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Abrams ComicArts

8 Excellent Rube Goldberg Cartoons

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Abrams ComicArts

Everyone from OK Go to MythBusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage to Pee-Wee Herman has paid homage to Rube Goldberg, the cartoonist and inventor best known for his illustrations of complex machines designed to perform a simple task. You might not be able to build a Rube Goldberg machine, but you can have all of them in your home via a new book, The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) GeniusWe asked Goldberg's granddaughter and author of the book, Jennifer George, to pick out some of her favorite machines and inventions—and tell us about them. 

1. "A Simple Idea for an Automatic Device for Emptying Ash Trays"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is one of my grandfather's classic invention cartoons from the Collier's era, circa 1929 - 1931. The magazine ran a bi-weekly Professor Butts invention cartoon and this image is a double-page spread in the front of our book. You'll see it contains many of the classic elements of a Rube machine—parrots, a rocket, a watering can—all images repeated in invention cartoons, from the beginning of his career to the end."

2. "The Portable-Movie-Talkie Camera"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"A critical element of our iPhones, this prescient little device is what I call a 'wearable' invention, many of which reference ideas and concepts that are integrated into our daily lives today."

3. "Revolveometer (A Way to Look At Abstract Art)"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"Really gives you an indication of how baffled Rube was by abstract art, although I would love to get into one of these at MoMA."

4. Prof Butts Self-Operating Napkin

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This classic invention (and a 'wearable' to-boot) seems taken right out of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. In 1995 this image was selected to become an official Rube Goldberg U.S. Postage stamp and was colorized for the occasion."

5. "A Simple Device For Taking Your Own Picture"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This machine was actually created for the exhibit on my grandfather at the Smithsonian Museum in 1970. There's a wonderful picture in the book of Rube sitting in this machine, having his picture taken. Two weeks after the photograph was taken Rube passed away at home in New York City."

6. "The Special Movie Theater Getter-Upper"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"A simple device designed to get people up and out of their chairs so you can make your way to your seat. These simple gadgets, not classic inventions, figure into Rube's work often through the decades."

7. "Simple Way to Get Fresh Orange Juice Upon Awakening"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is the cover of our book, a marvelous movable creation of paper-engineering, executed by Andy Baron—a legend in the pop-up book genre. This invention is also the first level of our mobile game app called Rube Works and is now available on iOS. It puts all the elements of the invention in a toolbox below, and once you get them in the proper place, the machine works! It is quickly becoming a favorite of educators and puzzle-lovers everywhere."

8. "A Simple Way to Fish an Olive Out of One of Those Long-necked Bottles"

Copyright © Heirs of Rube Goldberg

"This is a favorite invention cartoon and remains part of the family archive. You'll notice the large bottle of olives says "White Rose" on its label—White Rose was my grandmother's family business, a specialty food and tea company started by  her father and that remains in business to this day."

All images courtesy of The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius. Selected and with commentary by Jennifer George; introduction by Adam Gopnik. Published by Abrams ComicArts.

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Warner Bros.
This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.


With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.


In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.


Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.


Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.


Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)


Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.


The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."


    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."


      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”


      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”


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