We were at Disneyland with friends, meandering thru the crowds when the subject of my then-not-ex never being the "icebreaker boat" came up. He explained, to skepticism. He then demonstrated by taking point. We never moved as first several strollers were pushed past him, right thru where he was to take his next step, some from the left, some from the right, and one coming from behind. Several groups of people walked around him like he was a pole, and a group stopped directly in front of him to discuss where to go next. One of our friends took him by the arm to put him behind the rest of us, and suddenly there was clear space to walk.

#113 ::: jonesnori/Lenore Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:24 PM:

Lin @112, John had that, a bit. I noticed that when we were in a huddle for a bus, he would end up several people behind me. When I commented on it, he said that people made way for me, but not for him. I watched after that, and there does indeed seem to be a tendency for men to yield to women (at least in NYC at my bus). It's quite subtle - just a little hesitation usually, not an outright yield. I had had no idea it was happening.

On direction asking, I get asked all the time, too. It's particularly frustrating since I'm somewhat deaf and often have trouble understanding the question. I think I must look both harmless and open to being interrupted.

#114 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 03:53 PM:

I can roll a sleeping bag so that, first time, it fits easily into its bag.

Re: teeth, I seem to have the opposite superpower. I had all four of my wisdom teeth out and, aside from the local, did not require any pain medication afterwards. My teeth never hurt, which has the downside of me not realizing when I have small problems until they are big problems.

#115 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:00 PM:

jonesnore/Lenore Jones @113
The fe/male thing wasn't in action here as the best point person was the other man in our group.

#116 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:02 PM:

jonesnori, forgive typo in name please. Typelepsy is never far away.

#117 ::: Barb Roseman ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:02 PM:

My superpower is so bizarre that I don't even believe in it myself, except it keeps happening. I, a virtually monolingual American, can tell if a translation from a Romance or Germanic language into English captures the gist of the original text. It only works with languages I've heard spoken before, preferably ones where I've heard discussions between people, whether I have any competence in the language or not, and it only works when someone reads the original and translation aloud. It's an ear thing.

This happened repeatedly when in grad school my friends were taking their foreign language tests and would ask me to vet their practice translations. If they read me the sentence in the original language and then their translation, I could tell them whether it "sounded right" or not. I should mention that I never actually succeeded in passing my own 2nd language tests and therefore will remain forever PhD-less.

#118 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:06 PM:

If my friend Matt is late, the person he's meeting will be late by precisely the same amount, or maybe a little more. He also has the "disappearing while in plain view" one.

Jon Singer can walk into a thrift store and find the exact thing he's looking for.

I had a coworker who could estimate how long a job would take, nearly to the minute. This estimate would correctly account for things like interruptions and computer crashes.

One of the teachers in my electronics school had the uncanny ability to find the electrical fault in TVs and radios. His students said he would go, "Hmmmmm..." and the point right at the exact problem.

Michael Johnston @19: There was a discussion else-thread, that I haven't been able to find since, about how people with the copy-editor superpower detect errors. Yours sounds a lot like that.

oliviacw @22: I had a coworker who was in charge of our Gatorbox. Absolutely withtout fail, he'd leave the building for vacation, and it would go down. Then, the moment he was back onsite, it would go back to working properly.

Sumana Harihareswara @39: one of my colleagues is very good at pointing north no matter where she is.

Where is she from? There are some cultures where that's actually built into the language.

Erik Nelson @48: I need something the NATO alphabet can be sung to, please. :-)

Cygnet @59: You might enjoy My Life as a Turkey. This guy could do the same thing—at least, while he was being a wild turkey parent.

Stefan Jones @66: I have a lot of competencies and strengths, but nothing extraordinary or quirky.

That you've noticed. :-)

Lee @70 Most of us don't see anything when we close our eyes, I would think.

No phosphenes? No after-images?

LE @111: I form lines, or rather, people line up behind me.

Oh, ghods, I can just see the video....

Lin Daniel @112: when trying to walk thru a crowd, people walk in such a way as to make it impossible for him to move

I have the inverse power. I can slice through a standing-room-only crowd at nearly walking speed. If I hold the hand of the person following me, it conducts onto them. And the person behind them, and so on.

So, how many do I get?

I've got the Tetris thing.

I can special-order weather. (Price: I have to be happy with what I get generally.)

I can often pronounce weird last names correctly on the first try.

If I watch someone performing a hand skill, I can usually pick it up, without instruction or training. (This one's gotten rusty as I've spent more of my time by myself.)

Related to Steve with a book @31's superpower, I can generally spot an item in a long list faster than the person I'm with, because I don't read the list, I scan down for the shape of word in question.

Phone numbers often stick in my brain (Except my best friend's cell phone number, which resolutely defies memorization).

I can recognize artists and musicians by style, sometimes even based on a a single sample.

See: If I'm in their physical presence when they use it, I can copy other people's superpowers. (Without razoring their heads open, it should be noted.)

One I really want is abi's knack for starting fascinating discussions.

#119 ::: Aubergino the Eggplant Boy ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:21 PM:

I can see with my feet. Sort of! Wearing shoes and blindfolded, I can tell whether I'm standing in sun or shadow, whether I've stepped onto a different shade of polished terrazzo, where the edge of a pattern is on a rug or carpet, what color tile I'm standing on, etc.

I suspect it's a combination of good visual memory, patternfinding, and an accurate idea of how long my stride is. But sometimes it's unnerving. And it comes with a downside (other than its obvious uselessness at moneymaking or world-dominating): a compulsive & sometimes disruptive tendency in how I walk around. A complicated and shifting set of rules about where I can step and in what order -- like an 8-dimensional version of "step on a crack, break your mother's back."

#120 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:30 PM:

Mine is, I think, an analytical facility. I recognize units of thought or argument and can separate them or combine them as needed. This is helpful in things like designing queries, data validation logic, or statistical analyses. And it also shows up as an ability like Heather @102 or Xopher @104 to recognize when other people are talking at cross-purposes and (sometimes) clarify things.

My husband's hands are finely calibrated in Farenheit. He can touch a feverish child, stick a hand out into cold outdoor air, or check heating water, and tell you the temperature within a degree or so.

#121 ::: leisurelyviking ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 04:35 PM:

I have the ability to postpone shock and dread until I've gotten myself out of a bad situation.

I was once in a car crash with 2 friends. Totalled the car on the freeway in Montana and kicked up a big cloud of dust so the cars behind us couldn't see. My friends were dazed and shocked, while I was all practicality and figured out how to get us to Oregon, where we were headed. Once we were safe and sheltered, I let myself shake and cry and worry about what might have happened.

#122 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 05:16 PM:

Lenore, in the same line, I'd be up with you, not back with John. So either I look scarier than John does, or it's something else.

One possibility: John was raised in Canada and probably (consciously or not) was so polite that he'd let people go ahead of him too many times in a row. I take my turn, but I also look for a hole in the crowd and go for it.

#123 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 05:20 PM:

Oh, yes, I did have a short-lived superpower (that I was glad to get rid of): After I'd been sick, in a feverish way, for several months, I developed the ability to tell precisely* what my temperature was, based on how tired I felt.

*Within .2°F--but I rounded my estimates to the nearest half-degree, so it was actually closer than that.

#124 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 05:21 PM:

Em @114 - wrt teeth, I usually say that my head is wired funny when I explain it to dentists. While I have, rarely, had tooth pain at the actual tooth site, most of the time the pain is referred to some other part of my head, typically either my sinuses, or the back or sides of my skull -- above and behind the ear is typical. All of this is actually a bit counter-productive because I can go literally months with an infected tooth and have no idea about it.

I'm not sure if I have anything that rises to the level of superpower. Or else it's so secret not even I know about it. I used to be uncanny at finding chantrelles in the woods, but it's been a very long time since I was able to test that. I'm above-average at moving Tetris, I have pretty good thrifting-fu, and I do seem to attract people who want me to give them directions (unlikeliest instance was on a train from Bilund, Denmark to Hamburg, Germany, where a young woman singled me out to ask about train connections, in French -- I'm not French, I don't think I look French, and although I was able to answer, perhaps even coherently, in French, I wouldn't have picked myself as the best candidate to do that), I can usually get office machines to behave better by laying on of hands, I pick up hand skills and languages quickly, I can summon wind, or rain, get benefit from five-minute field naps if sufficiently tired and wake up when I want from them, and I can generally manage to be in the unaffected half of California when a major earthquake strikes. But I don't know that my abilities are so exceptional or bomb-proof as to qualify for 'superpower'. It occurs to me now, not for the first time, to speculate that my superpower is being above-average at a lot of things, but superlative at none.

For anti-super powers, I am very good at losing Swiss Army knives, umbrellas, and single earrings. Especially the earrings. Stonehenge ate a favorite. The Swiss Army knife problem seems to have tapered off since I discovered that I can buy them in bulk from unscrupulous TSA agents on eBay.

#125 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 05:28 PM:

I'm a direction-asking magnet. I used to think it was my husband, until I did a research semester in Italy without him, and still got asked directions, all the time. (Even by natives.)

I have a weird sort of dish-drainer Tetris that means that I'd better be the person that unpacks it, else things will become unbalanced.

Sauces and custards that I cook do not burn or turn lumpy.

I'm great at the sorts of critical-path things that give everyone else hives.

Cats that ignore everyone else will come to me, and going for a walk means that any number of dogs will have to be restrained from trying to sniff and lick me all to pieces (in a good way), much to the embarrassment of their owners.

I can more often than not make a strange baby stop having a meltdown, if only for a couple of minutes.

I can smell smoke, or something burning, minutes before anyone else can.

My husband can reliably assume a Cloak of Invisibility that covers an entire restaurant table. Very annoying.

But he has other, better superpowers, including not so much a Parking Fairy, but the ability to get into parking spaces, particularly the kind requiring tight 270-degree turns.

