Reader (and frequent commenter) "n2y2" wins our prize for the most harebrained research proposal -- although, as you'll see, it's not so harebrained that someone hasn't already done it:
I would like to study the leading cause of diminished ocular functionality in the users of toy projectile launchers.
Translation: Do kids shoot their eye out when using BB guns?
Now, since we couldn't actually fund this research, we thought we'd better at least Google it -- and in addition to this horrifying... READ ON
Here I go again with the value-added for articles in highbrow publications: the New York Times has an amusing column called "Possessed" about a few of its subjects' favorite things. This Sunday the subject was brilliant, misanthropic playwright Neil LaBute and a painting he owns, the eerie tableau at left. LaBute told the journalist that he liked the painting's obscurity:
"It doesn't have a shared history with other people," he said. "'Guernica' means one thing to me, another thing to Picasso and... READ ON
The current New Yorker has a great article about murderer Richard McNair, who is the only person to escape from a maximum-security federal prison in the last 13 years and, apparently, a bit of an evil genius. You can't read the article online (the New Yorker only publishes a few of its articles on the web every week), but you can see a remarkable video in which he outsmarts a cop who's on patrol looking for him. The mag describes the video, which was taken by a camera on the cop's dashboard, thusly:... READ ON
The runways have been dismantled, the models are all jetting back to the Ukraine or more likely, New York, and Paris Fashion Week is over -- but we're still celebrating. Here, based on our coverage this week, are the trends we predict that fashion victims will be incorporating into their wardrobes next spring:
* beer hats
* catsuits (for best results, buy one size larger than usual)
* Texas Rangers jerseys
* military... READ ON
She hasn't commented on the Charles Carl Roberts slayings yet, but Laura Mallory -- tragically just a few days too late for Banned Books Week -- does think that Harry Potter is responsible for several recent school shootings:
"A woman who maintains that the Harry Potter books are an attempt to teach children witchcraft is pushing for the second time to have them banned from school libraries.
Laura Mallory, a mother of four from the Atlanta suburb of Loganville, told a Georgia Board of Education officer... READ ON
We've gotten so many great anecdotes in our idiocy contest over the last two weeks that I've started to get a little depressed about the whole thing. I just can't tell another one. So to finish off our two-week celebration of stupidity, I present to you... READ ON
Perhaps you've heard already, but layering is the big trend this fall -- so to round up our (vaguely) fashion-themed posts for the week, here's Matt McAllister taking the trend to heart and breaking the Guiness record for most t-shirts worn at one time -- 155! -- set for some inexplicable reason to "Ride of the Valkyries."
My favorite comes at 44 seconds (and what looks like more than 80 ginormous t-shirts) in: "Princess -- It's not just a name, it's an... READ ON
People, people, people! We gave you a homework assignment earlier this week -- are we going to have to fail you out? Well, not really, 'cause we don't do that kind of thing around here, but please do remember that there are gold stars (and copies of What's the Difference?) for the people who submit (a) the most ridiculous example of scientific research they've seen in the last few months, and (b) the most ridiculous science-fair project idea (or, y'know, actual research idea) they can come up with. The... READ ON
Here I go with the "being an idiot about the Idiot of the Day" thing again -- I forgot yesterday's. Which means, to make up for it, we get two stories of stupidity today! Both are from reader Becky, who also happens to be a dear friend, so I can guarantee she's the opposite of an idiot. First:
I was working, ever so briefly, at the Virginia Department of Health in the Vital Records office before getting a real job after college. I answered calls from those in search of birth, death and marriage... READ ON
Judging by the breathless reaction to the Balenciaga show yesterday, the Next Big Thing will be dressing like C-3PO. We'd like to take this moment to point out that while Nicolas Ghesquiere's tailoring is unequaled (just because we can't afford Balenciaga doesn't mean we can't appreciate it), the "protocol droid" look is likely to end up on the same list as the other ridiculous fashion fads from this year's January-February season issue:
Bermuda Shorts. Once the uniform of British soldiers stationed in... READ ON
... because it's the size of a needle, or more accurately, the size of the eye of a needle or, sometimes, a pin or a fishhook or a safety pin. (The plank that girl is walking down is an eyelash.) It's perhaps not the kind of thing you want to hang on your wall to impress your friends and relatives, since they'll barely be able to see it, but it's extraordinary nonetheless, and despite all our skepticism Snopes says it's completely real. Willard's website says:
