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Denver is the fourth-best city for brunch lovers, seventh-most Irish city in the U.S., third-best city to get stoned and No. 18 for hangover cures. Coloradans are sixth most likely to go vegan and rank a poor 45th for pet ownership — yet, paradoxically, at the top of the list for dog adoptions and a respectable 10th for cat-craziness.

>> Want to see where Colorado ranks on all of these lists? Skip to the bottom.

If there is a buzzworthy topic or dubious distinction out there, someone is making it into a listicle, charticle or otherwise appealing morsel of media based on troves of easily and cheaply accessible data, powered by a seemingly insatiable online appetite for content. These are the ubiquitous polls, surveys and data crunches that break down our lives and our surroundings into a million metrics, holding Colorado up against the rest of the country so we know exactly where we stand. 

They reveal the happiness of our marriages, delve into our affinity for cowboy boots, weigh the depth of our obsession with “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” ultimate fighting and fantasy football. They gauge how well we’re sleeping, take stock of our dreams and even project what our dream home looks like, based on artificial intelligence technology.

Then they run some more numbers to determine how afraid we are that the same AI technology might take our jobs.

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Generated by a wide variety of businesses dealing in everything from personal finance to online gambling to lawn maintenance, they usually seek to drive internet traffic to their websites by putting our lives under the microscope and adding analysis to statistics and polling readily and cheaply available in the digital age.

These snapshots of the cultural moment land in journalists’ inboxes with amazing frequency, offering free statistical compilations, centered on geography (here we see Colorado, Denver and other cities across the state highlighted) and custom made for easy-to-digest tabulation. Over a few weeks, a single email box can easily accumulate at least a couple hundred pitches, ranging from fun or whimsical topics to data analysis useful and reliable enough to feed into news coverage. 

Lists as a marketing technique certainly predate the internet age, although online tools eventually turbocharged the process, says Bert Sperling, who carved out a niche in this space about 20 years ago when he began teaming with Money magazine to compile research on the best places to live. That wildly successful effort now lives on at

The internet’s on-ramp to seemingly endless sources of data has made it easy for anyone to cobble together information and, with varying degrees of effort, turn it into some manner of cultural pecking order. Sperling likens the volume of information flowing through digital channels to the proverbial fire hose. What thirsty consumers needed was a way to make sense of it.

“People need something that’s curated for them, and they love the idea of saying, ‘Just tell me what’s the best.’ That’s all they want,” he says. “That’s all we can handle these days. In fact, the more and more information we have, the more and more we need this sort of curated decision making for us.”

Horse riders on the Chico Basin Ranch on June 21, 2022. In one list, Colorado came in a very respectable 6th among best states for horse lovers. It ranked 2nd in most riding trails and horse veterinarians. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Leveraging lists to capture eyeballs

For a company like, an online resource for legal and regulated sports betting, a data set available from the American Veterinary Medical Association recently produced state rankings on pet ownership — information that has little to do with the money line on the Nuggets or Avalanche but nonetheless piques curiosity and drives eyeballs to its website.

“Fun little surveys and data number crunches are really popular among people who may not be interested in the sport side,” says Daiana James, spokesperson for, noting that stories like the one on pet ownership are proven drivers of internet traffic. “So in tackling the competitive nature that all people tend to have, people like to see where they measure up against other states and other places. From this marketing perspective it is very much about increasing our reach and getting increasing visibility.”

The pet ownership numbers, perhaps counterintuitively for the many Coloradans who share their homes with animals, rank our state 45th nationally, based on the AVMA’s ownership numbers that were then used to calculate the percentage of each state’s population that owns pets. Colorado registered 47.2%, making this one of the least pet-loving states. Wyoming ranked first at 71.8%.

On the other hand, Colorado ranked at the top of the list of states most likely to adopt a dog, based on a combination of Google search results and “live outcomes” of adoptions relative to state populations — calculations produced by the site, which provides information on online betting sites. The results were keyed to National Rescue a Dog Day. What about cats, you say? Colorado ranks 10th.