The other thing he's been famous for is being able to diagnose/fix computer equipment by literally laying on hands.

#126 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 06:20 PM:

Mmm. Superpowers.

I have something of the tetris gift, and something of the copyediting gift, and I look familiar to people I've never met (to the order of at least once a month I am asked if I know so-and-so or learn that someone thought I was their ex's cousin's roommate, etc.) I have a generally good sense of where north is, and a better-than-Garmin navigational ability, except in the state of Massachusetts, where I am unconditionally lost as soon as I cross the state line.

But my true superpowers are a) finding other people's lost objects, including objects that are in places I have never seen, by describing what the missing object is probably next to; and b) a voice of authority, by which I mean that people disproportionately do what I tell them to, if I'm not careful. The former is a freaky party trick, the latter is something I've had to learn to wield very carefully, so as not to cause great destruction.

#127 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 06:32 PM:

To those who are direction-question magnets, do you know the answers?

I find I get people asking me questions that a priori there's no reason (I know) for thinking I'd know the answer. The most memorable was when I was 18, some friends called me from a party with an emergency question. Their hostess was having her first bad trip, and they didn't know what to do. I told them, then asked "Why did you call me?" The reply of "you knew the answer, didn't you?" wasn't very satisfying. I've also had professors, in class, check with me to verify they were correct on the material they were teaching.

I wonder if the question- and direction-magnets get asked because people somehow can tell that they know.

#128 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 06:44 PM:

Well, okay, there's this one thing, but it seems more an accident of circumstance than anything inherent in me -- I do seem to have met-through-work-or-mutual-acquaintances a possibly-well-above-average number of people who have at least briefly been world famous. At one point John Scalzi had a discussion thread about "who's the most famous person you've known/met" and I found myself with an embarrassment of over choice: Robert Leighton, Richard Feynman, Murray Gell-Mann, Alonzo Church, Linda McGuire nee Gustavson (multiple medalist at the Mexico City Olympics, and my high school swim coach), Jacques Derrida AND Ruth Barcan Marcus, Gayatri Spivak, David Politzer (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004, and my former boss), Jodie Foster, Gary Burghoff, Kip Thorne, Tim Burton, Barry Simon, Whitfield Diffie, and the usual raft of SFF authors, among others. I don't in any sense qualify as a super-connector, but a lot of time spent as a minor cog in academic and some time spent as a very minor cog in the periphery of the film industry does make for some odd connections.

#129 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 06:49 PM:

I used to have the superpower of being able to fall asleep instantly on airplanes; San Jose to LA was good for a solid hour of sleep. Since then I've gotten a CPAP machine, so I'm no longer chronically sleep-deprived, and I've stopped doing business travel so I'm seldom flying early in the morning, and it doesn't work as well.

On superpowers for finding things: they normally don't work for the person who lost them (otherwise they wouldn't be lost, but in general finding your own lost items / typos / etc. is harder than finding other people's, because your brain has already processed them and doesn't bother doing that again.) I do have the perfect-spelling superpower, but not the perfect-typing superpower. At least I don't have the "recognize bad kerning" superpower (xkcd 1015), and I've been on the Internetz long enough that when people use "loose" instead of "lose", I'm able to restrain my need to stab them.

#130 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 07:02 PM:

I am CAT-VOMIT-AVOIDER WOMAN. My cats sleep on the bed and occasionally rev up for a hairball vomit session. I wake instantly from a deep sleep and kick the hurling cat OFF the bed. I have tile floors, which are much easier to clean than bedding.

#131 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:29 PM:

Buddha Buck @127 To those who are direction-question magnets, do you know the answers?

Generally I do, although that's mostly because when I go to strange places I usually have a map/guide book with me. Sometimes the question can be so incoherent that there is answer.

("Do you know the way out of town?"
"Are you going somewhere in particular?"
"Out of town."
"Any of these three roads will take you out ot town."
"No which one should I go down."
"If it doesn't matter, then go down which ever you prefer."
"So, which one goes out of town?")

#132 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:48 PM:

I get asked questions as if I were a native: Often I can answer them (as when someone asked me, in Paris, for directions, and I was able to render them).

This also happens in shops.

On a more "superhero" level, if it has an edge I can sharpen it; and probably use it tolerably well.

I can also smell dead animals at a very early point in time; in the same vein I can tell you when a mango is two days from ripe. Since the smell of mango repulses me this is questionable usefulness to me.

I have some other talents, but I think they aren't the, "natural" sort; rather things I was interested in, and so applied my mind to learning (e.g. I will subconsciously observe if a cop is left/right handed).

Looking at the list of powers (up to Tom at #63). I have the tetris skill, and I am good at spotting animal sign/animals (which is helpful in my photography).

#133 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 08:50 PM:

I have an uncanny ability--on some blogs other than this one--to shut down a thread. It doesn't always happen, but often enough to be puzzling. I put in my two electrons' worth after some others have weighed in on some post, and wait for the next person's feedback, but there isn't any; boom, it's done. And it is not like I was being a troll either. But I know you folks here are safe from this, whatever it is.

#134 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:08 PM:

It might be interesting to build a list of the powers mentioned here, and get people to check off which ones they have, since some seem to be fairly common and others are rare.

#135 ::: Cal Dunn ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 09:59 PM:

Lee@71: yes, bad phrasing on my part. I mean I can't visualise things at all, or generate internal images with my eyes closed. (Or open, for that matter. I do get some phosphenes, and I dream in pictures - I was once semi-conscious for the very end of a dream, and was aware enough to notice the exact moment when my dream-pictures shut off and normal lack of internal vision resumed. Very disconcerting.)

I have the invisibility superpower as well. This is in fact how I met my beloved, because he had the superpower not only to see me, but to see that I was invisible, and wonder why. (In return I've taught him to recognise bad kerning. I think he's forgiven me.)

I also have the spelling gift, which I expect is not unusual here. It was certainly much more impressive at age 6 than it is over thirty years later.

#136 ::: The Sarah from Further Up-Thread ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:06 PM:

Neil W : @ #103: Now I come to think of it, perhaps I have limited (height) invisibility, as I recall from a time when I was in a pub with friends and noticed another friend arrive across the crowded room. I stood up straight and generally changed my body language from nothing to see here to look at me! to attract their attention.

That's an actual superpower -- as in, Christopher Reeves demonstrates it in the movie Superman whenever he goes between being Clark and being Supes. It's quite impressive.

#137 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:16 PM:

I have the power of looking ten years younger than I really am.

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:16 PM:

Cal Dun: When I close my eyes, all I see is black. When I am dreaming, and move to waking, I either see black, or open my eyes.

I can visualise things (as when I read, or recall a moment from the past) but I have to have my eyes open (or the blackness subsumes memory).

If I want to recall a taste, or a smell; then I will close my eyes.

#139 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:37 PM:

Can't speak for Cal @ 135, but when I read or write, I can't mentally envision what's happening - I just have a nebulous sense of what location it takes up in my mental world. Different characters imprint differently, but they mostly stay in one shape and "location" even when engaged in strenuous acrobatics in the text. If I consciously think about it, I can recall familiar pictures, but that's memorization and different. At the end of a book, I have no better idea of what the characters or their actions look like than I did when I started - unless there's a popular visual adaptation and then I'll just remember memorized bits from that. It seems like I should be able to bridge from memorized images to imagined images, but I've never really succeeded at that, even when I meticulously and deliberately focus on trying to craft such a mental image (often at the end of a compelling book with a faceless cover).

#140 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 10:58 PM:

Finders: how much information would you need to give guesses on my first good ring, the one my mother brought me from Chicago one Christmas when she saw that my finger was green from wearing an adjustable false one? It used to be in a plastic canvas box on my purple bookshelves back at my parents' house, but it doesn't seem to be there any more.

#141 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:05 PM:

I was a human compass as a child. Actually, I would have objected strenuously to that description - the first time I ever saw a compass, I knew at a glance that it was wrong (as in pointing 5 or 6 degrees off from true north). It's mostly faded, but I think it's still there, just drowned out by everything else going on in my head. I'm still quite good at knowing where I am relative to whatever space I'm in.

My mom has an uncanny sense of timing. She can put something in the oven, set the timer, and go off to do something else, then an hour or two later, she'll get up, walk to the kitchen, and reach the oven just as the timer goes off.

#142 ::: Cal Dunn ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:13 PM:

Interesting! I've never (knowingly) met anyone who doesn't have mental imagery - everyone I've spoken to about it thinks I'm weird, or quizzes me, or both.

KayTei@139, that's pretty much how my brain works too - I can remember images moderately well, including dreams, but it's as if the image itself is projected on a screen behind my head and transmitted through an indescribable kinaesthetic sense, and it's usually an impressionist version with odd perspective. I can compose photographs well enough and I have a good eye for alignment, but constructing images is beyond me. If I try to visualise a triangle, for instance, I get a sort of triangle-feeling at the base of my skull and a triangle-flavoured tension behind my back teeth, but nothing visual.

(And now it won't go away! Quick, someone give me an earworm)

#143 ::: The Fuzzy Man ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:34 PM:

My superpower is the ability to drop strands of long, nearly unbreakable blond hair everywhere I go. This hair gets into everything and will persist months or years after my departure. Being exceptionally strong, it destroys vacuum cleaners, drains and air filters.

One day, when I have covered enough of the globe (19 countries and counting!) I will activate all of that hair, and the world domination will begin ...

#144 ::: James Quixotic ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:53 PM:

Powers I share with others on this thread:

Tetris packing (in my circle, we call it Pack Fu).

Be the guy to ask directions from. Bonus: I almost always know the answer, even if I've only been in a new location for less than an hour. Of course, with this one, you typically get asked for something that's very close, and in tourist areas, it's often the place I just came from.