The smallest sculptures can only be... READ ON
Given the recent controversy over our use of the word "mad" to describe a particular scientist (albeit one whose work we admired), we thought we'd take a moment this week to plumb that stereotype instead of jokingly pinning it on a real person. Because we're lazy -- actually, it's because we're currently trying to close the new issue of the magazine, which is all about wacky science! -- we went straight to the Wikipedia entry, and it turned out to be pretty good. For instance, we found out that mad... READ ON
We at mental_floss may not be able to squeeze into European-size-36 pants (we need at least a 38), but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate Paris Fashion Week, which is ongoing -- and which we're marking all week long with a series of faaabulous posts. Nonetheless, feeling a bit self-conscious about our thighs, we decided to make today's post about the surroundings, rather than the doings. Hope you enjoy this little travelogue from our upcoming book, In the Beginning:
Ah, Paris: land of the crepe, the... READ ON
Kane Quinnell bought a new camera and, just for kicks, thought he'd take a couple of outdoor shots when a storm rolled in. He ended up with this pic of lightning frying his neighbor's... READ ON
Gah! I forgot to post an Idiot of the Day during working hours, which technically makes me the Idiot. But I've already got a copy of Condensed Knowledge, so we're going to award this week's prize (and also, the Jayson Blair Memorial Scholarship) to Sally Villareal, who submitted this short-and-sweet doozy:
"When I was in college, several students in a media ethics class were busted. For plagiarism."
Congrats, Sally! Send us your contact info (and please don't copy it off someone... READ ON
I know it's not terribly new, but since he's touring and he's got a new album at all, I just have to direct your attention (if it hasn't already been directed) to Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" on XM Satellite Radio. The show features songs Bob likes -- it's really that simple -- but, crucially, it also features Bob himself, providing quirky descriptions and banter as only he can. In a recent show arranged around the idea of "matrimony," he described one artist as "a tornado of a singer who can rise... READ ON
This fall, shoes are a big deal -- literally. The scary-looking thing at left is the chaussure du jour from Balenciaga; Marc Jacobs also showed enormous clodhoppers for the current season. (Blessedly, some of the spring Fashion Week shows, ongoing in Paris, have featured lower heels.) How did women get to the point of wanting to look like genetically-modified hooved freaks? They should start by blaming ancient Egyptians and Greeks, 16th-century European nobles, and Louis XIV, all of whom helped set the... READ ON
OMG OMG OMG it's Paris Fashion Week! And while we wouldn't dream of attempting to actually cover all the runway fabulousness (Style.com will inevitably beat us to it), we did want to celebrate it in our own geeky way -- by delving into fashion history. We'll be talking about the stuff all week, but today, we'd simply like to direct you to the ever-so-chic Vintage Vixen, where you can learn about fashion by decade, starting in the 1900s (and then buy accordingly). Air... READ ON
If you read David's post earlier this afternoon, you know that the Ig Nobel Prize Awards are coming up Thursday -- and if you read our 10 Issue, you know we're big fans. (We featured 10 past winners.) But we also feel like maybe the Ig Nobels are a little too exclusive. Who picks the nominees, anyway? What elite club of scientific know-it-alls gets to award the prizes? And why isn't your voice being heard?
People, we think it's time for a revolution. This week, we're letting you nominate your favorite... READ ON
Oh dear. The Dante's Inferno Test has banished me to the eternal fiery pit, sixth floor. Apparently, "the three infernal Furies stained with blood, with limbs of women and hair of serpents, dwell in this circle of hell." Which is all well and good, except that serpents don't have hair. I think this may be a case of iffy grammar -- the Furies, like Medusa, had tresses made of snakes.
What else can I expect on my upcoming trip to Dante's land of eternal damnation? The sixth circle of Hell includes the... READ ON
This card arrived at our house last week announcing that my husband's summons to jury duty was not actually necessary. Good thing, since his scheduled jury date was three weeks ago. Our latest Idiocy contest winner will be announced tomorrow -- because clearly, the Jury Commissioner for the Commonwealth of MassachusettsÂ deserves to beÂ our Idiot of the... READ ON
* but was afraid to ask
For some reason (maybe because I bought the cheapest item in the store, once, two years ago), I seem to be on the mailing list for the Barneys New York catalog. When it arrived today, my husband looked at the envelope, emblazoned with the unpunctuated Barneys slogan "Taste Luxury Humor," and made the best argument for commas I've ever heard: "Is that an imperative?"
