According to our esteemed editor Neely, the topic of our upcoming cover story is "really huge, intimidating, and rather scary-sounding" -- but no, it's not part of our Halloweek festivities. It's all about Big Ideas: string theory, deconstruction, postmodernism, the theory of relativity, and some exotic idea in economics that Mangesh is referring to as "the Black-Scholes equation." And our goal is to make all of this hyper-intellectual stuff a lot less huge, intimidating, and scary-sounding. So -- that... READ ON
LiveScience, having already announced that vampires are a mathematical impossibility, is now telling us that zombies are (in some sense) real:
Kings of the b-movie industry, zombies are individuals who've either had their souls sucked from their bodies or been revived from the dead through black magic. Zombie culture stems from the voodoo religion of Haiti, where it is still believed that people can fall into mindless trances just like the walking dead we've seen on film (minus the missing limbs and... READ ON
And finally, our top choice, partially because we have a deep and abiding affection for Weber State and partially because we absolutely adore the idea of anatomy-centric Christmas carols:
My best teacher ever was Dr. Kent Van De Graaff. He taught human anatomy at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. He loved to teach, and he had such a passion for anatomy that he made you love it too.
Dr. Van De Graaff made a subject anatomy fun. For example, he made up a 4-5 page list of anatomy Christmas songs (my... READ ON
Continuing with my theme of art made from round carbon-based lifeforms, check out these amazing carved eggshells -- as someone who's barely capable of properly cracking an egg, I'm impressed.
Via... READ ON
Here's our first runner up:
We were two weeks into our sixth grade class when our teacher died.
Our substitute teacher, Miss Hanson, had been a Spanish missionary to South America. She showed us a picture of her guide face down in a dugout with a spear in his back. We were mesmerized. Then she gave us mimeographed copies of how to make a shrunken head: first, get a head. When we studied South America, we knew everything.
She found each of our gifts and encouraged us: Jimmy and his dinosaurs,... READ ON
I swung by the Life is Good Pumpkin Festival last weekend and thought I'd share some photos. Also, I'll be carving my own pumpkin tonight, and I need some more inspiration. Ideas? Pics? Leave 'em in the... READ ON
Best I can tell (and believe me, I'm surprised), he's a real person, perhaps one who wrote an evil bot program and named it after himself. He apparently lives in Sacramento. And this, I have reason to believe, is his... READ ON
Halloweek continues right here on mental_floss today with a 14-minute classic, the very best video of all time:
And, currently making the rounds on the Interweb, the Bollywood version:
Once again, with Legos!
Okay, this YouTube thing is really Greg's job, so I'll stop... READ ON
Some of you have wondered who the winner is in the Teacher Appreciation Week contest. (Another one of you pointed out that the official Teacher Appreciation Week is in May, but that's by the by -- we didn't want to wait that long.) The reason we haven't announced our winner until now is, frankly, we needed an extension. Three entries in particular really stood out, and we had a really hard time deciding among them. So today, tomorrow, and Friday, we're naming a valedictorian, salutatorian, and...... READ ON
Y'know, I hate pigeons, but I don't think I would ever wish this fate on one of them:
Families strolling through a London park were left shocked when a pelican picked up and swallowed an unsuspecting pigeon. The Eastern White pelican struggled with the desperately frantic pigeon in its beak for more than 20 minutes before swallowing it whole.
The moment was caught on camera by photographer Cathal McNaughton, who was taking pictures of the wildlife in St James's Park. The pigeon was still alive when it... READ ON
So Jonny seems to have disappeared again, but I'm still pondering what to do about him. Reader Jason (who actually leaves his name as "Jason!", love that) suggested we do things the proper way, by filling out the legal forms, which he helpfully provided. The problem is, these seem to apply only to email, not comment spam, and I don't know if they'd matter to a huge company like Layered Technologies. We could write a filthy parody song about Jonny (as these folks did), but that seems like too much work and... READ ON
Or, as the authors put it, "13 Haunted Houses that will Make You Wet Your Pants." A sampler:
* USS Nightmare: Newport, Kentucky. Following the story of an ill-fated crew of sailors, this haunted house is set upon a real river steamboat. Every quarter in the ship has its own haunted scene whether you are in the captain's quarters, the mess hall or what appears to be a room full of torture devices. Be prepared for a lot of scary looking baby dolls strewn about the boat as well.
