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Useless office skills

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If you're reading mental_floss at work, you're probably already looking for ways to decrease your productivity. Author Rick Davis is one of the world's leading experts on office time-wastage -- even going so far as to found the Institute for Totally Useless Skills -- and his treatise on useless office skills represents the pinnacle of his ongoing research. If you want to get started right away, here are a few examples. Time's a-wastin'!

The Endless Fax
1. Make two copies of a heartfelt message
2. Tape them together. Feed them to your fax machine
and start sending.
3. When the other end comes out, tape it to the second sheet to form a loop.
4. Go on a nice, long vacation.

Telephone Songs
For those of you who'd rather be rocking out than dialing your office phone all day, you can play music on your phone by pressing the buttons on the top (1,2,3) and along the side (6,9,#). But don't play the 4,5,7,8,*, or 0. They sound even worse than the others.
contct.gifHappy Birthday

Auld Lang Syne

Frere Jacques

Credit card buzzing
ccbuzz.jpegTake 2 credit cards and hold them back to back so the bumpy numbers are on the outside. Hold the cards extremely loosely at the edge of the short sides. Now blow air in between the cards. The sound you will hear will precisely express your feelings about the interest you are paying. For more time-wasting shenanigans, check out Rick Davis on Amazon.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Vanilla and French Vanilla Ice Cream?
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While you’re browsing the ice cream aisle, you may find yourself wondering, “What’s so French about French vanilla?” The name may sound a little fancier than just plain ol’ “vanilla,” but it has nothing to do with the origin of the vanilla itself. (Vanilla is a tropical plant that grows near the equator.)

The difference comes down to eggs, as The Kitchn explains. You may have already noticed that French vanilla ice cream tends to have a slightly yellow coloring, while plain vanilla ice cream is more white. That’s because the base of French vanilla ice cream has egg yolks added to it.

The eggs give French vanilla ice cream both a smoother consistency and that subtle yellow color. The taste is a little richer and a little more complex than a regular vanilla, which is made with just milk and cream and is sometimes called “Philadelphia-style vanilla” ice cream.

In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered in 2010—when Baskin-Robbins decided to eliminate French Vanilla from its ice cream lineup—ice cream industry consultant Bruce Tharp noted that French vanilla ice cream may date back to at least colonial times, when Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both used ice cream recipes that included egg yolks.

Jefferson likely acquired his taste for ice cream during the time he spent in France, and served it to his White House guests several times. His family’s ice cream recipe—which calls for six egg yolks per quart of cream—seems to have originated with his French butler.

But everyone already knew to trust the French with their dairy products, right?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Belly Flop Physics 101: The Science Behind the Sting
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Belly flops are the least-dignified—yet most painful—way of making a serious splash at the pool. Rarely do they result in serious physical injury, but if you’re wondering why an elegant swan dive feels better for your body than falling stomach-first into the water, you can learn the laws of physics that turn your soft torso a tender pink by watching the SciShow’s video below.


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