5 Holiday Shopping Pitfalls to Avoid

iStock
iStock

Now that the holiday shopping season is in full swing, you'll probably have to navigate a retail gauntlet to pick up gifts for everyone on your list. You may think that as long as you don't headbutt another customer while going for the last Wii or get assaulted in a doorbuster frenzy on Black Friday, you'll be fine. You might want to reconsider, though, as any number of pitfalls could still give you trouble, including some that strike after you get your booty to its carefully chosen hiding place in your home. (And yes, your children know it's all hidden in the guest room closet.)

1. Fisticuffs

Everyone jokes about fistfights to get a particularly coveted item, but every year people forget the holiday spirit and decide to throw down. This year's Black Friday was no exception. Videos of a scrum for the last Xbox 360 trickled onto YouTube, but no story quite encapsulated the merry sentiments of shoppers quite like this one from Friday's New York Times:

At a Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, Nikki Nicely, 19, jumped onto a man's back and pounded his shoulders when he tried to take a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television to which she had laid claim. "That's my TV!" Ms. Nicely shouted. "That's my TV!"

A police officer and security guard intervened, but not before Ms. Nicely took an elbow in the face. In the end, she was the one with the $798 television, marked down from $1,000. "That's right," she cried as her adversary walked away. "This here is my TV!"

2. Store Bankruptcy

Nothing says "I care, but not enough to put any thought into your gift!" quite like a gift card from a big-box retailer. While sticking a gift card in an envelope may seem slightly more personal than giving cash, it carries some added dangers. In the current economic climate, it's not all that uncommon for a store to go bankrupt, which means your gift will also say, "I didn't care enough to investigate this merchant's underlying financials, either." Some estimates state that the bankruptcies of stores like Linens "˜n Things and The Sharper Image this year have killed off close to $100 million in gift card value.

You're not necessarily left out in the cold if you've got a gift card for a company that files for bankruptcy; Circuit City actually received permission to continue honoring their outstanding cards after filing for Chapter 11 a few weeks ago. Other stores will redeem their cards, but there might be a catch. When The Sharper Image filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year, it eventually allowed consumers to redeem their gift cards"¦but only if they were spending twice the card's value on a transaction. Companies don't have to do even that, though, and if the store for which you're holding a card goes totally belly-up and starts paying off its creditors, you're probably not going to see the $40 from your aunt. You can make a claim in bankruptcy court to get your cash back, but as an unsecured creditor, good luck seeing any money. You'll be one tiny step up the payment priority ladder from the kid the CEO borrowed milk money from in grade school and never repaid.

3. Filthy Money

You've probably heard statistics about just how grimy paper bills can get as they circulate. A 2007 Irish study found that 100 percent of tested bills contained trace amounts of cocaine. Your cash isn't just covered in narcotics, though; it's also crawling with germs. A 2001 study showed that 87 percent of bills contained bacteria that could conceivable make someone with a weak immune system sick, and 7 percent of the studied bills carried bacteria that could make even a healthy person sick. You're picking up bacteria everywhere, so you don't need to do anything rash like trade in your wallet for a coin purse. But if you're handling a lot of extra cash during your holiday shopping, you might want to stock up on some hand sanitizer.

4. Drug Trafficking

Just find that hot new toy you were looking for? You might want to give it the once-over to make sure it's not full of narcotics. Colorado authorities got a surprise as they investigated a methamphetamine ring in 2006; enterprising traffickers were packing toys with their wares. Most notably, an Elmo doll contained four pounds of meth. Watch out for this sort of trap if you decide to look for tough-to-find toys on the secondary market. It may seem like a long shot, but if your Elmo sweats and nervously scratches his face instead of giggling when tickled, you might want to keep moving.

5. Deadly Toys

Once you've scrapped and clawed for that perfect toy to put under the tree, you might want to make sure it's not conspiring to harm your child. For this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning against five specific types of toy threats: scooters (potentially deadly falls), small balls and small parts (choking hazards), balloons (again, choking), magnets (look delicious but cause injuries if swallowed), and toys with chargers or adapters (burn hazards).

