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The Golden Lobe Awards!

by Maggie Koerth-Baker, Ethan Trex, Jenny Drapkin, and Mangesh Hattikudur

Forget the Nobel Prize, the Fields Medal, the Grammys, the Emmys and the Oscars. The only awards worth winning are Golden Lobes — the super-special awards we hand out in mental_floss magazine whenever there are worthy nominees. With the Golden Globes happening tonight, we figured now was a good time to look back at some past Golden Lobe winners.

Creepiest Reality TV Show Idea

Das Dorf (The Village)

What would some people give for 15 minutes of fame? Try their entire lives. In 2004, more than 26,000 people willingly applied for Big Brother: Das Dorf, a German spin-off of the popular reality show that centers around locking a pack of histrionic strangers in a house together for several hundred days. The fine print? The new show, which premiered in March 2005, was supposed to last a lot longer than a year. In fact, the producers built a whole village for the set, where contestants were supposed to work, engage in orchestrated class struggles, and hopefully, get down to baby-making. The plan: To keep the show going indefinitely. Luckily for the future of all humanity, the show failed to find an audience. Das Dorf was mercifully canceled in February 2006.

Honorable Mention: Susunu! Denpa Sh?nen

A man is locked inside an apartment and commanded to strip naked. The apartment is empty, except for a large stack of postcards. To be permitted to leave, he must raise 1 million yen (about $8,000) by using the postcards to apply for free offers and sweepstakes. Also, he’s only allowed to feed, clothe, and entertain himself using his prize winnings. Amazingly, this reality TV plot captured the hearts and minds of the Japanese in the late 1990s. For more than a year, about 17 million viewers tracked the man’s progress every Sunday night. His name was Nasubi, and his winnings were impressive—including free lobsters, steaks, and vacuum cleaners. Oddly, he never acquired any clothing, so a computer-generated eggplant covered his genitalia for the duration of the program. Although his naked “winning dance” became all the rage in Japan, Nasubi later said he felt great despair and dreamed of escape almost every day.

Honorable Mention:The Big Donor Show

Purporting to be a real contest in which three kidney patients vie for the healthy kidney of a terminally ill woman, this Dutch show aired to moralistic jeers in the spring of 2007. But there was a twist. The “donor” was actually an actress, and the potential recipients were real kidney patients who’d signed on knowing there was no kidney to win. The point? To beef up awareness for organ donation and, perhaps, to prove that reality shows can occasionally be used for good as well as evil.

Nerdiest Beer

Midas Touch Golden Elixir

Illustration by Dongyun Lee

Of the hundreds of bottles of beer on the wall, only one provides a history lesson in every pour. And for that, you can thank brewmaster Sam Calagione and molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern. For the past decade, these Indiana Joneses of the brewing community have dedicated themselves to whipping up the tastiest beers in history—all of history—and they’ve got the archaeological evidence to back it up.

The story starts in 1997, when McGovern began investigating crockery samples from the tomb of King Mita, the Turkish royal who inspired the King Midas myths. After running a chemical analysis on some of the king’s cups, McGovern realized that the man with the golden touch liked his ale. Determined to figure out what the king’s beer tasted like, he took the analysis to Sam Calagione of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery. Together, the pair sought to reconstruct the 2,700-year-old beverage using authentic ingredients such as Muscat grapes, saffron, and honey. The result? An ancient ale they dubbed Midas Touch Golden Elixir.

This old-fashioned beverage has become a modern-day hit. Dogfish Head describes the drink as “somewhere between wine and mead.” But the beverage isn’t just popular at bars; it’s also a hit with critics. The drink nabbed a silver medal at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival and a bronze at the 2008 World Beer Cup. The success has also inspired Calagione and McGovern to dig deeper for historical recipes. Today, Dogfish Head offers an entire Ancient Ales series. The line includes Chateau Jiahu, based on a spiced beer found in 9,000-year-old crockery from northern China, and an Aztec beer called Theobroma, which was recreated using residue from 3,000-year-old pottery in Honduras. The former contains rice flakes and chrysanthemum flowers; the latter boasts notes of cocoa, chili, and annatto. And while we have no idea what annatto is, we’re not questioning it. Each sip just makes us happy that history is repeating itself.

Sneakiest Charity

Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy

For most charities, a $100 donation is a small, if welcome, drop in the bucket. But for the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, it’s enough to work miracles.

The group got its start in 2005, when writer Courtney Martin received a six-figure book advance and decided she wanted to give a portion of it to charity. Rather than just writing a check, she gave nine friends $100 bills with the directive to use the cash for creative acts of kindness. Thus, the Secret Society was born.

It may not be the Red Cross, but what the Secret Society lacks in size, it makes up for in pure whimsy. One “secret agent” spread 400 quarters on a school playground before recess and then watched as the children marveled at their good fortune. Another stood on a sidewalk and offered passersby $1 apiece to have a pleasant one-on-one chat with a stranger. Yet another agent enlisted the help of friends around the country to drop 10,000 pennies on the ground in various places, just so lucky folks could find them later. The agents had so much fun trying to brighten strangers’ days that they began recruiting others to join them.

