Andrew Bales

Pop culture commentator

Andrew Bales is a Wichita native, co-editor of Fractions Journal and lead coordinator of Wichita’s annual LIV Music Festival. He is studying toward an MFA in Creative Writing at WSU, where he was the 2009-2010 Barr fellow.

He has presented at national conferences on subjects including pop culture and aesthetics, as well as pedagogy and post-contemporary genres.

His writing can be found in editions of NANO Fiction, Touchstone, Johnny America and Fast Forward: an Anthology of Flash Fiction.

Ways to Connect


Your bookshelf might not seem interesting at first glance, but it has a strange history that might surprise you.

Ever since books began phasing out scrolls in the 1st century AD, they've needed a place to rest.

During the first 1,400 years of the book's existence, people managed to arrange them in just about every conceivable way other than today's current format.

They've been packed away in large trunks. On shelves, they've been piled horizontally or with the spines up, down, or backwards.


America's highways are littered with loose ends. In Houston, relics of an incomplete inner city project loom on the east and west ends with nothing in-between. In Portland, ramps built to merge with the Mt. Hood Freeway simply drop off into an overgrown field.

In the 1930s, construction began on a highway that would cross Pennsylvania’s unruly terrain, following a path developed by the railroad magnate William Vanderbilt. But by the 60s, the route had bypassed a long segment and a narrow tunnel in Breezewood, Pennsylvania. The highway is now slowly being recaptured by nature.

NASA / Wikipedia

Carl Sagan is the go-to guy for interstellar greeting cards. During the 1970s, he developed plaques for equipment that NASA thought had the potential of being discovered millions or billions of years in the future.

The most ambitious project was the golden records for the Voyager probes. Sagan was given the daunting task of assembling a guide to all things human. Something that would fit on a standard 12-inch record.

Noel Tawatao /

Suicide bombings, an act usually associated with terrorism, can be found in select insects that are built to self-destruct.

In Southeast Asia, at least nine different varieties of carpenter ants have an unusual talent; they can make themselves explode.

It's a natural act of defense in which they (Camponotus saundersi, for instance) grip an enemy, squeezing it tightly until the ants own abdominal lining ruptures. It's a suicide bombing that releases sticky toxins that glue the ant and its foe together, killing them both.


The air gun has played a bigger role in American culture than you might of imagined.

The Red Ryder BB gun was introduced in 1938 to imitate Winchester rifles of popular western films, and it soon became an American Icon. But the air gun has much deeper roots in American history.

David Boyle, flickr Creative Commons

Roller coasters are the workhorse of the modern theme park, but their rise to popularity has been long and strange.

Its precursor could be found outside of St. Petersburg in the 1800s. Massive ice slides called Russian Mountains were reinforced with wood, plunging up to seventy feet at sharp angles.

We can still see this origin in the words for “rollercoaster” in romance languages like Spanish— La Montaña Rusa—and other variations in French, Italian and Portuguese. Strangely, the Russian term literally translates as “American Mountains.”

The cereal aisle is run by kids. It’s their purchasing power that brings TV shows, movies, and even stranger products together with the barons of breakfast.

Mr. T cereal debuted in 1984 and was essentially T-shaped captain crunch. But it got a little more cool when it teamed up with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

When movies inspire cereals, the commercials sound like trailers. The kids become part of the action and eat like the stars.

Less likely products have tested the waters, including the Nintendo Cereal System, a cereal featuring Mario and Zelda.

A lot has changed for the Olympics over the last century, including the focus on an entire discipline. 

The Olympics from 1912 to 1952 weren’t just about sports, but art. Medals were given out for painting, sculpture, literature, music and architecture. The only caveat being that the pieces must be inspired by sport.

Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz / Wikipedia

The rumors began circulating in 2001 about something called The Ginger Project, or simply “It.” Talk of changing the world, of reorganizing cities, of "Reinventing the Wheel"—as Time Magazine called it in one article title—all of these hopes were in the air.

JacoTen / Wikimedia Commons

It seems like every new technology tries its best to kill off the vinyl record.