Almost everyone knows what a vuvuzela is by now. After its memorable introduction at the 2009 Confederations Cup, the South African horn has been plastered all over the news, blogosphere, YouTube, you name it.
For those who still don't know or, like many broadcasters, refuse to acknowledge the existence of what will surely be one of the defining things about the 2010 World Cup, here is a quick rundown.
The vuvuzela is the noisemaker of choice for African soccer fans, and started to turn up in stadiums in the 1990s. Picture a long, trumpet-like horn, and then imagine in your mind that it only plays a single note very, very loud.
So how loud is it? Think hearing-loss loud. A recent Swiss study found it to be perhaps the loudest soccer noisemaker ever, at 127 decibels. That's louder than a chainsaw. Many doctors have advised that anyone attending World Cup matches in South Africa wear earplugs to prevent permanent hearing loss.
Some say the origins of vuvuzelas can be traced back in African history to the kudus, which are a type of antelope horn used to call villagers to important meetings. Legend has it that their noise may or may not have been used to kill baboons at some point in history.
That is why, when their team is losing, African supporters blow their vuvuzelas in unison — to throw off the opposing team.
And they seem to be working, because many players not accustomed to the noise of the vuvuzela are putting their hands over their ears and calling for a ban. The same goes for broadcasters, whose play-by-play calls were drowned out during the Confederations Cup by the noise.
The sound has been compared to, among other things, a swarm of angry bees, a honking herd of elephants, and the bellowing blare of a foghorn And those are the nice descriptions.
But admit it. You want one. I do. Everyone does, and they were selling faster than hotcakes leading up to the World Cup. Safe to say that the vuvuzela could be the single defining symbol of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Aside from the, you know, top-class soccer, of course.
So how do they compare to the more tried-and-true, traditional noisemakers?
Let's find out. Submitted for your enjoyment (and also as a tribute to Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat), is a segment called…
Vuvuzela versus …
Used to save lives during gas attacks in the First World War, the rattle soon after took on a much more important function: creating an incessant noise at soccer stadia across Great Britain. That is, until the 1960s, when they fell into disuse.
How the vuvuzela could counter: Arms get tired faster than lungs (unless the blower smokes). If the vuvuzelas keep steady and don't lose their nerve, we might see a winner from the horn section come the second half.
The combination could sound like …a swarm of bees locked in a pitched battle with angry cicadas.
The smooth beats of the samba drum are as closely linked to Brazilian soccer as creative flair on the pitch, which often is in tune with the melodic and hypnotizing percussion sound in the stands.
Decibel level: 122.2
How the vuvuzela can counter: Nothing screws up timing and creative flair like bruising tackles. Just apply the same principle in sound form! The blaring vuvuzelas can disrupt the samba beat with a louder, mistimed version of their own.
Could sound like …what would happen if a marching band with a South American groove traversed through a car wash.
The bane of any referee's existence. A well-timed blast from one of these can throw the entire game off-kilter, making the whistle possibly the only noisemaker that can challenge the disruptiveness of the vuvuzela, if the right kind is used.
Decibel level: 121.8
How the vuzuvela can counter: Pitch. The booming, teeth-rattling noise of the vuvuzelas is on a lower register than the high-pitched whistles, which could make the latter sound extremely tame in comparison.
Could sound like … a herd of frightened elephants being chased by British bobbies in a poor imitation of a Benny Hill sketch.
If you don't like anyone you're sitting near in the stands, this could be the best noisemaker ever created. Definitely not a good way to win friends and influence people, but that won't matter if you find yourself somehow stuck in the wrong supporters' section.
Decibel level: 123.6
How the vuzuvela can counter: Sheer will. The air horn is the second loudest noisemaker in circulation, according to that Swiss study mentioned earlier, and supporters have the added luxury of just having to press a button to make it work. But vuzuvela wielders with iron hearts (lungs?) will be able to defeat them.
Could sound … oddly harmonic, if the air horns and vuzuvelas are tuned right. That is, before the crowd goes deaf.
The iconic image of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan were these J-League staples, which seemed to be handed out to every single Korean and Japanese supporter in the stands. Can lull opposing teams into a sleep-like trance if they are susceptible to relaxing seasonal sounds.
Decibel level: 99.1
How the vuzuvela can counter: Wake your team up by blasting the thundersticks out of the park with the immensely louder vuzuvelas.
Could sound like … what would happen if 50,000 blues musicians held a giant concert in the rain with broken instruments.
These noisemakers are a staple on the alpine skiing circuit, but countries like Switzerland and Austria have imported them to the much warmer and less hilly soccer stadiums. They have the ability to make supporters spontaneously break into a rendition of Don't Fear the Reaper.
Decibel level: 115
Could sound like … what Will Ferrell's classic Blue Oyster Cult SNL sketch would be like if he was from South Africa.
How the vuzuvela can counter: Pretty obvious: more vuzuvelas!
The original noisemaker. Ever since people began to kick a ball around, there inevitably was someone else on the sidelines yelling encouragement (or otherwise). Then singing of various quality came soon after. The most amazing thing? People using the old windpipes are only slightly quieter than a whistle or an air horn.
Decibel level: 121.6
How the vuzuvela can counter: Intimidation. They may be loud, they may be ornery, but yelling supporters don't have metre-long horns that they can point towards the opposition in a display of strength.
Could sound like … exactly what it looks like. A bunch of guys yelling at dudes with one-note horns.