Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 02:49:18
24 September 2018


  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Putin in Birthdayland and Alice in Wonderland

by Alice E.M. Underwood
Birthday Burgers and Yandex's Cheshire Cat

1. Happy birthday, Mr. President. What better way to celebrate than a spicy, 1,952-gram, five-patty burger in honor of the birthday boy? Russian state TV broadcast a story that just such a burger was on offer at a New York City restaurant commemorating the president’s October 7th birthday. Unfortunately for the Putinburger, independent journalist Alexey Kovalev did some digging and learned that the story was a hoax cooked up by one of the restaurant’s waitresses. You’ll have to make a giant burger and dedicate it to your favorite politician on your own time.

2. Fake burgers weren’t the only thing the big day had in store for Mr. Putin. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gifted the president a duvet cover featuring the two hotshots shaking hands, and the president of Turkmenistan gave the canine-loving commander-in-chief a pedigree puppy. As far as gifts that everyday folks can enjoy, too, the luxury brand Caviar designed a new line of gold-plated iPhones in honor of the man of the day. And carnivores can rejoice: one cafe in Moscow actually did dedicate a “presidential burger” to Putin.

3. Alexa and Siri, meet Alice. Russian search giant Yandex has launched Alice (Alisa) as a virtual assistant who gives vocal help to users, providing directions, weather forecasts, shopping advice, and more. Yandex also touts her accuracy in spoken language recognition and ability to improvise, even telling jokes and carrying on casual conversations. And, inevitably, some users have already figured out how to get her to communicate in a more casual (read: less polite) way.

In Odder News
  • St. Petersburg is glorious from up above, but rooftop visits used to be both dangerous and illegal. The first official, legal roof tour changes that. See the city from the sky.

  • Crude oil baths. Oxygen therapy. Ultraviolet nostril lamps. Sanatoriums seem like Soviet relics, but some health spas remain popular holiday spots.

  • Are frogmen indigenous to health spas? Not these ones: they’re underwater soldiers who performed special submarine missions through much of the Soviet period.

Quote of the Week

"In order to find this out, you just need to search ‘what does Putin eat’ online. I would like to note that he has a balanced diet with lots of vegetable food. Our burger has the best of what the Russian president likes."
—Timati, Russian hip hop star and owner of a fast food chain that did, in fact, serve a burger dedicated to Putin in honor of the president’s birthday.

Want more where this comes from? Give your inbox the gift of TWERF, our Thursday newsletter on the quirkiest, obscurest, and Russianest of Russian happenings of the week.

Victory Day and cheeky chess pieces
Victory Day and cheeky chess pieces

Victory Day meant full streets but empty skies. A hollow chess piece hides more than its next move. And a day in the life of an Arctic doctor. 

Pop music, Pythons, and Kindergarten on the Run
Pop music, Pythons, and Kindergarten on the Run

An anti-politics pop song, the drive against Hollywood, and education for deer herders. Plus, Putin, pianos, and pythons. 

Russian Youth, Then and Now
Russian Youth, Then and Now

We celebrate the anniversary of the Pioneers, explore Russia’s Generation Z, and for fun, admire a baby bear helping out in the garden. 

Bananas, Ballerinas, and Bubble Bath
Bananas, Ballerinas, and Bubble Bath

Blackface and bananas raise racist concerns ahead of soccer match, a linguist links Siberian Ket and Navajo languages, and video bloggers bring bubbles and pets to parliament. 

Celebrating Russian Language Day with Poets, Filmmakers, Journalists, & Robots
Celebrating Russian Language Day with Poets, Filmmakers, Journalists, & Robots

Celebrate the wealth of Russian culture with Pushkin's birthday, Russian Language Day, Sokurov's film award, Russian museums, and, um, Megyn Kelly's weird interview with Putin. Well, at least those first four. 

The Wooly Mammoth of the Past Is the Hotel of the Future
The Wooly Mammoth of the Past Is the Hotel of the Future

Mammoth skulls, ancient lizards, intangible money, train-jumping, and the great knights of Slavic history. Russia Day really does bring out the best.

Soccer, Sci-Fi, Snipers, and Tsoy
Soccer, Sci-Fi, Snipers, and Tsoy

Russia hosts the Confederations Cup, Strugatsky sci-fi gets a reboot (or just gets booted), and we honor the memories of WWII's female snipers and of the rock legend Viktor Tsoy. 

Baller Ballerinas, Flying Taxis, & Gardens in the Sky
Baller Ballerinas, Flying Taxis, & Gardens in the Sky

Celebrate soccer with metro-station ballet, explore the galaxy with Yandex, and take a stroll through Moscow's rooftop gardens. Plus the Beatles, Stephen Colbert, and 29 Russian writers.