Because if you think about it, "taste luxury humor" as an imperative would have to mean "orally partake of... READ ON
The most remarkable thing about this anecdote, from reader Dan, is that the idiot in question actually got into college:
This wasn't recently, but when I was taking a physics class in college, we were discussing the speed of light. When our instructor started talking about length dilation (how something's length increases as it approaches the speed of light), someone raised their hand and asked, "Is that why a plane gets bigger as it flies toward you?"
Here are some more (correct)... READ ON
First we were all about executive-branch doodles; now it's about the hair. The delightfully witty and Euro-inflected Manolo's Shoe Blog is featuring an appraisal of the top ten presidential manes. The top three:
1. Andrew Jackson — truly and indisputable magnificent hair. Hair so romantic and heroic that even the Beethoven would be jealous. And as one commentor has noted, it is very similar to the hair of the Alexander the Great.
2. Thomas Jefferson — Strong red hair, of the sort that... READ ON
Here's another fantastic item from an unlikely source -- the DukeMedAlumniNews bulletin. A scary percentage of flossers are Duke grads, but this should interest Tar Heels and others as well...
Did you know that Durham is home to the world's most famous trademark?
John Green of the Blackwell Tobacco Company [editor's note: not to be confused with this John Green, the beloved mental_floss writer] named his product "Bull" Durham Tobacco after Coleman's Mustard, which used a bull in its logo and which... READ ON
I've been looking into hospital hygiene for a freelance article I'm working on, and this article from the Times magazine had a doozy of a historical anecdote on the topic. After reading it, I felt the need to wash my hands a couple million times, OCD-style:
While it is now well established that germs cause illness, this wasn't always known to be true. In 1847, the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis was working in a Viennese maternity hospital with two separate clinics. In one clinic, babies were... READ ON
Oh, how I chortled when I read this submission to our Reduce Idiocy campaign! And then I went back to drinking my tea with my pinky finger in the air:
Once, when I was in medical school, we were discussing the muscles of the face and, in reference to the eye, someone referred to the orbicularis oris. How we laughed because, of course, she meant orbicularis oculi!
I'm sure this submission from a "doctor in training" is a pompous-on-purpose joke, mostly because I am married to said doctor in training.... READ ON
This week we bring you another mad (and by "mad," we mean "brilliant") scientist who turned up in the research for our upcoming cover story on "The Future" -- Amy Smith, an engineer at MIT.
Smith has developed a cleaner-burning, perfectly-efficient charcoal briquette made from the fibrous leftovers of a sugarcane harvest. If it makes it to market, the product could be a huge hit in countries such as Haiti, which has not only plenty of sugar, but also lots of pollution. Smith's students are also... READ ON
Reader Maddy nominated a classmate as today's example of what not to say when trying to impress science buffs (or for that matter, anyone else):
From the mewling spastic who sits in front of me in chemistry... "Sir! What's the chemical formula for wood?"
Now, in this idiot's defense, there is one type of wood that has a chemical formula -- the petrified variety, which of course isn't really wood at all but a fossil in which all of the wood's organic matter has been replaced by minerals. Usually, the... READ ON
My friend Fred just wrote a story about a bill stiffening the penalties for animal fighting that made me want to taunt the opposing Congressmen a la Spaceballs: "What's the matter, sir? Chiiiickkkeennn?" Dogfighting is already banned in all 50 states (I assume the same goes for bear-baiting, conger-cuddling, goose-decapitating, et al), and cockfighting is illegal everywhere... except, apparently, for Louisiana and New Mexico. The bill would make it more costly (in a jail-time sense) to transport animals... READ ON
You've probably heard of the Sports Illustrated Curse, which hangs over the heads of many pro athletes featured on the mag's cover -- but if you aren't completely obsessed with sports-related video games (like, say, my husband) you may not be as familiar with the Madden Curse. Maybe you should be, 'cause I'm gonna just come out now and say it's real. Witness: The following is a list of players who were on the cover packaging of Madden NFL in previous years, and how they performed during the seasons they... READ ON
This article on 20 Things You Didn't Know About Death (woo hoo! fun and games, everyone!) has been floating around the blogosphere for some time and we just didn't feel like we could ignore it any longer. It's a fascinating list, actually, but in case you've already seen it, allow us to add Thing #21:
The first known identification of a dead body based on teeth was made in 1776. The deceased, one Dr. Joseph Warren, had been killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill and buried there in a doublewide grave (yep,... READ ON
101 years ago today, Albert Einstein published the paper "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?" in Annalen der Physik, forever imprinting into the minds of physics buffs (and mental_floss readers) the relationship between energy and mass when the speed of light is constant.
