14 Ready-To-Assemble Facts About IKEA

Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Hakan Dahlstrom, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The retail world just lost one of its most famous game-changers with the death of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who passed away at the age of 91 on January 27, 2018 at his home in Småland, Sweden. As the world’s largest cross-cultural furniture bazaar, IKEA has become synonymous with affordable and stylish home décor. Beginning as a mail-order business in Kamprad’s tiny Swedish village of Agunnaryd in the 1940s, the company now boasts more than 300 stores, located everywhere from China (where shoppers can grab an ice cream cone for only 16 cents) to Russia. Check out these 14 lesser-known facts about store mazes, wordless manuals, and why they banned hide and seek.

1. IKEA IS AN ACRONYM.

Just 17 at the time he began making door-to-door sales—peddling mostly pens, jewelry, and stockings—Kamprad named his fledgling company IKEA. The “IK” are his initials, the “E” is for the modest farm he grew up on (Elmtaryd), and the “A” is for Agunnaryd, his home village. (Owing to their often-frustrating assembly processes, Amy Poehler once observed IKEA might be Swedish for “argument.”)  

2. THE PRODUCT NAMES ARE A RESULT OF INGVAR KAMPRAD'S DYSLEXIA.


Tina Lawson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

IKEA’s home goods are usually identified by Swedish names rather than product numbers. While it’s turned into a way to further endear the brand to consumers, the practice started because Kamprad had dyslexia and was getting numerical codes confused. While charming—we enjoy ordering a desk called “Fartfull” as much as anyone—it can sometimes lead to cultural issues. The company ran into problems in 2006 when it was discovered that some harmless Scandinavian words might double as sexually explicit expressions in Thailand.      

3. THE BRAND WASN'T AN IMMEDIATE HIT IN AMERICA.

After conquering the European market, IKEA opened its first American location just outside of Philadelphia in 1985. Customers had a lot of trouble pronouncing the name, and almost as much trouble figuring out the merchandise, which hadn’t yet been tailored to the market: products were advertised in centimeters, curtains didn't fit American-sized windows, and flower vases were being bought as drink tumblers because “foreign” water glasses were too small for all the ice U.S. citizens like to use. The company didn’t open any new stores for a five year period and didn’t begin to see real growth until 1997.

The persistence has paid off for both the company and consumers: Their legendary BILLY bookcase was $82 in 1985: today, it sells for $59.99.  

4. THEY WANT SHOPPERS TO BE DAZED AND CONFUSED.

If navigating an IKEA leaves you feeling lost and fatigued, the layout has done its job. According to research conducted at the University College London, IKEA leads shoppers into an increasingly byzantine floor plan where they snap up impulse goods (like lamp shades or pillows), fearing they won't find them again. Likened to a "corn maze" by some visitors, there are short cuts available owing to fire regulations—but you'll miss most of the good stuff by taking them.  

5. THEY WILL SEND PEOPLE TO COME WATCH YOU SIT ON A SOFA.

In an effort to better understand how universal designs fit the end user, IKEA utilizes company “anthropologists” to visit homes of brand loyalists to see how they interact with various goods. These volunteers are typically rewarded with gift cards, and their living spaces are sometimes rigged with cameras for longer-term surveillance. Among the surprises? Citizens of Shenzhen, China like to sit on the floor and use their couches as back rests.   

6. THERE ARE NO WORDS IN THEIR MANUALS BECAUSE WORDS COST MONEY.


Sean Hobson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The “assembly figures” in IKEA manuals have garnered worldwide stardom for their effortless display of how to construct a coffee table or bookshelf without using profanity or becoming violent. The reason instructions aren’t printed with actual written information is because it would make the manuals thicker, and consequently more expensive to produce. Of course, the pictograms can exact their own terrible price: the company refers to more difficult-to-follow assemblies by the humorous, if outdated, term “husband killers.”

7. YOU PROBABLY VALUE THE FURNITURE MORE BECAUSE YOU ASSEMBLED IT.

It’s obvious why IKEA sells its furniture unassembled: The flat packaging saves money and passes the cost of labor on to you, the consumer, ever ready to gouge someone’s eye socket with an Allen wrench. But all the sweat and tears has its rewards. According to a Harvard Business School study, people who had to labor to set up their new purchase perceived it to have greater value than people who didn’t have to do anything.

8. CUSTOMERS IN CHINA LOVE THEIR IKEA NAPS.

In a cultural practice that probably wouldn’t go over too well in the States, visitors to IKEA’s stores in Beijing, China, are said to be very fond of curling up and taking naps in the comfortable bedding and mattress displays. Rather than put a stop to the habit, IKEA claims their staff doesn’t bother dozing customers unless they’re creating a disturbance.    

9. THEY'VE BANNED HIDE AND SEEK.

While generally liberal in their policies, IKEA did put its foot down when it came to a social media fad involving people playing organized games of hide and seek in the company’s mammoth locations. After 19,000 people agreed to show up to an Amsterdam store for the game, a no-hiding, no-seeking policy was initiated. (Just take a nap instead.)

10. IKEA MALAYSIA HELD A LOOKALIKE CONTEST. FOR INANIMATE OBJECTS.


IKEA via Facebook

Proving IKEA’s U.S. public relations team needs to get with it, IKEA Malaysia held a contest in 2014 to help promote the reopening of one of their stores. Contestants were solicited via Facebook and asked to dress or pose as their favorite IKEA product. A surprising number of people made convincing lamps; winners received gift cards to the store.

