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4 Ways to Become a Diabolical Genius from the Comfort of Your Home

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If your name is Angus MacGyver, all you need to lay waste to life's obstacles—from hotwiring a moped to breaking out of a heavily guarded Soviet prison—is a tube sock, a jar of mayonnaise, and a roll of duct tape. If you're anyone else, you'll probably need this guide. But don't push your luck. Being a diabolical genius is not for the faint of heart. So unless you're willing to be maimed, arraigned, and shipped off to Gitmo, we suggest you don't try this at home.

1. Pick your teeth, pick a lock

If you consistently find yourself locked out of your house, and you're fanatical about dental hygiene, today is your lucky day. Meet the Oral-B Hummingbird. It flosses, it gyrates, it messages your gums. But most importantly, it can easily be converted into a remarkably effective, motorized lock-pick. With minimal effort, and a few dollars worth of supplies, a converted Hummingbird will pick just about any padlock in seconds.

First, you'll need to dissect the Hummingbird. Break open the casing and swap out the AAA battery for a beefy 9-volt by melting a small hole in the bottom of battery shell. Next, lace the wires to the battery terminals, cut the tip off of your store-bought lock pick, and superglue it to the Hummingbird. Easy as pie.

So next time your dentist tells you that you need a root canal, don't get a second opinion, just break into the office at night and swap out your dental records. Not only will you avoid painful, costly oral surgery, but after the medical malpractice lawsuit, you can just let your teeth rot and buy some shiny new dentures.

[Learn more at InventGeek.com]

2. Make free phone calls

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Tired of paying for long distance? No worries. Just buy a box of Cap'n Crunch.

Believe it or not, in the early 1970s, that would have been an acceptable answer. That's because, beginning in the mid-60s, Cap'n Crunch cereal came with a small plastic whistle that was easily modified to emit a tone at 2600 hertz—the exact frequency used by AT&T to indicate an available trunk line to route a new long distance phone call.

John Draper, a Vietnam War veteran, and lifetime "phreaker", discovered the secret of the toy whistle with longtime friend Joe Engressia in 1971. Phreaking—a portmanteau of the words "phone" and "freak"—was a relatively new field at the time, and Draper and Engressia were on the cutting edge. By blowing the whistle, Draper, who later came to be known in phreaking circles by the pseudonyms Captain Crunch and Crunchman, was able disconnect one end of the trunk, allowing the end that was still connected to enter operator mode, thus circumventing the automated billing system. Through further experimentation, Draper was able to build a blue box, a small electronic device capable of reproducing many other tones used by the phone company.

Before long, Draper became a household name. In 1971 an article in Esquire, "The Secrets of the Little Blue Box," detailed his phreaking exploits. The article also brought him to the attention of Steve Wozniak, who, along with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, did a little phreaking of their own under Draper's tutelage.

But all good things must come to an end. In 1972 Draper was arrested on toll fraud charges and sentenced to five years probation. Which just goes to show, if you play with little plastic whistles, eventually, you're gonna get burned.

[Learn more at JetCityOrange.com]

3. Blow up your kitchen

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If you're an aspiring chemist (or current pyromaniac) this one's for you. One would assume creating a volatile, highly flammable gas would, at very least, require a fully stocked laboratory and a PhD. In fact, it requires a bottle of Drano, some aluminum foil, and a glass bottle.

First, take a sheet of aluminum foil and stuff it into the bottom of a bottle. If you're really particular about your diabolical experiments, tear the aluminum foil into small pieces instead of crumpling it. This creates more surface area, which speeds up the reaction. Simply pour the Drano over the chards of foil, and voila, hydrogen gas will begin to form.

The chemical reaction at hand is actually quite simple. Drano acts as a reducing agent. It's primarily sodium hydroxide. Aluminum is the oxidizing agent. The protective aluminum oxide coating on the foil is dissolved by the sodium hydroxide forming a complex ion:

Al2O3 + 2NaOH + 3H2O "¡ 2Na+ + 2 [Al(OH)4]-

The exposed aluminum surface then reacts with water to form hydrogen:

2 Al + 6 H2O "¡ 2 Al(OH)3 + 3H2

You can capture the gas by sliding a balloon over the mouth of the bottle—think of it like a poor man's Hindenburg. Just remember, an enormous amount of heat is generated during the reaction, so you'll want to have a container of cool water on hand to neutralize the temperature (and probably an ambulance, too, just to be safe.)

