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The 10 Most-Read Racket Stories of 2023

These articles attracted the most eyeballs in our second full year.

8:36 AM CST on December 12, 2023

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Head-scratching blunt rotation.

Never equate pageviews with effort. When stories pass through the mysterious vortexes of Google algorithms and social shares, the amount of work put into 'em goes out the window.

Below, that's obvious when one considers the fact my dumb story about a record-setting flagpole (33K views)—a post that required one phone call, an understanding that Wanna Buys do bonkers traffic, and little else—notched 20,000 more views than, say, my daylong submersion into the world of Tebow-backed mega church hucksters. Keith, a noted stunt journalism aficionado, attended concerts every night for a damn month! His reward? Just 1,556 clicks. Yet I have it on good authority that the year's most-read Star Tribune story is about where a pop star got dinner. You get the idea.

In any event, our most-read stories of 2023 span all sorts of spectrums—fun, helpful, serious, silly, bloggy, longform, and everything in between. It's a nice sample platter of what we think makes this website special. (Keep in mind: We've published 956 total posts so far in '23.) We're grateful for the reader support that made these articles possible, and excited to grow and expand our coverage in 2024.

10. The Wall Street Journal Wants to Know What’s up With Downtown Minneapolis

October 23 | 20,644 views | click here to read

For those who are unfamiliar, The Flyover is our daily news aggregation roundup, where we turn the day’s headlines into quippy lil blurbs for your easy consumption. It’s never a heavy hitter, traffic-wise, but it’s a fun way to highlight what our tiny newsroom can’t cover and flex our headline-writing muscles. For some baffling reason, Google plucked this installment from obscurity and sent tens of thousands of readers our way. Feel free to revisit that not-so-fateful October news day if you've got nothing else to do.

9. Why Do We Still Pretend That the Replacements Should Have Become Real Rock Stars?

September 25 | 21,026 views | click here to read

Now I'm not exactly impartial here, but I am a firm believer that our Keith Harris is among the best living music writers in the English-speaking world. For this story, Keith churned out 2,100 words on the complex legacy of the Replacements, the self-sabotaging Minneapolis rock greats, and the heralded reissue/rescue of their best album, one that was mired for decades in production hell. I mean, where else are you gonna get passages like this?

Yes, we project so much of our own baggage on the Replacements, and that includes our feelings of and about regret. No one makes it to 40 without a litany of what we have done and what we have failed to do haunting us. And the Replacements are our Ghost of Modern Rock Past, a reminder of missteps as ephemeral as a kiss left unkissed and as quotidian as that ill-timed second mortgage.

8. There Will Be No Nice Ride Program This Year—and Likely Ever Again

March 1 | 21,378 views | click here to read

Call Em the Ice Cream Queen, because she's serving up scoops! (Please don't actually call her that.) Em broke news that Nice Ride, the popular Minneapolis bikeshare program that launched in 2010, would soon die a quiet death due its head sponsor, health insurance ghoul Blue Cross Blue Shield, pulling its financial support. "We feel terrific that today, young people just grow up expecting this—it's a part of the landscape," Nice Ride's executive director, Bill Dossett, told Racket while putting a positive spin on bad news. You'd like to think a self-respecting city of 425,000 could find someway to fund a replacement program, but we've not seen much momentum yet on that front.

7. Wanna Buy a 111-Year-Old Abandoned Mansion Outside of Winona?

May 22 | 22,185 views | click here to read

Writing about the grand-yet-dilapidated Briarcombe Farm estate was fun for obvious reasons. Hidden library! Outrageously cool wallpaper! Perhaps Minnesota's first in-ground exterior pool! The history of its multi-hyphenate builder, the singular Rockwell Kent, provided another layer of intrigue. Just look at the lede from his front-page New York Times obit circa 1971:

At various (and frequently simultaneous) periods of his long life the protean Rockwell Kent was an architect, painter, illustrator, lithographer, xylographer, cartoonist, advertising artist, carpenter, dairy farmer, explorer, trade union leader and political controversialist. 'He is so multiple a person as to be multifarious,' Louis Untermeyer, the poet, once observed.

