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Latest Web oddity, 'planking,' takes hold in Baltimore

Looking at a picture of his buddy stretched out, face down, atop a stove like a really big fish about to get fried, Daniel Geraghty didn't get it.

"I was so confused," says the junior at Clarksville's River Hill High. "I was like, 'What are you doing? Why are you sending this to me?'"

Then two days later, there he was himself, lying nose-to-tile on the stairway in school between classes as kids stepped around him, staring and laughing.

"I'm a newfound planker," he declares. "It's the hugest thing right now."

Just like that, another devotee for planking, a head-scratcher of a global craze in which people lie stick-straight like a plank, snap a picture of the pose and then post the shot online. Jaw-droppingly silly yet ragingly popular, the trend has hit Baltimore hard, with plankers strutting their stuff at area schools, shopping centers, bars and beaches, and showing pictures by the hundreds.

In recent days, when Geraghty, a slight, elfin, teen hasn't been stretched over the roof of a sedan, splayed across the top of a coat rack or lying along a narrow brick ledge, he's been crowing about his exploits on Twitter.

"Today is a day in planking history," he tweeted the other day, and then: "On the bus making this dope song about Planking. I don't think anyone's ready for this."

And yet, he's hard pressed to define his obsession's appeal.

"I don't know why we started doing it," he says. "I'm not sure there's a good explanation."

Two young men in England are credited with inventing planking, which they called the Lying Down Game. It didn't take off, however, until 2009, when it spread, gaining particular traction in Asia andAustralia.

The death in May of an Australian man who fell seven stories while planking on the balcony of a high-rise has only accelerated the trend's rise. The main planking page on Facebook boasts more than 300,000 fans, and the pages of local planking enthusiasts seem to grow by the day.

Celebrities who have been spotted planking include Justin Bieber, Ellen Page and race car driver Scott Dixon.

Before Memorial Day weekend, Mike Case considered himself your average 27-year-old, living in Canton and selling commercial real estate. But since learning the game while in Rehoboth Beach, Del., with friends, he likes to call himself "a plank artist."

He saw it for the first time at Dewey Beach, tried it himself at a get-together the next night and, within minutes, most everyone at the party had a beer in their hand and a planking spot on their mind.

"People became intrigued," Case says. "It's spontaneous and random and confusing and bewildering."

Hence, irresistible.

The high point of his weekend came at 4 a.m. one night as he planked atop a beach shed. "I got a fair amount of laughs and a pretty good picture," he says.

Case is not part of the band of pals that formed the Baltimore Maryland Planking Team — not yet, at least.

Team members have planked outside Camden Yards, atop refrigerators for sale at Best Buy, between the windows of two parked cars and, as a group, around the fountain in front of Chili's at The Avenue atWhite Marsh.

For them, the thrill is not in the pose — the entertainment value in lying still is somewhat limited. It's all about coming up with the spots to do it, striving, with creativity and a sense of humor, to outplank their fellow plankers.

The more outlandish the spot — without getting hurt or arrested — the better.

To the exasperation of education officials, planking has become all but contagious in area schools. It spread from Baltimore County's Eastern Technical High School to nearby Kenwood High a week or two ago after Kenwood students saw Eastern kids posting planking shots online.

Edgar Walker, 15, a sophomore at Kenwood, tried it the other day for the first time — and then again, and again and again. There he was atop the school sign, on his friend's Chevy Malibu, on a picnic table, atop a roadblock, on a dock at Gunpowder State Park, at home on the clothes dryer and then the family foosball table.

"We were just lying on things," he says. "When we thought of doing certain ones, it was funny, just the thought of it.

"It's kind of useless, you know. It's kind of an ironic thing to do."

His fantasy is to go to the Pizza John's restaurant on Back River Neck Road, where a larger-than-life statue of a pizza chef sits out front. Somehow, he'd plank on top of the giant pepperoni pie the statue holds.

"You'd have to climb up," he says. "And you'd probably get in trouble. It's pretty much impossible."

But a guy can dream.

Eastern Tech Principal Tom Evans can only shake his head. That and get on the PA system last week and warn kids that planking was not a school-endorsed endeavor. By then he'd already seen pictures of his students planking across a cluster of classroom desks, over lavatories and draped atop a candy machine.

"I told them they don't have to be permission to climb on top of anything in this building," Evans said. "It's just goofy behavior, but I don't want anyone getting hurt or doing something stupid."

Edgar's mother, Shirley Van Zandt, doesn't see the harm in it. In fact, she giggled when her son showed her his pictures.

"I think it's totally benign and fun," she said. "This is just kind of funny and creative. Like an art form."

As for her son and so many of his peers, they expect this to be The Summer of the Plank.

At least until the next big thing comes along.

"I'm not sick of it yet," Edgar says. "For a couple weeks, it will probably be on my mind."

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