Also, um, happy birthday to Cosimo de Medici, Sam Adams, Thomas Nast, Meat Loaf, Shaun Cassidy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lil Wayne, and... READ ON
Included among the various oddities of a childhood spent in Pacific Palisades, California, are as follows: 1) Michael Keaton was my flag football coach; 2) I was big enough to start on the offensive line of said flag football team. At 75 pounds, 11 years old, I was hardly an imposing member of the line, nor was I so much a serviceable one -- fear of physical contact being a poor attribute in a lineman -- but the experience instilled in me a deep sympathy for the least appreciated position players in team... READ ON
I never thought I'd say this, but I saw something amusing in an airline magazine recently and wanted to share -- a list of American cities named after various animals, ranging from the obvious (Buffalo, New York) to the obscure (Fly, Ohio). If you know some that weren't in the article, feel free to add them in the comments...
Alaska: Fox, Chicken
Louisiana: Trout, Pelican
Michigan:... READ ON
Reader Deborah provides today's tale of stupidity:
Once when I was on a flight to Nairobi, Kenya from Paris, France, I got up to stretch my legs and ended up in conversation with someone I knew from university. We glanced up to see our flight's location on the television screen map, and my classmate, well in his 30s, said, "look, we're passing over Ecuador." I asked if he meant "the equator," and he became a little standoffish and quickly returned to his seat. Perhaps... READ ON
The toupees are coming! The toupees are coming! We're wigging out, 'cause they're finally in stock.
Four celebrity-inspired BabyToupee models will be available beginning next week at www.BabyToupee.com and at select specialty baby retailers with a suggested retail price of $29.99.
BabyToupee's original line of wigs will include:
The Donald - "You're hired!! Meet the new CEO of the playgroup.
"The Bob - "Mellow dreads for the Rasta inspired infant. No baby, No cry."
The Lil Kim - "For your... READ ON
There are actually two Gs on the end of the 45-letter name for this lake in beautiful Webster, Massachusetts, but don't blame us for it not fitting in the subject line -- we never expected to have to deal with words that long. Specifically, Chargoggagoggmanchaugga- goggchaubunagungamaugg is the longest place name in the United States. (People who can't spell prefer to call it "Webster Lake.") The name is often said to mean "you fish your side of the water, I fish my side of the water, nobody fishes the... READ ON
Last week, we announced our new campaign to reduce idiocy across America -- and to kick it off, we asked for examples of stupidity in everyday life. We'll be featuring them all this week and next on the blog, with the best two winning copies of Condensed Knowledge. We're still looking for 'em, so send us yours! The first week's winner is Katie Britt, who submitted this great (and tragically common) example:
Our school's visual ensemble made many posters for our homecoming dance, which will last... READ ON
In honor of Banned Books Week, our well-read research editor Sandy put together the following 12-question cultural-literacy test. The correct answers are after the jump -- how bookish are you?
1. True or False: Two 1960s children's books written by Dr. Seuss were later removed from print (and stricken from his bibliography) for questionable moral content.
2. Who is the hero of the popular book series by Dav Pilkey, which has been challenged for its "anti-family content"?
a. Wicked... READ ON
Earlier today we heard from quiz-show whiz Bob Harris -- now we've got Ken Jennings, who is famous for giving our favorite Jeopardy! answer of all time (we also think he might have won a few games). Here's what he had to say about the glory of geekiness, 4,700-year-old pine trees, and his great new book, Brainiac:
In the book you write that "trivia" isn't necessarily trivial. So how do you define "trivia," and what makes for a good piece of it?
