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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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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