* Seven Floors of... READ ON
The Scientist has a cool piece about Michael Davidson, a molecular biophysicist who takes awesome microscopic-level photos of beer (and pretty much everything else):
To create his striking images, Davidson had to find ways to bridge the gap between what he saw through his microscope and what the camera lens saw. Because the eye detects more fluctuations along the color spectrum, the challenge has been creating specimens that work as well for the camera as they do for the human eye. For starters, the... READ ON
We're working on a book about the origins of, oh, just about everything, and we need your help. Specifically, we don't know what to call it. And since you've proven so handy with naming Element 118 (we only need eight more signatures before we can send our petition to the lab!), we thought you'd be able to come up with a snappy title for this, too. Want some examples of the kind of stuff you'll find inside?
There probably wasn't any turkey served at the first Thanksgiving -- although the Pilgrims and... READ ON
On Friday, Jonny attempted to spam this post and this one, both from October. Then, he went all the way back into the archives and tried to leave his mark here, here, and here. And I get the feeling he's not done yet.
Folks, this guy means business. Tomorrow, we begin the anti-spam campaign in earnest. I told you not to throw out those Rambo scarves -- looks like you'd better spend this weekend figuring out how to to tie them on. Luckily, Hermes has a great resource for that: click here and then... READ ON
Halloween is my very favorite holiday -- and yes, I'll admit to getting into it super-sexy-costume style. (I once dressed up in a red miniskirt, a t-shirt with my name on it, lots of fake blood, and a celery stick in my hair -- voila, "Bloody Mary.") We'll be celebrating on the blog from now right up until the big day. So for this week's contest, your mission is clear: Send us your ghouliest, creepiest, crawliest, coolest, or otherwise awesome-est costume ideas from Halloweens past or present. Three rules:... READ ON
I know I've written an awful lot about nude beaches in the last few months -- I'm really not trying to tell you guys anything -- but I had to reprint this classic quote from an AP story about nudist resorts, which are apparently baring all to the public in hopes of not being stigmatized:
One way to do so, a group of residents at Tampa's Paradise Lakes Resort decided five years ago, was to form the world's first nudist Lions Club. Members meet twice a month at the resort's restaurant and raise more than... READ ON
I'm still chuckling over our name for the brand-spanking-new Element 118, "Livermoron." So I thought for this week's roundup, I'd come up with some new (vaguely) scientific terms that could be used to describe other phenomena that appeared right here on the blog.
Crustaceambivalence: The psychological ability to think lobsters are adorable but still enjoy eating them. (See also: cognitive dissonance.)
Saiga tatarica bizarro: The name for a funny-looking subspecies of endangered Mongolian antelope.... READ ON
For our final tribute to teachers, we're focusing on creatures -- today we visit the animal kingdom to see what learning looks like there.
Dolphins: Spongeworthy Under the Sea
Using tools was once thought to separate humans from primates, but now, it doesn't seem to distinguish us much from dolphins, either. Recently, scientists observed dolphins using sponges to protect their sensitive schnozzes while searching for food on the rough sea floor. Not only that, but they also appear to be... READ ON
You guys really got into the spirit of naming the new element! We had 20-plus entries, all of them amusing. I was tempted to pick "Colbertium" (would you pronounce the T in that?), seeing as how I'm a ginormous fan, but I think he's probably over having things named for him. My husband also suggested, based on the picture at left, "Dippindotium -- the element of the future." But I couldn't ignore the groundswell of support for a particular entry that was both amusing and scientifically accurate, seeing as... READ ON
We don't know what's weirder -- the way the Mongolian saiga looks, or the fact that its population has plummeted by 95 percent in just the last 15 years:
Standing just under two feet at the shoulder and weighing about 50 pounds, the most striking feature of the saiga is its large nose, or proboscis, similar to a tapir [editor's note: I once called the tapir "the world's silliest animal," but this one clearly trumps it]. The function of this unusual nose is not clear, but it may serve to warm or filter air... READ ON
First there was drunk driving, then there was driving-while-cell-phoning, and now there's driving-while-googly-eyed. Honest to God, there is now a matchmaking/missed-connections service for people who are looking for romance on the road. Literally on the road, we mean: You buy a bumper sticker with an ID number, pull onto the highway, bat your eyes, and then wait for prospects to look you up on FlirtinginTraffic.com. (Or, of course, you can do some looking up of your own.)