[Learn more at ScienceDemonstrations.com; Image courtesy of Governing.com]

4. Hallucinate

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If you're bent on hallucinating this holiday season, but you can't bring yourself to approach smelly Phish fans, look no further than your local garden supply store. For just a few dollars you can pick up a packet of morning glory seeds, and learn why the term "flower power" isn't exclusive to hippies and anti-war protesters.

The morning glory flower, true to its name, blooms early in the morning, and dies quietly when the sun goes down. It's known for its colorful funnel-shaped flowers, heart-shaped leaves, and its tiny black seeds, which, when ingested, elicit a mild hallucinogenic experience. Scientifically, this comes as no surprise. The active ingredient in the morning glory is d-lysergic acid amide, known commonly as LSA. It's a chemical cousin of d-lysergic acid diethylamide, Sgt. Pepper's favorite—LSD. Scientists estimate LSA is roughly 5 to 10 percent as potent as LSD, so you'll probably need to scarf down a solid handful.

Aztec priests have used morning glory seeds for millennia in religious ceremonies to communicate with the gods, predict the future, and alleviate fear amongst the soon-to-be-sacrificed. It's a veritable wonder drug! If you're worried about jail time, well, you should be. The chemical ergine (contained in many species of morning glory) is illegal to posses in its purist form; however, the seeds are readily available in many gardening stores. So now you know why Martha Stewart is terminally happy.

[Learn more at Elephantos.com]

Evan Schiller is an occasional contributor to mental_floss, and the sole proprietor of Conventional Stupidity. His last article featured crazy Facebook groups.

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20 Facts About Your Favorite Coen Brothers’ Movies
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Gramercy Pictures

Ethan Coen turns 60 years old today, if you can believe it. Since bursting onto the scene in 1984 with the cult classic Blood Simple, the younger half of (arguably) the most dynamic moviemaking sibling duo in Hollywood has helped create some of the most memorable and quirky films in cinematic history, from Raising Arizona to Fargo and The Big Lebowski to No Country For Old Men. To celebrate the monumental birthday of one of the great writer-directors of our time (though he’s mostly uncredited as a director), here are some facts about your favorite Coen brothers’s movies.

1. THE COENS THINK BLOOD SIMPLE IS “PRETTY DAMN BAD.”

Fifteen years after Blood Simple’s release, the Coens reflected upon their first feature in the 2000 book My First Movie. “It’s crude, there’s no getting around it,” Ethan said. “On the other hand, it’s all confused with the actual process of making the movie and finishing the movie which, by and large, was a positive experience,” Joel said. “You never get entirely divorced from it that way. So, I don’t know. It’s a movie that I have a certain affection for. But I think it’s pretty damn bad!”

2. KEVIN COSTNER AND RICHARD JENKINS AUDITIONED FOR RAISING ARIZONA.

Kevin Costner auditioned three times to play H.I., only to see Nicolas Cage snag the role. Richard Jenkins had his first of many auditions for the Coens for Raising Arizona. He also (unsuccessfully) auditioned for Miller's Crossing (1990) and Fargo (1996) before calling it quits with the Coens. In 2001, Joel and Ethan cast Jenkins in The Man Who Wasn't There, even though he had never auditioned for it.

3. THE BROTHERS TURNED DOWN BATMAN TO MAKE MILLER’S CROSSING.

After Raising Arizona’s success established them as more than one-hit indie film wonders, the Coens had some options with regard to what project they could tackle next. Reportedly, their success meant that they were among the filmmakers being considered to make Batman for Warner Bros. Of course, the Coens ultimately decided to go the less commercial route, and Tim Burton ended up telling the story of The Dark Knight on the big screen.

4. BARTON FINK AND W.P. MAYHEW WERE LOOSELY BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS AND WILLIAM FAULKNER.

The Coens acknowledge that Fink and Odets had similar backgrounds, but they had different personalities: Odets was extroverted, for one thing. Turturro, not his directors, read Odets’ 1940 journal. The Coens acknowledged that John Mahoney (Mayhew) looks a lot like the The Sound and the Fury author.

