21 Fun and Practical Uses for Old Straws

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It's said Americans use 500 million single-use plastic straws daily, and because they can't be recycled, they end up in landfills or in the world’s oceans—which is why some cities, restaurants, and QE2 herself are banning them. Rather than tossing the plastic straws you have around, give them a second life with these fun projects.

1. FLOWER HOLDERS

Bright, beautiful flowers in several clear vases.
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Slipping the stem of a droopy flower in a clear straw will help it stand up straight. You can also use a straw to lengthen too-short stems.

2. CORD LABELS

Electronics cords wrapped in labeled straws.

Get organized by cutting a straw lengthwise, snipping it into sections, and labeling them; then, slip each one over the appropriate cord. Now you'll never unplug the TV when you meant to unplug the soundbar.

3. NECKLACE HOLDERS

A jewelry box full of tangled necklaces.
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Keep necklaces from getting tangled by threading them through a straw. This works both when you're traveling and in your jewelry box alike.

4. AND 5. BUBBLE WAND AND BUBBLE BLOWER

A bubble coming out of a straw.
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Rather than buying bubble mix and a wand, put a bit of dish soap in a bowl, then dip one end of a straw in the solution. Blow into the other end and bam—bubbles. You can also insert a straw into a plastic cup to make a DIY bubble blower.

6. AND 7. PICTURE FRAME AND VASE

A close-up shot of colorful straws.
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Here's an excellent activity for the kids: Have them glue colorful straws to a $1 wooden craft frame. You can also glue straws around a can to create a cute vase.

8. VACUUM SEALER

A man using a straw to suck the air out of a bag full of pasta.

There's no need to buy a fancy vacuum sealer when you can use this simple, cheap trick instead. Put your food in a sandwich bag and seal it, then open a tiny portion and insert a straw. Suck all of the air out, then pull out the straw and quickly seal the opening.

9. TRAVEL TOILETRY HOLDER

A group of colorful straws.
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Trying to save space while traveling? Rather than spending money on travel-sized toiletries, use straws. Cut a straw into 4-inch sections, then squeeze toothpaste, shampoo, face wash, etc. into the straw. Pinch one end shut with pliers, then use a lighter to seal the plastic; repeat on the other end. Label with a marker, and enjoy traveling light.

10. PEN HOLDER

A planner on a wooden table with a pen next to it.
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Tape a straw onto the spine of a notebook to create a pen holder.

11. HULL A STRAWBERRY

A bowl of strawberries on a wooden table.
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Use this hack to hull strawberries quickly. Insert a plastic straw at the bottom of the strawberry and gently push it toward the leaves; both the leaves and the stalk will come out easily. Hulling strawberries this way rather than chopping off the top saves more of the fruit—and as a bonus, you can fill the center with something delicious, like whipped cream or Nutella.

12. CHORE CHART

Two kids folding the laundry.
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Print out a chore chart; slip straws over strings, pin them to the chart, and viola: You have an interactive chart that allows kids to slide the straw from "start" to "finish" when they've accomplished a chore.

13. DOORMAT

Follow these instructions to create an unusual doormat: Measure and cut straws into .4 inch sections. On a hard surface, arrange them on a piece of paper marked with a grid (or the pattern of your choice). Cover the straws with non-stick parchment paper and iron on one side, then the other. Voila! You have a doormat.

14. VACUUM STRAW BRUSH

In five simple steps, you can create an enhanced vacuum attachment that will allow you to clean delicate equipment like your computer keyboard. All you need is straws, duct tape, and a piece of gauze (or nylon stocking). Choose the attachment you want to add the straws to, then insert as many straws as possible (leaving them at an angle). Duct tape them together just under the attachment, then cut off the excess. Finally, duct tape a piece of gauze over the end that you’re inserting into the attachment, pop it in there, and get vacuuming.

15. AND 16. PAINT BLOWER AND BRUSH DRYING RACK

A bunch of dirty paint brushes on a white background.
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Use straws to create unique art. Simply place watercolor paint into cups, then cut your straws in half. Using a eye dropper or pipette, drop paint onto heavy paper, and blow it around using the straw. (Keep the paper in a tray to keep the mess contained.)

You can also use straws to construct a drying rack for paint brushes; the instructions can be found here.

