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The Decks of the Mary Celeste, December 1872

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Our new issue is on newsstands and in mailboxes (or beach bags or bathrooms or wherever it is you do your _flossing). This week we've been sharing a few excerpts from the cover story, "The 50 Most Interesting Places in the Space-Time Continuum," by Jenny Drapkin and Ethan Trex. Today and tomorrow, we'll share a couple places that just missed the cut.


The Decks of the Mary Celeste, December 1872
In early December 1872, the crew of the English cargo ship Dei Gratia made a perplexing discovery in the Atlantic. The Dei Gratia's helmsman spotted a ship a few miles off his bow and quickly realized that it was the familiar brigantine merchant ship the Mary Celeste. Something seemed a little off about the Mary Celeste, though. Her sails were up, but they appeared to be lopsided and torn. Furthermore, while the Mary Celeste appeared to be heading for the Strait of Gibraltar, the ship wasn't really keeping a straight course.

The concerned helmsman set a course to intercept the apparently troubled ship, and when the Dei Gratia finally caught up to the other vessel after hours of observation, they discovered one of history's greatest nautical mysteries: the entire crew of the Mary Celeste had vanished.

Oliver Deveau, the Dei Gratia's chief mate, was the first sailor to board the eerily quiet ship. After poking around the decks and the holds, Deveau reported back that although the Mary Celeste was a "thoroughly wet mess" with quite a bit of standing water below decks and in the her bilge, the boat was still seaworthy. However, there wasn't a soul on board. The entire crew and Captain Benjamin Briggs, along with Briggs' wife and two-year-old daughter, were nowhere to be found.

Wherever the Mary Celeste's crew had gone, they had packed up in a hurry. Most of their personal belongings, even their pipes, remained untouched by their bunks. The ship's cargo—1701 barrels of commercial alcohol bound for Italy—was still snugly resting in her holds. Even the captain's logbook was still on board, as was a six-month supply of untainted food and fresh water. The only things that appeared to be missing were the ship's navigational equipment, some papers, and her lone lifeboat.

The baffled crew of the Dei Gratia decided to split up and sail the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. Once they arrived safely, the British Vice Admiralty Court began an inquiry into the Mary Celeste's abandonment, and the ghostly ship became a worldwide media sensation.

The admiralty inquiry lasted three months and tested all sorts of theories. One of the early explanations that got quite a bit of traction—even the New York Times reported this one—was that the ship had been attacked by pirates who murdered the crew. There were a few problems with this story, though. Piracy wasn't particularly common in this part of the world at the time thanks to a strong British naval presence, and there wasn't any sign of a struggle on the Mary Celeste. Furthermore, pirates generally didn't just take a boat, kill the crew, and then leave it adrift at sea with a hold full of cargo.

Another explanation—also reported by the New York Times—hypothesized that the ship's crew had gotten into the alcoholic cargo and then murdered Captain Briggs and his family during a drunken rampage before fleeing in the lifeboat. (The Times breathlessly reported that ""¦some of the men probably obtained access to the cargo, and were thus stimulated to the desperate deed.") This story didn't work with the facts either, though. The crew had all been experienced sailors with impeccable records, and the alcohol in the hold was denatured, not the sort of drinkable grade-A booze that might incite a mutiny. Moreover, despite a search for the crew in ports around the world, not a single man ever turned up.

A Fit of Collective Drug-Fueled Madness?

When these mundane explanations proved to be dead ends, theorists became increasingly fantastic with their stories. What if a sea monster had devoured the crew? Wasn't this mysterious disappearance obviously the work of aliens? Perhaps the ship's flour had become contaminated with hallucinogenic ergot fungus and caused the entire crew to throw themselves overboard in a fit of collective drug-fueled madness. As one might imagine, nobody found these far-fetched theories all that compelling.

Today there are a few prevailing theories about what really happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste. Some historians now believe that the ship hit a waterspout, a tornado at sea, that caused the ship to take on water. Although the Mary Celeste was still seaworthy, Captain Briggs may have panicked and abandoned ship, only to have the lifeboat sink in the storm.

