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Traffic wizard: An interview with Clemson’s ‘Cone Guy’

REBECCA WEST // Asst. TimeOut Editor

Nick Reed, a graduate student in computer science, is known around campus as “Cone Guy.” 

Every campus has its own myths, urban legends and everyday heroes, and Clemson University is no exception. Whether it’s touring Fort Hill or walking past the Shrek guy on game day, there are just certain experiences and notable figures on campus that make Clemson feel more like the quirky, odd home that it is, and Cone Guy is definitely one of them.
A true mystery on Clemson’s campus, Cone Guy is tall, skinny and always carrying around a large, orange traffic cone. Surprisingly, the cone is not just part of some random college hijinks; in fact, an inside scoop with Cone Guy himself revealed that there is quite the interesting story behind such an eyesore.
The not-so-secret identity of Cone Guy is Nick Reed, a graduate student majoring in computer science. Some of his hobbies include fencing, writing, drawing, long boarding and obviously, cone carrying, but the last one was not added until quite recently.
Reed acquired his first cone in October 2017, when he was dared to steal it from a frat house.
“I walked all the way across campus back to my car with it and nobody said a word,” Reed said. “I wondered what was going on, so I checked it on Wikipedia, and it’s called the bystander effect.”
The bystander effect, according to Reed, is when people don’t speak up about something because they don’t think it’s their problem; they think that somebody else will do something or they don’t do anything since no one else seems to be doing anything either. It is a common occurrence throughout society, but the reappearance of the bystander effect on New Years of 2018 is what spurred Reed to begin carrying the cone around.
“My neighbors were setting fireworks off and the lawn caught fire,” Reed said. “Everyone came to watch, but no one helped. It clicked that this was the bystander effect, so my roommate Jerry ran back to our place, got fire extinguishers and put out the fire.”
This event not only gave validation to Reed’s status as an everyday hero, but inspired Reed to use the cone as a social experiment.
Cleared by both CUPD and the Office of Research Compliance, the experiment is this: Reed carries his traffic cone around everywhere he goes, everyday and sees how many times he gets confronted about it. When asked about the strangest reaction that Reed has gotten regarding his cone, his answer was quite unexpected.
“Nobody speaks up,” Reed said. “I carried it for four months, every day, everywhere I went, and I was only asked about it 22 times.”
This experiment undoubtedly demonstrated the bystander effect countless times over, but the logistics of such an experiment must also be admired alongside the results. To date, Reed owns 14 cones and one traffic barrel, all of which are kept in storage except for his main cone.
“Let’s say generous donations,” Reed said when asked where he got the cones, but his mischievous smile implied that is not the case.
Reed usually keeps the main cone in the trunk of his car, unless he’s walking around campus. Then, it remains perched upon his shoulder. During class, it remains outside the front door of the class so it won’t disrupt any learning. Besides, if it gets stolen, Reed has 13 cones and a traffic barrel to fall back on, though the latter is apparently much harder to carry on one’s shoulder.
Other than the physical challenges of carrying around a large conical mass of orange plastic, Reed also did his utmost to keep the data from being tainted by knowledge of the experiment.
“Because of the way the bystander effect worked, I used to ask people to not tell people what was going on,” Reed said. “Because then, they would know about the experiment and it would ruin the data. Now it doesn’t matter because the experiment’s over.”
Yes, that’s right. With the end of the semester comes not only finals, but the end of Cone Guy as well. However, rest assured that though the experiment is over, Reed has still put great thought into his status as a Clemson urban legend, and he has even put thought into a possible superhero name that such a role might entail.
“Instinctively, I want to say Cone Guy, but I can do better than that,” Reed said. “Ooooh, Traffic Wizard! And then I would wear it on my head.”

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