Other powers:

Keep the bus seat to myself. If I'm on a bus that is gradually filling up, I will be the last person to get a seat mate. Often many people will opt to stand rather than sit beside me. I don't sprawl across the seat either - I make an effort to keep the space beside me clear. This isn't so much a super power as it is just being creepy looking.

Keep parties rated PG. My whole life, if I go to a party there will be no hanky-panky until after I leave. If I spend the night, there will be no hanky-panky at all. The same group of people can have a party that I can't attend, and I'll hear all sorts of stories about the stuff that people got up to. Pretty sure they're not modifying their behavior for my benefit (I don't care what other people get up to, provided they get a room when they're at the get a room stage).

I'm often the first person in the group to hear or smell something. I don't think this is better senses so much as good signal processing in the brain.

#145 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2014, 11:56 PM:

Diatryma @ 140:

I'm having trouble talking about this like I wasn't a dollar-a-minute dial-up psychic, but...

If I were you I'd be looking between the books and the back of the bookshelf, maybe on the top shelf or the one immediately below it. No promises, but that's the spot which suggested itself to me. If the back of the shelf is bowed out it might have fallen further down.

#146 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 12:40 AM:

re sleep: I can sleep like the dead, and; as needed, be in profitable motion before I am completely awake. Maia once said, "Terry, the geese are hissing", I had the rifle hauled up from the foot of the bed (we had a loft) and the case undone before I had consciously registered what she'd said.

But the racket of the trash-collectors? As nothing. The sussurent rush of traffic makes no impression on my sleeping self and sirens only wake me if they stop outside the place I am sleeping.

Also (which has been useful while working retail in NY), I am very good at pronouncing names.

#147 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 12:51 AM:

I am not sure what my superpower is now. I have had three superpowers in the past:

1) When I was in junior high school, I could open my locker without entering the combination. It involved hitting it and then yanking and grabbing the handle in a particular way. None of my friends could do it with my locker, and I couldn't do it with any of theirs. However, when I moved from seventh to eighth grade and was assigned a new locker, I found I could do the trick just fine with my new locker, and could no longer do it with my old one.

2) Throughout childhood and up until my mid-twenties, I had a weird affinity for cats: on several occasions in several different cities, I paused to scritch a friendly cat on the ears, and had the cat follow me home and wait at the front door for literally hours meowing piteously for more scritching.

Also, dogs tended to hate me. By the time I was 18 I'd been bitten seven or eight times, never with any apparent cause -- I like dogs, I never teased them. But from time to time I'd meet a dog and it would attack me on sight, and the owner would always say in a bewildered voice that the dog was gentle as a kitten and had never so much as barked at anyone before. Once, true story, I was eight years old and playing at a playground in Oklahoma City, a thousand miles away from where I lived, and a dog that was chained up, half a block away and across the street, and which I hadn't even walked near, strained at his chain until it broke, ran straight at me and took a piece out of my butt.

At around age 26, both of these phenomena stopped cold: dogs all seem to like me now, and cats are the usual amount of indifferent. I will never understand why it happened or why it stopped.

3) My very first superpower I discovered at the age of four. One hot and sunny summer day, my mom gave me a cup of water to take to the back yard with me, and while I was running across our concrete patio, I happened to spill a little bit of it. I looked down at the puddle and I found myself wondering: why it is that water itself is clear, and yet when it's spilled on the ground it makes a dark patch?

And as I stood and puzzled about this, I stared down at that dark wet patch -- squinting, because it was so bright out and there was a lot of glare -- and as I stared, I noticed the wet patch shrinking, and shrinking, and shrinking, until it was completely gone.

Now, I didn't know much, but I damn well knew that things don't just disappear by themselves. Something had made that water disappear, and I had a suspicion about what it was. So to test my hypothesis, I spilled a little more water onto the ground, and I squinted at that water, and sure enough, it disappeared too.

And that's how I realized that I had superpowers. I quickly determined that they had limits (I couldn't make the water disappear in a glass or a sink or a pond, only on the ground on hot days), but man, did I ever lord it over the other kindergartners. None of them were super at all.

I never did figure out how to fight crime with it though.

#148 ::: Laura ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 01:20 AM:

I make amazing cheese omelets. I know that sounds more like a skill than a superpower, but: a) everyone who's ever tasted one has told me it's the best cheese omelet they've ever had, b) this has been true since the very first time I ever made one, and c) I don't even like cheese omelets.

I don't speak any language other than English, but I'm good at understanding heavily-accented English speech and often find myself acting as translator. I also share Heather @ 102's power to identify when two people in a conversation each misunderstand what the other is saying and to translate for them.

#149 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 02:19 AM:

Gosh, now I know I'm middle-aged, because I lost this power as an adult and had forgotten it because it was so long ago. I used to be able to comfortably read a newspaper by ambient light when other people had to get out a flashlight. I could walk confidently, albeit slowly, through a room that appeared pitch black to others; it wasn't to me. The flipside of this was that I had physical photophobia--I had to wear wraparound UV glasses if the sun was bright enough to cast a shadow, or squint myself literally blind.

The photophobia has eased, but I've also lost the low-light vision.

#150 ::: Tamlyn ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 03:48 AM:

I did not think I had any superpowers, but reading other people's I keep going, "Oh, I can do that!" So perhaps I just don't know my own superpowers.

My brother's superpower is that he can walk into a kitchen at any restaurant and the chefs and kitchenhands and the like will greet him like their long lost best friend.

#151 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 03:50 AM:

I've told people for decades that my one talent was taking standardized tests, and it's been useless since about age 18, though admittedly it got me into a really good university then, and connections with former classmates have helped me get several good jobs. Speaking of which, Ulrika, when did you work for David Politzer? He taught me to juggle (at which I am not talented) when he was my freshman physics TA about 30 years ago.

I too have a bit of the real-life tetris packing skill.

I also have the English-to-English translation superpower, which mostly manifests as recongizing when two arguers are using the same word with rather different meanings, usually in a technical discussion at work. I can explain their meanings to each other, after which they realize that they don't disagree nearly as much as they thought they did. It gives me unreasonable satisfaction to reduce the overall level of strife in the world by such a tiny amount.

When I was younger, people wouldn't ask me for directions, they'd come up to me and ask me where they could buy drugs (perhaps in part because I had shoulder-length hair, at a time when few young men did). I even had a kid ask me to buy him booze from a convenience store, when I was still under-age myself. This was amusing, because I don't smoke, barely drink, and have never tried any recreational drugs. The closest I came was trying one puff of a clove cigarette back when they were trendy (my response was "eh, tastes like cloves. I could chew on a clove, instead, and not get cancer!").

My wife, with similar non-partying habits, for some reason has a very high tolerance for opiates. This has expressed itself both as her needing more local anaesthetic during a medical procedure, and as her getting up from the table afterwards and insisting on leaving the office long before the medical staff think she should be able to.

Oh, and I used to be able to jump-start my old Civic with the wonky battery, just by turning the wheels away from the curb, pushing it a couple feet towards the middle of the road, and letting it roll back away from the crest of the road in reverse. But that was more of a learned skill than an innate power.

#152 ::: Wendy M. Grossman ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 06:42 AM:

Zack: I'm going to guess it's not because people think you know the way but that you look *safe* to ask (which may include being honest that you don't know - the worst is people who tell you directions when they haven't a clue but want to appear helpful).

My own superpower is to be able to retune 4+ strings on a 6-string guitar (from one tuning into another) in front of an audience quickly enough that even experienced watchers often don't notice. Also, perhaps related: I am able to trip and fall on bare linoleum. This last is particularly useful on uneven British streets.

wg

#153 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 07:35 AM:

I think I have two minor super powers.

The first one is fairly common in this thread: Friend of Cats (and furry critters in general) dogs tend to like me too so I don't have that anti power.

The other one is very useful at my job and is the ability to explain things to people without them feeling attacked or condescended to. This is not guaranteed to work on abnormally defensive people who are actively looking for things to be offended at but in general it's a minor super power that comes in very handy.

#154 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 08:20 AM:

I always figured that the reason I was frequently asked for directions was that I was the only person walking around in the suburbs. (I like to take walks, there were sidewalks, so why not?) I don't get many directional questions in more crowded areas, but I do get asked what time it is and similar things by strangers a fair amount. I must give off librarian vibes: "I'm friendly, I'm approachable, I know stuff, ask me something!"

#155 ::: Ducened ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 09:33 AM:

My superpower is to break code. I can take a piece of "perfectly" functioning code (out of beta, even! Distributed to the public!) and within a day of using it, discover at least one problem that the programmers never knew about and have never seen before.

If it's a program I use frequently, the help desk invariably knows me on a first-name basis. If it's a small enough help desk, I know them too.

#156 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 09:56 AM:

I had a friend in college who had the "crash computers" superpower. I once hacked the "system error" message on a computer to greet him by name. It took him all of five minutes at the machine after that before I saw him collapse in laughter.

I know many things I'm good at, but I don't tend to think of them as superpowers, perhaps because the ones that get the most exercise are ones I know I share with others. (I was once very proud of managing to act as translator for a brief conversation between a French speaker and a Spanish speaker, despite knowing little French and less Spanish, based on picking up a couple of lucky cognates with Portuguese—which I knew only slightly better than Spanish, at the time—but I haven't repeated that. Oh, except for one other conversation between a Portuguese speaker and an Italian speaker where I was able to help out based on lucky guesses from Latin, which I also don't remember much of.)

#157 ::: HenryR ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 11:31 AM:

Packing Tetris

Drove for an hour to the new Ikea with my wife to buy wardrobes. Two carts full of flat packs later, I was loading them into the car. Every single piece fit in perfectly.

Then my wife asks, "Where am I going to sit?"

"There's plenty of room for you to lie on top of the boxes and nap on the way home" is not an acceptable answer.

