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4 Ways to Become a Diabolical Genius from the Comfort of Your Home

If your name is Angus MacGyver, all you need to lay waste to life's obstacles—from hotwiring a moped to breaking out of a heavily guarded Soviet prison—is a tube sock, a jar of mayonnaise, and a roll of duct tape. If you're anyone else, you'll probably need this guide. But don't push your luck. Being a diabolical genius is not for the faint of heart. So unless you're willing to be maimed, arraigned, and shipped off to Gitmo, we suggest you don't try this at home.

1. Pick your teeth, pick a lock

If you consistently find yourself locked out of your house, and you're fanatical about dental hygiene, today is your lucky day. Meet the Oral-B Hummingbird. It flosses, it gyrates, it messages your gums. But most importantly, it can easily be converted into a remarkably effective, motorized lock-pick. With minimal effort, and a few dollars worth of supplies, a converted Hummingbird will pick just about any padlock in seconds.

First, you'll need to dissect the Hummingbird. Break open the casing and swap out the AAA battery for a beefy 9-volt by melting a small hole in the bottom of battery shell. Next, lace the wires to the battery terminals, cut the tip off of your store-bought lock pick, and superglue it to the Hummingbird. Easy as pie.

So next time your dentist tells you that you need a root canal, don't get a second opinion, just break into the office at night and swap out your dental records. Not only will you avoid painful, costly oral surgery, but after the medical malpractice lawsuit, you can just let your teeth rot and buy some shiny new dentures.

[Learn more at InventGeek.com]

2. Make free phone calls

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Tired of paying for long distance? No worries. Just buy a box of Cap'n Crunch.

Believe it or not, in the early 1970s, that would have been an acceptable answer. That's because, beginning in the mid-60s, Cap'n Crunch cereal came with a small plastic whistle that was easily modified to emit a tone at 2600 hertz—the exact frequency used by AT&T to indicate an available trunk line to route a new long distance phone call.

John Draper, a Vietnam War veteran, and lifetime "phreaker", discovered the secret of the toy whistle with longtime friend Joe Engressia in 1971. Phreaking—a portmanteau of the words "phone" and "freak"—was a relatively new field at the time, and Draper and Engressia were on the cutting edge. By blowing the whistle, Draper, who later came to be known in phreaking circles by the pseudonyms Captain Crunch and Crunchman, was able disconnect one end of the trunk, allowing the end that was still connected to enter operator mode, thus circumventing the automated billing system. Through further experimentation, Draper was able to build a blue box, a small electronic device capable of reproducing many other tones used by the phone company.

Before long, Draper became a household name. In 1971 an article in Esquire, "The Secrets of the Little Blue Box," detailed his phreaking exploits. The article also brought him to the attention of Steve Wozniak, who, along with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, did a little phreaking of their own under Draper's tutelage.

But all good things must come to an end. In 1972 Draper was arrested on toll fraud charges and sentenced to five years probation. Which just goes to show, if you play with little plastic whistles, eventually, you're gonna get burned.

[Learn more at JetCityOrange.com]

3. Blow up your kitchen

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If you're an aspiring chemist (or current pyromaniac) this one's for you. One would assume creating a volatile, highly flammable gas would, at very least, require a fully stocked laboratory and a PhD. In fact, it requires a bottle of Drano, some aluminum foil, and a glass bottle.

First, take a sheet of aluminum foil and stuff it into the bottom of a bottle. If you're really particular about your diabolical experiments, tear the aluminum foil into small pieces instead of crumpling it. This creates more surface area, which speeds up the reaction. Simply pour the Drano over the chards of foil, and voila, hydrogen gas will begin to form.

The chemical reaction at hand is actually quite simple. Drano acts as a reducing agent. It's primarily sodium hydroxide. Aluminum is the oxidizing agent. The protective aluminum oxide coating on the foil is dissolved by the sodium hydroxide forming a complex ion:

Al2O3 + 2NaOH + 3H2O "¡ 2Na+ + 2 [Al(OH)4]-

The exposed aluminum surface then reacts with water to form hydrogen:

2 Al + 6 H2O "¡ 2 Al(OH)3 + 3H2

You can capture the gas by sliding a balloon over the mouth of the bottle—think of it like a poor man's Hindenburg. Just remember, an enormous amount of heat is generated during the reaction, so you'll want to have a container of cool water on hand to neutralize the temperature (and probably an ambulance, too, just to be safe.)

[Learn more at ScienceDemonstrations.com; Image courtesy of Governing.com]

4. Hallucinate

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If you're bent on hallucinating this holiday season, but you can't bring yourself to approach smelly Phish fans, look no further than your local garden supply store. For just a few dollars you can pick up a packet of morning glory seeds, and learn why the term "flower power" isn't exclusive to hippies and anti-war protesters.

The morning glory flower, true to its name, blooms early in the morning, and dies quietly when the sun goes down. It's known for its colorful funnel-shaped flowers, heart-shaped leaves, and its tiny black seeds, which, when ingested, elicit a mild hallucinogenic experience. Scientifically, this comes as no surprise. The active ingredient in the morning glory is d-lysergic acid amide, known commonly as LSA. It's a chemical cousin of d-lysergic acid diethylamide, Sgt. Pepper's favorite—LSD. Scientists estimate LSA is roughly 5 to 10 percent as potent as LSD, so you'll probably need to scarf down a solid handful.

Aztec priests have used morning glory seeds for millennia in religious ceremonies to communicate with the gods, predict the future, and alleviate fear amongst the soon-to-be-sacrificed. It's a veritable wonder drug! If you're worried about jail time, well, you should be. The chemical ergine (contained in many species of morning glory) is illegal to posses in its purist form; however, the seeds are readily available in many gardening stores. So now you know why Martha Stewart is terminally happy.

[Learn more at Elephantos.com]

Evan Schiller is an occasional contributor to mental_floss, and the sole proprietor of Conventional Stupidity. His last article featured crazy Facebook groups.

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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