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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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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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