surprisedEach year at this time, Grist’s writers and editors walk, hats in hand, to the people who keep track of the traffic numbers here. Each year, we hope against hope that one of our stories has made the list of the top-10 most clicked stories on the site — maybe it’ll be that wonky piece about what the Census numbers tell us (and don’t) about the so-called “urban renaissance,” or the one about “discount rates” and climate change. Oh come on, we can hope, can’t we?

OK, no. We’ve had our fun over the past week hand-picking our favorite stories about bikes, genius kids, cities, and the likes. But this last list is drawn straight from the data, based solely on the number of “unique pageviews” each story received. And let’s just say it doesn’t always leave us feeling optimistic about the future of life on this rock.

Without further ado, the 10 most popular stories from Grist in 2012. If you need us, we’ll be huddled around a bottle of whiskey, resigning ourselves to running more stories about baby pandas and penguin sweaters in 2013 — and toasting Jess Zimmerman and her crack team of Grist List bloggers who keep the hordes stampeding to our url, despite our best efforts to drive them away.

10. House Republican accidentally tells truth about Solyndra investigation

Wow. Can’t really explain this one. I mean, this was actually news — at least inasmuch as a story about non-news can be news. (You’ll recall that the Solyndra investigation was cooked up by Republicans to tar renewable energy and President Obama’s economic recovery efforts in general.) But the web-surfing public went for it, big time. Go figure.

9. Woman arrested for burning down 3,500-year-old tree

Pro tip: If you’re going to do meth inside a giant tree and then light the thing on fire, don’t take pictures of the conflagration and leave them lying around where the cops can find them. There may be a happy ending to this story, however: The Orlando Sentinel reports that University of Florida foresters produced clones of the tree, called the Senator, 15 years before it burned. Plans are afoot to plant one of the clones in the park where the Senator once stood. If all goes well, everything will be back to normal in about 3,485 years.

8. Watch rescued ducks discover the water for the first time in this heartwarming video

Here’s another gem from the messed-up-people-vs.-the-planet department — this time a story about 160 ducks rescued from a hoarder who kept them in some pretty horrid conditions. Turns out that not all ducks take to water like, well … oh, just watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, etc., etc.

7. Here is a shark swallowing another shark

Nuf said.

6. If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month

This little statistic apparently left the interwebs agog: According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature.” In other words, if you were born in or after April 1985, you have never lived through a month that was colder than average. Um, is it getting hot in here?

5. $28 cabbage, $65 chicken, and other insane food prices in Northern Canada

Another sign of how completely super cool Canada is: The Inuit have their own freaking province. Now if they could only afford food. This story may only be the fifth most clicked story of 2012, but it contains, hands down, the best (worst) pun of the year.

4. 9-year-old’s lunch blog shames school into making changes

Yeah, so some 9-year-old decides to start a blog about the crap she’s served in the school cafeteria, and she gets all kinds of international attention, including from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, and as a result, the school starts feeding the kids actual food. Big whoop! We have a blog, too. Where’s the love?

3. The most brutal ad you’ll see this election

It stands to reason that the shortest post Grist’s staff writer, David Roberts, wrote all year got the most traffic. His  subject: a bruiser of an ad that features scenes of superstorm Sandy ravaging the Eastern Seaboard, set to Mitt Romney’s wisecrack about climate change at the Republican National Convention and the raucous applause that followed. The sum total of Roberts’ commentary: “Ouch.”

2. America has 40 million McMansions that no one wants

OK, we’ll admit it. That’s a hell of a headline.

1. Giant, awesome tree lobster survived 80 years in hiding

The f*&%^ing tree lobster! This thing is the bane of our existence. You let down your guard for like FIVE MINUTES and the tree lobster is back at the top of the traffic charts — and indeed, it’s tops for 2012. But wait, oh god, that thing is AMAZING, really. Here’s how Sarah Laskow sums up its story:

A giant, awesome bug that looks like an alien almost didn’t survive because people are idiots (and rats are jerks). But it did, because sometimes people aren’t total idiots and are a little bit brave. And now you can watch how awesome this bug is on the internet.

So OK, we’ll let this pass just once, tree lobster. But mark our words: We won’t let you do this to us again next year. Next year it’s gonna be, well … would somebody pass the whiskey?