Flirtingintraffic.com has... READ ON
I'm going to Tokyo in a few weeks, and yesterday my mother-in-law, who lives there, told me about a great item to put on the agenda: the Nurie Museum, which appears to be entirely devoted to Japanese coloring books. For those of you aren't planning a trip to Japan anytime soon, the Onishi Gallery in New York is showing some of the same wonderful things right now.
Before there was anime, there were "coloring pictures," which first showed up in the Meiji era as the Japanese government started to import... READ ON
Perhaps you know and love him as Mr. Hand, Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli's mortal enemy and combatant over pizza, but we're guessing you never knew Ray Walston for who he really was: the devil. Well, not really -- he won a Tony for his stint as the tempting Mr. Applegate in "Damn Yankees." Sadly, Walston died in 2001. According to IMDB, his other credits fell into a wide range of categories, including:
Jesus-y: "Touched by an Angel" and "7th Heaven"
Space-y: "Star Trek: Voyager," "Star Trek: The Next... READ ON
A team of Russian and American physicists has taken a mommy element (calcium) and a daddy element (Californium) and made a brand-new baby element -- as in, so brand-new that it's never existed before.
Scientists said they smashed together calcium with the manmade element Californium to make an atom with 118 protons in its nucleus. The new element lasted for just one millisecond, but it was the heaviest element ever made and the first manmade inert gas -- the atomic family that includes helium, neon and... READ ON
I've never seen "Birth of a Nation" -- a fact I'm not too troubled by -- but at the Idea Festival I did take in "Rebirth of a Nation." It's a fascinating remix by DJ Spooky, aka Paul Miller, that cuts up scenes in the film to great and thought-provoking effect. You can check out a clip on Spooky's website, but it doesn't quite compare to seeing the film with a live musical accompaniment at the very theater where it's said that D. W. Griffith himself used to work. (I think, however, this may be a Louisville... READ ON
Our first honoree for mental_floss Teacher Appreciation Week -- don't forget to submit your own stories and win a fabulous prize! -- is John Scopes, the Dayton, Tennessee football coach and sometime science teacher who was famously fined $100 for including evolution in his curriculum. I'm a huge fan (heck, I own Inherit the Wind on DVD) but any tribute to Scopes has to discuss the fact that he probably didn't teach evolution at all. PBS says he "couldn't remember actually teaching Darwin's theory," even... READ ON
I was ruminating over what to do with the dirt I'd gathered on our least-favorite comment spammer, "Jonny," when our research editor Sandy sent over an email with an intriguing observation -- Jonny hasn't left any of his trademark messages for us since we exposed his link to Layered Technologies last week. Not a single one. Got you running scared, now didn't we, Jonny?
Nonetheless, I think it's a bit premature to celebrate -- I am fully expecting him to come back, perhaps even to leave spam on this... READ ON
We're back from the Idea Festival, and all week long we'll be telling you about some of the cool people we met and things we learned. Let's start with some trivia about the lovely location of Louisville, the home of both the Festival and the Kentucky Derby. Turns out it's also the home of:
Diane Sawyer, D. W. Griffith, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (One of these gets considerably less play from the Louisville Chamber of Commerce than the others.)