Even if you manage to avoid all of those tempting-but-deadly toys, there's no guarantee that the toy you pick won't have a problem with high lead content. Last year manufacturers recalled close to 4 million toys due to lead concerns. Those Curious George plush dolls may have looked adorable, but The Man in the Yellow Hat never explained the less-cute symptoms of lead poisoning, including nausea, chest pain, and irritability.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

1. Apple AirPods Pro; $219

Apple

You may not know it by looking at them, but these tiny earbuds by Apple offer HDR sound, 30 hours of noise cancellation, and powerful bass, all through Bluetooth connectivity. These trendy, sleek AirPods will even read your messages and allow you to share your audio with another set of AirPods nearby.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

2. Sony Zx220bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones (Open Box - Like New); $35

Sony

For the listener who likes a traditional over-the-ear headphone, this set by Sony will give you all the same hands-free calling, extended battery power, and Bluetooth connectivity as their tiny earbud counterparts. They have a swivel folding design to make stashing them easy, a built-in microphone for voice commands and calls, and quality 1.18-inch dome drivers for dynamic sound quality.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

3. Sony Xb650bt Wireless On-Ear Bluetooth Headphones; $46

Sony

This Sony headphone model stands out for its extra bass and the 30 hours of battery life you get with each charge. And in between your favorite tracks, you can take hands-free calls and go seamlessly back into the music.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

4. Martha Stewart 8-quart Stainless-Steel Pressure Cooker; $65

Martha Stewart

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a new pressure cooker, this 8-quart model from Martha Stewart comes with 14 presets, a wire rack, a spoon, and a rice measuring cup to make delicious dinners using just one appliance.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

5. Jashen V18 350w Cordless Vacuum Cleaner; $180

Jashen

If you're obsessive about cleanliness, it's time to lose the vacuum cord and opt for this untethered model from JASHEN. Touting a 4.3-star rating from Amazon, the JASHEN cordless vacuum features a brushless motor with strong suction, noise optimization, and a convenient wall mount for charging and storage.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

6. Evachill Ev-500 Personal Air Conditioner; $65

Evachill

This EvaChill personal air conditioner is an eco-friendly way to cool yourself down in any room of the house. You can set it up at your work desk at home, and in just a few minutes, this portable cooling unit can drop the temperature by 59º. All you need to do is fill the water tank and plug in the USB cord.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

7. Gourmia Gcm7800 Brewdini 5-Cup Cold Brew Coffee Maker; $120

Gourmia

The perfect cup of cold brew can take up to 12 hours to prepare, but this Gourmia Cold Brew Coffee Maker can do the job in just a couple of minutes. It has a strong suction that speeds up brew time while preserving flavor in up to five cups of delicious cold brew at a time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

8. Townew: The World's First Self-Sealing Trash Can; $90

Townew

Never deal with handling gross garbage again when you have this smart bin helping you in the kitchen. With one touch, the Townew will seal the full bag for easy removal. Once you grab the neatly sealed bag, the Townew will load in a new clean one on its own.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

9. Light Smart Solar Powered Parking Sensor (Two-Pack); $155

FenSens

Parking sensors are amazing, but a lot of cars require a high trim to access them. You can easily upgrade your car—and parking skills—with this solar-powered parking sensor. It will give you audio and visual alerts through your phone for the perfect parking job every time.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

10. Liz: The Smart Self-Cleaning Bottle With UV Sterilization; $46

Noerden

Reusable water bottles are convenient and eco-friendly, but they’re super inconvenient to get inside to clean. This smart water bottle will clean itself with UV sterilization to eliminate 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. That’s what makes it clean, but the single-tap lid for temperature, hydration reminders, and an anti-leak functionality are what make it smart.

Buy it: The Mental Floss Shop

Prices subject to change.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

14 Facts About International Talk Like A Pirate Day

iStock
iStock

Ahoy, me hearties! As many of you know, September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, an annual phenomenon that’s taken the world by storm, having been observed by every continent, the International Space Station, and even the Oval Office since it first made headlines back in 2002. So let’s hoist the Jolly Roger, break out the rum, and take a look back at the holiday’s timber-shivering history.

