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Danica Johnson
Danica Johnson

11 Random Things From Our YouTube Set

Danica Johnson
Danica Johnson

A modern re-imagining of the old-timey curiosity cabinet. That's the concept I had the pleasure of running with as the set designer for the Mental Floss on YouTube channel. My interpretation of the challenge was that it needed to be visually action-packed, but also engaging enough for our host, John Green, to interact with freely. My job (obsession and joy) then became drafting that panorama and procuring the pieces to what has since become a singular spectacle of geekery, vintage oddities, and relics of pop culture present and past. But without question, the ongoing highlight of working on this assemblage has been tucking in a bevy of special staff-loaned pieces, visual jokes, and gallery wall of rotating art to keep things ever more interesting with each episode.

From this varied and peculiar collection, the following 11 things are some of my favorites from the set we call "The Salon."

1. Model of Anatomical Male

Conceptually, this anatomy model is just really cool: Half musculature, half vascular, visible skeleton. What puts him over the top is that he's posed in way that suggests either vintage muscle mag or that he's dramatically shaking his fist at whoever it was that ganked his skin suit. Regardless, this guy is pure swag.

2. Wooden Fandom Dolls

The Venn diagram of John and Hank Green's fanbase and the energetic participation of those people in various other fandoms is basically a circle. We love fandoms. When I found the John and Hank, Dr. Who, and Sherlock wooden doll sets, I had to have them immediately. What makes these guys special is the amount of character conveyed just through simple brushwork: The hairlines, clothing detail, and sonic screwdriver props are amazing. The icing on this nerd cake is that by request, artist Kimmy Fiorentino was happy to fanboy my Hank Green doll in a C.G.P. Grey logo shirt. Purchased from Etsy shop: Maddasahatterr.

3. Super Mario Bros. Potted Piranha Plant

Chosen because potted things are welcoming as well as a basic decor move, but we also like to keep a loose grip on the element of danger as much as possible. This classic 8bit fire-spitter is the perfect combination. Purchased at Etsy shop: Geekapalooza.

4. Circus Sideshow Nesting Dolls

This beautifully hand-painted set specifically appealed to me because of John Green's previous work specializing in genetic anomalies. I nearly passed on it having convinced myself there was no way they looked as good as they did online. Instead, they’re even more stunning in-hand. Purchased at Etsy shop: Gravlax.

5. Resin-Encased Bat

This little fella is in no way a standard-definition favorite. Initially I thought the bat would help temper the potential Daycare Effect from the inclusion of a lot of toys and action figures. However, when it arrived I found myself unable to even remove him from his little box. He's on both the set and this list because the one person this thing squicks more than me is John Green, something I find mischievously enjoyable.

6. Special Edition Wonder Woman Action Figure

Another fantastic thing this project has allowed for is the indulgence of my own geekery. I'm a Wonder Woman fangirl and this 1941 replica is the best doll ever produced of my all-time favorite pop culture heroine. While that is a pretty glowing endorsement, unless Neko Case is ever made into a proper action figure of this caliber, the title will likely hold strong.

7. Hello Kitty Specimen Jar

I think of this jar as a handcrafted request for a scientific case study. Why? Because Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth, is British not Japanese, and a purported grade schooler who in reality is pushing 40. (Again, am I really the only one that finds her lack of a mouth incredibly disturbing?) Regardless, her global popularity is only growing stronger and stronger with time and nothing is more suspicious than cuteness. 

8. Bust of Ron Swanson

On the show we deal in facts. Nothing says Certified Authority Beyond Reproach quite like this nicely detailed official bust of Ron Swanson from television’s Parks & Recreation. Purchased from official NBC Universal store.

9. Medieval Portrait of The Family Green

This painting is my all-time favorite work of Vlogbrothers fan art. It features John throwing our home fandom’s (a.k.a. Nerdfighteria, for the uninitiated) salute, alongside his wife, Sarah, known as "The Yeti" for her policy of on-camera avoidance, and their son, Henry, whose likeness is so adorably captured that it hits right in the feels with every glance. Painted by artist Brie Lee.