5. THE COENS'S WEB OF DECEPTION IN FARGO GOES EVEN FURTHER THAN THE OPENING CREDITS. 

While the tag on the beginning of the movie reads “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987,” Fargo is, by no stretch of the imagination, a true story. During the film's press tour, the Coens admitted that while not pinpoint accurate, the story was indeed inspired by a similar crime that occurred in Minnesota, with Joel stating “In its general structure, the film is based on a real event, but the details of the story and the characters are fictional.”

However, any and all efforts to uncover anything resembling such a crime ever occurring in Minnesota come up empty, and in an introduction to the published script, Ethan pretty much admitted as much, writing that Fargo “aims to be both homey and exotic, and pretends to be true." 

6. THEY WANTED MARLON BRANDO TO PLAY JEFFREY LEBOWSKI.

According to Alex Belth, who wrote the e-book The Dudes Abide on his time spent working as an assistant to the Coens, casting the role of Jeffrey Lebowski was one of the last decisions made before filming. Names tossed around for the role included Robert Duvall (who passed because he wasn’t fond of the script), Anthony Hopkins (who passed since he had no interest in playing an American), and Gene Hackman (who was taking a break at the time). A second “wish list” included an oddball “who’s who," including Norman Mailer, George C. Scott, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, Andy Griffith, William F. Buckley, and Ernest Borgnine.

The Coens’ ultimate Big Lebowski, however, was the enigmatic Marlon Brando, who by that time was reaching the end of his career (and life). Apparently, the Coens amused themselves by quoting some of their favorite Jeffrey Lebowski lines (“Strong men also cry”) in a Brando accent. The role would eventually go to the not-particularly-famous—albeit pitch-perfect—veteran character actor David Huddleston. In true Dude fashion, it all worked out in the end.

7. JOEL COEN WOOED FRANCES MCDORMAND ON THE SET OF BLOOD SIMPLE.

Coen and McDormand fell in love while making Blood Simple and got married a couple of years later, after production wrapped. McDormand told The Daily Beast about the moment when she roped him in. “I’d only brought one book to read to Austin, Texas, where we were filming, and I asked him if there was anything he’d recommend,” she said. “He brought me a box of James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler paperbacks, and I said, ‘Which one should I start with?’ And he said, ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice.’ I read it, and it was one of the sexiest f*ckin’ books I’ve ever read. A couple of nights later, I said, ‘Would you like to come over and discuss the book?’ That did it. He seduced me with literature. And then we discussed books and drank hot chocolate for several evenings. It was f*ckin’ hot. Keep it across the room for as long as you can—that’s a very important element.”

8. O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? WAS ORIGINALLY INSPIRED BY THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Joel Coen revealed as much at the 15th anniversary reunion. “It started as a 'three saps on the run' kind of movie, and then at a certain point we looked at each other and said, 'You know, they're trying to get home—let's just say this is The Odyssey. We were thinking of it more as The Wizard of Oz. We wanted the tag on the movie to be: 'There's No Place Like Home.’”

9. THE ACTORS IN FARGO WENT THROUGH EXTENSIVE TRAINING TO GET THEIR ACCENTS RIGHT.

Having grown up in Minnesota, the Coens were more than familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the “Minnesota nice” accent, but much of the cast—including Frances McDormand and William H. Macy—needed coaching to get the intricacies right. Actors were even given copies of the scripts with extensive pronunciation notes. According to dialect coach Larissa Kokernot, who also appeared as one of the prostitutes Gaear and Carl rendezvous with in Brainerd, the “musicality” of the Minnesota nice accent comes from a place of “wanting people to agree with each other and get along.” This homey sensibility, contrasted with the ugly crimes committed throughout the movie, is, of course, one of the major reasons why the dark comedy is such an enduring classic.

10. NICOLAS CAGE'S HAIR REACTED TO H.I.'S STRESS LEVEL IN RAISING ARIZONA.

Ethan claimed that Cage was "crazy about his Woody Woodpecker haircut. The more difficulties his character got in, the bigger the wave in his hair got. There was a strange connection between the character and his hair."

