Killing 6.2 Billion Spiders in a Single Sweep of His Flaming Axe


We love stories, but legends are better.

Four years ago I was playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends. After descending into a cave, we were beset by bloodthirsty spiders the size of labrador retrievers. Flexing our level-three muscles, we drove them off. One character was wielding a flaming axe. John, controlling that character, rolled a natural 20 on an attack (the highest possible attack roll) and the game master decreed that the sweep of his flaming axe was so powerful that it vanquished not one but two oversized spiders.

Later, the characters were boasting about their exploits. And John made a fateful claim: that he destroyed three spiders with one strike. Later, the number was four, five, seven, ten. As the rest of us piled on, the figure quickly climbed to unrealistic proportions. Every time the legend was recounted, it grew. A long-running joke that we still remember years later, the official tally stabilized at 6.2 billion spiders.

When people tell stories about you, they will get details wrong. Sometimes those details make you look worse, which makes it tempting to step in and correct the record. But in some ways errors in the other direction are worse. And the internet loves to exaggerate.

It's flattering to see your achievements bolstered. "Almost" becomes "over." "In the first week" becomes "on launch day." But it's also disconcerting to watch your high-water mark creep higher beyond your control. And eventually you might catch yourself expecting to kill 6.2 billion spiders every time you swing your flaming axe.