One minute recording capacity

My wife is talking to me but I'm not paying attention. "Are you even listening?" I repeat the last minute of her conversation (now I'm listening) and respond to it.

This ability works much better in meetings where my skill is not known to the other parties. I'm less likely to get hit.

#158 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 11:40 AM:

I'm the Florida Man of direction-finding, with an unfailing ability to go in the wrong direction when I'm going somewhere in an unknown area. If I set off, stop after 50 metres and check the map, I've invariably gone the opposite way of where I should be going. Maybe I'm just the balance for one of you direction-finding guys.

But my superpower is more unique - with no background in the subject I can diagnose and repair auto electrics. I barely know plus from minus, but hand me a multimeter and let me download a wiring diagram off the net and I'll figure out what's wrong. The diagram doesn't even need to be for that model car, just one from the same manufacturer and roughly the same vintage that's wired to the same philosophy. 25 pages and a rat's nest of wiring? Bring it on!

My dad bought a car* and says he'd never have dared to if he hadn't known that I'd probably be able to figure out the electrical gremlins.

*1988 Jaguar XJ40. You know how they have electronics mostly working these days? Well, the XJ40 is one of the cars that taught them how not to do it...

#159 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 12:51 PM:

I used to be able to tell you the publication date of a paperback just by looking at its exterior. Arguably that wasn't even a Deuce, because I picked it up after cataloging my library (then a mere 3000 items) and seeing which publishers changed prices/logos/... when; but it would have been an amusing party trick if I went to those sorts of parties.

I tend to be very good at mechanical visualization, e.g. I immediately got both hypercube representations in "And He Built a Crooked House" (and remembered them well enough to pull out the other when someone claimed there was only one). This has actually been useful; I've done space layout for several conventions because I can play with the layout in my head -- although this can turn to nightmares sometime close to the con. There's also a suspicion that this skill preempts skill at more abstract issues.

I was great at standardized tests when I was taking them (stopped a long time ago, before college, except for one guinea-pigging for a friend working on a psychology degree); OTOH, I took way too long to realize how little this related to real-world useful skills.

Theophylact @ 25: that is a fascinating bit of sensory miscegenation. Do you have any idea where it comes from? (I spent 4.6 years in research chemistry, but I'm poor with weights in either system and still eyeball-measure in English, with conversion if needed because my arithmetic skills are OK.)

oliviacw/lee: the obvious guess is that people pay attention to what they're doing when someone else is also paying attention; damfino how true it is.

Lin Daniel @ 65: in Better Than One Kate Wilhelm says that Damon Knight habitually edit[ed] the books on other people's shelves.
    My wife is a professional organizer and brilliant at Packing Tetris, but rarely knows the things I get from visualization, e.g. where was the car parked. I would have thought these skills were related.

Arkady @ 91: that sounds horribly frustrating....

Zora @ 131: I wish I had that power; we've had to ban the cat from the bedroom because he eats so much of his hair that we've gotten tired of cleaning the bedding. He used to shed most of it, just as if he were a full-blood Maine coon, but the other half seems to have become dominant.

Cal Dunn @ 142: Johnson O'Connor (the testing foundation) used to report that only 25% of the population had "structural visualization"; I've since been told that the figure is more like 12%, and I don't know whether anyone has checked their observation that it is not only recessive but sex-linked.

#160 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 01:08 PM:

Jeremy @ 151 - I suspect you may be off by a decade. I'm pretty sure that David Politzer was already a full professor at Caltech by 30 years ago, because by the time I worked for him (more like 28 years ago) he was the Executive Officer for Physics there. I may have learned to juggle during my years at Caltech because it was such a 'thing' there, but I taught myself from a book. I am still only so-so at cascade, and never could get fountain, which my mother could do. And I never did learn to ride a unicycle.

Speaking of David, though, he figures into one of my favorite episodes from working at Caltech. It was late one afternoon in the rainy season, and gloomy because it had been raining pretty hard though it was clearing a bit as the afternoon turned rosy and golden edging toward sunset. One of the secretaries from the other end of the building came galloping up to my door and yelled, "Run up to the roof, now!" and was off again at a run, spreading the word farther.

So I did that thing, I ran up to the roof and stood at the parapet and looked away to the north, and there against the misty dark green of the San Gabriel mountains was the single most spectacular and unusual double rainbow I expect I'll ever see: spectacular, because both arcs were complete, and almost equally bright (i.e. very); unusual, because it was bilaterally symmetrical -- it looked like a gargantuan McDonald's M. But almost as striking and wonderful as that rainbow, to me, was the Caltech community sensibility. Down below, and up on rooftops all around me, students, staff, faculty, and research scientists had dropped whatever they were doing and come out to stare, transfixed, at a rainbow. Everything else could wait.

And the next morning, David (who had left campus for the day before the whole Caltech rainbow incident) comes in and tells me of his experience picking up his son from kindergarten the previous afternoon. All the children were playing with trains and car and balls or racing around chasing each other. "All except one, who was glued to the window, watching the rainbow. That was *my* kid," David said. I used to think of David as Mr. Zero Affect, because he didn't do much in the way of purely social facial expressions, but that morning, he fairly glowed with pride and love for his son. It was very dear.

#161 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 01:14 PM:

Oh, and speaking of books, I did use to be able to tell you which academic or university press a book was issued by just by the first few digits of the ISBN, but that wasn't any innate talent, it was just too much practice. Normally I'm terrible with remembering numbers unless I have a mnemonic.

#162 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 03:03 PM:

Complementary superpowers are always a nice thing to have in a family.

I seem to have the same sort of "uncannily knowing where I am and where to go while traveling" directional ability that a number of other posters in this thread report. Meanwhile, my wife seems to always know where something is in the house if one of the rest of us has misplaced it somewhere.

As each of us has difficulty with the other's skill, we get to take turns being superheroes for each other, depending on which side of our front door we happen to be on.

We're looking forward to seeing how our kids' superpowers develop.

#163 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 03:22 PM:

I have not been able to come up with a single superpower of my own. ("Being slightly less easily lost than the spouse" is not one.) I can only conclude that my true superpower is one associated with a different time period. Possibly I would have had the magic touch with reed boats, or teleporters... But I'll probably never know.

#164 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 03:28 PM:

Ulrika: You just reminded me of a moment from when I was at Ft. Huachuca. It was while I was studying interrogation; and we were done with the classroom portion of the syllabus, so mid-November. It had been raining, but moved past us. We were on a break and off in the distance there was a double rainbow, and an incomplete third arc.

We stopped the war. All of us, and the instructors, just stood out there, in the cold of the mid-morning, and looked at them, delicate and brilliant, above the tans and browns and muted greens of the southwest; butte and mesa and rainbows.

#165 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 04:27 PM:

Ulrika @160: Actually, it was the '79/'80 school year; Caltech at that time had all the freshman physics recitation sections taught by full professors, including several Noble Prize winners.

#166 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 04:39 PM:

#163--

Okay, then how about wish-lists of superpowers that people used to have in earlier days, that we wish we still had now?

Things that people used to do effortlessly or without thinking, that people are seldom skilled at now.

E.g.--I would love to have been a crack shot with a simple sling, David and Goliath style.

True, I could have devoted a few years to acquiring the skill, and if I had started young enough I might have got it. But there is nothing like the life of a shepherd to give you ample time and incentive to practice it until it looks natural and unlearned.

#167 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 07:04 PM:

I taught myself how to use a blow gun and could hit a small soft movable target (a soft ball from a fast food place) from 6 feet away.

I had the Librarian superpower of finding misshelved books, mislabeled books, and even books without their cards (i.e., "missing" from the inventory). I didn't even have to look, just pull out books at random.

I still have search superpowers, although Google makes things much much easier. I can find my partner's missing items, and tell her where to look without even being in the room.

I used to have a shoveling superpower; my dad called me machine-like, when I shoveled out their driveway in 30 minutes (a job that used to take 1.5 hours for all three of us together).

#168 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 08:57 PM:

I have the ability to do simple arithmetic. I astonish store clerks by handing them a combination of bills and coins that result in getting a minimum number of bills and coins in change. My job entails some very minor arithmetic: mostly adding up a column of numbers, but occasionally more complicated combinations of operations. It used to distress my boss that I did these with pencil and paper rather than using a calculator. For a while he insisted that I use a calculator, but I would always confirm the answer by hand, since I trust my arithmetic skills more than my fat fingers on a calculator key pad. He doesn't insist on that anymore, and gives me the odd assignments that involve math.

On an unrelated note, I can also hold an envelope and tell if it is under one ounce, between one and two ounces, or over two. If it is within 0.1 ounce either way I will confirm it with the postal scale, but even then I am usually right.

Growing up in the Mojave desert I could tell you the temperature within five degrees Fahrenheit, but only between about 80 and 120 degrees and with the humidity below 20 percent or so. I doubt that I could still do this, but in any case the question doesn't often come up in Maryland.

#169 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2014, 10:47 PM:

Richard Herschberger@168 -- does that make it a superpower that I used to calculate 8.75% tax in my head faster than I could either look it up or find it on a calculator?

#170 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 12:58 AM:

oldster @166 - I made a sling and spent some time practicing with it, in an area away from buildings and cars. After a while I attained sufficient proficiency to reliably hit the Mississippi River.

#171 ::: Slakko ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 02:55 AM:

Writing about this but worried that doing so will somehow invalidate the power in question. I apparently have the ability to prevent rain, but only when specifically authorised to do so. This may require a little bit of backstory to explain.

I'm in a "running" club - there's real running, but it's also a club for socialising in pubs after the running. Each chapter of this club has one Committee member responsible for rounding everyone up after each run to hand out forfeits (usually in beer). They are also traditionally held responsible for the weather in which the run was held.

