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15 of the Greatest Gifts in the History of Presents

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Do you have a pal who always leaves you scratching your head when it comes to gifts? Perhaps something here will sound like the perfect present for the person in your life who has everything—everything except a 69-carat diamond, an eagle made of beer can tabs, and fire.

1. For Friends Abroad: A Statue of Liberty

You’re going to need a bigger tree. The official dedication ceremony for France’s gift of the “New Colossus” was in 1886, but the idea had been in the works since 1865, when French politician Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye decided France should do something to honor the U.S. after the Civil War. The statue was built overseas and shipped to the U.S. in pieces. If you’re leaning toward some large statuary like this for your brother from another country, you should probably warn him that he’s going to need to clear some yard space.

2. For Your Shifty Neighbor: The Great Seal of the United States (Bugged)

UN Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge shows off a replica of the Great Seal of the United States to the Security Council. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko smiles with amusement behind Lodge. © Bettmann/CORBIS (1960)

Think your neighbor is going a little Walter White on you? Before you call the DEA, try gifting him with a bugged Great Seal of the United States. In 1945, the Young Pioneer organization of the Soviet Union presented U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman with a Great Seal, hand-carved from wood, as a gesture of friendship. Their definition of friendship was a little dysfunctional, though, because the gift contained a bug designed by famous Russian inventor Leon Theremin. The bug was hard to detect because it was extremely thin, gave off no signal and had no power supply (this was amazing technology back in 1945, mind you). Harriman hung it in his office at the Ambassador’s House, where the "Thing," as it was later called, went undiscovered until 1952 — three ambassadors later.

3. For Your Friend Who Loves Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Savannah, GA

The only problem with this gift is that you’ll never top yourself. Next year, you’ll have to give your demanding pal a whole state. After that she’s going to expect everything south of the Mason-Dixon line. Actually, that’s sort of what happened in the first place.

General William T. Sherman had been working his troops hard to secure ports from the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After he captured Atlanta in September 1864, Sherman and some of his men disappeared for about six weeks; the White House received no communication from them and President Lincoln feared the worst. Then, on December 22, Sherman sent Lincoln a telegraph with the message: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”

4. For Animal-Lovers: A White Elephant

We all know people with pets that are slightly left of center. Hedgehogs, ferrets, pot-bellied pigs. To really impress one of these friends, follow in the footsteps of King Manuel of Portugal and give the gift of a white elephant. The unusual present was given to Pope Leo X in 1514; Leo was so enamored with the pachyderm named Hanno that he commissioned Raphael to paint his portrait.

Hopefully your animal-loving friend is a more responsible pet owner than Leo was. Believing that gold was the answer to everything, Leo supposedly had Hanno’s handlers feed him laxatives laced with gold when he got a little constipated. The gold proved too rich for poor Hanno, and he died at the young age of six.

5. For the Pre-Teen Who Has Everything: Tangier and Bombay

When you’re a member of a royal family, it’s not uncommon to be gifted a rather large parcel. A parcel of land, that is. When Charles II of England agreed to marry Catherine of Braganza in 1640 (she was two years old at the time of the agreement, by the way, and Charles was 10), the dowry he received included the North African town of Tangier and what was then Bombay.

6. For Your Friend Who's Always Quoting Lebowski: A Bowling Alley

A two-lane bowling alley was installed in the White House in 1947 as a birthday gift to President Truman. No matter that he hadn’t bowled since he was 19, Truman knocked down seven pins on the first roll at the alley, which was paid for by donors from Truman’s home state of Missouri and moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955. Truman didn’t use the alley much himself – he was more of a poker player – but the addition was a big hit with Truman’s staff, some of whom formed a bowling league.

7. For the Friend With a Green Thumb: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Legend has it the Hanging Gardens were brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife, Amytis, who was terribly homesick for Media (Iran). To help her get over it, the Babylonian king created a mini-paradise containing all her favorite Median plants. It’s not around today because it was allegedly destroyed in an earthquake sometime around 2 B.C. Actually, it may not have actually existed at all. Despite written descriptions of the place, some scholars think it was simply a bit of flowery (literally) imagery. But don’t let that stop you from recreating it for an extra-thoughtful gift.

