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11 Niche Blogs for Your Perusal

Mental_floss is what you call a general knowledge blog. Sure, we lean toward the type of content that educates, but the subject matter covers a wide variety of topics: science, history, entertainment, art, food, sports, literature, language, and lots of trivia. We're glad you come here for ways to stretch and feed your brain. But every once in a while, it's nice to discover new sites that are more specialized, some that delve deep into a specific subject or others that feature goofy pictures on a theme. Every once in a while, I dig up some of these "niche" blogs that you might get a kick out of. Here are eleven more of them.  

1. What Ali Wore

Ali walks past the cafe in Berlin where photographer Zoe Spawton works every day at 9:05 AM. Zoe admired the varied and dapper outfits that Ali wore, and finally worked up the courage to ask for a picture. Ali agreed, and a blog was born. Later, Zoe found out that Ali is from Turkey, has lived in Berlin for 44 years, has 18 children, and was a doctor until he retired and became a tailor. Many awesome pictures of Ali and his outfits followed, which you'll find at the Tumblr blog What Ali Wore

2. The Adventures of Beverly Crusher

The Ensemble Studio Theater of Los Angeles has a Tumblr blog starring an action figure of Dr. Beverly Crusher, a character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The doctor is shown in various situations, from riding a cat to mooning over Captain Picard. Gates McFadden, who portrayed Dr. Crusher, is the Artistic Director of the theater.
 

3. Put A Poe On It

The blog Put A Poe On It is a tribute to the genius of Edgar Allan Poe. Sort of. Well, no, actually, it's a tribute to puns that can be made on the Poe name and the Poe face. Think of a funny place where Poe's name could go, and chances are someone has already put a Poe on it somewhere in the archives. But if not, you can make your own and submit it.  

4. Research in Progress

Research in Progress is a blog of gifs that scientists and other academics will relate to, each illustrating a frustration one must endure. That doesn't mean the rest of us won't understand -in fact, many of them will probably relate to your life, even if you're not a post-doc. A couple of my favorites are We regret to inform you that your paper has not been accepted and We are pleased to inform you that your paper has been accepted. The image shown here illustrates Theory vs. Practice.

5. The Kitten Covers

How can we improve on classic record album covers? By putting kittens on them! The Kitten Covers does just that. All covers are the work of Alfra Martini.

6. Cats That Look Like Pinup Girls

Since there are so many cat photos on the internet, you can find one to resemble just about anything else. That's the premise behind Cats That Look Like Pinup Girls. Classic girly illustrations are matched with a corresponding cute cat. It's hilarious, but due to some art nudes, this site may be NSFW.

7. Des Hommes et des Chatons

That idea works for men's pictures as well, as illustrated at the blog Des Hommes et des Chatons. Each entry pairs a model, movie star, or other nice image of a man with a cute cat that either wears the same clothing, does the same gestures, or has the same facial expression. If you look through far enough, you will eventually run into photos that are NSFW.  

8. Missed High Five

Have you ever noticed those occasions where two people are going to congratulate each other, but one aims for a high five, while the other offers a handshake, fist bump, hug, or even just ignores the gesture? Or if you both go for a high five and just plain miss each other's hands - well, that's awkward. Missed High Five is a repository of those moments in gif form. The blog didn't last long, only two months, but it remains as a record of the funniest missed connections. The high five shown here actually connected, but this fellow's foot missed the step he was standing on!

9. Horsey Surprise

Ken M. is a master comic troll, leaving the oddest comments all over the web, collected here on the blog Horsey Surprise. He also occasionally posts them at College Humor. Study his methods, and you'll be able to recognize him when his nonsensical comments show up elsewhere.

10. Said to Lady Journos

Despite 70 years of Lois Lane, some folks are still surprised that women can be journalists, while others ignore the fact that they are being quoted. The blog Said to Lady Journos documents the dumb things that come out of the mouths of newsmakers being interviewed. No names are attached, to protect both the speaker (who may be well-known) and the journalist (who could get in hot water for submitting these). I've done news reporting before, and I would bet that every woman who's been in the business for even a short time has stories like these.

11. Superheroes are for girls, too!

Who doesn't aspire to be a superhero? Super strength, the ability to fly, and adventure are things everyone wants! The blog Superheroes are for girls, too! has pictures and stories of young girls as comic book, movie, and TV heroes who fight for truth, justice, and a really cool costume. And as this picture shows, you can be a Hulk and a ballerina at the same time!

If that's not enough to keep you busy for a while, check out our previous posts on Niche Blogs.

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Food
8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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crime
The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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