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The New Shapes of Garden Produce

Last summer I found myself with a dozen pumpkins and no plans for what to do with them. I ended up giving some away, and using the rest for porch decorations. After a couple of hard freezes, they were ready for the compost heap from which they sprouted about a year ago. I retrieved some seeds (a messy job after the pumpkins go soft) because I have real plans for them this year. I'm going to experiment with geometric pumpkins!

The first time you see square watermelons, your instinct may shout "Photoshop!" but they are really square. Not a genetic variant, these are made the old-fashioned way. They are grown in boxes, and take the cubic shape gradually as they grow. It's a labor-intensive process, but the end result fits nicely in a refrigerator, and wastes no space in the truck. And they won't roll around! They've been growing them in Japan for years, because space is at a premium. The watermelons are at premium prices, too.

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To achieve such results, you have to have a proper box, made of tempered glass or durable plastic. Transparent boxes are best, or else you won't know exactly when to harvest, or even worse, waste your equipment on a rotten fruit! K-mac Plastics sells boxes especially designed to grow watermelons in, complete with proper drainage.

Keep reading for even stranger shapes

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If you can grow cubic watermelons, why not other shapes? The next phase would be pyramid-shaped watermelons. And if you can grow pyramids, why not face-shaped watermelons? It's been done.

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The idea can be carried over to other types of garden produce. Have you ever heard of a cubecumber? The shape is even more impressive when you slice them for unsuspecting guests.

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You can order a kit that helps you to grow your own square tomatoes. Grow Big Strange and Nasty Plants has five projects for kids, with a giant pumpkin project and an insect-eating plant as well as a cube tomato kit.

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You can also buy molds for your garden. Vegiforms offers two-piece plastic molds with faces on them. The garden elf shape and the "pickle puss" shape work with eggplants, zucchini, and other roundish vegetables. The diamond and heart shapes are longer, and produce the shape when you slice the cucumber or squash. There's even a mold in the shape of an ear of corn, so you can disguise one vegetable as another!

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Square pumpkins have been done. John Muller won the "most beautiful pumpkin" award for his box-shaped pumpkin in 2005.

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The greenhouse at Disney EPCOT in Florida grows vegetables in the shape of (what else) Mickey Mouse.

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This photo, supposedly of "miraculous" roots that were pulled from the ground in the shape of two people, has been making the rounds for quite some time, most recently at the Daily Mail. Skeptics say they couldn't have grown that way, that they must've been carved. But the filament roots seem real. Once you know how it's done, it seems simple (but isn't). With the right mold (possibly dolls), the real miracle is getting the roots to grow so large!

I saw instructions at one time about getting a pumpkin to grow inside a square milk carton, but it seems you would have to support the outside to keep the plastic from bending. Hmm. I may experiment with getting a tomato to grow in the shape of the inside of a jar first. However I decide to do it, rest assured I will take pictures for you!

Update: I tried molding pumpkins. Here are the results.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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