8. For the Friend Who Wears Too Much Jewelry: The Taylor-Burton Diamond

If you have a friend who loves gems and jewels as much as Elizabeth Taylor did, why not splurge and buy her (or him) the Taylor-Burton Diamond, a 69.42 carat pear-shaped diamond Richard Burton bought for his then-wife in 1969? It was the first diamond ever publicly sold for seven figures, but it proved to be a good investment. When Taylor auctioned off the bauble in 1978, it sold for $5 million. She used the proceeds to buy a hospital in Kasane, Botswana. “They need one badly and I certainly don’t need another ring,” Liz said.

9. For Your Favorite Frenemy: The Trojan Horse

We’ve all got one: the friend you have to get a gift for even though you don’t actually like him or her very much. Why not take a page from the Greeks and hook your frenemy up with a building-sized wooden horse containing a whole army? While your “friend” is admiring the craftsmanship, 30 to 50 men will jump out and destroy her small town. That, of course, is the legend of how Greece finally got into the city of Troy and ended the Trojan War in the 11th or 12th century B.C. Troy probably wishes that particular present had come with a gift receipt.

10. For Your Artsy Sister: Las Meninas

Your sister trolls Etsy for charming and original prints pretty much constantly. Giving her Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez will totally blow her mind. To thank his kingly patron, painter Diego Velázquez created a piece in 1656 that depicted the Infanta Margarita with her ladies-in-waiting, a dog and Velázquez himself. King Philip IV and Queen consort Mariana of Austria are shown in the mirror. The masterpiece can now be found in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. If your wallet doesn’t quite allow for the original, by the way, you could always go for a knock-off: Picasso painted 58 versions of Las Meninas in the 1950s

11. For Your Grandma, the Queen of Knick-Knacks: Faberge Eggs

Give one of of these jeweled beauties to your grams and she’ll think of you every time she dusts around it. The first Imperial Faberge egg was created for Tsar Alexander III, who wanted to give his wife an extra-special Easter egg in 1885. The bauble was such a hit that the Tsar did it every year afterward (we’re sure it will be a lovely tradition for you and your grandma, too). When Alexander III died, his son continued the tradition and commissioned the pricey trinkets for his mother and his wife.

12. For Your Pyromaniac Friend: Fire

It’s going to present a bit of a wrapping challenge, but it will all be worth it when you see your M-80-obsessed friend light up like the Fourth of July sky. But maybe don’t steal it like Prometheus did. The way the story goes, Zeus was hoarding fire for god-use only. Since Prometheus created humans out of clay, he was pretty annoyed that Zeus was being so stingy. He stole fire from the hearth of Zeus and gave it to his little clay people, then was immediately and severely punished for his good deed: Zeus had him chained to a rock, where his liver was eaten from his body by a giant eagle. The organ grew back overnight, so Prometheus suffered the same fate day after day. Just a little something to consider before you give the gift of fire.

13. For That Cousin on Your Dad's Side: An Eagle Made of Beer Can Tabs

It’s thrifty; it’s recycled; it’s a tribute to the United States of America. Your cousin will love it so much, you might even get a PBR and some pork rinds out of the deal. Gerald Ford received just such a gift from a Kentucky Cub Scout group while he was in office. The eagle, made to celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1976, was part of a Presidential Gift exhibit that traveled the presidential library circuit a few years back.

14. For Your Friend Who Lives for Trips to IKEA: A Carpet With Cleopatra Inside

It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind gift: an old, priceless carpet containing an Egyptian queen. Cleopatra needed an audience with Julius Caesar. The only way she could get one, though, was to sneak one. She had her servant roll her up in a carpet - though some historians believe it may have been bed coverings - and deliver her personally to Caesar. It worked: Cleo got her audience with Caesar, received his support in her battle for the Egyptian throne, and eventually gave him a son. You don’t have to go that far, though. The carpet will do.

15. For Your Friend Who Really Loves Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Like, Really Loves. As in, Maybe You Should Consider Calling the Police: A Book Made out of Human Skin—Possibly Your Own

To appease your possibly blood-thirsty friend, try a gift like the one highwayman James Allen gave to the man who finally brought him down. Back in the early 1830s, Allen indiscriminately robbed dozens of people, and was caught only when a man named John Fenno stood up to him and refused to hand over his possessions. When Allen tried to shoot him, the bullet bounced off of Fenno’s belt buckle and Fenno was able to catch his would-be robber. Convicted to 20 years in prison, Allen died after just a few years. Before his death, though, he wrote a full confession of all of his crimes. The day he died in 1837, enough skin was taken from his back to bind a book. It was immediately sent to a bookbinder, who dyed the skin grey and then abided by Allen's twisted request to bind the confession in his own skin. It was then given to John Fenno, as Allen had specified.

