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Apocalypse how: Your guide to handicapping the end of the world

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As you've certainly heard by now, the world is ending tomorrow. Thanks to infallible Mayan prophecies and/or calendar design, we know the whole shebang comes to a hard stop on December 21, 2012. What our helpful future-seeing friends didn't see fit to tell us is how the world ends. Sure, you could argue it doesn't matter -- dead is dead, after all -- but the fact remains that, damn it, we want to know. Since we don't have the powers of prognostication that our long-gone Mayan pals did, we have to rely on our usual methods of figuring stuff out: drawing on years of pop-culture consumption and filling in any holes in our knowledge with a trip to Wikipedia.

That done, we've assigned odds to the various doomsday scenarios, in case you're the betting type -- although you're going to need to survive to collect and money will be useless in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, anyway. Maybe you can place your bet in canned goods and toilet paper?

See also: - H.P. Lovecraft: A horrifying crash course - The zombie apocalypse across America - Jesus vs. Bono documentary looks at last non-pocalypse in time for next apocalypse

Method of destruction: Fire How that's going to work: For centuries, the debate was whether the world would end in fire or ice, so that's where we'll start too. These days, experts agree, if the world is going to end in fire that means one thing: global thermonuclear war. Those of us who lived through the '80s, or at least saw War Games, know how this one works. Somehow, either we or the Russians or the Chinese launch our nukes, probably by mistake as the result of some sort of computer simulation gone awry. The other side(s) see them on the radar and instantly launch their own, lest they be left out of the party, and boom. Or more like BOOM. Everything is incinerated or irradiated and there's no more joy in Mudville. Or anywhere else. What it's going to look like:

(Only less '80s)

Why that probably won't happen:

Are we even technically enemies with China and Russia these days? We're all like frenemies or something, right? So for this to happen requires some sort of super-hacker gone rogue, or worst luck ever, or maybe that

Ikea monkey

getting its hands on the launch codes. Either way, pretty unlikely.


50 to 1

Method of destruction: Ice How that's going to work: An ice age is way too slow and undramatic at this point, so we're going to have to go with a rogue planet ripping us from our orbit to hurtle into deep space, freezing the planet solid. We'll probably have enough time for plenty of dramatic monologues as the planet gets colder and colder, and every unoriginal jackass still alive will point out the irony about how we were so concerned with global warming. On the plus side, our civilization will be perfectly preserved if some species of aliens finds us and wants to study and/or resurrect us, so don't be too surprised if you wake up five billion years from now in an alien zoo. What it's going to look like:

Why that probably won't happen:

We'd see a rogue planet coming, wouldn't we? Planets are pretty big after all. It's possible to argue that we're not looking in the right place, but c'mon. Planet. Frigging impossible to miss no matter where you're looking.


5,000 to 1

Method of destruction: Elder gods reawaken How that's going to work: Cthulhu and pals, or some similar antediluvian nightmares beyond human imagining, will awaken and find their way to our plane of reality. A few hundred hours of the most horrific, unimaginable orgy of destruction follow, and then every human being on the planet is rendered into food or slavery. If we're lucky, we'll get some sort of last-ditch stand against the monsters, preferably via giant, Voltron-like armored fighting suits, but let's face it: we won't survive. Those Mayans would have known. What it's going to look like:

Note: No matter how convincing it sounds when Idris Elba says it, the apocalypse is not being canceled.

Why that probably won't happen:

Usually, the awakening of elder gods is portended by strange happenings and dark omens. Since that

eagle stealing a baby video

turned out to be fake, we can't think of a single thing in the past six weeks that would count. Unless "Gangnam Style" hits a billion views. That would increase the odds by an order of magnitude.


500 to 1

Method of destruction: Zombies How that's going to work: You've seen the movies. One day, all the dead people stop being dead and start being mobile, hungry and hostile, things progress badly, and before you know it the mall is full of refugees instead of last-minute shoppers. The upside is that all those hours you've spent on The Walking Dead fan forums make you a subject matter expert in a field that becomes shockingly relevant over night. See, you knew that was going to pay off. What it's going to look like:

Why that probably won't happen:

America has way too many guns for this to be a reliable method of doomsdaymanship. It would probably be more like a serious inconvenience, at least in areas with high concentrations of rednecks.


35 to 1

Method of destruction: Asteroid/comet impact How that's going to work: NASA comes on the TV with some bad news: they've spotted an asteroid (or comet) the size of Cincinnati headed our way and when it hits it's going to vaporize everything within 500 miles and throw the other half into eternal darkness, thanks to all the shit that gets thrown into the atmosphere. We're all going to wish we had voted for higher NASA budgets and try to convince Bruce Willis to go up in the shuttle one last time to stop this horrible thing. All to no avail, because Bruce Willis is an actor, and we didn't properly fund NASA. Damn it, Washington, why didn't you give NASA the resources it needed to stop this damn asteroid? Why? What it's going to look like:

Why that probably won't happen:

Actually, it doesn't look good. Think about it -- in the probably prophetic film

Deep Impact

, there was a black president with impressive oratorical skills . We have a black president with impressive oratorical skills. Scared yet?


10 to 1

Method of destruction: Aliens! How that's going to work: They're going to come down from space, announce our imminent doom and then start blowing the living shit out of everything and everyone in sight. Laser beams rain from the skies. We're all rounded up and shipped to the pens beneath DIA. Not even Will Smith can save us, because again, that guy is an actor, too. Also, the kind of technology that would allow aliens to travel light years to reach us would be so far beyond our own that our technology would like toys in comparison. Maybe if we're lucky they'll prefer to keep us as pets or something, rather than just engineer a virus to kill us all while we sleep. What it's going to look like:

Why that probably won't happen:

It would mean all those UFO nuts were right about something, and c'mon, how likely does that seem?


20 to 1

Method of destruction: Supervolcano How that's going to work: A supervolcano, like the one buried beneath Yellowstone, erupts, vaporizing everything within a few hundred miles and throwing enough ash into the sky to ensure world-record levels of smog for decades, not to mention a new ice age. The lucky ones will be killed instantly Everyone else gets to hang around and fight to the death over who gets the last HEPA air purifier and space heater at Home Depot. What it's going to look like:

(Only with a much better effects budget)

Why that probably won't happen:


scientists say it's pretty likely

, and they would know. Them and the Mayans, of course.


5 to 2

Method of destruction: Global pandemic How that's going to work: One test monkey gets loose from a laboratory with the World's Most Deadly Pathogen™ swimming around in its guts. It bites a dog, the dog bites its owner, and pretty soon everyone is coughing up blood and dropping dead. By the time the guys in the NBC containment suits show up, dozen of people have already left the area and it's impossible to contain. Within weeks, everyone is dead, apart from a handful of survivors who start heading toward either Boulder or Las Vegas -- depending on whether they are good or evil -- to prepare for a final apocalyptic battle. What it's going to look like:

Why that probably won't happen:

Remember what a letdown H1N1 was? Apocalyptic pestilence is way overrated.


12 to 1

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