In 2001, Mental Floss started as a small print magazine meant to make readers feel smart again. In the two decades since then, the magazine has shed its physical form (with the exception of a surprise special edition in 2019) and become a digital-only publication with a slew of social media handles to match. While our mission to educate and entertain the curious masses hasn’t changed, things look a little different today than they used to. From our first official print cover to our first YouTube video, here’s a virtual scrapbook of Mental Floss’s memorable first steps.
1. The Campus Issue
In Spring 2000, Mental Floss debuted at Duke University with the Campus Issue. Three thousand copies were distributed. We can't show you the cover, because it's made entirely of Mental Floss Encarta images, but we can tell you that it featured an Easter Island head and James Brown, with coverlines like "Giant Heads Galore: What's the Deal with Easter Island?" and "What the Funk?! Learn to Dig James Brown." Inside were stories about beetles, conspiracy theories, and Russian history, among other very Flossy topics.
2. First Newsstand Cover
What better way to draw your eye in the magazine aisle than with an image of Albert Einstein, tongue out? Hopefully readers learned enough from our “Stock Market Crash Course” to weather the worst of 2008’s actual stock market crash. And while the world hasn’t yet reached world peace, computers made of DNA have recently shown promise—in 2019, one learned how to calculate square roots.
3. First Website Homepage
Mental Floss continued as a print publication through 2016, but we introduced the website back in 2002. The original design resembles a file folder, which could now probably go on this list of things we no longer see in offices. As for that multiple choice question, the answer is C.
4. First Digital Article
In 2006, the Mental Floss website was relaunched on a new content management system—the same one we use today. Which means that articles from 2006 look similar to recent ones (though today’s stories have fewer random characters and grainy images). The very first piece, “Cartesian Freakonomics,” is all about how René Descartes’s attraction to cross-eyed women helped form his philosophy about free will.
5. First Facebook Post
Mental Floss entered the social media arena in 2008 with a Facebook post featuring a recent cover of the print magazine. The cover star? Albert Einstein, of course. (No tongue, though.) For more on the now-defunct Golden Lobe Awards, here are some notable winners.
6. First Tweet
Ten months later, Mental Floss landed on Twitter, too. Albert Einstein was nowhere in sight, but Jonathan La Rosa was. Big thanks, Jonathan!
7. First Instagram Post
More than 50 years after the first Rice-A-Roni product hit shelves in San Francisco, Mental Floss deemed it a worthy subject for an inaugural Instagram post. If we had to guess which Instagram filter was used for this photo, we’d probably say “Vignette”—a classic, just like Rice-A-Roni.
8. First YouTube Video
In March 2013, Mental Floss kickstarted a YouTube channel with the first episode of “The List Show” hosted by John Green—yes, New York Times bestselling author of The Fault In Our Stars, Paper Towns, and many other novels John Green. The topic was “Common Misconceptions,” which proved popular enough to later merit its own YouTube spinoff series: “Misconceptions,” which is currently hosted by Justin Dodd.