Since I was given this position in one of my local chapters (there are at least 4 in this city) last year, when I fill that role it doesn't rain. Even more interestingly, when I am absent for that particular chapter (twice in the last ten runs), everyone who does attend is caught in a torrential downpour. There was one further run where the weather was threatening - it stayed dry exactly until I stepped under a marquee at the end of the run, at which point we had a 5 minute rain shower.

But, if I run with another chapter (whether in this town or elsewhere) I have no impact on the weather because I'm not in the relevant role.

#172 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 04:21 AM:

I'm a natural speed reader. Don't know if that counts as a super power.

#173 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 08:30 AM:

Sally informs me that my superpower is that I can get a reasonably pitched, toned and correct recognisable simple tune out of any instrument within about ten minutes of touching it for the first time.

I don't think this counts.

#174 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 08:47 AM:

@173--
Dave, that totally counts.

@170--
Anne, provided that you got the river to back off and stop threatening your sheep, you did good.

#175 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 09:47 AM:

I can look at a process and break it down into steps, even very simple steps for beginners. I can look at a process and find places to make it easier/shorter/safer.

I have thrift-fu.

I can find anyplace I drove/walked to or was driven to even years later.

English to English translation - I can hear where people are misunderstanding each other and point it out in a non-offensive way. I've quit two boards because of this when I was expected to translate instead of give my own opinions. Also, in my head I was being rude to the people because I found it hard to believe they were trying to listen to each other.

Superpower/antisuperpower? I seamlessly integrate information (not memorize) once I have vetted it but then I can't tell where I learned it or if I heard it, saw it, or read it.

I look like anywoman. People think I must be like/think like them. They say really offensive things to me about other people as if I will agree with them.

#176 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 10:02 AM:

My younger daughter Notices. She has intellectual disabilities and very little speech, but she never fails to notice new haircut, new shoes, etc. and can often help with things on the order of "I'm looking for my keys, have you seen them?" When she was young enough to go to summer day camp, I used to advise the counselors that if they were going somewhere and she made a fuss for a nonobvious reason, they should check to make sure that they weren't leaving behind some kid's backpack or ball cap. And when we took her to the zoo, if she was staring intently into an apparently-empty animal enclosure, getting down to her level and following her line of sight would nearly always turn up something camouflaged.

#177 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 10:37 AM:

Serge @ #137: I have that power. Always have, more or less. When I was 18, I looked 14. I got carded for cigarettes in San Francisco when I was 22 (legal age was 16); I was still getting carded for booze in Canada when I was 30. At 73, although my hair is snow-white, people still assume I'm ten years younger than I am.

#178 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:19 AM:

Forgot to add this earlier. I am telepathic with my very good friends. Which is good for getting/giving moral/emotional support when needed without being asked*. It's also bad when you give them insomnia (because you're up and broadcasting very loudly) and/or make them drink all day (because you can't and really want to). Ditto for being cranky and out of sorts for no contextually relevant reason.

----
* One is going through what I call Divorce Blues. She admitted to me last week that there are times she makes herself go out and be social on a regular basis because if she doesn't she knows we will hunt her down. Which we only had to do once.

#179 ::: Wyn ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:41 AM:

I am also a natural speed reader, close to Lylassandra's stated speed on suitable material. I attribute this to a big pattern recognition bump. In turn this fuels very good spelling and copyediting, a huge vocabulary, and pretty good grammar.

I am a pipe command. I'm good at and trained in design (problem-solving + art), technology, and wordsmithing, and am interested in yet more fields. The specific, atomic, things I do are not exceedingly special. Being able to assemble them into constellations or molecules the way I can apparently is. The way that a Unix geek connects many small utilities with the pipe command and makes a shell script that goes "boop" and momentarily produces results that otherwise would take an hour or three for mortals? I do an equivalent. As bonus features, I optimize things and do English-English translation. It's definitely a family trait/business -- we all have work or hobbies involving "find knowledge" and/or "solve problems" and/or "optimize procedures or objects." Usually as many of these as possible. Everyone has different subject matter, and thanks to my parents and my birthdate, I got both artsy and technical subject matter. I also have a brain like a sponge -- it absorbs lots and lots of information. This is fueled by the speed reading and fuels the piping.

In my most freqent spaces, I know what I own, where a thing ought to/is likely to be, often how many there are, and therefore whether they're misplaced/gone. Especially for my dishes and cutlery.

I am developing my eye and memory for colour. More and more often, I find myself pulling things out of the closet, or buying them, confident that they'll match something that is not with me, and then they *actually do*. When I level up to doing it with neutrals in different light, it will definitely be a superpower.

One that I don't know the status of is my niceness bubble. It used to be that people who are usually unpleasant to someone else I know were often polite and nice to me. At one point I was a penpal with a guy that was issuing death threats to a friend, but he was a perfect gentleman to me.

#180 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:52 AM:

(I would just like to say how much I am enjoying seeing people shed their invisibility superpower to join this thread.)

#181 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 12:02 PM:

Dave 173: It absolutely counts.

Patrick has that same superpower. Not only was he able to get actual melody to come out of my theremin within a few minutes (something I've never managed in all the years I've owned it), but one time when I was guest-hosting Fanoclasts he picked up my chromatic pitch-pipe and, without removing the click-selecting mouthpiece, played "Ode to Joy."

"What an inconvenient instrument," he remarked, laughing.

(For those who don't know music, a chromatic pitch pipe has all the half-steps, evenly spaced in a circle. To play a melody he had to skip some but not others (because scales are made up of a mixture of half- and whole-steps), moving a selector more designed to stay in one place than move easily, in real time. That's effing talent, man.)

#182 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 01:28 PM:

I was reminded yesterday night about my OTHER POWER, which is the utter inability to be in anything other than the longest line at the market. If I have picked a line in advance for some reason - a checker I want to talk to or the right kind of candy/magazine/gum, I will inevitably discover when I actually get there that this line is now twice as long as any other line. If I choose the shortest line, the person in front of me will almost certainly be paying with WIC vouchers or trying to cash three-party check from the Second National Bank of Bhutan... thus turning it into the longest line at the store.

I only ever get "rescued" from my power when someone at the store starts a new line.

#183 ::: Slakko ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 01:42 PM:

Alex @182: I often think that I have that anti-power as well; at least I normally feel that way (even worse where you expect longer lines such as Customs and Immigration). I then realise that because more people are stuck in the longer lines, *everyone* perceives themselves as having that anti-power on average. It's an equivalent result to "on average, your friends have more friends than you".

#184 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 01:44 PM:

If natural speed-reading is a superpower, then I have it, and have for as long as I can remember. (Complicated with a really good visual memory.)

#185 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 02:32 PM:

I know the lay-out of my local supermarket so well that people will phone me up to ask where things are. (Other than that, I'm hopeless at finding things.$

#186 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 02:41 PM:

Collating information. I don't think this one counts as a super-power, but: I have the ability to rapidly read/skim read-and-read-more-closely-where-needed multiple papers, on any topic vaguely within my subject area (veterinary/natural history/infectious diseases/wild animal husbandry), bring it together, show where different topics interelate, holding what can be very large amounts of information in my head for the period of the project (months to a couple of years). I know not many people can do this, because I get people saying "I couldn't do your job!" - but at the same time it's underapprecaited by my bosses...

#187 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 03:05 PM:

Evan @147 I never did figure out how to fight crime with it though.

...until the day they made spilling small amounts of liquid on hot days illegal. Then you put on a light breathable outfit and broad hat and became THE EVAPORATOR.

#188 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 05:16 PM:

From a queueing theory standpoint, it's a known result that "one line, multiple servers" is more efficient than "multiple lines, let people choose which one to join." My excellent local supermarket has their express line set up that way, and it's rare than I spend more than 5 minutes waiting.

#189 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 06:25 PM:

Jeremy @ 165 - Right, well I'm just too used to 'TA' referring only to graduate, or rarely, undergraduate, students. But 1979 is still coming on 35 years ago now...

I have friends who were Caltech undergrads in the late '70s and early '80s. What house?

#190 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 06:47 PM:

My brother was at Caltech in the late 70s. I think he was at Page House.

#191 ::: janra ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 07:06 PM:

#186, dcb:

I don't know, it may count as a superpower. I called it "remembering patterns", but I do something similar. I file the information in its place in the pattern of things known, then see that it's next to something I learned in a completely different context about something that seems to be a superficially different subject entirely, make the connection, figure something out, and people wonder how I did it. And since I have a habit of cruising the science press release aggregators, I pick up a lot of random things to fit into that pattern of things known.

This storage system also includes layers for the changes in a project's design over time. If a particular spot in the project has had many design changes it can take a half a minute to retrieve all the change steps and remember why it is the way it is now, but I can generally do that too.

#192 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 10:46 PM:

If someone is looking for something and says "I can't find x" and I stand up, the object will be found almost immediately.

I can also heal most photocopiers.

And like many others here, I will get asked for directions no matter where I am. A lot of librarians I know get that.

#193 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:13 PM:

Here's a superpower I'd like to have: to feel like job-hunting is an empowering activity.

#194 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:13 PM:

Finding things, being the helpful person*, knowing things (I used to be known as The Resident Expert—having kids has eroded that a bit**) are all powers other people have mentioned. The first one I have that hasn't been mentioned is matching people to things—articles they need, people they should friend, or the perfect gift, even when I'm not trying. I'm not kidding—a few months back, at a farewell party, I gave someone an avocado scoop that I'd gotten as a freebie, just because, and she flipped out and gushed over how awesome it was.

The second is that I know when the luck is on me. I've done this a few times in front of people—oh, now's the time to go play church bingo, hey, I just won the blackout jackpot. Other times it's just by myself—I may as well put my ticket in the raffle at the complex party, even though I'm leaving, because they'll draw my name first anyway. (Two years in a row, in fact.) This is a power I have been very careful to not rely on, because that's how gambling addictions can start. This is also separate from being able to tell that I'm going to win in a test of skill through accurately summing up the competition—or by following the rules while skewing the interpretation far enough to be seen as unique.