You can always define "trivia" downward so that it's... READ ON
Who are Bob Harris and Ken Jennings? If you get that corny little joke, you already know -- they're both super-smart and slightly obsessive Jeopardy! stars, they both just wrote books about the experience, and they both like mental_floss (maybe you've seen Ken's column in our magazine). Today we're running interviews with both of them. First, let's hear from Bob, whose hugely funny new book is called Prisoner of Trebekistan:
While practicing for stints on the show, Bob Harris often referred to this as... READ ON
Inspired by Pro-Life (nee Marvin) Richardson, we've decided to re-christen some of the other folks who have populated the blog this week. Ladies and gentlemen, meet...
The Teenage Drug-Free Ninja Turtles
Jeff "A-Parking-Lot-Is-a-Paradise" Krulik
Cesar "Hit-Me-With-Your-Best-Shot" Lopez
Patricia T. O'Noyoudidn't
Fritz "Who-You-Callin'-Spherical" Zwicky
George "Please-Don't-Hate-Me" Jetson
Benedict... READ ON
Today is Elephant Appreciation Day! And though I won't try to outdo our friends at YesButNo with spectacular elephant linkage (there's a trunk joke in there somewhere), I will take this opportunity to provide some trivia, courtesy of IMDB, about the most precious pachyderm in human history. I speak, of course, of Dumbo:
It's the only Disney animated feature film that has a title character who doesn't speak. Also, Mrs. Jumbo (Dumbo's mother) only speaks once when she says Dumbo's original name, Jumbo... READ ON
Say a little prayer for Nathan Hale, America's first spy, who gave his famous "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country" speech 230 years ago today before being hanged by the Brits at 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan (or, depending on who you ask, City Hall Park or Grand Central Terminal -- the body's never been found). A few other things about Mr. Hale:
While reporting on redcoat troop movements, he disguised himself as a Dutch schoolteacher, brandishing his diploma from... READ ON
From the Sydney Morning Herald comes news of yet another bizarre festival soon to be protested by PETA: "As part of the Basque San Antolin festival, a contestant in the 'Antzar Eguna' (Day of the Geese) competition attempts to decapitate a dead goose. The animal is suspended from a rope in the middle of the harbour and contestants have to hold onto the goose for as long as possible while being dunked in the sea by onshore spectators raising and lowering the rope."
The Cellar claims that previous... READ ON
The most frequently reprinted editorial column in American history -- the famous "Yes, Virginia" paean to childhood wonder and belief in Santa Claus -- was published 109 years ago today in the New York Sun. Yep, today, a full three months before Santa's scheduled arrival. It seems this wasn't just a ridiculous error on the Sun's part -- according to this mind-bogglingly extensive academic paper,
Virginia O'Hanlon said years after publication that she, as a child, began wondering at her birthday in... READ ON
A reader named Brooks wanted to know: "Why does the hair on your head constantly grow while the hair on your body has a limit?"Technically, the hair on your head has a limit too -- like all hair, it has a growth spurt followed by a dormant phase. Here's an explanation from, of all places, a website about dogs:Anagen is a period of new hair growth. The longer the anagen period, the longer the hair grows. Human scalp hair may stay in anagen for 2-6 years. Human hair on arms and legs may stay in anagen... READ ON
A 3.3-million-year-old skull of a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis -- you know the species as "Lucy," the fine fossil specimen named after the Beatles' ode to LSD -- has been found in Ethiopia. Scientists are calling this one, which was probably about three years old at death, "Lucy's baby." Which reminded us: as you'll know if you read our magazine or our regular features on Neatorama, "[during] the 1952-53 season of 'I Love Lucy,' despite the star's stomach being about the size of the... READ ON
There are only three days left to plan any parties you might want to throw in honor of Neptune (that's right, Pluto, we've moved on). As you can read in our current issue, it was discovered 160 years ago this Saturday:
"German astronomer Johann Galle first observed the planet Neptune on [September 23]. That might not sound too remarkable, but it was the first time an object in the solar system had been discovered using the law of gravity. Years earlier, astronomers noticed that Uranus had an irregular... READ ON
John Adams drank a tankard of hard cider each day and had the occasional beer for breakfast.