11. A PROP FROM THE HUDSUCKER PROXY INSPIRED THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

A bit of set dressing from 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy eventually led to 2001’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. In a barbershop scene, there’s a poster hanging in the background that featured a range of men’s hairstyles from the 1940s. The brothers liked the prop and kept it, and it’s what eventually served as the inspiration for The Man Who Wasn’t There.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY SIGNED ON TO O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? BEFORE EVEN READING THE SCRIPT.

The brothers visited George Clooney in Phoenix while he was making Three Kings (1999), wanting to work with him after seeing his performance in Out of Sight (1998). Moments after they put their script on Clooney’s hotel room table, the actor said “Great, I’m in.”

13. A SNAG IN THE MILLER’S CROSSING SCRIPT ULTIMATELY LED TO BARTON FINK.

Miller’s Crossing is a complicated beast, full of characters double-crossing each other and scheming for mob supremacy. In fact, it’s so complicated that at one point during the writing process the Coens had to take a break. It turned out to be a productive one: While Miller’s Crossing was on pause, the brothers wrote the screenplay for Barton Fink, the story of a writer who can’t finish a script.

14. INTOLERABLE CRUELTY IS THE FIRST COEN MOVIE THAT WASN’T THE BROTHERS’ ORIGINAL IDEA.

In 1995, the Coens rewrote a script originally penned by other screenwriters, Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, and John Romano. They didn’t decide to direct the movie, which became Intolerable Cruelty, until 2003.

15. THE LADYKILLERS WAS WRITTEN FOR BARRY SONNENFELD TO DIRECT.

The Coens effortlessly jump from crime thriller to comedy without missing a beat. So when they were commissioned to write a remake of the British black comedy The Ladykillers for director Barry Sonnenfeld, it seemed to fall in line with their cinematic sensibilities. When Sonnenfeld dropped out of the project, the Coens were hired to direct the film.

16. BURN AFTER READING MARKED THE FIRST TIME SINCE MILLER’S CROSSING THAT THE COENS DIDN’T WORK WITH THEIR USUAL CINEMATOGRAPHER, ROGER DEAKINS.

Instead, eventual Academy Award-winner Emmanuel Lubezki acted as the director of photography. The Coens would work with Deakins again on every one of their films until 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis.

17. IT TOOK SOME CONVINCING TO GET JAVIER BARDEM TO SAY “YES” TO NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

Though it’s hard to imagine No Country for Old Men without Javier Bardem’s menacing—and Oscar-winning—performance as antagonist Anton Chigurh, he almost passed on the role. “It’s not something I especially like, killing people—even in movies,” Bardem said of his disdain for violence. “When the Coens called, I said, ‘Listen, I’m the wrong actor. I don’t drive, I speak bad English, and I hate violence.’ They laughed and said, ‘Maybe that’s why we called you.”’

18. PATTON OSWALT AUDITIONED FOR A SERIOUS MAN.

Patton Oswalt auditioned for the role of the obnoxious Arthur Gopnik in A Serious Man, a part that ultimately went to Richard Kind. Oswalt talked about his audition while appearing on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, in which it was also revealed that Maron was being considered for the lead role of Larry Gopnik (the role that earned Michael Stuhlbarg his first, and so far only, Golden Globe nomination). 

19. THE CAT IN INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS WAS “A NIGHTMARE.”

Ulysses, the orange cat who practically stole Inside Llewyn Davis away from Oscar Isaac, was reportedly a bit of a diva. "The cat was a nightmare,” Ethan Coen said on the DVD commentary. “The trainer warned us and she was right. She said, uh, "Dogs like to please you. The cat only likes to please itself.’ A cat basically is impossible to train. We have a lot of footage of cats doing things we don't want them to do, if anyone's interested; I don't know if there's a market for that."

20. THE COEN BROTHERS PROBABLY DON’T LOVE THE BIG LEBOWSKI AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

We’re assuming the Coen Brothers are plenty fond of The Dude: after all, he doesn’t end up facing imminent death or tragedy, which is more than most of their protagonists have going for them. But in a rare Coen Brothers interview in 2009, Joel Coen flatly stated, “That movie has more of an enduring fascination for other people than it does for us.”

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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