Evil Rob has a superpower that I refer to as "But I only used one hot pepper." Lord help the world if he ever uses it on a ghost pepper.

*The strangest time I ever got "Can you help me?" it was "I have a whole lot of [bagged] dinner rolls leftover from a meal—could you take some away to eat?" It really wasn't what I was expecting when she pulled over.

**Kids are basically the external version of ADHD. Memory retention goes down the drain because you're seldom allowed time to complete a thought.

#195 ::: Rainflame ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2014, 11:48 PM:

My superpower is shows up at work. I can be going through a stack of checks, flipping them over one by one with my left hand as fast as I can, while my right hand enters the amounts in the calculator, and all the while I'm thinking about something else. There's some kind of hand-eye communication that bypasses the conscious mind. Ear-hand communication is not so good. When I take phone messages, sometimes my ear hears one thing and my hand writes something else.

Also I'm probably not the only person here who does the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink.

#196 ::: Michael Stockelman ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 07:54 AM:

My superpower is finding four-leaf clovers. It has weakened in later years, but still works some. But from grade school thru college I could be walking across a lawn, not remotely thinking about four leaf clover, or the grass, or anything like it. Then I would stop in my tracks, back up a couple steps, match a picture in my head to the grass I just passed, and bend down and find a four leaf clover. Glad to know my brain has its priorities straight!

#197 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 08:14 AM:

Jacque@193: Here's a superpower I'd like to have: to feel like job-hunting is an empowering activity.

In my experience this is unfortunately a superpower most often triggered by being happy in ones current job. That's when it's easiest to take positive feedback as validation and negative feedback with a shrug.

#198 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 09:35 AM:

Re: "superpowers it would have been useful to have in times past": I have a very strong "sheepdog eye." That is, I am good at herding animals. Now, part of this is a good ability to "read" animals and their reactions. But part of it appears just to be me looking at the animals.If I'm out for a walk on a footpath through a field and there are sheep or cattle nearby, I have to actively and obviously look away from them (including turning my head away slightly) f I don't want to inadvertently herd them all the way down the field in front of me. The reall;y frustrating side of this, for me, is that it makes it really hard for me to take photographs of wild animals, as they mostly react strongly to my looking at them through the camera.

#199 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 11:16 AM:

My wife has "checked luggage arrives when we get to the carousel" and a friend of mine is a superparker. Even the mall on the Saturday before Christmas, even if she's not driving.

I've got several variants of "good timing" - although it seems to be on a shorter scale than knowing what time it is on a clock.

At one point in high school, when I was playing an instrument, I was a reasonably-accurate metronome. Within 2 beats per minute if I recall.

I once was accused of hacking in Team Fortress because I blew some people up with a grenade, estimated how long it would take them to get back to that spot from the spawn point, and dropped another grenade so it would go off when they got there. I did not realize until just now that involved two mental timers. At the time my response was something like "Is it my fault if you're predictable?"

If I set a physical timer I seem to set one in my own head; I've demonstrated this for ovens, and for buffs (90 seconds and four minutes) in MMOs.

And I can estimate how long it will take to get anywhere in New York City from anywhere nearby, and get there zero to ten minutes early.

#200 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 11:24 AM:

Michael, #196: I used to know someone else who could do that. I think I still have a pressed 4-leaf clover that she gave me, in a box somewhere.

#201 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 11:29 AM:

@196--

I have a version of that: a good eye for poison ivy. Across the East Coast and Mid-west, the physical appearance of P.I. varies quite a lot--leaves can be larger, smaller, greener, ruddier, spikier, rounder, etc.

But there is a certain gestalt to the beast that, by hard experience, I have learned to register at quite a deep level.

One more that I wish I had: the power to see my superpowers as others see them. Or perhaps it's better that I can't.

#202 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 12:15 PM:

CHip @ #159: Actually, the volume- and temperature-sensing are probably from my years in the chemistry lab, from 1958 through 1978. Weight-sensing, though, is from grocery-shopping (often in bulk, as I cook once a month for a shelter).

#203 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 12:59 PM:

I'm good at getting accents right in Romance and Slavic languages. My accent is usually much better than my actual ability to speak or understand the language, which gets me in trouble. I may only know "Yes," "No," "Thank you," and "Sorry," but evidently I say them too well. People hear me say a couple of words in what is apparently a near-native accent, decide I must be fluent, and start talking to me very very fast using a lot of words I don't know.

(The only thing that gives me away is rolled R's -- I never learned to roll my R's, so I tend to swallow them instead.)

I guess I'm just good at hearing and imitating phonemes.

I can't do it nearly as well in Japanese -- I never mastered the right sound for doubled vowels. I've never tried Chinese; I suspect tones might be a whole different ball game. Nor have I tried Arabic, or Hindi, or Punjabi, or a whole ton of other languages. I'd be fascinated to learn whether my superpower extends to more languages, and if so, which.

Another of my superpowers is scansion. If I'm going to write something with meter, the darn thing is going to scan. And if I read something that doesn't scan properly, I hear it in my head immediately and it bothers me.

I've been informed by others that I am very good at finding information -- in a Google-fu, quasi-research-librarian kind of sense. I know I enjoy doing it, but apparently other people are impressed by how much information I can find, and how quickly.

#204 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 01:00 PM:

Mental arithmetic. Oh, and being able to tell if a roast bird is cooked by looking at it. (If it's chicken, though, I still check, for safety's sake).

#205 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 01:02 PM:

Ginger @167, so it took three of you 1.5 hours to clear the drive, but you alone 30 minutes? ;-)

#206 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 02:54 PM:

Yeah, don't tell the word-problem writers about that one....

#207 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 03:55 PM:

CHip @ 159: I was great at standardized tests when I was taking them (stopped a long time ago, before college, except for one guinea-pigging for a friend working on a psychology degree); OTOH, I took way too long to realize how little this related to real-world useful skills.

I agree that being good at standardized tests isn't related to real-world skills, but I recently saw one instance where it might be helpful in getting a job—a job posting actually specified "better than the 90th percentile on standardized test such as SAT or GMAT". I was croggled. I might be persuaded of some logic in such a thing, if the posting was for something like a internship, where the applicants would have little or no work experience; however, it was for supervisory position and the posting also said that more than 5 years of similar work experience was required.

The firm's other listings didn't have any similar nonsense, so it was one deluded hiring manager, and a lack of oversight by HR. What do you bet that the hiring manager had great test scores as a child?

#208 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 06:48 PM:

oldster @201: I have the instantaneous poison-ivy detector, too. Interestingly, when I moved to California, it seamlessly adapted to poison oak; to me they have a visually identical essence. It was very usefull when I used to do Orienteering; I'd always know whether I needed to borrow the club's bar of Fell's Naptha soap after the meet.

My sisters were great at finding 4-leaf clovers as kids, but I think it was mostly a matter of spending a lot of time looking.

Ulrika @189, Helen S @190: I was in Ruddock, class of '83.

Thinking about knowing famous people, it occurred to me that I've probably never lived more than 10 miles from at least one Nobel Prize winner (childhood near Princeton, adulthood in various cities near Pasadena).

#209 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 06:55 PM:

As soon as I posted, I realized that my "within 10 miles of a Nobel Prize winner" probably sounds pretty bush-league to Manhattanites!

#210 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 09:39 PM:

I just got reminded about another of my abilities: Excellent sense of balance, and especially dealing with ice or the like.

I just went out to the local mall for dinner, on foot. (Which was not well-advised, but I was getting a little stir-crazy.) That's a snow-covered, unlit, steep dirt trail (some light does seep through the trees from the adjacent parking lot), and big snow/ice covered, poorly lit, parking lots, but I did not actually fall. Hiking boots helped, but if I'd thought ahead, I'd have dug out my ice coils to strap onto the soles!

#211 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 10:39 PM:

janetl @207 The only position I've ever seen advertised where it made sense to me that they were required 90% or better on GMAT or some such test was for an instructor for GMAT preparation classes.

Otherwise, yeah, things like that are only valuable for so long. A few years ago my husband got dropped for consideration for a job because his undergraduate GPA was less than 3.0 (It was, if I remember correctly, 2.9 something.) He earned that degree 30 years earlier, and since then has acquired a master's degree and 3 patents. This is ... shortsighted of the hiring manager, IMO.

#212 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 10:55 PM:

@Jeremy Leader: did you have a sister at Carleton College?

#213 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 10:59 PM:

I have a weaker version of the four-leaf clover superpower. I can tell if a patch of clover contains at least one four-leaf clover, but I can only occasionally say where in the patch without extensive searching. I suspect this one is in the pattern matching family of superpowers.

I am also a human GPS. (This was far more useful before everyone had an electronic one.) I can get from point A to point B, or retrace a route without a map. If I've studied a map in advance, or I'm familiar with the general area, the route I pick improves. Like an electronic GPS, I am completely befuddled by underground parking garages.

This superpower is genetic for me. My mom has it, and so did her dad. The memorize maps bit may come from my dad, as he and my brother (who did not get Mom's sense of direction) have that part as well. Interestingly, many of Dad's cousins are very bad with maps and directions, and will occasionally even admit this. (When they are stubbornly holding the map upside down, Mom and I go hide in a shop for 15 minutes or so. Any shop.)

#214 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 11:54 PM:

HelenS @212: Yes. When did your brother graduate from Caltech?

#215 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2014, 11:58 PM:

OtterB @ 211: "...shortsighted" is one word for it.

#216 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 12:16 AM:

@Jeremy: My brother graduated from Caltech in 1981, going on to USC, where he did his master's and PhD and eventually ended up as a professor. I remember your sister quite well. She was a couple of years below me at Carleton and friends with some of my friends from that class.

