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39 Weird Books That Really Exist

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In 2014, the annual Diagram Prize for the oddest book title was awarded to How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers' Guide to Toilet Etiquette. The book defeated Are Trout South African? and The Origin of Feces. In 2015, Strangers Have the Best Candy took the honor. After you've picked those up, here are 39 other odd or oddly named books that would look great on your shelf.

1. FASHION CATS

This 160-page coffee table book compiles the masterpieces of Takako Iwasa, Japan’s #1 cat tailor, into a glossy collection of the finest feline fashion. Supermodel cats Prin and Koutaro don’t wear costumes (although a frog hat and bunny ears make appearances) so much as cat couture, from regal satin capes to striped newsboy caps and proper plaid ties. They even manage to wear Hello Kitty ears with dignity.

2. ANYBODY CAN BE COOL ... BUT AWESOME TAKES PRACTICE

Neither the title nor the cover make it immediately evident that Anybody Can Be Cool is a Christian devotional book for teens, which could be disappointing for unsuspecting readers hoping for a 12-step plan to awesome. The guy in the red-and-white knit sweater probably doesn’t need any tips, though.

3. BOMBPROOF YOUR HORSE

Although it’s true that horses spook easily, “bombproofing” sounds a bit drastic, doesn’t it? As if this book’s techniques aren’t enough for a worried horse owner, there’s a sequel entitled Better Than Bombproof: New Ways to Make Your Horse a Solid Citizen and Keep You Safe on the Ground, in the Arena, and on the Trail. If there’s ever a third book, it’ll have to contain no less than the secret to eternal equine life.

4. WHO CARES ABOUT ELDERLY PEOPLE?

Yep.

5. DOES GOD EVER SPEAK THROUGH CATS?

This is one of those pressing questions the Bible, the Torah, and the Qu’ran all neglected to answer.

6. HOW TO DISSAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND

This supposed handbook for those who really have something to hide features sections dedicated to procuring new identification papers, finding a job, “pseudocide,” and more, but it’s hard to take advice from an author who misspells “disappear” not once, but seven times. It’s also unfortunately almost 20 years out of date—avoiding paper trails are the least of a would-be disappearer’s worries these days.

7. SUN-BEAMS MAY BE EXTRACTED FROM CUCUMBERS, BUT THE PROCESS IS TEDIOUS

David Daggett’s 1799 Fourth of July oration is a Federalist response to Thomas Jefferson that presumably had little to do with cucumbers or sun-beams, which makes its extremely incongruous title all the more delightful.

8. HOW GREEN WERE THE NAZIS?: NATURE, ENVIRONMENT, AND NATION IN THE THIRD REICH 

Would Goebbels have driven a Prius? Did the Butcher of Lyon recycle his empty aluminum cans? Of all the adjectives one might associate with Hitler’s regime, “eco-friendly” is not one that immediately springs to mind.

9. HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK: DEFEND YOURSELF WHEN THE LAWN WARRIORS STRIKE (AND THEY WILL) 

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in garden gnomes. This is the book every survival-minded citizen needs to prepare for an apocalyptic vision more terrifying than zombies or aliens—because anything could be lurking behind those innocent expressions.

10. KNITTING WITH DOG HAIR: BETTER A SWEATER FROM A DOG YOU KNOW AND LOVE THAN FROM A SHEEP YOU'LL NEVER MEET

Come to think of it, scarves made of wool from some strange, anonymous sheep have always felt a bit impersonal.

11. HOW TO TEACH PHYSICS TO YOUR DOG

Therapy dogs can soothe survivors of traumatic events by their mere presence—an ability Chad Orzel seems to hope translates to teaching quantum mechanics to the non-physicists among us. Emmy, a German shepherd-mix who’s quick to catch on to abstract concepts, is an effective teaching tool for Orzel’s actual audience—humans—and she’s pretty cute to boot.

12. MANIFOLD DESTINY: THE ONE! THE ONLY! GUIDE TO COOKING ON YOUR CAR ENGINE!

We're not experts, but if your vintage car engine runs hot enough to cook a full-course meal, you might want to call a mechanic. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll agree to be paid in side dishes.

13. ROYAL KNITS

Forget trying to cop Duchess Kate Middleton’s style with store-bought items. Instead, knit your own outfits worthy of Buckingham Palace. The book includes patterns for a yarn replica of the St. Edward’s Crown as well as an original design for a pair of slippers that look like Corgis, in a nod to the reigning monarch’s preference for the Welsh herd dogs. A guardsman’s iconic bearskin hat, however, might be beyond the book’s scope.