All types of media outlets are hungry for content, and the easy availability of data — sometimes even free, from government agencies or public entities — and the ease with which rudimentary polling can be accomplished delivers a smorgasbord of chatter-worthy information. The connection to reality may range from seemingly spot-on to straining the imagination, but that’s part of the appeal.

People need something that’s curated for them, and they love the idea of saying, ‘Just tell me what’s the best.’ That’s all they want.

— Bert Sperling, creator of and an early adopter of lists

“Pretty much there’s a constant flow of ideas on what story we can do,” James says, “and yes, there is a strategy to it. For example, the pet story that we did, we based on National Pet Day. So sometimes the timing may be based around that, or it may be that we just got a handful of data from a particular source and we found a way to crunch the numbers and present it. 

“Very often we sit on ideas until we think they’re a little more timely,” she adds. “But there’s definitely sort of a constant churn. We’re always looking for inspiration, even if we don’t use it immediately, but definitely all the time.”

The data dives and polls routinely find their way into the media landscape at moments when there might be higher interest surrounding an event, whether traditional or contrived. Earth Day. April Fools’ Day. World Sleep Day. 4/20. May the Fourth. Wedding season.

Recognized “days” do tend to be popular hooks, which led to build a story on which of America’s cities are friendliest toward naked gardening, whose “day” falls on the first Saturday each May. 

Manufacturing methodology

Sometimes the methodology itself can be a conversation starter. This data crunch assigned values to a dozen metrics, including nudist population size, indecent exposure laws, gardener-friendliness, forecast local temperature on that day, toplessness laws, the universal go-to of Google searches for “naked gardening terms” and, um, sex offenders per 100,000 residents.

The analysis ranked Denver 17th. Don’t forget the sunblock.

There’s no end to the categories: Denver is the fourth-best city for brunch lovers, seventh-most Irish city in the U.S., third-best city to get stoned and No. 18 for hangover cures. Coloradans are sixth most likely to go vegan, and 47% of us consider ourselves survivalists. We also took the top spot among the most physically active states in the country — so says the data analysis of the experts at, the sleep experts.

LEFT: Beers on tap at Breckinridge Brewery. (Colorado Sun file) RIGHT: Some golden retrievers at the 2023 “Goldens in Golden” gathering. One list ranks Colorado as the fourth best state for beer while another ranks it as the 45th best for pet ownership.

TOP: Beers on tap at Breckinridge Brewery. (Colorado Sun file) BOTTOM: Some golden retrievers at the 2023 “Goldens in Golden” gathering. One list ranks Colorado as the fourth best state for beer while another ranks it as the 45th best for pet ownership.

Part of the appeal of these attention grabbers is that they tell us, however superficially and unscientifically, something about ourselves. But more importantly, notes Alixandra Barasch, associate professor of marketing at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, they purport to show where we stand relative to everyone else.

“Anything that’s competition-based is always going to be attractive,” she says. “Winners, losers, status, signaling — there’s a lot of psychological things going on here. It’s pride, it’s identity. And to the extent that you feel connected to something on a top list of whatever, it’s just going to perpetuate, because people will share it and talk about it more. So that’s a winning formula from a media perspective.”

In an era of plentiful data, Google searches and internet surveys, there are limitless ways information can be sorted, aggregated and channeled to the particular interests and imaginations of a local audience.

From the (perhaps) useful: Which diets are Coloradans most interested in trying? Where does Coors Field rank for prices of tickets, merchandise, food and beer? How does the state rank for job opportunities? How dangerous is Colorado for motorcyclists?

To the sort-of-interesting: In which Colorado counties does Social Security go the furthest? Where does Denver rank for STD rates? How long do Coloradans believe they’ll live, relative to life expectancy?

To the whimsical: What percentage of Colorado couples are happy in their marriages? What states are the least interested in King Charles’ coronation? Where does Colorado rank in terms of “Star Wars” fandom?

And then there are some linked — however tenuously — to front-of-mind issues like the environment: Where does Denver rank in terms of the most sustainable cities? How does it rate in terms of air and water pollution?