10. Captain Picard's Inferno

A great example of my reveling the role of Puppet Master. For those who've longed to see Ensign Wesley Crusher—or his alter ego, Sparks McGee—finally flip the script on Jean Luc, this endless Wet Wil-y is for you. The expression on Captain Picard’s face = perfection. Enjoy. (And you’re welcome, Wil Wheaton.)

11. Bow Tie Sculpture Guy

At first glance the bow tie, jacket and hairdo all suggest that it must be the Eleventh Doctor Who, Matt Smith. Wrong. Both the subject of this sculpture and the sculptor himself is none other than Mr. Raoul Meyer, a character ever so slightly less epic than Dr. Who. Meyer was John Green's high school history teacher and most recently the writer of both U.S. and World History courses for yet another show in the Vlogbrothers YouTube Empire, Crash Course. This very special piece is on loan. I’m only hoping to have the strength of character to see to its return as promised.

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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
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iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Big Questions
Who Gets to Ride on Mardi Gras Floats?
Cheryl Gerber, Getty Images
Cheryl Gerber, Getty Images

Mardi Gras is pure sensory overload, and no attraction defines the celebration better than its parades. Every year, the city of New Orleans is awash in garish greens, yellows, and purples as armies of ornate, bombastic floats roll through the streets. But if you think drunkenly asking for a seat on one of these floats is going to work, well ... it's a bit more complicated than that.

The dozens of Mardi Gras parades are thrown by groups called "krewes," which are basically the organizations that stage these events. There are krewes with all sorts of themes: there's the Krewe of Cleopatra, which was originally formed just for women; the Krewe of Mid-City, with their tinfoil-decorated floats; the Krewe of Orpheus, founded by Harry Connick Jr., whose floats usually feature a celebrity or two; and plenty more.

Members of these krewes are who you see riding on the floats throughout the season, decked out in masks and costumes. In fact, float-riders are required by law to wear a mask to keep up the festival's mystique. To get on these floats you have to be a member, which involves a whole other process, depending on which krewe you choose.

Some krewes will bring you on board for a small entry fee, though this probably means you'll be helping put together the floats, buying your own costumes, etc. Others—especially for the larger and more established krewes—have a bigger fee and even hold reviews by senior members. Some of these krewes have been established within the past decade or two, while others, like the Krewe of Rex, have been around since the 19th century.

A Mardi Gras float celebrating the life of John James Audubon (1785 - 1851), an American naturalist, ornithologist and artist, in New Orleans, circa 1956.
A Mardi Gras float celebrating the life of John James Audubon (1785 - 1851), an American naturalist, ornithologist and artist, in New Orleans, circa 1956.
Three Lions, Getty Images

All membership requirements are unique. For the Krewe of Morpheus, for example, you would have needed to put in your $100 deposit in January to reserve a spot on a float (krewes have multiple floats of varying size). In total, their dues for the season are $550, which will get you a "Ride in the parade; Costume; Morpheus Bash (Pre-Parade Party); Post-Parade Party; & 1 Membership Medallion."

The Krew of Pygmalion, a krewe started in 2000, offers a similar process, with an online application and a tiered membership system that begins at $450 with $150 down, all the way to $1375 with $300 down. Smaller, grassroots krewes have even cheaper dues, like the sci-fi-themed Krewe of Chewbacchus which charges $42 and once had Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens fame as the king of its float.

Many times, the larger krewes, like the Krewe of Muses, simply don't have room for any more members. And even if there is an opening on some of these select krewes, you'd have to know a guy who knows a guy to even be considered for membership. So if you're not from New Orleans (or a celebrity) and want to get into one of the notable krewes, it's a tall order.

If you're planning a Mardi Gras trip this year, you'll likely have to settle for walking the streets instead of riding down them. But, it's never too early to start sending out those applications for 2019.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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