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Vermont Country Store

11 Things You Might Not Know You Can Still Buy

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Vermont Country Store

Even that guy or gal who seems to have everything probably doesn't have these items—because they didn't know they were still available!

1. Sword Canes

Cold Steel

The walking stick has been an accoutrement of gentlemen since before there were gentlemen. People carried walking sticks all through history—as a weapon, an aid for the constant walking of previous centuries, or a way to offset the weight of whatever a person had to haul during that constant walking. From the 17th to the early 20th century, the walking stick became more of a status symbol, the ornate detailing of the cane showing the wealth of its owner. In the 19th century especially, canes that concealed swords or daggers became the fashionable weapon of choice for the urban gentleman. Today, sword canes are available in a variety of styles, from that belonging to the cosplay villain, to those that are orthopedically practical. It is illegal to carry these canes in some places, as it qualifies as a concealed weapon. But if your goal in carrying a concealed weapon is dandy-ism, you really can’t get more dapper than a sword cane. 

2. Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific


Depending on your age and life experiences, one whiff of this popular '70s and '80s shampoo could be a terrific method of time travel. Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific is another product that is no longer thought hip and far-out enough for mass U.S. production, but is still available in other countries, and through Vermont Country Store.

3. Red Union Suit

Buy Union Suit on Amazon

A Union Suit is not to be confused with long johns. Long johns are two pieces, pants and shirt, and descended from the Union Suit. This one piece undergarment began life as ladies wear, as part of an attempt to move women away from constrictive and intricate Victorian underpinnings to something healthier. Eventually the warm, no frills design became more appealing to men than women. The suits are still available today. And they still come with comedy gold sewn in, the classic button-up butt flap for ease of access.   

4. Wood Burning Ovens 


The Elmira Fireview™ Wood Cookstove looks like a modern gas reproduction, and you can buy it as one if you want. But it’s also available as an honest-to-Ma-Ingalls wood burning oven. The manual for the Fireview warns repeatedly of potential fire and burn hazards associated with a wood burning stove, and you’ll be required to learn many terms modern life has not taught you (flue boot, pipe damper, and ash catch). You’re also wise to learn the formula for Thermal conductance:  C = Btu = W (hr)(ft²)(ºF) m²)(ºK) and Thermal conductivity: = k = (Btu)(inch) = W = _Btu (hr)(ft²)(ºF) (m)(ºK) (hr)(ft)(ºF), just to be safe. But when the Endtimes come, you can scoop up that plague of frogs right out of your yard and bake a frog kidney pie like nobody’s business.

5. Butter Churns


Pretty much everyone agrees that plunger style butter churns are just an awful way to make butter. Even the site that sells these functional churns urges their electricity-hating customers to use a smaller more modern (early 20th century) paddle churn. The plunger method has existed for centuries, and involves stamping away at cream skimmed from milk until the butter fat separates from the (butter)milk. Scoop it into a kitschy little mold, add some salt and you’ve got butter. And serious back problems.

6. Lifebuoy Soap

Does a red bar of Lifebuoy Soap ring a distant, Christmassy bell in your head? Yes, it’s the very soap that caused Ralphie to go blind from soap poisoning (in a dream, at least) in A Christmas Story. Created in 1895, Lifebuoy is no longer manufactured in the U.S. But a company called Unilever is providing it to Europe, and to the good folks at Vermont Country Store. Careful when you wash your face. You could put an eye out with that soap.

7. Postum


In all the years I ate my meals in a Seventh Day Adventist cafeteria, there always sat a single jar of Postum. The same jar. No one ever actually drank the historic coffee replacement, made from roasted wheat and molasses. 

Its creator, cereal magnate C.W. Post, had come up with the recipe (some say by directly taking it from Kellogg’s kitchen) while a patient at Harvey Kellogg’s Adventist Sanitarium in 1895. It fit the Adventist dietary requirement of containing no caffeine, and was also 10 calories, fat-free, trans-fat-free, sodium-free, and kosher. Postum enjoyed popularity in the first half of the century, but with the advent of other non-caffeinated drink options, it was soon only to be found in the cabinets of elderly Mormons and Adventists. Kraft, who owned Postum by 2007, discontinued its production that same year. However, in 2013, Eliza's Quest Food received a license for the Postum trademark, and once again began selling the beverage in limited quantities.

8. Charley Chimps: "The Classic Cymbal Banging Monkey Toy"

Charley Chimps

From the website: “Meet Charley. Switch Charley on and he relentlessly bangs his cymbals and rocks back and forth while nodding his head. Bop his little red cap and he gets angry. His eyes start popping in and out of their sockets, then he opens his mouth, flashes his pearly whites and screeches waaay too loud.”

So. You can still buy these nightmare monkeys. No one says you should. But you can.


9. Boar Bristle Toothbrushes

Vermont Country Store

I remember seeing these toothbrushes in the leaky bathroom of my grandparents' ancient farmhouse. The little nipple at the end disturbed me and the brown of the bristles made me terrified of what must lurk in my grandparents' mouths. Later I found out the nipple was for gum stimulation, and it was actually hog’s bristles that accounted for the brown color of the brush. Not as comforting a revelation as you’d think. Still, many swear that these old fashioned brushes can clean more thoroughly than any synthetic modern brush.

10. Mystery Date

Buy Mystery Date on Amazon

Collect all the cards to create a matching outfit, and then open the mystery door to see if you’re dressed to match your date! Will it be the ski date? The Formal? Uh oh! Don’t get The Dud! There have been updates issued of Mystery Date over the years, but the classic 1965 version in all its goofy glory is still available.

11. Muzzleloader Guns

Wikimedia Commons

If they’re good enough to win the Revolutionary War, they’re good enough for you. Muzzle loader guns are any gun where the projectile and propellant are stuffed down the gun barrel. They even come with their own ramrods. The guns can still be bought side lock, flintlock, and percussion long gun style.

Mental Floss, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Associates Program. If you click on an Amazon link from mental_floss, we receive a small share of the proceeds from whatever you buy.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]