You can read it if you want, though I’m not sure you’re getting the full effect if you’re not holding a book made of human skin.

And Possibly the Worst Gift of All-Time...

A Video Featuring Women Biting the Heads Off Snakes and Soldiers Killing Puppies

Do you have a friend who liked to set fire to bugs with a magnifying glass when he was little? Does he now maintain a firm grip on a small country? This gift might be just the ticket. Back in December of 1983, Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein as part of President Reagan’s Middle East Envoy. At the end of the meeting, Saddam slipped Rumsfeld a videotape. When Rumsfeld popped the tape in, perhaps hoping it was an advance screening of Footloose, he was stunned: the tape contained three minutes of female Syrian soldiers biting the heads off of snakes, then roasting them and eating them. In the same video, a male soldier holds down a live puppy and stabs it over and over, then tosses the lifeless body aside. The "gift" can be seen online - it’s obviously very graphic, and I won’t watch it, so click at your own risk.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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8 Tricks to Help Your Cat and Dog to Get Along
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When people aren’t debating whether cats or dogs are more intelligent, they’re equating them as mortal foes. That’s a stereotype that both cat expert Jackson Galaxy, host of the Animal Planet show My Cat From Hell, and certified dog trainer Zoe Sandor want to break.

Typically, cats are aloof and easily startled, while dogs are gregarious and territorial. This doesn't mean, however, that they can't share the same space—they're just going to need your help. “If cats and dogs are brought up together in a positive, loving, encouraging environment, they’re going to be friends,” Galaxy tells Mental Floss. “Or at the very least, they’ll tolerate each other.”

The duo has teamed up in a new Animal Planet series, Cat Vs. Dog, which airs on Saturdays at 10 p.m. The show chronicles their efforts to help pet owners establish long-lasting peace—if not perfect harmony—among cats and dogs. (Yes, it’s possible.) Gleaned from both TV and off-camera experiences, here are eight tips Galaxy and Sandor say will help improve household relations between Fido and Fluffy.

1. TAKE PERSONALITY—NOT BREED—INTO ACCOUNT.

Contrary to popular belief, certain breeds of cats and dogs don't typically get along better than others. According to Galaxy and Sandor, it’s more important to take their personalities and energy levels into account. If a dog is aggressive and territorial, it won’t be a good fit in a household with a skittish cat. In contrast, an aging dog would hate sharing his space with a rambunctious kitten.

If two animals don’t end up being a personality match, have a backup plan, or consider setting up a household arrangement that keeps them separated for the long term. And if you’re adopting a pet, do your homework and ask its previous owners or shelter if it’s lived with other animals before, or gets along with them.

2. TRAIN YOUR DOG.

To set your dog up for success with cats, teach it to control its impulses, Sandor says. Does it leap across the kitchen when someone drops a cookie, or go on high alert when it sees a squeaky toy? If so, it probably won’t be great with cats right off the bat, since it will likely jump up whenever it spots a feline.

Hold off Fido's face time with Fluffy until the former is trained to stay put. And even then, keep a leash handy during the first several cat-dog meetings.

3. GIVE A CAT ITS OWN TERRITORY BEFORE IT MEETS A DOG.

Cats need a protected space—a “base camp” of sorts—that’s just theirs, Galaxy says. Make this refuge off-limits to the dog, but create safe spaces around the house, too. This way, the cat can confidently navigate shared territory without trouble from its canine sibling.

Since cats are natural climbers, Galaxy recommends taking advantage of your home’s vertical space. Buy tall cat trees, install shelves, or place a cat bed atop a bookcase. This allows your cat to observe the dog from a safe distance, or cross a room without touching the floor.