“If you’re going after, let’s say, Gen Z, who are basically in love with the environment, and they want to support and enrich the environment and protect it, obviously you want to make sure you craft those lists or the content in a way that entices them to open and read it,” says Ali Besharat, associate professor of marketing at the University of Denver. 

“Any smart marketing campaign managers should do their target marketing and know who they’re going after,” he adds. “So you have to tailor the content to them so they could relate to it in terms of message fitness, execution and the relevancy for them.” 

Josiah Hesse smokes marijuana at his Denver home. “Colorado cologne” — or smelling like marijuana — is one of the local phrases 54% of Coloradans want to cling to and have made official by law (whatever that means), 32nd among all states. See where the state ranks on more of these idiosyncratic lists at the bottom of this story. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Creative calculations

The calculations may or may not be statistically sound, but they can be creative. James, of, notes that sometimes the company combines data groups to create its own multifaceted methodology. For example, James cites a compilation and ranking of the best movies shot in Colorado. Instead of just ranking them by box office performance, awards can be considered with all of the data cobbled together to create a unique grading system.

“We’ll incorporate the box office scores and we’ll add an Oscars bonus and rank them in that way,” she explains. “I do think that it’s a matter of what data is accessible and also what resources we have to run surveys.”

Surveys, she says, can come together in a variety of ways. Emails to a focus group can produce one set of responses. Links posted in internet forums also can yield content. The process employed can depend on the type of data the company seeks or the subject matter being referenced.

And while the surveys are mostly fun and lighthearted, they’re usually connected to topics that people tend to be passionate about — hence the high traffic on the website for subjects like pet ownership even on a site devoted to sports betting.

“These fun lifestyle pieces are some of the more popular ones on our site historically,” James says. “And I think it is just that they appeal to our humanity in a way that we don’t get to be in touch with everyday, especially when we’re reading the news.”

Barasch, who designs studies and surveys and does research for a living, notes that data has never been easier and cheaper to collect. And while surveys can be constructed to yield almost any desired answer, the goal of most of these marketing surveys is to be “accurate in some way” — at least enough so that consumers can find some use for them, even if it’s just bragging rights or good fun.

“I can create a survey about the best Disney characters and get data in five minutes from a thousand people,” she says, “and then tell everybody that Belle is the best Disney princess. It’s based on very little rigorous research, but it’s fun. I’m actually OK that it’s not perfectly reliable, as long as the goal is interest or entertainment.

“With any list, you have infinite ways to compose that list. And so it gives the creators a lot of leeway to tell a story. It’s a way to position facts and information. And because it’s not purely objective, it’s a great tool you can use to tell a story and make it seem somewhat objective even when many, many degrees of freedom went into creating that list.”

On some level, are we addicted to lists, to rankings?

Besharat, the DU expert, says that to some extent we are, and there’s even an academic term for the reason — these polls, studies and lists can serve as “cognitive minimizers.” In other words, shortcuts to information.

People are driven to this kind of list because it does the homework for them,” he says. “That’s why they’re successful. Honestly, people just want to consume. They don’t want to do the homework.”

☀️ PREVIOUSLY IN COLORADO SUNDAY’s Sperling points out that it’s not just about the data, but interpretation of the data. Artificial intelligence, which in a rudimentary form helped launch Best Places, will assume a bigger role not on the data side, but in the presentation, he predicts. AI can power the summaries of the data, create the textual narrative, which Sperling says his company already is exploring.

And the gatekeepers — the list-makers — will become more valuable. 

“Legitimate news sources are going to be more highly regarded because people will trust that as opposed to some sort of list that’s been spun off via a website or some blog, looking just to try and get eyeballs or clicks,” he adds.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Sperling says. “And this is just the beginning. Data scientists have said there are going to be bad actors doing bad things with AI. And it’s going to be really important for people to figure out what they’re looking at. And so then the whole thing is a matter of trust. It’s gonna be the wild West for a while.”

Of course, when it comes to artificial intelligence, there’s already a list of the most AI-obsessed states to tell readers what they really want to know.