17. JELL-O WORMS

A close-up of colorful bendy straws.
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Prepare Jell-O according to these directions. Stretch out your flexible straws and place them in a mason jar, then pour the lukewarm Jell-O into the straws; put the jar into the fridge overnight. The next day, pull out the straws and run them under warm water, then push out the worms into a bowl. Put out the bowl at your Halloween party.

18. HAIR CURLERS

Instead of using a curling iron—which can damage your hair—follow these instructions and use straws to create awesome curls.

19. BAG CLIP

An open bag of potato chips with the chips spilling out.
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Keep chips fresh using a straw: Simply cut a straw lengthwise, then snip the ends so it's the same width as the bag. Slide it over the open top of the bag; roll the top of the bag several times, then slide a second straw clip over it.

20. UNCLOG KETCHUP BOTTLES

A ketchup bottle being held in someone's hand.
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There are few things more annoying that ketchup stuck in a bottle—so keep a straw on hand. Push the straw all the way into the bottle until it hits the end. Leave it inserted and give the bottle a shake; the ketchup should come out easily.

21. JAZZ UP BIKE SPOKES

A series of colorful bike wheels.
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Cut colorful straws lengthwise and wrap them around bike spokes to make a colorful statement.

DIY

5 Actors Who Could Play the Next Batman

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by Natalie Zamora

Ben Affleck's casting as the Caped Crusader wasn't exactly met with a lot of excitement. While many DC fans were (and still are) happy with the casting, many definitely weren't, and even took it upon themselves to think of who could replace him. Now, with Affleck's role in Matt Reeves's upcoming The Batman completely unknown, it's worth looking at who has been actually rumored to take his place.

5. JAKE GYLLENHAAL

Jake Gyllenhaal attends the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Sisters Brothers' premiere at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

As early as November 2017, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal has been rumored to be playing the next Batman. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal had a meeting with Matt Reeves, something reporter Rob Keyes tweeted out at the time. When asked about the possibility, the actor shot it down, saying, "Wow, that’s a very difficult question. The answer to that question is no."

4. RYAN GOSLING

Ryan Gosling attends the 'First Man' press conference during 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 11, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

Another acclaimed actor, Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling has also been rumored to take on the role of Bruce Wayne for some time. When recently asked at the Toronto International Film Festival if he would consider, Gosling simply said, "I don't know," before joking that if his First Man and La La Land director Damien Chazelle made it, he'd be in.

3. JOSH BROLIN

Josh Brolin attends the 'Sicario Day Of The Soldado' Photo Call at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

Although Josh Brolin now plays two major Marvel characters, Cable and Thanos, he once confirmed he was in the running for Ben Affleck's role in 2016. Ultimately, Brolin backed out after he had disagreements with Zack Snyder on how the character should be played. Ever since Affleck's departure from directing The Batman, Brolin has been rumored to take the role.

2. MATTHEW GOODE

Actor Matthew Goode attends the 'The Imitation Game' New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater in 2014
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Like Brolin, Matthew Goode was also one of the actors in the running to play Batman before Ben Affleck was cast. He was also reportedly considered for the roles of both Superman and Lex Luthor. Clearly, Goode would be welcomed into the DCEU. Now would be the perfect time.

1. JON HAMM

Jon Hamm attends the Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures And New Line Cinema's 'Tag' at Regency Village Theatre on June 7, 2018 in Westwood, California
Jerritt Clark, Getty Images

Ever since Jon Hamm played the dark and brooding role of Don Draper on Mad Men, fans have been rallying for him to play Batman. Though rumors have been circulating for years, Hamm just recently revealed that he has never had a conversation about the possibility. However, he did say he would be interested, if the script was good.

13 Secrets of Obituary Writers

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When Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell sits down to assess the lives of the recently departed, she feels less like a journalist and more like a historian. “I sometimes feel like I’m a frustrated history teacher,” she tells Mental Floss. “I get to teach a lesson every day and share it with readers.”

Unlike death notices, which only recite basic facts about the deceased, or funeral eulogies, which offer impassioned remembrances from loved ones, obituaries are a written memorial of a person’s legacy published for the world to see. Instead of dwelling on death they celebrate life, from the most recognizable celebrity to the quietest neighbor. They prove that almost everyone has a story to tell, and it’s sometimes only after a passing that people realize exactly how a person has left their mark in the world.