“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of Minnesota history," listing agent Jenny Cisewski told us. "I can’t wait to see what the new buyer will do to make this home grand again.” We might have to connect with the buyer that emerged this past summer; the place sold $875,000 in July—$125,000 over asking price.

6. Wanna Buy 3 Giant, Vacant Minneapolis Public Schools?

January 10 | 24,403 views | click here to read

"Added layer of intrigue" is the name of the game for this real estate story, too. Three shuttered Minneapolis Public Schools buildings—TuttleWillard, and Gordon—hit the market simultaneously, with a curious caveat: The seller, MPS, dictated that the structures must henceforth not be used as schools. “It creates some restrictions that are a little more unusual. I think the city is catching on: Why are we helping these other schools compete against us by selling them our schools?” broker Jeff Salzbrun explained to us. If nothing else, the listings provided looky-loos the opportunity to snoop on ghostly old buildings, one of which houses a strange mannequin in the boileroom.

5. An Obscure German Drinking Tradition is Taking Over Twin Cities Breweries

June 14 | 24,445 views | click here to read

Alright, alright, alright: We caught a whole mess of shit for the word "obscure" in this headline. While you, Mr. Worldly Suds Sipper, may well be familiar with the wonderful world of Kölsch, we made the accurate bet that, to most Minnesota-based readers, the idea of nonstop pours of tiny, low-ABV beers would probably be novel. We stand by it!! Anyway, Em sourced this local beer trend piece up the wazoo, and it clearly resonated with readers. “I mean, Kölsch is dope,” Fair State head brewer Joe Wells concluded. “Everybody should be drinking Kölsch, and they should be drinking it properly.”

4. What’s the Deal With St. Paul?

August 9 | 27,073 views | click here to read

Star freelancer Ian Ringgenberg cracked Racket's 2022 most-read list with his investigation into what's the deal with Winnipeg. For his sequel, Ringgenberg stayed closer to home, marooning himself for 72 inside the city limits of St. Paul in an attempt to better understand the older, smaller, quirkier sister Twin City. He defused potential haters right out the gate, writing:

Over three days of captivity in St. Paul, I set out to not only experience the best that the city has to offer, but to try to discover what makes the city so special to so many. What follows is my attempt to see St. Paul not through my own hater-tinted glasses, but through the eyes of those who love it and staunchly defend it in my Twitter mentions. 

Sure enough, what emerges is something of an anthropological love letter to Minnesota's capital city. Ringgenberg knocked it out of the park, combining yuks with heartfelt passion in a short-distance travelogue that weaves history with contemporary issues and touristy observations with insight from longtime locals. Where should we send the dude next year?

3. What We Know About the Death of Khalil Ahmad Azad

March 3 | 32,485 views | click here to read

Chalk this one up to tons of people googling the name Khalil Ahmad Azad, a 24-year-old man who died last year under mysterious circumstances after being pulled over by the Robbinsdale Police Department. Our short Flyover blurb cites reporting from BLCK Press that describes the disbelief Azad's family maintains around the official narrative of accidental drowning. On a much lighter note: The following blurb is about Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey's (apparently short-lived) French fry talk show.

2. Wanna Buy the Most Expensive House in Minnesota? (Complete with Record-Setting Flagpole!)

February 16 | 32,676 views | click here to read

You can still buy this very large, very expensive Woodland estate for the exact same price. "Obviously we didn’t get over the hump..." listing agent Jim Schwarz told us, reflecting on last winter's half-mil price reduction. "We still think it’s the best of the best—it checks all of the boxes.”

1. There’s a Massive, Hidden Lake of Mining Residue Above the North Shore. It Might Grow.

February 7 | 47,716 views | click here to read

I'm quite pleased that this one took home the traffic cake! It's part industrial history, part ecological alarm bell, and the full culmination of my own personal curiosity about that dull, glowing orb that's perched above Silver Bay on Google Earth. If you haven't already, please give it a read.

"DNR has extended the Milepost 7 [expansion] decision for a third time, now to Jan 31," JT Haines, Northeastern director of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, told me in an update last month. "We think it's notable that DNR is specifically pointing to review of dam safety issues in these extensions; we hope that means that some progress is being made on that front."

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