But not everyone is thinking about the short-term. One man deposited his $100 in an interest-bearing account and then wrote a letter to his great-grandchildren telling them to give the pile of cash (and all that accumulated interest) to charities in the year 2100.

Beneficiaries of the charity are occasionally skeptical. (One agent had trouble giving away free umbrellas during a rainstorm.) Still, the idea of small-scale creative giving has captured the imaginations of do-gooders around the country. The Society now has chapters in New York, California, and Georgia. Using novel ideas to generously spend a $100 bill? We’re pretty sure Ben Franklin would approve.

Best Use of a Conch Shell by a Marine Mammal

William the Concherer

Illustration by Dongyun Lee

If you think all those show dolphins at Sea World are bright, check out the brains on William the Concherer. William is a bottlenose dolphin in Western Australia that catches his fish using a conch shell. Scientists the world over have been stunned by his special technique. William waits for a fish to swim into his shell and then races to the surface with it. After giving the shell a few stiff shakes to stun the fish, he dumps the shell’s contents into his mouth and gobbles up his meal.

Researchers call this fishing behavior “conching,” and it’s unbelievably rare. In 25 years of observation, scientists have only logged seven confirmed sightings. But William is particularly skilled at it. He modifies his tools, changing the shape of his shells to make them better-suited for fishing. It also seems that William may be eating higher quality food than his fellow dolphins. Tests of William’s blood have shown that he has a different fatty-acid profile than dolphins that don’t conch, suggesting that his technique allows him to eat much healthier fish.

Craziest Rumor that Turned Out To Be True

The Existence of the Duck-billed Platypus

Furry, egg-laying, and web-footed, platypuses were noticed pretty quickly by the native aborigines of Australia. But despite flaunting their weirdness all over the continent, the platypus went unnoticed and unappreciated by Europeans. That is, until the tail end of the 18th century, when the British Empire turned Australia into one big, oversized penitentiary. Almost overnight, the island acquired a large, felonious European population, which quickly sent home reports of the fantastic creatures they’d found there. By the mid-1790s, the first descriptions of what would later be called the platypus reached European shores. Naturally, nobody believed it.

Then, in 1798, British Museum zoologist George Shaw received a cask filled with liquid preservative and one dead platypus. Despite the evidence, Shaw still suspected shenanigans. Apparently, he cut the unfortunate creature open and peeled and prodded the skin around the bill—feeling certain he would discover that it had been artificially sewn on. But even after Shaw became fully convinced, many of his colleagues remained dubious. According to one source, a prominent British surgeon challenged Shaw’s findings, dismissing the platypus as nothing more than a practical joke pulled off by Chinese sailors.

Worst First Week on the Job

That Guy From Mizuho Securities in Tokyo

On December 8, 2005, Japanese trading company Mizuho Securities made a huge financial blunder—or rather, its young new employee did. The newbie intended to sell a single share of stock for 610,000 yen, but instead sold 610,000 shares for one yen each. Yikes. Worse, there were only about 14,500 shares of the company available for sale. All told, the affair cost the company an estimated 40 billion yen ($340 million) and plunged the Japanese stock market into a day of crazed anarchy. We can’t find any info on what happened to the (we assume) ex-employee, but we do know that the president of the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended up stepping down.

Noblest Weekend Project

Chen Si

Illustration by Dongyun Lee

The 4-mile bridge that spans the Yangtze River in Nanjing, China, is an engineering marvel. But like many tall structures, it attracts its share of suicide jumpers. By some estimates, at least one depressed citizen leaps from the bridge every week. Amazingly, that number would be even higher if not for one committed guardian angel named Chen Si. Mondays through Fridays, he works at a transportation company. But on the weekends, Chen convinces people not to jump.

Chen’s career as a lifesaver began in 2003, when he first heard about the horrifying number of people leaping from the bridge. Armed with little more than a cell phone, a moped, and a pair of binoculars, he decided to patrol the bridge and talk jumpers down from the rails. During the past seven years, he’s proven to be startlingly effective. By the end of 2010, Chen estimated that he’d saved nearly 200 people from taking the plunge.

How does he do it? First, Chen identifies those who are likely to jump. “It is very easy to recognize,” he claims. “A person walks without spirit.” Sometimes, however, the clues are less mystical. Once, Chen sniffed out a jumper after noticing the man had on very expensive shoes but no socks—a giveaway that he didn’t intend to walk home.

If Chen sees someone who looks suicidal, he rushes to their side to get them to back off the ledge. One key to his success is that he’s willing to do anything to stop a jumper. Often, he’ll begin with a comforting talk, simply reminding the person that no matter what they’re going through, the leap isn’t worth it. But when jumpers are combative, Chen—a large, stout man—isn’t afraid to tackle them. In his mind, a cut or a black eye is a small price to pay for saving a life.

Chen’s job isn’t over when the would-be jumpers are back on the safe side of the guardrails, either. Sometimes he takes them to lunch, other times he’s spent years helping them straighten out their lives. He’s gotten unemployed jumpers new jobs, and he’s helped people in debt pay off loan sharks. Many of the jumpers return to the bridge—not to jump, but to thank Chen for his help.

These stories originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Get a free issue!

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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