O’Donnell recalls a 2010 death notice for a Montana resident named Jim Cole, which mentioned his interest in photographing grizzly bears. Only after excavating details of his life did she realize Cole is the only person in North America to survive two grizzly attacks, 14 years apart. “They called him Grizzly Jim,” she says. “He wore an eyepatch because the second attack left him without an eye.” (Cole died of natural, not wildlife-related, causes at age 60.)

For more on how obituary writers approach the delicate art of human posterity, we asked several of them—including O’Donnell—to tell us about their work. Here’s what they had to say about a life spent covering death.

1. THEY LOOK FOR THE “ROSEBUD” MOMENT.

John Pope, who writes for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and assembled a book of obituaries, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, says that the goal of his work is to discover the “Rosebud” moment of an individual’s life. (That's a reference to the 1941 film Citizen Kane, and the desire of a reporter to define the mysterious dying word uttered by wealthy business magnate Kane.) “I look for ‘Rosebud,’ what makes a person tick,” he says. “When you talk to relatives, they talk about how he loved family, how he loved life, but you need to keep going and dig deeper.”

In 2009, Pope was tasked with profiling William Terral, a beloved pediatrician and gardening hobbyist. While the former was a noble career, Pope found his real jewel in the fact that Terral was once so struck by the bag of plasma separated from his blood during a medical procedure that he took it home, hung it from an IV hook, and pumped the liquid into the ground to see if it would help his garden grow. “His hibiscus flourished,” Pope says. So did his obituary.

2. IT’S ACTUALLY A PRETTY UPLIFTING JOB.

The stereotype of obituary writers toiling under the shadow of death, constantly aware of the fragile nature of life, isn’t exactly accurate. According to Pope, some family members have such fond memories of the deceased that talking to them can provoke a lot of amusement. “With Edward ‘Bud Rip’ Ripoll, a saloonkeeper, I had to ask his daughter to stop because I was laughing so hard and the stories were so good,” he says. (Ripoll was a Budweiser fan, and his urn was inscribed with the dedication, “This Bud’s for you.”)

O’Donnell describes it as “uplifting” work. “You’re frequently writing about people who made a difference in the world, large or small. The end of life is always sorrowful, but with someone like Mary White, who lived to be 93 and started the La Leche League [to normalize public breastfeeding] in her living room that now has tens of millions of members across the globe, that’s inspiring.”

3. THEY SOMETIMES KNOW WHEN DEATH IS IMMINENT.

Yellow flowers sit on top of a coffin
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Obituary writers have all kinds of information channels when it comes to mortality. Funeral homes may call to notify them; death notices in their paper or in another might provide a clue that a lesser-known person’s life is worth investigating further. Or they may simply be tipped off that the end is near. “For Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of Second City, one of my co-workers heard she was ill,” O’Donnell says. “I was able to prepare the obituary in advance, so when the time came, there was something comprehensive for readers available.”

Other times, that information can be a little off. When an editor was sure a prominent celebrity was going to die, Pope was told to prepare a lengthy obituary. “It was Paul Prudhomme, a chef who a line editor was convinced was going to launch to glory at any moment," Pope says. “He died 27 years later.”

4. THEY NEED TO BE READY FOR AN EMOTIONAL DELUGE.

Mike Bodine, who writes for the Sheet in Mammoth Lakes, California, says that an obituary writer will often be the first person a relative of the deceased has spoken to in depth about a loved one’s passing. “They can be really distraught,” he says. “It’s a matter of waiting it out while people just let their heart out. You can’t always use what they’re saying, but just listening and being patient can help open people up. It can feel a little bit like handling the body itself. You don’t want to push people.”

5. THEY CAN GET CAUGHT UP IN FAMILY SQUABBLES.

Phoning family members to collect memories of the recently deceased can be a sobering experience. Bodine says that children of the deceased can sometimes try to use an obituary to vent about personal vendettas. “When someone has passed and a lot of money and kids are involved, it can turn into animosity,” he says. “Someone will say a sibling is screwing them over on money. It’s just distortion you have to wade through.”

6. FAMILIES CAN GET UPSET AT THEM.

While an obituary writer’s job is to celebrate life, that doesn't mean they exclude the less-flattering components. When he was writing about a local politician, Pope discovered that he had once been to prison for misappropriating campaign funds. When he mentioned that in the obituary, the man’s daughter phoned in an uproar. “She asked why we were doing that. I told her it was because it was the truth.”

