Badass of the Week: Nikola Tesla
Pretty much everybody even remotely associated with real-time strategy games has heard the name Tesla before – the Serbian God of Lightning’s omnipresent, ever-zapping coils have been ruining the lives of digital Allied soldiers and gibbing U.S. war machines into spare parts since the release of Command & Conquer: Red Alert in 1996 – but surprisingly few people these days are familiar with the life and times of one of humankind’s most eccentric, badass, and volumetrically-insane scientific super-geniuses.
First off, Nikola Tesla was brilliant. And not just like Ken Jennings brilliant, either – I mean like, “holy crap my head just exploded (from all the awesome)” brilliant. The Croatian-born engineer spoke eight languages, almost single-handedly developed technology that harnessed the power of electricity for household use, and invented things like electrical generators, FM radio, remote control, robots, spark plugs, fluorescent lights, and giant-ass machines that shoot enormous, brain-frying lightning bolts all over the place like crazy. He had an unyielding, steel-trap photographic memory and an insane ability to visualize even the most complex pieces of machinery – the guy did advanced calculus and physics equations in his damn head, memorized entire books at a time, and successfully pulled off scientific experiments that modern-day technology STILL can’t replicate. For instance, in 2007 a group of lesser geniuses at MIT got all pumped up out of their minds because they wirelessly transmitted energy a distance seven feet through the air. Nikola Tesla once lit 200 lightbulbs from a power source 26 miles away, and he did it in 1899 with a machine he built from spare parts in the middle of the god-forsaken desert. To this day, nobody can really figure out how the hell he pulled that shit off, because two-thirds of the schematics only existed in the darkest recesses of Tesla’s all-powerful brain.
Of course, much like many other eccentric giga-geniuses and diabolical masterminds, Tesla was also completely insane. He was prone to nervous breakdowns, claimed to receive weird visions in the middle of the night, spoke to pigeons, and occasionally thought he was receiving electromagnetic signals from extraterrestrials on Mars. He was also obsessive-compulsive and hated round objects, human hair, jewelry, and anything that wasn’t divisible by three. He was also asexual and celibate for his entire life. Basically, Nikola Tesla was the ultimate mad scientist, which is seriously awesome.
Another sweet thing about Tesla is that he conducted the sort of crazy experiments that generally result in hordes of angry villagers breaking down the door to your lab with torches and pitchforks. One time, while he was working on magnetic resonance, he discovered the resonant frequency of the Earth and caused an earthquake so powerful that it almost obliterated the 5th Avenue New York building that housed his Frankenstein Castle of a laboratory. Stuff was flying off the walls, the drywall was breaking apart, the cops were coming after him, and Tesla had to smash his device with a sledge hammer to keep it from demolishing an entire city block. Later, he boasted that he could have built a device powerful enough to split the Earth in two. Nobody dared him to prove it.