Colorado ranks 6th.

Where Colorado ranks

Not exactly the bees’ knees: Coloradans aren’t exactly buzzing about beekeeping, ranking 17th nationally based on data surrounding honey production, colony loss and apiculture classes among 15 categories taken into consideration.

Top botanic gardens: According to a poll gauging America’s top botanic gardens, Denver Botanic Garden ranks 14th, Yampa River Botanic Park ranks 66th, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (highest elevation in U.S.) ranks 95th.

Urban gardens, not so much: Colorado barely shows up on a list of the best cities for growing your own food, with Colorado Springs ranking 186th. But flip the script to list the worst cities for urban gardening and Colorado really rates: Aurora (right behind Anchorage), Thornton (4th) and Lakewood (10th) appear based on 12 metrics from the 200 biggest U.S. cities focusing on easy access to gardening space and supplies, an ideal climate and a big gardening community.

Let’s drink to that: Colorado ranks as the 4th best state for beer, based on quality, quantity and affordability, behind Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

Cyclist/driver relations: In a survey of 3,000 cyclists, Colorado’s relationship with vehicle drivers ranks 5th worst in the country based on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the best relations. At 5.4, Colorado ranked better only than New Hampshire, Kansas, South Carolina and Oklahoma, and a long ride from Vermont’s relatively friendly 8 score.

A pair of cyclists use the recreational pathway along the frozen surface of Dillon Reservoir on May in Summit County. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Marital bliss: Colorado ranks 3rd for the percentage of married couples who say they’re happily wed, at 86%, based on a survey of 3,000 respondents. Only West Virginia and Minnesota report more blissful marriages.

Biggest jokers: Colorado ranks 5th, based on Google search, comedy clubs, comedy acts for hire and comedy meetup groups (per capita). But statistically or otherwise, the NBA playoffs have proved unequivocally that Colorado ranks first when it comes to Jokers.

Best for brunch: Denver ranks 4th overall based on a score derived from several metrics, behind New York, San Francisco and Chicago, but 1st for number of brunch events.

The Hangover, Part IV: Denver ranks 18th overall among best cities for a hangover cure, based on hangover food, hangover drinks, other remedies, getting home, sleeping in public. For some reason, Lawn Love wanted you to know this.

Dream on: When Coloradans drop off to sleep, here’s what occupies their dream narratives, based on Google search data: 1. Aliens/UFOs; 2. Teeth falling out; 3. Speaking another language; 4. Being naked; 5. Seeing ghosts. But what does our dream home look like?

Ready for your close-up?: A company that describes itself as an online casino guide studied moviegoers to determine the depth of their obsession, based on internet searches. Colorado ranks 4th based on average monthly searches per 100,000 people. Horror is the most popular genre. But Colorado also showed the highest interest of any state in sci-fi movies.

Lights, camera, action: Among the 200 biggest U.S. cities, Denver ranked 15th based on movie theater access and ratings, as well as streaming quality for those who prefer to watch at home. Other factors considered were affordability of movie tickets, film groups, and festivals, among 13 total metrics. Other cities: Colorado Springs (46th), Fort Collins (82nd), Aurora (141st), Lakewood (145th) and, sigh, Thornton (193rd).

She’s the boss: At 24.8%, Denver has the 3rd highest percentage of women-owned businesses in the country, based on data from the Census Bureau annual business survey for 2020) among metro areas. The Mile High City ranks behind Asheville, North Carolina, (25%) and St. Louis (24.84%). On a statewide level, Colorado also ranks 3rd in likelihood you’ll have a female boss, with 54% of employed women in management (behind Massachusetts and Maryland). 

Attendees listen to Sarah Friar of Nextdoor, and Lee Mayer of Havenly speak during a Pathways to Capital event on March 29 at Empower Field in Denver. Women and non-binary entrepreneurs discussed how to sustain and grow businesses through finance and investment practices. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Seen it all in a small town: Colorado has small towns in abundance, of every description. A poll of families across the country found that Salida came in at 36th favorite. Paonia ranked 89th and Crested Butte 143rd. 

