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The 10 Most-Read Stories During Racket’s Second Year of Existence

Enjoy our behind-the-scenes musings on the year's most popular Racket articles.

12:46 PM CDT on July 26, 2023

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Hobbit homes, robot waiters, and filthy water, oh my!

As anyone who has ever been employed in the death-spiraling digital news industry will tell you, web traffic and article quality almost never correlate. That was the whole idea around bifurcating BuzzFeed—the flagship banner for "Are You A Barbie Girl Or An Emo Girl?" and BuzzFeed News for eat-your-veggies reporting on current affairs. (Let the latter operation's recent demise serve as a window into the online news consumer's true desires.)

That's a whole lotta inside-baseball throat clearing to say: The Racket stories that generated the most clicks over the last 12 months aren't necessarily the best Racket stories. Some get swept up by the mysterious Google algorithm, others benefit from novelty, timeliness, or a hooky headline. That said, some are just plain good! But before we get to the fireworks factory, we'd like to highlight some year-two posts we're proud of that weren't click juggernauts, for whatever reason:

For a lot more insight in year two of Racket—including a breakdown of where every single dollar went—please consult Em's fantastic, in-depth report from earlier today. For some behind-the-scenes deets 'n' riffs on the 10 stories that attracted the most eyeballs during that span, buckle up and enjoy!

An Obscure German Drinking Tradition is Taking Over Twin Cities Breweries: 23,892 pageviews

Prost! We caught a little shit for this headline in the beer-nerdier corners of the internet, but ya know what? To the average Minnesota drinker, the tradition of Kölsch—which involves nonstop itty-bitty pours of a low-ABV sipper—is probably pretty obscure. "You can’t talk about the Kölsch trend in the Twin Cities, or in the U.S. more broadly, without talking about Wild Mind Ales—specifically its head brewer, Austin Myhran," wrote Em Cassel. "'I can’t take credit for the resurgence of traditional Kölsch service across the country,' Wild Mind co-founder Jason Sandquist replied when reached by email for this story, 'but Austin can!'" And off readers went, on a sudsy adventure into beer culture that never felt like you're taking chemistry lessons from a flannelled beard.

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Wanna Buy 3 Giant, Vacant Minneapolis Public Schools?: 24,403 pageviews

But here's the catch: You can't use 'em 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 with Commercial Equities Group told me of the long-shuttered Minneapolis Public Schools buildings—TuttleWillard, and Gordon. What began as a quickie property-gawking post soon turned into a mini history lesson on those ol' schools, plus a window into the current financial plight of MPS. Our popular Wanna Buy series, which you'll encounter several times on this list, hinges on daydreaming readers envisioning new lives for themselves and the properties in question, so this trio really fit the mold: What would you do with those ghostly auditoriums and gyms?

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Here’s What Makes Eden Prairie’s New, Massive Asia Mall Worth the Trip: 24,991 pageviews

Asia Mall was the talk of the town when it opened this past winter, and we couldn't think of a better writer to review than ace hotdog reporter Natalia Mendez. A retrofitted Gander Mountain sporting goods store, the 116,000-square-foot complex yielded numerous delights, from bubbling hot pot served by cat robots to boba tea to springy mochi donuts. Every outlet in town covered this grocery/restaurant/robo waiter destination, sure, but none with the pluck and sense of fun that our writer put into each sentence. "Even if Eden Prairie is a little out of the way," Mendez concluded, "Asia Mall is well worth the drive to experience some of the best Asian flavors the Twin Cities metro has to offer under one roof." Parking was reportedly nightmarish early on; here's hoping it's easier to access Asia Mall these days.

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The Lost Lakes of Minneapolis: 25,981 pageviews

Local history buff Josh Biber became a wonderful addition to the Racket Cinematic Universe this year. The founder of The Minnesota Historian has taken readers on deeply researched deep-dives into topics like "A Complete Guide to the Ghost Towns of Hennepin County" and "Welcome to Manomin, the Lost Minnesota County," but his cataloging of g-g-g-g-ghost lakes in the City of Lakes piqued the most interest. "These undervalued lakes were ultimately disregarded, polluted, and leveled by the hands of city employees to make way for urbanization in the early years of Minneapolis," Biber writes. "It’s likely that you’ve walked on or even lived by these lost lakes that earlier settlers of Minneapolis once swam or fished on." As a one-time untalented Pearl Park football player, I've certainly never looked at my former gridiron the same way again.

