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Florida made the list! But what does it mean?

Things you never needed to know:

The University of South Florida is the third hairiest college in the country. Tampa is the 17th drunkest city. Jacksonville is sorely undersexed at 59.

In the arbitrary world of lists, Florida is a little of everything. Sexiest. Smelliest. Dumbest. Friendliest. New lists constantly surface, trading complex experiences for …

1. Tidy

2. Order

3. And

4. Dumb

5. Luck

List articles, or "listicles," are concise and easy to digest, and therefore popular. Magazines love them because numbers on the cover sell better than stodgy old words. Companies love them because they help sling products.

We love them, and why not? We rank our military, clergy, favorite songs, Biggest Losers and American Idols. We make grocery lists and honey-do lists and playlists.

We rank everything.

"There's more and more information available," said Bert Sperling, who in 1987 started his famous Sperling's Best Places lists with Money magazine. "Anyone can do their own research. That means there's less time and more choices for people to have to make. They're looking for lists that are distillations."

Colleges clamor to shine on the U.S. News and World Report tally of best schools, even if it means easing admission and test requirements. Hospitals enjoy the glory, too. This summer, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa General Hospital and All Children's Hospital placed in the magazine's list of the top 50 hospitals.

Other lists are confusing, if not teetering on doomsday material. And if you look below the surface, they're often self-serving, presented online in formats that make you click through dozens of pages to increase web traffic.

Men's Health calls rank stories "Metrogrades." This year, it claimed St. Pete as one of the 10 worst cities for both men and women, based on cancer rates, heart disease, fatness.

Tampa placed 49th on a Daily Beast list of smartest cities, dropping 16 spots from the year before. But hey, we beat Orlando (50)!

Forbes often ranks the best cities for singles. In 2007, Tampa came in at a cat shelter-sexy 32. As an added bonus, Forbes named Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys our most eligible bachelor. The same year, Tampa was 24th on their drunkest cities list.

According to Travel and Leisure, Orlando is totally awesome. No. 1 for family vacations and inclusive resorts. Eight for affordable hotels, 12 for Christmas fun. But museums suffer a sharp slice to the listy gut — 35.

Ten years ago, Sperling started doing research for companies seeking editorial coverage for their products.

"We are bombarded by advertising, and the only way we can function is to ignore it," said Sperling. "By getting in the news somehow, they're rising above the clutter, in advertising speak."

Fujifilm was the first, he said, commissioning him to find photogenic cities. He works with about 15 companies and five magazines each year, turning down the ones with an agenda, he said. He has distanced himself from Men's Health, Daily Beast and Forbes, which have veered toward salacious surveys.

"I don't have fun bashing, say, Detroit or Cleveland or places that are sort of on the ropes in some way," he said. "Every place is somebody's hometown. Every place is special in some way."

Those hyperbolic rankings aren't taken too seriously.

"We have nothing to do with them," said Chris Thompson, president of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing company. "We have no clue, don't even know about them until they're published. … I can't think of any instance where we've actually raised one of those rankings on high and said, 'Look at this.' "

In 2009, two Tampa Bay potties made a list of America's best bathrooms — St. Pete's NOVA 535 Unique Event Space and the Tampa Theatre. The contest was presented by Cintas, a company whose products include — you guessed it — bathroom supplies.

It's symbiotic, said NOVA 535 owner Michael S. Novilla. It helps Cintas, and it helps his business.

"Having a $4 billion global company call and say that we've made the top 10 out of 5 million, that's a big deal," he said. "You have to differentiate yourself from your competition."

Tampa Theatre made a Delta Sky magazine list of top 10 iconic planetary showplaces, and a Life list of 21 places not to miss. And patrons still talk about the bathroom hullabaloo.

"I think it helps to validate Tampa Theatre's specialness," said Tara Schroeder, theater programming director. "It's one thing to live here and know that the Tampa Theatre is special, but to see that people around the world are taking notice is a nice feeling."

The marketers at Visit Florida eschew rankings for a finely tuned cocktail of consumer segmentation, demographics, psychographics, trends and keyword searches.

Yawn.

But Popcrunch.com rates USF the 32nd hottest college in the country! Tailgating babes in tank tops!

You actually really can't go wrong going to school anywhere in Florida, it says. Just think about that if you're considering Minnesota or somewhere equally goofy.

As for the hairiest college …

Only a third of guys at USF sport a clean shave, a recent report from Sperling's company said. Researchers observed shaving habits at 60 campuses. A research company surmised that guys who shave are happier, more social and have twice as much sex as their hairy peers.

Who commissioned the whole thing?

Schick Hydro. A brand of ­razors.

Where does Tampa rank?

A sampling of where Tampa, St. Pete and some local institutions ranked in a few recent studies:

Hairiest Colleges: University of South Florida, 3 (Schick Hydro razors, 2010)

America's smartest cities: Tampa, 49 (Daily Beast, 2010)

Hottest colleges: USF, 32 (­Popcrunch.com, 2010)

Worst cities for men and women: St. Pete, 95 (for men); St. Pete, 93 (for women) (Men's Health, Women's Health 2010)

Best cities for singles: Tampa, 32 (Forbes, 2007)

Best bathrooms: NOVA 535 and Tampa Theatre (Cintas, 2009)

Drunkest cities: Tampa, 17 (Daily Beast, 2010)

Best strip clubs: Mons Venus, Tampa, 8 (askmen.com, 2008)

Best places for military retirees: Tampa, 5 (USAA insurance and military.com, 2010)

Fattest cities: Tampa, 36 (Men's Health, 2010)

Florida made the list! But what does it mean? 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 12:16pm]

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