Salil Maniktahla
Self-Appointed Professor of Zombieology
Friday, October 29, 2010; 1:00 PM

Salil Maniktahla, self-appointed professor of zombieology and future chief protagonist of the zombiepocalypse, was online Friday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the popularity of the world of the undead, from George Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead" to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to modern-day invasions such as that experienced earlier this week at the Lincoln Memorial.

After working for 15 years in the corporate world in information technology, Salil has a deep understanding of zombies and how to deal with them, so he hosted the largest game of zombie-tag ever, "Survive Alexandria" (Va.) in August.

Maniktahla's real-world occupation is owner of Urban Evolution, a fitness club in Alexandria, Va.


Salil Maniktahla: Hi everyone, and thanks for joining us today! I'm the owner of Urban Evolution, host of "Survive Alexandria," and world-renowned zombieologist Salil Maniktahla.

World-renowned in zombieology circles, of course. We don't get out much.

Anyway, thanks for coming to our discussion, and let's get started with the questions!


Takoma Park, Md.: So Salil,

If you had to choose between being chased by a pack of 30 bloodthirsty Zombies or by parkour practitioner Ricky Edwards which would you choose?


Salil Maniktahla: Well, I'd have to go with the pack of zombies, of course. And I'm pretty sure I know who you are, Takoma Park :-D


Arlington, Va.: Do yo have any special Indian powers that help you fight of zombies?

Salil Maniktahla: Have you ever played Streetfighter? If so, you know that Dhalsim had TONS of powers. I plan on using my abilities to elongate my limbs at will to reach out and slap any and all zombies that make disparaging remarks concerning ethnicity.


Springfield, Va.: If the prince of Bel Air got turned into a zombie, would he still be Fresh?

Salil Maniktahla: He would be fresh, but not Fresh. Still and all, nothing a little Febreeze and maybe some time at Death Row Records couldn't fix.


Capitol Hill: It was horrible, I was at the Capitol, and I saw about a hundred living dead creatures walking around muttering, barely making any sense at all. I have got to stop visiting the U.S. Senate, don't you think?

Salil Maniktahla: Yeah, those aren't zombies, those are Senators. I know, it's easy to make that mistake. Here's a good rule of thumb: don't go around shooting zombies until you know for sure whether or not they're undead.

The best way to be certain about whether you're dealing with a mindless zombie is to look at their voting record or policy stances. Zombies are against climate change legislation, they don't mind handing their money to big companies, and they're not too familiar with the First Amendment to the Constitution. Oddly, they're staunchly opposed to the Second Amendment, too.


Greeneville, Tenn. : Mr. Maniktahla:

When the zombie outbreak occurs, what is the best "safe zone" to reach? Would it be a rural, isolated area where one can grow his or her own food and build shelter, or would it be more appropriate to see the confines of an area such as a Walmart and weld the doors shut?

Salil Maniktahla: Being a city boy raised in the South, I can see pros and cons to both methods. I suggest that if you spend your time outside to take appropriate precautions: sunscreen and bugspray, and a decent-gauge shotgun with sufficient ammunition.

Being indoors can induce a siege mentality. You can be lulled into thinking you're safe, when in fact your entire family has been infected. Three days later you'll be very sorry you welded the doors shut.


Abilene, Tex.: Is it true that blue states will be more devastated than red states given their aversion to guns, hunting and other necessities of a zombified world?

Salil Maniktahla: Why am I not surprised that this comment comes from Abilene? Listen, a recent survey conducted by none other than yours truly lists Abilene at the very top of the list of places where the Zombiepocalypse will START.

Now I ask you...is it because Texans never wash their hands?

Viruses do not respect political affiliations, unless they're mine. Thanks!