11. THE MEATBALLS WERE ONCE MADE OF HORSE.

Even if you haven’t visited an IKEA, you’re probably aware of their reputation for delicious Swedish meatballs, a means of keeping shoppers fortified with protein while trying to escape a labyrinth of end tables. In 2013, the company issued a meatball recall in Europe after DNA studies found that one batch contained traces of horse meat. It was thought to be part of a wider contamination problem relating to devious suppliers. 

12. IT'S BEING USED IN COUPLES THERAPY.

IKEA acknowledges that shopping for and then assembling larger items can take a toll on relationships. So does Santa Monica area psychologist Ramani Durvasula, who sometimes tasks couples in her therapy sessions to complete an IKEA project together and then discuss the results in counseling. One amateur craftsman told The Wall Street Journal that a bed frame took 10 hours to put together, “including two hours of arguing” with his spouse.  

13. A SOAP OPERA WAS SHOT THERE.

The episodic soap opera parody IKEA Heights was filmed in a Burbank, California location in 2009 without permission from store management: actors wore hidden microphones and captured reaction shots from passing customers as they acted out hyper-dramatic plots about infidelity. In 2010, the company tried to strike a balance between having a sense of humor and reminding people that using their stores as a film set isn't really allowed. "Absolutely, we think it's funny," a spokesperson told MacCleans. "But unauthorized filming in our stores isn't a good thing."

14. THEY BUILT AN APARTMENT ON A ROCK-CLIMBING WALL.


Ube Bene via Facebook

To celebrate their 30th store in France, IKEA—known for its over-the-top ad campaigns—erected an incredible vertical apartment layout on top of a climbing wall in 2014. The public was invited to scale the prop using safety harnesses. (Not pictured: 8000 extra screws.)

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

7 Weird Super Bowl Halftime Acts

Al Bello, Getty Images
Al Bello, Getty Images

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez seem like natural choices to perform the halftime show at this year’s Super Bowl, but the event didn’t always feature musical acts from major pop stars. Michael Jackson kicked off the trend at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993, but prior to that, halftime shows weren’t a platform for the hottest celebrities of the time. They centered around themes instead, and may have featured appearances from Peanuts characters, Jazzercisers, or a magician dressed like Elvis. In honor of Super Bowl LIV on February 2, we’ve rounded up some of the weirdest acts in halftime show history.

1. Return of the Mickey Mouse Club

The era of Super Bowl halftimes before wardrobe malfunctions, illuminati conspiracy theories, and Left Shark was a more innocent time. For 1977’s event, the Walt Disney Company produced a show that doubled as a squeaky-clean promotion of its brand. Themed “Peace, Joy, and Love,” the Super Bowl XI halftime show opened with a 250-piece band rendition of “It’s a Small World (After All).” Disney also used the platform to showcase its recently revamped Mickey Mouse Club.

2. 88 Grand Pianos and 300 Jazzercisers

The theme of the halftime show at Super Bowl XXII in 1988 was “Something Grand.” Naturally, it featured 88 tuxedoed pianists playing 88 grand pianos. Rounding out the program were 400 swing band performers, 300 Jazzercisers, 44 Rockettes, two marching bands, and Chubby Checker telling everyone to “Twist Again."

3. Elvis Impersonator Performs the World’s Largest Card Trick

Many of the music industry's most successful pop stars—like Prince, Madonna, and, uh, Milli Vanilli—were at the height of their fame in 1989, but none of them appeared at Super Bowl XXIII. Instead, the NFL hired an Elvis Presley-impersonating magician to perform. The show, titled “BeBop Bamboozled,” was a tribute to the 1950s, and it featured Elvis Presto performing “the world’s largest card trick.” It also may have included the world's largest eye exam: The show boasted 3D effects, and viewers were urged to pick up special glasses before the game. If the visuals didn't pop like they were supposed to, people were told to see an eye doctor.

4. The Peanuts Salute New Orleans

Super Bowl XXIV featured one of the last halftime acts that was completely devoid of any musical megastars. The biggest celebrity at the 1990 halftime show was Snoopy. Part of the show’s theme was the “40th Anniversary of 'Peanuts,'” and to celebrate the milestone, performers dressed as Peanuts characters and danced on stage. The other half of the theme was “Salute to New Orleans”—not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the comic strip.

5. A Tribute to the Winter Olympics

Super Bowl XXVI preceded the 1992 Winter Olympics—a fact that was made very clear by the event’s halftime. The show was titled “Winter Magic” and it paid tribute to the winter games with ice skaters, snowmobiles, and a cameo from the 1980 U.S. hockey team. Other acts, like a group of parachute-pants-wearing children performing the “Frosty the Snowman Rap,” were more generally winter-themed than specific to the Olympics. About 22 million viewers changed the channel during halftime to watch In Living Color’s Super Bowl special, which may have convinced the NFL to hire Michael Jackson the following year.

6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

“Peace, Joy, and Love” wasn’t the only Disney-helmed Super Bowl halftime. In 1995, Disney produced a halftime show called “Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye” to tease the new Disneyland ride of the same name. It centered around a skit in which actors playing Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood stole the Vince Lombardi Trophy from an exotic temple, and it included choreographed stunts, fiery special effects, and a snake. Patti LaBelle and Tony Bennett were also there.

7. The Blues Brothers, Minus John Belushi

The 1990s marked an odd period for halftime shows as they moved from schlocky themed variety shows to major music events. Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 perfectly encapsulates this transition period. James Brown and ZZ Top performed, but the headliners were the Blues Brothers. John Belushi had been dead for more than a decade by that point, so Jim Belushi took his place beside Dan Aykroyd. John Goodman was also there to promote the upcoming movie Blues Brother 2000. The flashy advertisement didn’t have the impact they had hoped for and the film was a massive flop when it premiered.

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