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The Winner of Our Second Book Giveaway

Another day, another competitive batch of entries. The challenge was to channel your inner architect and pretend you were designing the new mental_floss world headquarters. Before I pick a winner, let me run through some of the ideas that made me laugh (or made me really wish you were our architect):

From Witty Nickname:
It would include twice as much space as you need, and a cloning station for all your employees. Then you would alternate months so you could be a monthly magazine instead of a bi-monthly magazine!

From Chelsea:
All the windows would be shaped as the numerals 1 or 0. They would form a binary code image of crazy-faced Albert Einstein.

From K.:
Dance Dance Revolution in the break room. And not the cheesy at-home floor mat versions. This would be the real deal. With contests. And prizes.

From JP:
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that there are a disproportionate amount of MF staffers who are left-handed (like me). Therefore I propose that the MF HQ be completely left-handed acessible. I'm talking left-handed coffee mugs, left-handed scissors, left-handed pens (that don't smudge), left-handed computer mice and left-handed notebooks. And instead of greeting people by shaking right hands, anyone in the building would be required to shake left hands. Just a thought"¦

[Note to my co-workers: Is JP's hypothesis correct? Unless we're talking about wiffleball batting, I'm a righty. Maybe we are talking about wiffleball batting.]

From Jillian:
I think that the mental_floss world headquarters should be inspired by an M.C. Escher piece, like House of Stairs, for example. You are smart people; I am sure you will find a way to make this work.

From Brian S.:
2 things: Floor tiles that give off a sound/light combination when they are walked across, and an intercom system with the voice of HAL 9000. I would enjoy being called into the bosses office if these are the things I had to look forward to.

From Jim:
All hallway floors should be made from the stuff Stretch-Armstrong was. That would be fun to walk on.

From Sean O.:
The entire building would be a series of Rube Goldberg devices. Smaller ones for small jobs like making copies or turning on one's computer. Medium sized ones for elevators and lighting, etc. And one huge device housed in a transparent box in the lobby to enter the building. You'd have to stand at the enterance and wait for the process to finish before you could enter the building. Might be a fire hazard on the exit, but at least it would be interesting.

From Lynne:
I would design a building with an after-hours spa, including a hot tub for eight, a nice skylight over the hot tub for sunlight, beautiful lush greens and a juice bar.

[Note: Make that spa open before and during hours and we're in business.]

From Stretch:
My siblings and I poked a hole in our little brother's Stretch Armstrong. He seemed to be filled with pink corn syrup. Yes, we tasted to make sure. And of course we poked him in the butt so he'd be a little more anatomically correct.

From Kristin:
Wow, is that Morris Knolls as in Rockaway, New Jersey?? I'm a proud 2000 grad from that school.

As for the challenge, each room/floor of the headquarters would be a different theme to represent all the topics covered by mental floss. The literature room/floor would have desks that look like books. There would also be murals, statues of various people, and miniature replicas of famous buildings.

[Note: That's the very same Morris Knolls. Glad to have a fellow Golden Eagle hanging around.]

From Jason:
a bigger book shelf so you don't have to give all your free books away. would also save you money on postage which you could use to buy pizza or bagels, but preferably pizza

[Note: Now this comment needs to be rewarded. Jason, any chance a large t-shirt would fit? I just pulled four new (meaning never worn) mental_floss logo shirts out of the back of my closet. Let me know if I can send you one. If you're not a large, but plan to gain or lose a bunch of weight, let me know that, too.]

But I can only pick one winner, so I'm going with Mike. Here's his plan:

From the outside, the building would appear to be a giant sculpture of Albert Einstein's head.
*
The actual shape of the head would be a sort of geodesic dome.
*
Solar panels and wind turbines could be arranged atop the head to give the illusion of hair (and be used as a power source, obviously).
*
The primary entrance would be through the "mouth" with his beautiful moustache acting as an awning. Side entrances would be through the ears.
*
The eyes would be to giant windows found in the break rooms/cafeterias of the building.
*
Of course, the main conference room/idea room would be where Einstein's brain would be located. Quite literally, the "Think Tank."
*
Combining science and art, and being an homage to our hero, this building would be the architectural representation of mental_floss.

(I know I only asked for one element, and Mike gave us decidedly more than that. But he even got the underscore in mental_floss right. This man earned his book.)

If all this talk about buildings inspired you to buy a book about tall ones, head on over to the official site of The American Skyscraper. Mike, I'll be in touch. And I'll be back soon with the next challenge.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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