Memphis, Tenn.: Help! I'm under zombie attack and holed up in my house with limited armaments. What's the best way to kill a zombie in close combat with only the simplest household items? What's the weakest spot on a zombie? Thanks, Fightin' on in Memphis

Salil Maniktahla: Oh, almost anything will do...a kitchen knife in the cranium, a can of hairspray and a lighter to the face. Be sure to deliver them with a witticism or some sort of ironic comment.

Oh, and whatever you do...DO NOT LEAVE YOUR INTERNET CONNECTION. Remain in front of your laptop at all costs.

Salil Maniktahla: I just thought of a weakness: very few zombies know how to use Facebook effectively.


Del Ray, Va.: In looking at the video footage of zombies descending on D.C. and the humans' reactions, I think part of the reason people are drawn to zombies is that we can feel superior to them. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and other monsters all have strengths and powers we don't. But traditional zombies are slow and dumb and only really threatening in numbers. That's why the ending of "Shaun of the Dead" movie was so great.

Salil Maniktahla: Del Ray, you are absolutely spot-on. Zombies reflect us, only without the parts of us that make us human, which in turn logically results in the classical depiction of zombies as in a state of decay.

Zombies lack things like empathy, foresight, and social awareness. For me, this kind of hurts the ending of "Shaun of the Dead," because you really can't be good at TimeSplitters 2 multiplayer without at least the desire to humiliate others and talk trash.


Zombie in the Work Place: I think a couple of my co-workers may be zombies. Is there any sort of test I can secretly administer them to find out for sure?

Salil Maniktahla: Wow, what a great question! Thank you for being a concerned citizen. There really aren't enough people like you out there.

There are so many tests you can administer to find out if your coworkers are zombies. First, replace their decaf with regular coffee. Is there a difference in their attitude? They might not be zombies.

Next, how easy is it to get them to pee on a stick? Because if you can do that, you can find out if they're pregnant. And if they're pregnant, they're not likely to be zombies.

Of course, there's a very small chance that they are both pregnant AND a zombie. But in that case, you've basically won the lottery! You need to protect that coworker zombie with your life, because the black government helicopters will be along shortly. She is the key to our survival. Or, well, the baby is.

You know, this is really kind of going in a "right-to-life" direction, and I don't know why you'd try to get me to go there. Let's move along.


90293: My favorite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead and I enjoyed Zombieland despite the fact that I fell into watching it because I was too lazy to change the channel. What do you think of humorous zombie movies?

Salil Maniktahla: I'm all for them.

FYI, you might be infected already.


Alexandria, Va.: Are any zombies Redskins fans?

Salil Maniktahla: Not at the moment, but just wait until the Redskins make the playoffs!


Norman, Okla.: One thing I miss is that zombies are all about "infections" or something that affect the living.

You never see zombies raise out off the graves any more which was so cool. Especially since a living person who is bitten by a zombie would be completely rotted in under 5 minutes while it makes sense (well as much sense as anything fictional) that a boby raising from the grave would be rotten.

Salil Maniktahla: Norman, this is because of this thing we call "science," which helps us understand that creatures don't just rise up out of the grave all by themselves.

They need the help of viruses to do that. Duh.

Now go watch "Resident Evil 5" so you can become a scientist.


Ending a zombiepocalypse: What is the response to allegations that normal human decay will end a zombiepocalypse six weeks after starting?

--@lextenou via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: Is this a "28 Days Later" reference? I'm not sure I understand your question. Do zombies just die after 6 weeks? That remains to be seen, but those might be some pretty long weeks if you're just going to sit around and wait it out.


St Louis, Mo.: Brains! Brains!

Salil Maniktahla: Yes. Yes.


San Diego, Calif.: In the event of a zombie outbreak, would you agree that a short barreled shotgun is probably the weapon that is most likely to ensure your survival?

Salil Maniktahla: San Diego, it's best not to get too hung up on the particulars of weaponry. After all, you might not be able to hang onto that sawed-off for very long in the chaotic aftermath of the Zombiepocalypse. This is why you should be proficient with a wide variety of armaments and implements, including (but not limited to) Uzis, AK-47s, M-16s, garden hoes, axes, fire extinguishers, flamethrowers, tanks, jeeps, military helicopters, gatling guns, pistols, knives, and atomic bombs.