#217 ::: Laura Gillian ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 01:26 AM:

(I usually lurk, but this thread is fascinating.)

I share the Know Where Things Are superpower with quite a few of you. My dad called me to ask where specific books were for at least 5 years after I moved out of my parents' house. (I could usually answer correctly.) It also works in a metaphorical way--a friend mentioned a passage she had read and I recognized it, pulled the book it was from off my shelf, and rather surprised her when I opened it to the right page and paragraph.

I can remember long chunks of speech word for word. This is partly a natural superpower and partly practice. (I work as an interpreter, so memory is an important job skill.)

I'm good at hearing what people mean, even when it's obscured by what they say. I share the superpower mentioned upthread of interpreting between people who don't realize they're talking past each other.

If I see a sequence of movements or dance steps once, I can repeat it. This was useful when I used to dance a lot, but I didn't realize it was unusual until recently.

When I set an alarm clock, I wake up just before it rings. When I set a timer for, say, baking, I usually go check on it and find 30 seconds left on the timer.

#218 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 02:08 AM:

HelenS @216: He'd have been 2 years ahead of me. If he was in Ruddock, I'd probably remember him; if he was in Page, I might or might not recognize his name.

Back on topic, I know a woman who can proofread in several languages she doesn't speak. She does this for work, where she proof-reads catalogs of construction materials, so there's some specialized terminology, but apparently she's seen enough catalog content in the different languages so that she can tell when something looks "off", even though she can't say what the mis-spelled word means.

#219 ::: Clark Kent ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 11:30 AM:

I can read hand-writing that other people find illegible. Even doctors' hand-writing.

#220 ::: Yana ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 04:40 PM:

I have the identify typos power as well. I always assumed it was because I am a voracious reader (exposure = improved sensitivity), which makes it unsurprising that it shows up over and over in this community.

Sarah @ 106: I have vocal mimicry too. Within 15 minutes of a conversation with someone, I can speak to them in their accent. New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Texas, Louisiana, Canadian, various British, NorCal, SoCal, other regional U.S. accents that I couldn't even identify... I can reproduce the accents independently if I've had enough face/phone time with speakers.

The Northern California accent is my default, at this point in my life, although not my native one. My home-state accent (Hawaii) only comes out when I am in Hawaii, or speaking to someone from Hawaii. It's context related, too -- if I'm talking with my husband (also from Hawaii) about our life here in the Bay Area, or work, then it's NorCal. If the conversation moves to, say, recapping my phone call with my mom, or our next trip home, then it slides into the Hawaii pidgin accent. But only because I know he understands the accent, having it himself. Talking about my family/Hawaii without anyone else would be in my now-default NorCal speech.

It carries over to non-English languages, too -- I have perfect pronunciation in Japanese and Spanish, despite only having taken elementary-level classes in Japanese and no classes in Spanish, just a phone app and being a fan of a soccer team in Spain. Meaning I can read text in both languages aloud and it sounds fluent, even if I don't actually know the meaning! And as with the adaptation of regional U.S. accents, when I'm speaking English with people whose first language is Japanese or Spanish, I end up using those inflections and intonations, too. Not broken English, just the different vowel sounds and cadences of English-as-a-second-fluent-language. For example, on my visits to Spain, my English has an amusingly-strong Spanish accent (and my teeny bit of Spanish is perfect). When visiting Japan, likewise. My Spanish-speaking friends think it's endearing, fortunately. They've also pointed out that I've begun to demonstrate the variances between Iberian, Mexican, and Argentinian Spanish depending on which one of them I'm using to practice -- so my power is definitely not limited to English!

#221 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 06:27 PM:

I can read print in almost any orientation (mirrored, upside down, angled, vertical) nearly as fast as I can print oriented "the normal way". This doesn't come in handy very often, and when it does it's usually more a pain that helpful -- like when approaching a glass door that says "PUSH" and after slamming into it realizing it was intended to be read from the other side. Puzzles which have the solution upside down at the bottom of the page are also too easily spoiled.

#222 ::: Kayla Rudbek ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 07:14 PM:

Finders: anyone want to tell me where my earring is that I had put into the pocket of a knit blazer one morning as I was leaving for work and then had it vanish during the course of the day? I had two earrings and I think both of them went into that pocket....

#223 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2014, 09:21 PM:

The references to vocal mimicry (of which I have just enough to get into trouble) combined with the recent death of Sid Caesar invite this video.

#224 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2014, 01:10 AM:

Yana, I want that accent superpower. I am very self-conscious of my once-good Spanish (well, good for classroom use, but I have no idea how it fared in the outside world-- see also anxiety and self-consciousness) and I'd love to have any way to improve my accent. Or at least to know what it is.

#225 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2014, 08:32 AM:

Maybe I have an accent-related superpower. You tell me: Yesterday, the Houston airport's food court was crowded, so I shared a table with a guy. He'd made reference to his accent which I said I couldn't quite place. He said it was from being a south Texas Mexican, raised mostly around other Mexicans. I said I'd caught the Mexican part, but that I also thought I'd heard something northeastern in it. He looked surprised and said his mother was from Baltimore.

(He was an interesting cat. I'd never considered how many material science guys would find work with railroads.)

#226 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2014, 10:38 AM:

John A., #225: You were in Houston yesterday? But probably only for a change of flight, no layover. Damn; another person at the GoL would have been fun.

#227 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2014, 12:40 PM:

Lee @ 227: It was a two-hour layover, not really enough to be social without someone going through security unnecessarily. But yeah, that would've been nice. And I'm still planning on collecting that drink you promised me back in '07. ;-)

#228 ::: Ulrika ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2014, 01:50 PM:

Jeremy @208 - Ah, well, all my acquaintances from Caltech of that era were in Lloyd.

#229 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 12:47 AM:

CHip @159
For me, packing tetris is how one shape relates to another. Parking location has nothing to do with shapes, only with location. I can find the car if the cars next to it have not moved, because that's a shape-relational thing. I can find the car if the building it's parked in front of is an unusual shape or color. Otherwise, not so much.

#230 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 07:06 AM:

My superpower is getting (near-)strangers to ask me to do cool quirky stuff, in both meatspace and cyberspace. I'll be strolling in a park and someone will ask to take my picture holding a bright red umbrella for a photo project they're doing. I'll get a message saying "I don't know you, but you look like you'd enjoy going to this concert and I have a spare ticket." One of the neatest so far resulted in a stint at a historical distillery making rye whiskey the old-fashioned way.

The vocal mimicry superpower (which I have to some extent) reminds me of Cornelia Otis Skinner's "The Ape in Me"—I remember reading it as a kid and thinking "thank goodness I'm not the only one who does this!"

#231 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 09:19 AM:

One of my superpowers is that I sound like Christophe Lambert.
Or so abi once said.

#232 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 11:03 AM:

Is being able to answer phones and take messages in your sleep a superpower? I used to do that when I was in college and living in a dorm.

I think it's hereditary. I have a sister who can carry on lucid conversations while dead asleep.

#233 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 03:49 PM:

Zack @11: I also have the "You want to ask me for directions" power. I was once stopped and asked for directions by a British fellow when I was walking around Salisbury (as in England) with a map in one hand and a camera hanging around my neck.

#234 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 08:19 PM:

Victoria #232:

My wife does that. One fine morning she got up, put her gym stuff on, rode to the Y while talking with me (I was driving)...

...and woke up as I parked the car at the Y, not knowing how she got there.

#235 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 08:40 PM:

232, 234--

That's nothing--I write blog comments in my sleep.

#236 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2014, 09:32 PM:

oldster for the win: WAKE UP!!!

#237 ::: Alexander Kosoris ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2014, 04:31 PM:

I seem to have somewhat of a knack in diffusing situations. (I'm told it has to do with the soothing nature of my voice.) I also have a gift when it comes to persuasion, but I think it's relegated to people who know me.

#238 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 10:06 AM:

About *fictional* superpowers... The reboot of the "Fantastic Four" movies will have Jamie Bell play Ben Grimm. I don't know if he'll be CGIed, or if he'll be wearing a really bulky suit.

#239 ::: Alexander Kosoris ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 10:34 AM:

#238: I read it'll be completely CGI, which doesn't surprise me. But, really, if they do it well, it'll probably look fantastic (no pun intended, honestly).

#240 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 10:40 AM:

Alexander Kosoris @ 239... I liked Michael Chiklis's own version of Grimm, except for the absence of the heavier brow, but, yes, CGI may have to be the way to go.

#241 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 11:24 AM:

Wait, what? They're rebooting the Fantastic Four movies? I thought those were huge flops.

#242 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 11:54 AM:

Lee @ 241... The were indeed flops, thanks to really lousy writing. Hopefully they'll do it right this time.

#243 ::: Fishwood Loach ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2014, 09:58 PM:

I have several that are common here:
I can spot a typo from across the room or a grammatical mistake from 3 feet away (without actually reading the text). I can dead-reckoning navigate anywhere, as long as I know the relative direction between me and the destination. I have standardized test-fu: on the SAT I scored way above what my grades in high school suggested possible, then scored even higher on the GRE 6 years later. (Now I teach test prep.) I am a font of useless trivia. I can remember in detail books, articles, or anything else I read years later.

I have what I wouldn't consider a superpower, but no one else in my family can do it: I can make Jello gel. (It's possible I simply failed to inherit my Mother's "Jello = Kryptonite" gene.)

What I haven't seen here is a mechanical superpower. If I know generally how a mechanical (not electronic) device works, I can visualize, mentally disassemble, and diagnose failures in that machine even if I don't have it in front of me. (This has not prevented me from having terrible luck with cars.)

