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Musk Was Into Their Idea. Then His Millions Ran Out

Inside the short, ambitious life of Thud
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2019 2:54 PM CDT
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FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks before unveiling the Model Y at Tesla's design studio in Hawthorne, Calif. Musk says in an internal memo that Tesla has enough orders to set a record, but it’s having trouble shipping vehicles to the right locations.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

(Newser) – Merriam-Webster defines "thud" as "a dull sound." That's what the creators of Thud unfortunately ended up getting, rather than the roar they were going for. In a lengthy piece for the Verge, Jacob Kastrenakes looks at what happened when two satirical whizzes were allowed to dream on a billionaire's dime—and how things fell apart when the funding got pulled. Cole Bolton and Ben Berkley were the editor-in-chief and managing editor, respectively, of the Onion. When they exited the site in 2017, they cooked up an idea for an ambitious project where the satire wouldn't just exist online: It would come to life in the real world. One big idea, per Kastrenakes: "create an entire museum wing imagining Britain’s imperialist conquest of Heaven. There’d be a painting showing a ship ascending into the clouds ... Elsewhere, artifacts like a flaming sword would represent the treasures they brought back."

They pitched it to Musk, whom they had connected with years earlier over an Onion article Musk loved: "We're Going To Enjoy This Cocaine-Fueled Mason Jar Rocket Ride For As Long As It Lasts." Musk was game, and offered "so much funding that they would never have to make money," what ended up being upwards of $2 million. But in December 2018, Musk's chief of staff said that Musk was out. Bolton and Berkley's remaining funds would last them six months, during which they'd need to launch what they had ready and figure out how to make Thud self-sustaining. They couldn't. The full article is worth a read, and includes Berkley's take on what Musk saw in Thud, what possibly drove Musk to back out, and "where the trouble lay." (Read more Longform stories.)

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