Get to reading. The Internet awaits. But not for much longer.


Zombie morals: Are zombies governed by any rules?

--@AnneGarland via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: Yes. Zombies follow one rule: KILL EVERYONE AND EAT THEM.

It makes it kind of hard to play board games with them, as you astutely point out.


Zombie diets: Why always brains? How do they balance their diet?

--@thorsten_h via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: Well, brains are not the entirety of a balanced zombie diet. Brains are simply the top of the zombie diet pyramid.

The lowest level would be "limbs/stringy muscle tissue," followed slightly higher up (and therefore recommended at lower levels) by "entrails and organs," then "eyes/tongues/other gross parts" and finally, at the top, brains.

If zombies eat too much of the higher parts of the pyramid, they get fat, and become at risk for things like Type 4 Zombietes.


Zombie coexistence?: Any chance for coexistence or in the case of zombie attack we should attack back aggressively?

--@matisaksk via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: Well, matisaksk, I'm not sure. Are you volunteering to cohabitate with a zombie in the event of an outbreak? If so, please state your gender preference. I'll have the CDC add you to their wait list.


Zombieland, USA: I have been impregnated by a zombie.. what do I do?

Salil Maniktahla: Seriously, what is it with you people?! This is not going to become a forum for a discussion on Roe v. Wade.

I suggest you go debate the exact point of when a fetus becomes a zombie somewhere else, please.


Alexandria, Va.: As a world renowned zombieologist, how true was the movie "Zombieland" to zombies?

Salil Maniktahla: It was great, except the part about Bill Murray, which was fantastic in the movie, but highly unlikely in real life, because I don't think Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray really like each other that much.

Or well, maybe they don't dislike each other enough that Bill Murray would wind up dead in his own mansion, I guess.


Washington, D.C.: Salil, why have zombies become so popular in recent years? What is it about zombies that appeals to people? And what's your top five zombie movie list?

Salil Maniktahla: That's 3 questions, and I'm running behind already!

1. Zombies are popular because they're safe. They represent people, but without the things that make us human. They're human forms minus any intent except malevolence.

That's attractive if you're slightly paranoid. And it pays to be slightly paranoid if you live in America in the 21st century.

I can't answer your favorite zombie movie list, because it's longer than five! But Romero's movies are classics. And I do love "Zombieland."


Just ask Max Brooks: Really, is there any information about surviving a zombie attack not found in the oeuvre of Max Brooks? (I am not Max Brooks.)

Salil Maniktahla: Sure. There are live chats on the WaPo website, for instance.

And I'm sure it doesn't need to be stated, but I also am not Max Brooks.

(Is this getting too "meta?")


San Francisco, Calif.: If a vampire and a zombie were in the same area, which would survive? Would the vampire bite trump the zombie bite, or would the opposite be true?

Salil Maniktahla: SF, no matter who wins in your exchange, Hollywood wins. That's who.

So if you don't want Hollywood to become even more powerful than, say, Halliburton, don't ever EVER let this happen.


Community fan: What proportion of purported zombies actually ate expired MREs, and could be cured simply be lowering the thermostat?

Salil Maniktahla: That is a very good question. It's strongly related to a similar question about marriages, many of which might be caused by, and cured with, the same things.


I love...: that this is in the Washington Post. I can browse from my desk and have it look like a relatively highbrow diversion.

Salil Maniktahla: Me too. Except that I'm sitting on my sofa at home.

I win!


Gaithersburg, Md.: Recent documentaries have depicted a trend in zombie evolution. Now that modern zombies have evolved the ability to run, will they begin to develop the skills to work simple tools, door knobs, etc.? Or is the next step in the evolution of the undead going to be flying or hopping ninja zombies?