My sister has a superpower: she has memorized virtually the entire IMDB. She knows the stars of pretty much every movie made in the last thirty or so years, and stars of culturally significant older films.

My mom, in addition to the jello thing, has another anti-superpower. She can't return purchases. If she tries, even though she is meticulous with receipts, she is inevitably accused of stealing the item, told it is past the time limit (even with a current receipt in hand) or given some other excuse why the store will not accept the return. Once a store manager actually threatened to call the police.

#244 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2014, 08:08 PM:

I can usually find typos, but the one that baffles people is spotting the extra spaces in text that isn't justified on both sides. Or where somebody used spaces instead of the tab bar. It's a side effect of having done a lot of graphic design work, I think.

And yes, this is with proportional text. It really came in handy when I copyedited a text for small publication from someone who had grown up with typewriters for radio broadcasting—she had all sorts of the errors you get when you learned on a different system. (She also did the initial copy in Word, so I had to strip a lot of the bad formatting decisions that Word makes when it's confused.)

#245 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 09:04 AM:

One of my superpowers is the ability to realize that I made a typo, only milliseconds after I hit the post buttton.

#246 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 10:17 AM:

Fishwood Loach #243: What I haven't seen here is a mechanical superpower. If I know generally how a mechanical (not electronic) device works, I can visualize...

This would be an extension of what I called "machine talent" above. Though being able to diagnose from visualization is pretty impressive.

My mom ... has another anti-superpower. She can't return purchases. If she tries, even though she is meticulous with receipts, she is inevitably accused...

Pardon my cynicism, but... would she happen to be dark-skinned?

#247 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 05:16 PM:

My superpower is sleeping. I can nap anywhere, no matter how much sleep I got the night before.

#248 ::: Fishwood Loach ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 06:20 PM:

Dave Harmon @246: No, light skin, blue eyes, light brown hair working its way to grey, mid-sixties. Nothing about her fits a stereotype we can blame.

#249 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 06:41 PM:

Fishwood Loach (248): Can other people return purchases on her behalf? Or does the anti-superpower extend to them, too, if she was the one who bought the item in the first place?

#250 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 08:16 PM:

I'm not sure if this is a superpower, but my boyfriend got a refund from iUniverse.

#251 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 10:27 PM:

Nancy C. Mittens @247: I kind of hate to say it, but that sounds not so much like a super-power as it does a symptom of a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. If along with that you often feel drowsy in the daytime, you might consider getting checked out by a sleep center. (If you often wake up during the night to go to the bathroom, and frequently suffer from nighttime heartburn, then I upgrade that "you might consider" to "I strongly urge you to".)

#252 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 10:38 PM:

I just got smacked by a drastic difference in abilities -- not sure if it qualifies as superpower/antisuperpower, but it surprised me, and surprised me that I got surprised.

When I started Minecraft (I promise this isn't about the game), it was pretty straightfoward. I read the Wiki, learned the controls, got killed a bunch of times in my first couple of games, and went on to become pretty good at it. Well, I just introduced my friend to the game, letting him "drive" my computer in a new world. Now, set aside the bizarre bug in block-breaking that we ran into, which by itself would have been a show-stopper had he been alone.

I was expecting him to have a bit of trouble keeping things straight, which he did, and maybe stumble into some sticky situations. I was not expecting him to have trouble using the trackball, let alone managing the two-handed/six-fingered controls needed for the game!¹ It was at least half an hour, maybe a full hour, before he could hold a level viewpoint, and even then he continued to have trouble pointing at the block or item he wanted to work with, purposefully "looking around", or moving in a chosen direction. When using the inventory, he had trouble identifying what item he had picked up. At one point I'd told him "pick up some coal", and he looked around the inventory and said "I don't think I have any"... perhaps two minutes after he'd mined it with running prompts from me. At that point I asked "are you having trouble seeing the screen?", but he said he wasn't. He did pick up some of the basic operations over time, but much more slowly than I had expected.

Our commonality is that we're both on the autistic spectrum. He has Asperger's while I have NVLD, but of course plenty of Aspies are adept with computers. He doesn't have my genius-level intelligence² or machine talent, but he's certainly not below-average -- he was formerly an accountant, and was a philosophy major in college. He also uses a computer for E-mail and Web, and ISTR for at least some games. My initial response is that this was a really startling difference in cognitive profile, which he and I had never happened to expose before.

¹ View controlled by mouse motion, item use and motion by buttons and keyboard.
² That's not bragging, that's official. Much good it did me against depression. Also, I've met a few supergeniuses.

#253 ::: Em ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2014, 10:41 PM:

I think I've developed an entropy superpower. Within the last three days, my work hours have been cut by half, my car's back right shock absorber sheared in half, and the grounding prong on my laptop charger snapped.

I would like to return this superpower, but I can't seem to find the receipt.

#254 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 01:30 AM:

Em @253: After that list of half-mishaps, I was expecting you to say you could only find half the receipt!

#255 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 04:24 AM:

Spent a long weekend in Santa Cruz and San Jose, looking at places where we might live in SC and attending a small convention (Potlatch) in SJ. On the way home I got to exercise my superpower at the airport. I saw a boarding pass lying face down on the floor and picked it up, figuring that I would just drop it off at the gate for the flight it was for.

It turned out to be the boarding pass of someone we knew, heading home on the same flight we were taking from the convention! Karen dropped him an email to let him know we had his pass, and we handed it off to him. Then ended up giving him a ride home from the airport.

My superpower is usually about finding books or manuscripts, so this was a borderline example -- but it was printed matter. I have no warning when this is going to happen....

#256 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 06:42 AM:

Dave Harmon @252 Mouselook-and-keyboard-movement is a skill to be learned. Having missed out the late nineties/early 2000s PC shooter gaming (which I'm told is where it became standard, possibly with the popularity of people making games with the Quake engine), I came to it in maybe 2008 and was terrible until I'd put in at least a dozen hours. When I stop playing for months at a time it takes a while to stop running into walls and shooting at the ceiling everytime an enemy appears.

Having said that, I have a friend who was always excellent at games the first time they played them (and pretty much still is as far as I can tell). That's certainly a superpower on the level of most here.

#257 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 08:01 AM:

Neil W #256: Hmm, now I'm trying to remember which of the games I played back then had that control pattern. I'm not sure I was actually able to run Quake properly, and Doom staggered my machine, but I played a lot of Duke Nukem 3D and BlobWorld 3D (was that the name? from a little outfit called Parallel Games). Certainly I don't remember having problems with it in Minecraft, the "teething pains" I remember were much further into the game.

In any case, I did my best to be supportive of my buddy, including "blocks reappearing is Not Supposed To Happen, the game is cheating at you". (I also went to the support forum to report the bug while he watched. Only one other person had reported it, but they'd posted the day before. I'll hit the bug-tracker proper today.) Also, "OK, we're going to Peaceful mode now, because at this point night would be Not Fun otherwise". At the end, I took over the keyboard to show him a few more hazards like falling in water and getting washed away by water currents. This is definitely something to remember if I want to turn anyone else onto MC.

#258 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 09:30 AM:

Also, since the DFT got me archive-binging Robot Hugs: Lame Superpowers. (Actually, some of those sound pretty okay.)

#259 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 10:47 AM:

(Correction: The game I was thinking about was Blob Wars: Blob and Conquer. Which I just tested, and it does use mouseview+key motion)

#260 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 12:08 PM:

Fishwood Loach @243: I can make Jello gel.

Yes, but what does it want??

#261 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2014, 07:43 PM:

It's an anti-superpower I must report:

I am overly attached to Things. Objects. Atoms.

Not good - I have a hard time letting go. So, supervised by my wonderful daughter, we excavated the garage this weekend.

And now the guy is here to take Things away on his truck. And I am sitting inside, in tears. For atoms I must at some point return to the universe anyway.

#262 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2014, 07:06 PM:

Oh, Patrick. For whatever reason, it's still hard to let go. Don't beat yourself up over it; you're already feeling bad about the stuff moving out of your life, and you don't need to add guilt on top of it.

#263 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2014, 08:07 PM:

B. Durbin: No guilt at all, it's just how I'm wired. And I was exhausted when I wrote that.

By the time the guys came back the next day to haul off the other half of the to-go pile, I was pretty much over it.

And now I have room for the couple of new goodies I acquired at Estrella War. The cycle goes on.

I do have some superpowers. I can give directions pretty much anywhere, even if I've only been there a short while. I can compose funny lyrics (and occasionally original music to go with them) at the drop of a hat. I am a pretty good tour guide. And I keep the household computers running through the simple act of being nearby.

#264 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2014, 03:30 AM:

Some of my friends over on the Book of Face have been playing with
this.

Sample output:

Praisegod Barebones can transform any ox into a sloth. He likewise has the power to spin like a whirlwind and he has mastered the ability to cause his adversaries to become clueless. Praisegod Barebones has been known to make duplicates of himself and he has the ability to jump through walls. Also, he developed the talent to take control of poison and bend it to his will, however he must speak words of power to do so. Praisegod Barebones lords over a array of germs. Tragically, Praisegod Barebones is especially vulnerable to string-based attacks.

#265 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2014, 12:55 PM:

praisegod barebones @264

BAHAHAHAHA *choke* *snort*

Bookmarked as alternate to lorem ipsum.

"Ottergold Mistwaker owns all of the powers and talents of a parrot, but only against a weapon. Additionally, she can take control of sloths and she has mastered the ability to transform any cockroach into a gorilla. Ottergold Mistwaker has an unheard-of flexibility and she battles rivals with a cataclysmic gun made from fluid. Also, she has the power to absorb the damage from all physical attacks and redirect it toward a single adversary and she wields a magical set of talons that can force foes to cower in fear, however only when scared. Ottergold Mistwaker is able to transform her body into crystal. Tragically, Ottergold Mistwaker takes harm from exposure to fire."

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