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Wanna Buy This Affordable Hobbit House Just 30 Minutes East of St. Paul?: 26,685 pageviews

Hobbit houses have become a micro beat of mine, despite my having never read any Tolkien. (See flimsy evidence of my being an alpha football jock above.) Listed at just $315,000, this adorable example is located just across the border in River Falls, Wisconsin. It sold almost instantly for $356,000 after Racket's writeup spurred a press feeding frenzy. Beyond its whimsical allure, the home provided me a chance to learn about the "bermed" method of earth-sheltered construction and fool readers regarding my literary prowess by quoting Tolkien at length. The seller even sent me this pleasant email afterward: "I am the current owner of the property you just wrote about. I'm sorry [listing agent] Sara never responded back to you. We did get an overwhelming response for showings. I just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed the article and the research and context you provided. Thanks for the feature!" Aww!

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Hardee’s GM on Lindell FBI Raid: ‘I Know For a Fact It Didn’t Happen’: 27,919 pageviews

I was able to amuse friends and family for months with my recording of Mike "Pillow Guy" Lindell—who was eating loudly at the time—as he encouraged me to, "Write your crap, nobody reads your garbage anyway. It really happened, it was at the Mankato Hardee's... You're some kind of weird bot-troll—don't call me again, you're a disgusting human being." This weird bot-troll chuckled as he hung up the phone, never to call Lindell again. For weeks after publication, the Hardee's GM, Adam Mahowald, would Facebook message with subsequent media reports that, in his mind, credulously kept buying the Hardee's narrative.

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What We Know About the Death of Khalil Ahmad Azad: 32,485 pageviews

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 elite headline-writing muscle. And these 32,485 clicks were almost entirely generated by Google, which plucked a Q a lot of people were—and still are—asking about the tragic 2022 death of Khalil Ahmad Azad in Crystal Lake. All credit goes to Blck Press's Jasmine McBride, who reported on the mysterious circumstances surrounding how Azad, 24, died after being chased by the Robbinsdale Police Department. The department would later release body-cam footage, but the Buffalo man's family continues to demand more transparency.

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Wanna Buy the Most Expensive House in Minnesota? (Complete with Record-Setting Flagpole!): 32,676 pageviews

“The flagpole was there when they bought it, and they felt like it was a really cool feature," listing agent Jim Schwarz told us of what's purportedly the tallest residential flagpole in the state. "People that are boating know that spot because of the flag. They continued the tradition.” As for the mega-dollar Woodland mansion, it and its flagpole remain on the market for the exact same asking price of $14.75 million, though that figure does reflect a half-million discount from '22. Completed in 2016, the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 9,016-square-foot Lake Minnetonka behemoth is still the most expensive home for sale in the state.

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Who Is Brooke Fleetwood, the Airbnb/Beauty Mogul Who’s Often at War with Hudson, WI?: 35,863 pageviews

I had read reports about Brooke Fleetwood's battles with Hudson, Wisconsin, over her over-the-top rental properties for years. None of them offered insight into how and why the so-called "Pink Girl" drives a Mercedes SUV and jetsets to Abu Dhabi, all to watching eyes of her vast social media following. (Fleetwood's entrepreneurial zeal extends to OnlyFans, where "nasty fuckers" can buy $50 bottles of her "boob sweat." We're not kidding.) So I called up Fleetwood, and attempted to shed some light on the singular pink personality. "The boob sweat is getting everyone 😂," she Facebook messaged me afterwards. "I was wondering why the OF was blowing up."

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There’s a Massive, Hidden Lake of Mining Residue Above the North Shore. It Might Grow: 47,716 pageviews

This story was a long time coming. Years ago I pulled up Silver Bay via Google Earth, and noticed a hulking trapezoid that, Blob-like, could seemingly absorb the entire city of 1,857 below. The history behind it, I would learn reporting this story, is long and very personal to residents of the North Shore, who view the 2,150-acre lake of mining residue as part-savior, part-problem. The reporting process would reveal the secrecy of Ohio-based owner Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., the lack of transparency between environmental advocate groups and the DNR, and potential scope of the threat posed by the cloudy, iridescence pool of pollution that teeters above the largest freshwater lake in the world.

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