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The Quick 10: 10 Things in the Skull and Bones Society's Tomb

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I'm sure you've all heard of the uber-top-secret-this-message-will-self-destruct Skull and Bones society at Yale. The Bushes have been members since way back when; other Bonesmen include an illustrious list of other presidents (William Howard Taft), high-up business executives, Supreme Court justices, politicians and journalists. We know that their headquarters is called "The Tomb" and it houses many secrets, but a few of those have been uncovered thanks to the intrepid journalism of Alexandra Robbins, who managed to get more than 100 Bonesmen to speak to her about the Stonecutters, errr, Skull and Bones. Here are 10 of the things that may (or may not) lie within the walls of The Tomb.

geronimo1. Geronimo's skull. This one is pretty well-known, and although it's never been proven, Robbins says it's one of the more likely items to be behind the closed doors. And who allegedly stole it? None other than Prescott Bush, G.W.'s grandpa. Six members of Skull and Bones, including Bush, were tasked with guarding Fort Sill, the site of Geronimo's grave, during WWI. Various documents have been found verifying that the skull does indeed reside with the Skull and Bones Society, but some experts say there's no way Geronimo's cranium is anywhere but his final resting place at Fort Sill.

2. Pancho Villa's skull. The rumor is that the society bought the skull for $25,000 in 1926, shortly after the skull was stolen from Villa's grave. Skull and Bones has denied this, of course, and some members have gone off the record saying that the society is way too cheap to pay that kind of money for a skull. Robbins originally confirmed in her book that Skull and Bones was definitely in possession of Villa's cabeza, but has since retracted that. Hmm.

3. Martin Van Buren's skull.

With so many U.S. presidents in their ranks, I guess it makes sense that the Bones would have a presidential skull hidden away somewhere. This one has never been even remotely proved and for all we know, all parts of Van Buren are still safely buried in the Kinderhook Cemetery in Kinderhook, N.Y. But why Van Buren? Your guess is as good as mine"¦ one thing's for sure, though: the Van Buren Boys certainly aren't going to be happy about this. And they're every bit as mean as he was, you know.

4. A set of Hitler's silverware. Another "why?" item, in my opinion. This isn't nearly as special as you might think, though: just head to Alabama to see some Fuhrer relics. His tea service resides in Anniston, Alabama, and his typewriter has a home in Bessemer. His Rolls Royce is in Cochise, Arizona; his hat and coat are in Atlanta; some of his beer steins are in Lomita, California; his desk keys are in Estes Park, Colorado; and his supposed horse is buried in St. Rose, Louisiana. So keep your silverware, Skull and Bones. We're not impressed.

skull5. Coffins, which seems appropriate for a place called "The Tomb." Legend has it that initiates have to lie in the coffins and recount all of their sexual experiences and fantasies to the patriarchs (everyone who isn't an initiate). Some reports have debunked this, though, saying that no coffins are involved "“ the initiates merely have to stand in front of a portrait of a woman named Connubial Bliss and recite their entire sexual history.
6. License plates bearing the number 322. According to an account of a girl whose Bonesman boyfriend took her in to tour the Tomb, a whole wall is filled with license plates with the number "322." This is the number that represents the group, although the reason why is another one of those mysteries that outsiders have been guessing at for years. Apparently Bonesmen are told to "liberate" any license plate with their number on it, so if you happen to have a license plate with that particular combination, don't be surprised if it goes missing.

7. The gravestone of Yale's founder. Robbins says the original gravestone of Elihu Yale was stolen from its original spot on the grounds of St. Giles' Church in Wrexham, Wales, and is now sitting in a glass case in the Tomb.

8. Large portraits of its most famous members, including William Howard Taft and George H.W. Bush. A conservator in Connecticut spent six years restoring 15 paintings from the Skull and Bones headquarters and says the inside isn't all that foreboding. She likened it to the Addams Family "“ kind of "funny-spooky."

9. A couch. Yep. Crazy, huh? Despite the presence of skulls and gravestones and coffins, one member said the Tomb was a lot like a college dorm, just swathed in more secrecy. He told Robbins it was "A place that used to be really nice but felt kind of beat up, lived in. There were socks underneath the couch, old half-deflated soccer balls lying around."

10. "Madame Pompadour," a skeleton which Bonesmen believe to be Madame de Pompadour. She resides in the Inner Temple and protects founding papers and other important society documents.

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science
4 Expert Tips on How to Get the Most Out of August's Total Solar Eclipse
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Richard Bouhet // Getty

As you might have heard, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the U.S. on August 21. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the country since 1979, and the first coast-to-coast event since June 8, 1918, when eclipse coverage pushed World War I off the front page of national newspapers. Americans are just as excited today: Thousands are hitting the road to stake out prime spots for watching the last cross-country total solar eclipse until 2045. We’ve asked experts for tips on getting the most out of this celestial spectacle.