Another credible theory centers on the ship's dangerous cargo. When investigators unloaded the 1,701 barrels of alcohol from the hold, nine barrels turned out to be empty. These barrels were made of porous red oak, which might have allowed alcohol vapors to gradually escape until there was a small but terrifying explosion below decks. Such an explosion—or even the presence of vapors that might have exploded—could have spooked the crew into the abandoning the ship before it went up in flames.

The Mary Celeste eventually found a new owner and crew and sailed for another 12 years until her captain deliberately ran her aground off Haiti as part of an insurance fraud scheme. Despite nearly 130 years of research, maritime historians still don't know what became of the ship's crew on that fateful 1872 voyage, an uncertainty that makes the decks of the Mary Celeste one of the most fascinating places in the space-time continuum.

See Also: The Final Resting Place of the Russian Mafia, The Final Moments of the Civil War, Where Antimatter Still Exists. If you're in a subscribing mood, here are all the details.

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A Simple Way to Charge Your iPhone in 5 Minutes
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Spotting the “low battery” notification on your phone is usually followed by a frantic search for an outlet and further stress over the fact that you may not have time for a full charge. On iPhones, plugging your device into the wall for five minutes might result in only a modest increase of about three percent or so. But this tip from Business Insider Tech may allow you to squeeze out a little more juice.

The trick? Before charging, put your phone in Airplane Mode so that you reduce the number of energy-sucking tasks (signal searching, fielding incoming communications) your device will try and perform.

Next, take the cover off if you have one (the phone might be generating extra heat as a result). Finally, try to use an iPad adapter, which has demonstrated a faster rate of charging than the adapter that comes with your iPhone.

Do that and you’ll likely double your battery boost, from about three to six percent. It may not sound like much, but that little bit of extra juice might keep you connected until you’re able to plug it in for a full charge.

[h/t Business Insider Tech]

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Trying to Save Money? Avoid Shopping on a Smartphone
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Today, Americans do most of their shopping online—but as anyone who’s indulged in late-night retail therapy likely knows, this convenience often can come with an added cost. Trying to curb expenses, but don't want to swear off the convenience of ordering groceries in your PJs? New research shows that shopping on a desktop computer instead of a mobile phone may help you avoid making foolish purchases, according to Co. Design. Ying Zhu, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan, recently led a study to measure how touchscreen technology affects consumer behavior. Published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, her research found that people are more likely to make more frivolous, impulsive purchases if they’re shopping on their phones than if they’re facing a computer monitor. Zhu, along with study co-author Jeffrey Meyer of Bowling Green State University, ran a series of lab experiments on student participants to observe how different electronic devices affected shoppers’ thinking styles and intentions. Their aim was to see if subjects' purchasing goals changed when it came to buying frivolous things, like chocolate or massages, or more practical things, like food or office supplies. In one experiment, participants were randomly assigned to use a desktop or a touchscreen. Then, they were presented with an offer to purchase either a frivolous item (a $50 restaurant certificate for $30) or a useful one (a $50 grocery certificate for $30). These subjects used a three-point scale to gauge how likely they were to purchase the offer, and they also evaluated how practical or frivolous each item was. (Participants rated the restaurant certificate to be more indulgent than the grocery certificate.) Sure enough, the researchers found that participants had "significantly higher" purchase intentions for hedonic (i.e. pleasurable) products when buying on touchscreens than on desktops, according to the study. On the flip side, participants had significantly higher purchase intentions for utilitarian (i.e. practical) products while using desktops instead of touchscreens. "The playful and fun nature of the touchscreen enhances consumers' favor of hedonic products; while the logical and functional nature of a desktop endorses the consumers' preference for utilitarian products," Zhu explains in a press release. The study also found that participants using touchscreen technology scored significantly higher on "experiential thinking" than subjects using desktop computers, whereas those with desktop computers demonstrated higher scores for rational thinking. “When you’re in an experiential thinking mode, [you crave] excitement, a different experience,” Zhu explained to Co. Design. “When you’re on the desktop, with all the work emails, that interface puts you into a rational thinking style. While you’re in a rational thinking style, when you assess a product, you’ll look for something with functionality and specific uses.” Zhu’s advice for consumers looking to conserve cash? Stow away the smartphone when you’re itching to splurge on a guilty pleasure. [h/t Fast Company]

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