1. Talk Like a Pirate Day was originally conceived of on D-Day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day creators John Baur and Mark Summer (who’ve since acquired the nicknames “Ol’ Chumbucket” and “Cap’n Slappy,” respectively) created the holiday while playing racquetball on June 6, 1995—the 51st anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Out of respect to the battle’s veterans, a new observance date was quickly sought.

2. September 19th also happens to be the birthday of the ex-wife of the holiday's co-creator.

“[September 19th was] the only date we could readily recall that wasn’t already taken up with Christmas or the Super Bowl or something,” the pair later claimed. Summers claims to harbor no ill will toward his former spouse, who has since stated, “I’ve never been prouder to be his ex-wife!

3. Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry is largely responsible for popularizing the holiday.

Dave Barry was so smitten with the holiday after having been introduced to it via email in early 2002 that he dedicated an entire column to its publicity that September, turning an inside joke into a global sensation. He later went on to make a cameo appearance in one of Baur and Summers’s buccaneer-themed music videos in 2011 (look for him in the video above at the 3:25 mark).

4. Real pirates spoke in a wide variety of dialects.

Despite some extensive “English-to-Pirate” dictionaries that have cropped up all over the Internet the idea that all pirates shared a common accent regardless of national origin is historically absurd, as National Geographic pointed out in 2011.

5. Actor Robert Newton is hailed as the "patron saint" of Talk Like a Pirate Day.

So where did the modern “pirate dialect” come from? Summers and Baur credit actor Robert Newton's performance in Treasure Island (1950) and have accordingly dubbed him the “patron saint” of their holiday. Tasked with breathing life into the scheming buccaneer, Newton simply exaggerated his native West Country accent and the rest is history.

6. John Baur's family was featured on a pirate-themed episode of Wife Swap.

The reality show’s highly-anticipated 2006 season premiere pitted the Baurs (in full pillaging regalia) against a family which, according to John’s wife Tori (a.k.a. “Mad Sally”), “behaved as though ‘fun’ was something that had to be pre-packaged for their protection.”

7. John Baur was also on Jeopardy!

Baur was described to the audience as “a writer and pirate from Oregon” in his 2008 appearance. “I didn’t win,” Baur said, “but the introduction made Alex blink.”

8. International Talk Like a Pirate Day has become a cornerstone of the Pastafarian movement.

Bobby Henderson, founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, cited Earth’s dwindling pirate population as the clear source of global warming in his 2005 open letter to the Kansas school board which established the religion. Since then, Talk Like A Pirate Day has been observed by devout Pastafarians worldwide. 

9. A Florida mayor once ignited a local controversy for making an official Talk Like a Pirate Day proclamation.

In 2012, Lake Worth, Florida Mayor Pam Triolo lightheartedly urged her constituents to embrace the holiday last year, writing, “The City … is known to possess a spirit of independence, high spirits, and swashbuckling, all traits of a good pirate.” Her actions were criticized by the city’s former commissioner, Jo-Ann Golden, who took offense to the association with murderous seamen.

10. Day of the Ninja was created in response to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Not to be outdone by their hated rivals, the pro-ninja community was quick to execute the first annual Day of the Ninja on December 5, 2002. For Summers and Baur’s take on the warring factions, see the clip above.

11. Astronauts once celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day aboard the International Space Station.

In a 2012 interview, Summers recalled being “informed that the astronauts on the International Space Station were awakened to ‘A Pirate’s Life For Me' and joined in the pirate talk from space.”

12. President Obama once celebrated with a costumed buccaneer in the Oval Office.

In 2012, Barack Obama tweeted this image on Talk Like a Pirate Day with the caption “Arr you in?”

13. A congressman later used the holiday to slam President Obama's tax plan.

In 2011, Florida’s 12th congressional district representative Dennis Ross used the festivity as a political punchline after Obama made a speech detailing his tax plan, tweeting, “It is TALK like a pirate day … not ACT like one. Watch ye purses and bury yr loot, the taxman cometh.”

14. It's an official holiday in the state of Michigan.

On June 4, 2013, state senator Roger Kahn’s proposal to grant International Talk Like A Pirate Day official acknowledgement from the Michigan government was formally adopted, to the chagrin of some dissenting landlubbers. 

This story originally ran in 2013.