The Reason Why Lobsters Turn Bright Red When You Boil Them

Fudio/iStock via Getty Images
Fudio/iStock via Getty Images

If the fire-engine red of the lobster on your plate makes you painfully aware that it was boiled alive, think of it this way: The bright color is simply the result of a chemical reaction.

Lobsters’ usual greenish-blue hue serves them well in life, camouflaging them from the predatory eyes of cod, haddock, and other large fish that prowl the ocean floor. Anita Kim, a scientist at the New England Aquarium, explained to Live Science that this color results from the combination of two molecules.

One is astaxanthin, a bright red carotenoid that lobsters absorb by eating things that contain it. The other is crustacyanin, a protein that already exists in lobsters. When crustacyanin binds with astaxanthin, it twists the molecule into a different shape, which changes how it reflects light. So instead of red, live lobsters are blue.

Then, when you boil one of the tasty crustaceans, the heat causes the crustacyanin molecules to contort into new shapes. In doing so, they release the astaxanthin molecules, which rebound to their original shape and red color. Michele Cianci, a biochemist at Italy’s Marche Polytechnic University where the phenomenon was investigated, likened it to manipulating a rubber band with your hands. “You can impose any kind of configuration you want,” he told Live Science. “When you release the rubber band, it goes back to its own shape.”

The same thing happens with shrimp, which go from ghostly gray to pink when you cook them. How, then, do flamingos turn pink from eating raw, almost colorless shrimp? Crustacyanin releases its hold on astaxanthin during the flamingos’ digestion process just like it does when heated.

By the way, don’t feel guilty about having torn your lobster away from its one true love—they don’t really mate for life.

[h/t Live Science]

Why Is Opening an Umbrella Indoors Supposed to Be Bad Luck?

Will this umbrella bring bad luck?
Will this umbrella bring bad luck?
lenta/iStock via Getty Images

If leaving your umbrella open to dry in the corner of your office makes you slightly uneasy, you’re probably not alone. When it comes to alleged harbingers of bad luck, open indoor umbrellas are right up there with broken mirrors and black cats. While the origin of the superstition isn’t exactly proven, there are a few leading theories about how and why it began.

One of them suggests it started around 1200 BCE, when the ancient Egyptian priests and royalty were using umbrellas made of peacock feathers and papyrus to shield them from the sun. According to Reader’s Digest, the superstition might have stemmed from a belief that opening an umbrella indoors—away from the sun’s rays—would anger the sun god, Ra, and generate negative consequences.

Another theory involves a different ancient Egyptian deity: Nut, goddess of the sky. As HowStuffWorks reports, these early umbrellas were crafted to mirror (and honor) the way she protected the Earth, so their shade was considered sacred. If anybody with non-noble blood used one, that person supposedly became a walking, talking beacon of bad luck.

The reason we try to abstain from opening umbrellas indoors today, however, is probably more about avoiding injury than divine wrath. Modern umbrellas gained popularity during the Victorian era with Samuel Fox’s invention of the steel-ribbed Paragon frame, which included a spring mechanism that allowed it to expand quickly—and dangerously.

“A rigidly spoked umbrella, opening suddenly in a small room, could seriously injure an adult or child, or shatter a frangible object,” Charles Panati writes in his book Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. “Thus, the superstition arose as a deterrent to opening umbrellas indoors.”

All things considered, even if opening an umbrella indoors doesn’t necessarily make for bad luck, getting poked in the eye by one can certainly make for a bad day.

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How IKEA Comes Up With Its Product Names

Original IKEA paper shopping bag.
Original IKEA paper shopping bag.
monticelllo/iStock via Getty Images

There is more to IKEA’s product naming system than non-Swedish people might think. Swedophones are familiar with the furniture store’s oddly specific conventions, but for most of us, Malm is just a line of bedroom furniture. IKEA’s product lines are named according to a set of guidelines from which the company rarely deviates.

According to Quartz, the company's product naming process is the result of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad's struggle with dyslexia. Kamprad found that nouns helped him remember and visualize products better than using code numbers, so he created a series of unusual naming conventions that the company still uses today.

A bookcase, for instance, is probably always going to be named after a profession, if it doesn’t have a boy’s name like Billy. Rugs tend to be named after cities in Denmark and Sweden, while outdoor furniture is named after islands in Scandinavia, like Kuggö, an outdoor umbrella named after an island about 125 miles west of Helsinki. Expedit, the beloved, discontinued shelving unit, means “salesclerk,” while its replacement, Kallax, is named after a town in northern Sweden. Curtains are named for mathematical terms.

Some of the other products have more descriptive names. Lack, IKEA's shiny living room furniture line, means “lacquer.” Sockerkaka, a bakeware line, means “sponge cake.” Bathroom products are named after rivers and lakes.

Some of the translations serve as little corporate jokes. The name of the toy line Duktig means “clever.” Storsint, a wine glass series, is the word for “magnanimous.”

Here’s Quartz’s list of IKEA taxonomy:

  • Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
  • Bed textiles = Flowers and plants
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names
  • Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Bowls, vases, candles and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries
  • Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names
  • Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives
  • Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names
  • Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands
  • Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives
  • Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
  • Rugs = Danish place names
  • Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names

Sadly, if a Swedish name sounds too much like a dirty word in another language, the product name will be changed in that country. Which is why you can’t buy a bench called Fartfull in an English-speaking country. At least, not anymore.

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