The Oaks, a race that takes place the day before the... READ ON
Socrates taught Plato, Plato taught Aristotle, Aristotle taught Alexander the Great... history is filled with great teachers (there's a nice bit on those three here). So this week we're celebrating teachers. We'll be talking about famous examples as well as our own personal favorites all week, and we'd like you to join in. Send us tributes to your favorite pedagogical geniuses -- the kindergarten teacher who didn't chastise you for coloring outside the lines, the chemistry teacher who encouraged you to... READ ON
My husband looked at this graphic last night and said, "he has a side?"
Who can tell me what Woody Allen movie he was quoting from? (No Woody-Allen-is-a-pedophile-too jokes, please; we've already been hard enough on... READ ON
We had so many entries in the "tell us why you're above average" Prairie Home Companion DVD contest that we couldn't pick among them -- so, as predicted, we had to draw them out of our favorite Minnesota-y woolly hat. (It looks like the one at left.) And the five winners are...
1. Cindy Smith: "I consider myself an above average mental flosser because of the above average amount of time I put into my life... I work full time, go to school at night for a degree in physics, oil paint, glass paint, write... READ ON
For the sake of our more squeamish readers (particularly with lunch coming up soon), we're going to put the picture that goes with this caption (from the Cellar's ever-amusing "Image of the Day") after the jump:
"The official [caption] says this guy is from the Meishan tribe and this is a tribal festival. Now my question to you is this: why does there always have to be some weird tribal connection to body modification and nails through the chest and etc.? It seems like there is always talk about ritual,... READ ON
Will, Mangesh and I are currently in Louisville for the Idea Festival, which features speeches, presentations, and panels from "a dizzying array of extraordinary thinkers" and also me. Actually, we're moderating one of the panels on Saturday, "The Future According to mental_floss." And since we can't yet share with you the brilliant stylings of our three panelists -- Elizabeth Spiers, Ethan Zuckerman, and Henry Cunningham -- we thought we'd have our own little idea festival right here, featuring some of... READ ON
Yes, Halloween is coming, and yes, these are what you think they... READ ON
Sometimes I think I just can't please you people. I put up one post, and five seconds later it's "where's the next one? We're bored! Update! Update!" You know, it just makes me feel like... like... like a rodent in an exercise wheel.
But I guess things could be... READ ON
One thing I've learned in the short time I've been blogging is that you can learn things almost anywhere -- for instance, on the packaging for Stila eyeshadow. Not only is the "java" shade favored by Reese Witherspoon, its box bears the quote "Genius has no sex!"
Yes, the sentence would be phrased better as "genius has no gender," which is not only alliterative but also doesn't function as a double-entendre joke about the inability of nerds to get some. Nonetheless, it's a commendable sentiment, and it... READ ON
Will! Mangesh! See what your glorification of the tall and willowy, and your mockery of the short and scrawny, has wrought:
China will crack down on a vast, growing and largely unregulated industry offering leg-lengthening surgery for people who think they are too short, state media have said. The operation involves breaking the patients' legs and stretching them on a rack, and has led to several cases of disfigurement, the Xinhua news agency said, citing the health ministry. ...
The surgical... READ ON
I guarantee you that the post you're reading (the part I wrote, anyway) does not contain the letters B, Z, or Q. Not an awesome feat of writing, I admit. However, I think you'll find this novel, written in 1939, way more impressive: it has over 50,000 words, not one of which uses the letter E -- the most common letter in the English language. I found out how difficult it is not to use the letter when I tried writing this very post. I got almost eight words in and then completely gave up. (The novel's... READ ON
Alright, folks, listen up. We're gonna get this comment-spamming sucker.
I did a moderate amount of searching and found that "Jonny," who- or whatever he is, is affiliated with the Savvis data center and the hosting company Layered Technologies in Dallas. The WHOIS search on about half the "Jonny" spam gives me this:
Savvis SAVVIS (NET-216-32-0-0-1)
126.96.36.199 - 188.8.131.52
Layered Technologies, Inc. NET-216-32-64-0 (NET-216-32-64-0-1)
184.108.40.206 - 220.127.116.11
Occasionally, Jonny pops up... READ ON
Yesterday, we explored the origins of spam (the email annoyance); today, let's focus on the potted meat.
