“There was a lot we didn’t know when we picked ‘Play’ as the topic for this issue. We didn’t know that a pandemic would put much of the world on lockdown, or that the Olympics would be postponed. But, in the time of COVID-19, play is an escape. So please consider this magazine a reprieve from months of scary headlines and social distancing. Lean back and enjoy—it’s OK.” —Corinne Iozzio, Editor-in-Chief

HELL? YES! 

“The 54 athletes standing around keep their hats on, for the most part. Each has spent good money to embark on exactly the type of endeavor most people would pay to avoid: running or skiing, whichever suits their fancyfor 40 miles. At night. In Minnesota. In January. While pulling a sled of 30-plus pounds of supplies. This torturefest is called the St. Croix 40 Winter Ultra, and its participants find pleasure in the hardship,” writes Sarah Scoles. While these athletes might be outliers on a global scale, they are not alone in their love for this type of competition. Scoles takes readers inside the fascinating world of endurance athletes and along for the 40 treacherous miles of the St. Croix 40. 

 

PINEWOOD DERBY RACING, AND THE DADS WHO CAN’T GET ENOUGH 

Many will recall derby cars from childhood when they built and raced homemade masterpieces for merit badges. But some kids never outgrow those days. In fact, the National Pinewood Derby Racing League is just one of about 10 such leagues across the US. “We’re talking middle-aged dudes with serious big-dad energy who go to great lengths to craft the perfect carforget prefab kits. Bandsaws shave down the frame components to a quarter of an inch wide; precision lathes trim acrylic wheels; syringes grease nail axles with synthetic oil. All to cross a tiny checkered finish line just one-ten-thousandth of a second faster,” Andrew Zaleski writes.  

SURFING’S BIG BREAK 

“As surfing prepares for its global spotlight, it is experiencing a seismic shift from a laid-back, go-with-the-flow mindset to one shaped by innovations and data analysis, physiological testing, and technology. Specialists in fields such as nutrition, psychology, and orthopedics are working with US Surfing coaches like Bret Simpson to develop Olympic training regimens that increasingly resemble those long favored by everything from basketball to volleyball,” Bonnie Tsui writes. Even though surfing has to wait another year to make its Olympic debut, PopSci takes an in-depth look at the advancements in the sport and the technologies fueling its 21st-century progress. 

GAMERS, START YOUR ENGINES 

James Baldwin is among the best esports drivers in the world, and one of several dozen who make a living competing in the digital-racing domain. After winning the second season of the reality competition show World’s Fastest Gamer, Baldwin is attempting to make the shift to a real track, and he’s not the only one taking that leap. The racing world is starting to pay attention to gamers as both potential participants and consumers. PopSci takes a behind-the-scenes look at Baldwin’s journey and the process of turning gamers into racing stars.  

PLUS: Who Should Get to Compete as a Woman?; History of Puzzles; Anatomy of a Laugh; Lawn Games for the Summer; Wheelchairs for Olympic Competition; Gaming the (Board-Game) System; Behind the Cover; and more