Salil Maniktahla: I don't think that evolution works with any sort of creature that can't *reproduce,* my friend.


Caribou: What happens if you give a zombie coffee?

Salil Maniktahla: See "28 Days Later."


Alexandria, Va.: If someone recognizes a dead relative in a grouping of zombies, what should they do?

Salil Maniktahla: Fire away. Have you never seen a zombie movie? Because this only happens about every 7 minutes out of 110.

And invariably, the correct answer is "preemptive shotgun blast to the skull." Crying, hugging, or handing over your car keys are all good ways to become one of the undead yourself, or also have your car stolen.


Falls Church, Va.: Do you train zombies at your Parkour gym?

Salil Maniktahla: No. We train people on how to deal with the Zombiepocalypse. Zombies are very hard to train, and requre special underground research facilities with clean suits, flamethrowers, scientists, lots of guns, computers that don't run Microsoft operating systems, and weird bubbly flasks and stuff.


Nashville, Tenn.: The modern zombie is based on a real legend in Haiti or some other island in the Caribean, right?

Salil Maniktahla: Yes. That's mostly correct. The zombie legend originated in Africa via voudou. You might want to hit up Wikipedia on this one.


D.C.: The best way to avoid being eaten by a zombie is to stay in shape, they hate fast food.

Salil Maniktahla: False. What are people but walking Big Macs for zombies?


New to Zombies: Okay, so... I don't get it. The zombies take over every host that they can, and can also be terminated by beheading (destruction of their "brain"). And the others... they just go on, existing, until the body literally rots to dust?

Where'd zombies come from, in the first place?

Salil Maniktahla: Zombie storks, of course.

You know, you might want to ask your parents about this one.


Hunkering down: What's the best location in the USA to stave off a zombie apocalypse?

--@JacobEngels via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: From a cinematic standpoint, the top of Mt. Rushmmore, obviously.


Reston, Va.: Are zombies always human or can they be animals too? I could imagine a scene of roadkill cominig back to life to stop traffic again.

Salil Maniktahla: Zombies can be animals, if the scriptwriters' grasp of science is either strong enough or loose enough that they deal with viruses that jump species.

I like your roadkill image, though. For some reason, I'm imagining it jumping off some weirdo's dinner plate in my version.


Annandale, Va.: When will you be hosting the next zombie tag game like Survive Alexandria?

Salil Maniktahla: We are actually having a Halloween Hash at Great Falls this Sunday at 3pm. I don't want to use this forum to promote my business, but you can learn more by visiting our website at www.urbanevo.com.


Arlington, Va.: If I ate a zombie would I turn into one?

Salil Maniktahla: If you eat a Twix, do you turn into a candybar?


D.C.: Do zombies think Halloween has become too commercialized?

Salil Maniktahla: Zombies have trouble with rudimentary concepts like doorknobs and familial relationships.

But yes. They do think Halloween has become too commericalized.


Washington, D.C.: Salil,

Why haven't any would-be politicians come out yet with an ad stating that they are 'not a zombie'? It would be helpful information, although I'm not sure whether I would believe them...

Salil Maniktahla: So far as I can tell, there have been no zombie outbreaks in Hawaii. But if there were a zombie from Hawaii, you can rest assured that the public would be lining up to demand the bona fides of every politician from that, uh, country.


Hard2convince: Do you really believe in zombies? I mean, c'mon....

Salil Maniktahla: No one believes in zombies until they're being chased across their neighbors' lawn in broad daylight by a pack of the undead.


washingtonpost.com: Great Falls Halloween Hash and After-Party (Urban Evolution


Arlington, Va.: How fast can a zombie run?

Salil Maniktahla: Depends on the condition of the corpse, the relative health of the person who became undead, their physical fitness level, and of course, how fast the thing is that they're running after.


washingtonpost.com: Great Falls Halloween Hash and After-Party (Urban Evolution

Salil Maniktahla: I think this is from the WaPo directly, I didn't link to it, but hey, thanks! That's very cool...