First, let's get the ingredients out of the way. SPAM comes, via a lot of processing, from pigs "“ it's made of chopped pork shoulder meat with ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Unless, that is, it's SPAM Lite, in which case there's also some chicken in there. Or SPAM Oven Roasted Turkey, which includes (we assume) turkey and is suitable for Muslims.... READ ON
Here's yet another scientific idea that sounds crazy until you consider it seriously: after years of watching their family members get killed by poachers, elephants across Asia and Africa are suffering from PTSD.
From within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. ... Since the early 1990's, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the... READ ON
I've been reading about spam a lot lately -- also, about SPAM, which is how Hormel capitalizes it -- because I'm writing about the origins of both for one of our upcoming books. Today, let's focus on the computer-related stuff, since that's what I'm so up in arms about these days:
In 1970, the members of Monty Python's Flying Circus came up with one of their most beloved and inadvertently prescient sketches, in which a customer in a restaurant desperately tries to order something that... READ ON
We've been getting an enormous amount of "comment spam" lately, about half of it from variations on the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and linking to www.jonny.com. The spammer leaves only one word in his comment space, which is "jonny." We are getting really, really sick of "jonny." So, readers, we're gonna do something about it.
But before we launch our attack, we need to make sure this "jonny" isn't someone wealthy and/or famous who could retaliate. Here is our short list of suspects so... READ ON
And you thought mental_floss Fashion Week was over! I just came across this piece in the IHT that completely stymied me with regards to a look seen at left on the Marc Jacobs and YSL runways:
"She wore bold checked jackets that flared away from the body and slim skirts. The silhouette was vaguely reminiscent of the 1980s - or even of the 1970s, when those weird zouave pants were first shown as fashion."
Those weird what pants? It turns out this look was originally worn by particularly snazzy infantry... READ ON
I came across this huge compilation of Mark Twain quotes the other day, and in reading them I noticed that a surprising number of them sounded like particularly good advice for journalists -- so I am founding the Mark Twain School of Journalism right here on mental_floss. Class is in session! And for your first assignment, many, many quotes attributed to Mark Twain were not actually said by him, so fact-check me:
"Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years,... READ ON
I'm sure our resident high-five giver, Jason, won't mind if I offer up his services to the first person who can tell me (a) what the following common words and phrases all refer to and (b) who we heard them from. Hint: Despite the first word on the list, it's not Snoop Dogg.
Also, super-bonus points to the person who tells us what "nose-painting"... READ ON
I'm originally from a small town in danger of being swallowed by the urban sprawl of Atlanta, so when I saw this piece about Georgia in the Times, headlined "A Battle for Hearts and Minds Sets Off a Building Boom," I just assumed it was about my hometown. Then I went on to read the opening:
"Until just over two months ago, the Kodori Gorge was a far-flung outpost where local militiamen ruled and its 2,500 residents lived simple but isolated lives, growing grapes and tending pigs far from the... READ ON
Judging by the pitiful number of entries in last week's Weird Science contest, you folks just aren't interested in working for your goodies. So this week we're eliminating the whole "earn it" aspect of the contest and just giving away free stuff. (Don't get too used to it.) We've found some DVDs that fell off a truck acquired five copies of "A Prairie Home Companion," which is new on DVD. By the way, here's our favorite piece of "Prairie Home" trivia, courtesy of IMDB and suitable for deployment at... READ ON
And for our "strangest research ever actually conducted," the winner is Jackie Dunn, who submitted this doozy from C. Bertelsmann's "The Book of Weird Experiments:"
In the photographs it looks like a circus side show. In the middle sits a bowl containing a severed dog's head and two tubes leading to a stand holding a pump, a bottle, and a basin filled to the brim with blood. A group of onlookers clusters tightly round about, witnesses to a scientific miracle: the dog's head lives.
The... READ ON
Thomas Jefferson wrote parts of the Declaration of Independence in a Philadelphia tavern.