Luck o’ the Irish: Among 200 largest U.S. cities, this is more a cultural ranking than sheer numbers. Denver ranked 15th in Irish population, 12th in Irish restaurants and pubs, 3rd in St. Patrick’s Day events, 13th in Irish landmarks, 27th in number of Irish organizations.

Happy campers: Colorado ranked 6th overall, based on rankings for access, quality, supplies, safety and affordability. California, Washington, Texas, Florida and New York ranked ahead of us.

Them’s fightin’ words: Denver hosted the first UFC event ever in November 1993.

So maybe it figures that Colorado ranks as 6th most obsessed with Ultimate Fighting Championship, based on search terms, by a combat sports site

Practicing safe sex: In a ranking where you want to be as far down the list as possible, among the top 100 cities ranked by STD rates Denver ranked 51st — an improvement from the previous ranking of 32.

Not just horsing around: Based on 27 metrics like equestrian programs, riding trails, horse shows, plus horses for sale, boarding facilities, vets, trainers and affordability, Colorado came in a very respectable 6th among best states for horse lovers. It ranked 2nd in most riding trails and horse veterinarians.

Couch potatoes not on the menu: Colorado reigns supreme with only 16.7% of residents NOT partaking in exercise outside their job — just ahead of Utah, Vermont and Washington. Oddly, the website analyzed the data from America’s Health Ranking Public Health Impact report for this one. 

Living in a fantasy world: Colorado ranks 9th in searches related to fantasy football at 8.82 per 1,000 people, just behind … North Dakota?

Well, we do have lots of mountains: Colorado ranked as the 3rd best state for mountain biking, behind Vermont and Utah, based on number of trails, the percentage of hilly terrain, the state’s bikeability score and the number of top destinations per state.

What can you afford?: Based on 47 metrics, Boulder is the 7th least affordable city in the country, while Fort Collins is the 49th most affordable, Colorado Springs ranks 64th most affordable and Denver 96th. Generally least affordable cities are in the West, while most affordable are in Midwest.

Someone still loves the Broncos: According to Google search data from the past 12 months, the Denver Broncos rank as the favorite team in three states — Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. That three-state appeal ties us for 4th with the Philadelphia Eagles and K.C. Chiefs, behind Minnesota (four states), New England (five states) and — face it, we’re all just chasing “America’s Team” — Dallas (15 states).

Fighter jets fly over the Empower Field at Mile High Stadium before a Broncos game on Jan. 8. (Jack Dempsey, AP Photo)

Speaking our language: As regional dialects die out with increased mobility and  cultural diversity, 54% of Coloradans want to cling to their particular set of phrases and terms and have their dialect made official by law (whatever that means) — based on a 3,000-person survey in February. That ranked Colorado 32nd in terms of how badly they want that. Examples cited are “towards the mountains” (directions) and “Colorado cologne” (smelling like marijuana), but you can take a quiz to test your knowledge of regional dialects.

High AI anxiety: More than a quarter of Colorado workers (26%) are concerned about the growth of AI and its impact on job security, according to the survey of 3,000 employees across the U.S. by That’s far from the angst of New Hampshire (71%) and closer to the bottom of the list with Nebraska (17%). By industry, tech workers were most concerned at 64%, least concerned were in the public service sector (19%). Not surprisingly, 52% of journalists expressed concern.

Let’s sleep on it: Colorado has the 2nd lowest percentage of insufficient sleepers, based on getting fewer than seven hours of sleep on average, at 30%. Part of that, the study suggests, is connected to the state’s lower-than-average obesity rate (23.6%) that reduces conditions like sleep apnea. Most rested county? Eagle at only 26% insufficient sleep. Least rested? Pueblo at 36.1% insufficient sleep. It’s all based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based telephone survey.

Kevin Simpson is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a general assignment writer and editor. He also oversees the Sun’s literary feature, SunLit, and the site’s cartoonists. A St. Louis native and graduate of the University of Missouri’s...