Anonymous: When Zombies Attack (pdf)

Just curious if you ever read this?

Salil Maniktahla: If your automatic response to the zombiepocalypse is to whip out a calculator and start doing math, you might not survive for very long.

I'm just sayin'.


Reston, Va.: What kind of a zombie would Sarah Palin make?

Salil Maniktahla: I think a better question would be, how would be know?

oh SNAP!


washingtonpost.com: Video: Zombies invade D.C.


Eugene, Ore.: If you're a professional make-up and special effects person in the film industry, I'd have to imagine that a zombie production would more fun, challenging and creative then a vampire one. Zombies eat people so you get to create that plus the whole rotten flesh. Vampires are just pale with fake fangs...

Salil Maniktahla: Now, now, Eugene, there's plenty of room in the horror movie makeup room for everyone. No need to go around creating rifts between various sects of undead. Remember, they're all in this together.

And so are we.


Arlington, Va.: Wapo.com just got way cooler,thanks to zombie chat :D

Salil Maniktahla: Agreed. Of course, you neglect one key aspect of all this: namely, myself :-D


washingtonpost.com: Full Coverage: Halloween Guide


Help!: I am a weak zombie being chased by humans, will you teach me parkour?

Salil Maniktahla: No.


Curious: A buddy called somebody a 'gay zombie.' Do zombies keep their host's sexual orientation? Can zombies even have sex??

Salil Maniktahla: Wow, there's one for the books. Is WaPo going NC-17 with this one or what?

I don't think zombies retain the urge to procreate. But...well...how do I put this delicately? People have been known to do anything.


Haha: I love that I can chat about zombies and still look like I am browsing Wapo!

Salil Maniktahla: me too. This is kind of great, isn't it? I think you should write a letter to your Congressman and urge him to support more of this sort of thing.

Like...legislation or whatever.


Columbia, District of: Are zombie characteristics uniform across all movies, or are there some variations? Cite examples, please.

Salil Maniktahla: Okay, this is a question best answered by your Netflix queue. Clearly you have plenty of free time. Go do your homework, DC. You're not making the city look good.


RE: animal zombies: Pet Cemetery

Salil Maniktahla: Exactly.


Zombie fashion: What sort of sartorial tips can you give to people fighting off a zombie outbreak?

--@sveng via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: Um. Don't wear a tie; zombies don't really care too much about that sort of thing.

Go with things that are relatively easy to launder, are wrinkle-resistant, and wear well over time. You might be wearing that outfit for several days, so always wear clean underwear.


Athens, Ga.: Considering this is the Washington Post, would a zombie outbreak this weekend be worse for the Democrats or the Republicans?

I'm just teasing since that the only way to frame any issue these days.

Salil Maniktahla: I think it would pretty much negate any presumptive gains in the midterm elections by the GOP.


Zombie followup: I was referring to the rotting time of an unanimated corpse, not "28 Days Later" and their fake RAEG zombies.

--Followup from @lextenou via Twitter

Salil Maniktahla: You know, I come across this sort of thing a lot. There's always some sort of discussion about the authenticity of the creature that's chasing you and trying to consume you alive.

Fine, the creatures in "28 Days Later" aren't *technically* zombies, but rather just very angry humans who've lost their ability to reason.

Now, why aren't you more concerned about the Tea Party instead of zombie movies?


Salil Maniktahla: wow, I can't believe we're running out of time! This has been a lot of fun, but it's almost 2pm!


Gaithersburg, Md.: Salil, so looking forward to the next zombie tag event with Urban Evolution.

Salil Maniktahla: Gaithersburg, come out this weekend to Great Falls and play with us! See link somewhere in this long thread for the Great Falls Hash!


washingtonpost.com: This concludes our chat with Prof. Salil Maniktahla. Thank you for joining and be carefeul out there.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company