O’Donnell has had similar experiences. “Unfortunately, in Chicago, a lot of politicians have been investigated and convicted of corruption," she says. "It gets reported at the time it happened and readers would have known about it. It would be a disingenuous, fraud obituary if you didn’t include it.”

7. OTHER TIMES, PEOPLE LIE.

Family members may also omit certain facts. Because obituaries are perceived as the last word on many people, relatives and friends sometimes lean into the idea it should be a hagiography. “With [socialite] Mickey Easterling, no one was going to tell me her age,” Pope says. “I had to cite public records, which I’ve never had to do before.” On another occasion, the deceased’s loved ones refused to inform Pope that a suicide had occurred. He found out the truth months later, after listing the cause of death as “undetermined” in the obituary.

8. IT’S BETTER TO DIE ON CERTAIN DAYS THAN OTHERS.

A death certificate sits on top of a table
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If you want a well-read obituary, try to die on a Friday. According to Pope, people who expire that day of the week are more likely to be targeted for inclusion in the Sunday edition of the paper, which affords more space and more time for the obituary writer to do a thorough job. “Dying on a Friday will get you more play on a Sunday,” he says. Holidays are also ill-advised times to make an exit, as reporters with dedicated beats (politics, movies, sports) aren’t usually around to assist in reporting notable deaths in those fields, and readership is down.

While you'd think the dying and their associates would have more pressing issues, sometimes they prioritize that recognition: In 1936, King George V's physician injected the monarch with enough morphine and cocaine to hasten his death in time for the next morning's papers, rather than the less-desirable evening editions.

9. PEOPLE CAN BE A LITTLE NERVOUS AROUND THEM.

When an obituary writer becomes well-known in the community, their very presence can portend bad news. If Pope needs to phone someone for any reason other than someone’s passing, he’ll sometimes begin the call by saying, “It’s Pope. No one died.”

That slight unease can work both ways. Once, Pope walked into a social gathering where three people whose obituaries he had already written and banked for future use were standing. “I just kind of stopped,” he says.

10. THEY GET INVITED TO FUNERALS.

Obituaries are often treasured by families who appreciate how a writer has summarized and memorialized the deceased. Sometimes, that gratitude can extend to invitations to come to the funeral. “That happens with some frequency,” O’Donnell says. “I went to the services for a rock concert roadie, who I didn’t know, but he worked a lot of rock concerts I went to the in 1970s. I met a lot of people there who went to the same concerts.”

Other times, they’ll be dispatched to cover the funeral for the purposes of writing a piece. “I went to Al Copeland’s funeral, the founder of Popeyes Chicken,” Pope says. “There were 24 white Bentleys, a horse-drawn hearse, and a band playing ‘My Way.’” The solemn music continued until the procession reached the grave, at which point they broke into “Love That Chicken From Popeyes.”

11. CERTAIN PHRASES CAN ANNOY THEM.

Work the death beat long enough and certain recurring phrases begin to wear on a writer’s patience. Pope dislikes using the term the late to precede a decedent’s name. “What’s the point?” he says. “Can we get over that?” He also dislikes funeral service because “it’s redundant,” and avoids using “natural causes” as the reason for a death whenever possible, because it's non-specific. "Always get the cause of death," he says.

12. SOME PEOPLE USE OBITS TO TAKE REVENGE.

A highlighter is run over the word 'revenge'
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O’Donnell says she's struck by the more contemporary practice of “revenge” obituaries, which are penned by family members and tend to criticize their departed relative for allegations relating to abuse or other personal reasons that have prompted a vendetta. Pope recalls a time when a widow sent in a death notice to his paper claiming her late husband’s law firm had sent him to an early grave. “We spent a day with lawyers de-fanging it,” he says.

13. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN AWARDS SHOW CALLED “THE GRIMMYS.”

Acting as a kind of unofficial trade organization, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers invites devotees of the dead to exchange information on their work and attend functions like ObitCon. Each year, awards—known as the Grimmys—are awarded for best long- and short-form obituaries, as well as for lifetime achievement. The trophy resembles a tombstone. “I was nominated last year,” Pope says.

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