And while you’re at it, keep dogs away from the litter box. Cats should feel safe while doing their business, plus dogs sometimes (ew) like to snack on cat feces, a bad habit that can cause your pooch to contract intestinal parasites. These worms can cause a slew of health problems, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

Baby gates work in a pinch, but since some dogs are escape artists, prepare for worst-case scenarios by keeping the litter box uncovered and in an open space. That way, the cat won’t be cornered and trapped mid-squat.

4. EXERCISE YOUR DOG'S BODY AND MIND.

“People exercise their dogs probably 20 percent of what they should really be doing,” Sandor says. “It’s really important that their energy is released somewhere else so that they have the ability to slow down their brains and really control themselves when they’re around kitties.”

Dogs also need lots of stimulation. Receiving it in a controlled manner makes them less likely to satisfy it by, say, chasing a cat. For this, Sandor recommends toys, herding-type activities, lure coursing, and high-intensity trick training.

“Instead of just taking a walk, stop and do a sit five times on every block,” she says. “And do direction changes three times on every block, or speed changes two times. It’s about unleashing their herding instincts and prey drive in an appropriate way.”

If you don’t have time for any of these activities, Zoe recommends hiring a dog walker, or enrolling in doggy daycare.

5. LET CATS AND DOGS FOLLOW THEIR NOSES.

In Galaxy's new book, Total Cat Mojo, he says it’s a smart idea to let cats and dogs sniff each other’s bedding and toys before a face-to-face introduction. This way, they can satisfy their curiosity and avoid potential turf battles.

6. PLAN THE FIRST CAT/DOG MEETING CAREFULLY.

Just like humans, cats and dogs have just one good chance to make a great first impression. Luckily, they both love food, which might ultimately help them love each other.

Schedule the first cat-dog meeting during mealtime, but keep the dog on a leash and both animals on opposite sides of a closed door. They won’t see each other, but they will smell each other while chowing down on their respective foods. They’ll begin to associate this smell with food, thus “making it a good thing,” Galaxy says.

Do this every mealtime for several weeks, before slowly introducing visual simulation. Continue feeding the cat and dog separately, but on either side of a dog gate or screen, before finally removing it all together. By this point, “they’re eating side-by-side, pretty much ignoring each other,” Galaxy says. For safety’s sake, continue keeping the dog on a leash until you’re confident it’s safe to take it off (and even then, exercise caution).

7. KEEP THEIR FOOD AND TOYS SEPARATE.

After you've successfully ingratiated the cat and dog using feeding exercises, keep their food bowls separate. “A cat will walk up to the dog bowl—either while the dog’s eating, or in the vicinity—and try to eat out of it,” Galaxy says. “The dog just goes to town on them. You can’t assume that your dog isn’t food-protective or resource-protective.”

To prevent these disastrous mealtime encounters, schedule regular mealtimes for your pets (no free feeding!) and place the bowls in separate areas of the house, or the cat’s dish up on a table or another high spot.

Also, keep a close eye on the cat’s toys—competition over toys can also prompt fighting. “Dogs tend to get really into catnip,” Galaxy says. “My dog loves catnip a whole lot more than my cats do.”

8. CONSIDER RAISING A DOG AND CAT TOGETHER (IF YOU CAN).

Socializing these animals at a young age can be easier than introducing them as adults—pups are easily trainable “sponges” that soak up new information and situations, Sandor says. Plus, dogs are less confident and smaller at this stage in life, allowing the cat to “assume its rightful position at the top of the hierarchy,” she adds.

Remain watchful, though, to ensure everything goes smoothly—especially when the dog hits its rambunctious “teenage” stage before becoming a full-grown dog.

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Animals
10 Juicy Facts About Sea Apples

They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.

1. THEY’RE SEA CUCUMBERS.

The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”

2. THEY'RE NATIVE TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN.

Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.

3. THEY EAT WITH MUCUS-COVERED TENTACLES.

Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.

4. THEY’RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT.

Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.

5. THE MOVE ON TUBULAR FEET.

The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.

6. SOME FISH HANG OUT IN SEA APPLES' BUTTS.

Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.

7. WHEN THREATENED, SEA APPLES CAN EXPAND.

Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according to Advanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.

8. THEY CAN EXPEL THEIR OWN GUTS.

Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.

9. SEA APPLES LAY TOXIC EGGS.

These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.

10. THEY'RE NOT EASILY CONFUSED WITH THIS TREE SPECIES.

Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.

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