1. DON’T FRY YOUR EYES—OR BREAK THE BANK

To see the partial phases of the eclipse, you will need eclipse glasses because—surprise!—staring directly at the sun for even a minute or two will permanently damage your retinas. Make sure the glasses you buy meet the ISO 12312-2 safety standards. As eclipse frenzy nears its peak, shady retailers are selling knock-off glasses that will not adequately protect your eyes. The American Astronomical Society keeps a list of reputable vendors, but as a rule, if you can see anything other than the sun through your glasses, they might be bogus. There’s no need to splurge, however: You can order safe paper specs in bulk for as little as 90 cents each. In a pinch, you and your friends can take turns watching the partial phases through a shared pair of glasses. As eclipse chaser and author Kate Russo points out, “you only need to view occasionally—no need to sit and stare with them on the whole time.”

2. DON’T DIY YOUR EYE PROTECTION

There are plenty of urban legends about “alternative” ways to protect your eyes while watching a solar eclipse: smoked glass, CDs, several pairs of sunglasses stacked on top of each other. None works. If you’re feeling crafty, or don’t have a pair of safe eclipse glasses, you can use a pinhole projector to indirectly watch the eclipse. NASA produced a how-to video to walk you through it.

3. GET TO THE PATH OF TOTALITY

Bryan Brewer, who published a guidebook for solar eclipses, tells Mental Floss the difference between seeing a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse is “like the difference between standing right outside the arena and being inside watching the game.”

During totality, observers can take off their glasses and look up at the blocked-out sun—and around at their eerily twilit surroundings. Kate Russo’s advice: Don’t just stare at the sun. “You need to make sure you look above you, and around you as well so you can notice the changes that are happening,” she says. For a brief moment, stars will appear next to the sun and animals will begin their nighttime routines. Once you’ve taken in the scenery, you can use a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a close look at the tendrils of flame that make up the sun’s corona.

Only a 70-mile-wide band of the country stretching from Oregon to South Carolina will experience the total eclipse. Rooms in the path of totality are reportedly going for as much as $1000 a night, and news outlets across the country have raised the specter of traffic armageddon. But if you can find a ride and a room, you'll be in good shape for witnessing the spectacle.

4. PRESERVE YOUR NIGHT VISION

Your eyes need half an hour to fully adjust to darkness, but the total eclipse will last less than three minutes. If you’ve just been staring at the sun through the partial phases of the eclipse, your view of the corona during totality will be obscured by lousy night vision and annoying green afterimages. Eclipse chaser James McClean—who has trekked from Svalbard to Java to watch the moon blot out the sun—made this rookie mistake during one of his early eclipse sightings in Egypt in 2006. After watching the partial phases, with stray beams of sunlight reflecting into his eyes from the glittering sand and sea, McClean was snowblind throughout the totality.

Now he swears by a new method: blindfolding himself throughout the first phases of the eclipse to maximize his experience of the totality. He says he doesn’t mind “skipping the previews if it means getting a better view of the film.” Afterward, he pops on some eye protection to see the partial phases of the eclipse as the moon pulls away from the sun. If you do blindfold yourself, just remember to set an alarm for the time when the total eclipse begins so you don’t miss its cross-country journey. You'll have to wait 28 years for your next chance.

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Pop Culture
IKEA Publishes Instructions for Turning Rugs Into Game of Thrones Capes
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HBO

Game of Thrones is one of the most expensive TV shows ever produced, but even the crew of the hit HBO series isn’t above using an humble IKEA hack behind the scenes. According to Mashable, the fur capes won by Jon Snow and other members of the Night’s Watch on the show are actually sheepskin rugs sold by the home goods chain.

The story behind the iconic garment was first revealed by head costume designer Michele Clapton at a presentation at Los Angeles’s Getty Museum in 2016. “[It’s] a bit of a trick,” she said at Designing the Middle Ages: The Costumes of GoT. “We take anything we can.”

Not one to dissuade customers from modifying its products, IKEA recently released a cape-making guide in the style of its visual furniture assembly instructions. To start you’ll need one of their Skold rugs, which can be bought online for $79. Using a pair of scissors cut a slit in the material and make a hole where your head will go. Slip it on and you’ll look ready for your Game of Thrones debut.

The costume team makes a few more changes to the rugs used on screen, like shaving them, adding leather straps, and waxing and “frosting” the fur to give it a weather-worn effect. Modern elements are used to make a variety of the medieval props used in Game of Thrones. The swords, for example, are made from aircraft aluminum, not steel. For more production design insights, check out these behind-the-scenes secrets of Game of Thrones weapons artists.

[h/t Mashable]

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