14. DATING FOR UNDER A DOLLAR: 301 IDEAS 

Don’t be so quick to label buyers of this book a cheap date. Keep in mind that Dating for Under a Dollar was published over a decade ago in 1999; adjusting for inflation, a dollar then was equivalent to a whopping $1.34 today. That’s more than enough to buy a candy bar or a small order of fast food fries, which sounds like a nifty date! A single dollar isn’t quite equal to the selling price of Blair Tolman’s book, but the extra few dollars would probably be worth it for 299 better frugal dating ideas than mine.

15. THE BEST FENCES

As the old proverb (sort of) goes, the best fences make the best neighbors. Never settle for less.

16. HOW TO LAND A TOP-PAYING PIEROGI MAKERS JOB 

Unemployment rates are high for everyone right now, dumpling chefs included. With no recipes, this “complete guide to opportunities” is only good for seasoned pierogi professionals.

17. TEACH YOUR WIFE TO BE A WIDOW

It’s best to be prepared.

18. TREAT YOUR OWN NECK

In the days before hypochondriacs could be satisfied (or spurred on) by a quick WebMD search for symptoms like “stiff elbow” or “sore ankles,” Spinal Publications New Zealand Ltd. and physical therapist Robin McKenzie released a handy paperback guide to self-care for all neck-related problems. Reviews of the book range from “highly recommend!” to a warning that some of the exercises might be “quite harmful” to those with pre-existing arthritis. Exercise caution when reading. 

19. BODY BUILDERS IN TUTUS

This is, unfortunately, not an illustrated coffee table book, but a cleverly titled collection of marketing advice essays. Well done, Philipp Lomboy: you sold us.

20. WHOSE BOTTOM IS THIS?

This concept was apparently so good that two different publishers have used it. The illustrated Whose Bottom Is This? is a hardcover lift-the-flap guessing game for children ages 1 to 3. Those same children can then graduate a few years later to Wayne Lynch’s photographic series of books, which include the posed posteriors of “hippos, rhinos, bighorn sheep, pin-tailed ducks, and more.” It might be good preparation for a child’s first field trip to the zoo, so long as someone teaches them what animals look like from the front as well.

21. THE LULL BEFORE DORKING

There’s no readily available information on this reprinted 1871 collection of British pamphlets, but the titular “dorking” might either refer to a market town just south of London, or to a breed of five-toed English domestic fowl. Feel free to leave your speculation as to what The Lull Before Dorking could possibly mean in the comments below.

22. THE NEW RADIATION RECIPE BOOK

To clarify: “Radiation” was a brand of automated gas cooker.

23. LIBERACE: YOUR PERSONAL FASHION CONSULTANT

Finally, there exists a practical guide for the style-challenged masses. Who wouldn’t want to mix sequins and fringe, stars and argyle, or knee socks and short-shorts like the world’s highest-paid entertainer?

24. GOBLINPROOFING ONE'S CHICKEN COOP

The Associated Press described this 2012 book as a “supernaturally tinged barnyard manual.” In addition to goblins, the guide also offers practical advice for warding off dwarves, brownies, and flower fairies.

25. HOW TO AVOID HUGE SHIPS

Originally published under the full title, How to Avoid Huge Ships, or: I Never Met a Ship I Liked, Captain John W. Trimmer’s how-to guide delivers readers exactly what it promises. Though it was named “worst book ever” by Publisher’s Weekly, it’s garnered quite a fan base on Amazon. One reviewer wrote: “I was jogging around the block when all of a sudden I was almost struck by a huge ship! Thankfully I had read How to Avoid Huge Ships. I have lived to tell the tale and now I only hope future generations read this lifesaver.”

26.  HIGHLIGHTS IN THE HISTORY OF CONCRETE

In this book author C.C. Stanley looks back through concrete’s riveting 7600-year history. Unfortunately you’ll have to look elsewhere for a comprehensive account; here he only hits the highlights.

 27.  THE JOY OF CHICKENS

A must-have for any chicken enthusiast.

28. ORAL SADISM AND THE VEGETARIAN PERSONALITY 

This book is an anthology of readings from the “Journal of Polymorphous Perversity.” It includes such hard-hitting psychiatric observations as, “One hundred percent of all dead patients showed a marked reluctance to pay their bills,” and “When Ms. Cinderella left her glass slipper behind at the stroke of midnight, she was clearly acting in a state of rebellion against the dictatorial regimentation of the domineering fairy godmother.” Thankfully, it’s all parody.

29.  LIVING WITH CRAZY BUTTOCKS

Though it sounds like a self-help book, Living with Crazy Buttocks is actually collection of humor pieces by Australian cartoonist Kaz Cooke. People living with literal crazy buttocks will have to look elsewhere for coping advice.

30.  THE DO-IT-YOURSELF LOBOTOMY: OPEN YOUR MIND TO GREATER CREATIVE THINKING 

When thinking of ways to improve your creative problem-solving capabilities and get ahead in the workplace, a lobotomy doesn’t usually top the list. Apparently the team behind this book thought the concept of a “do-it-yourself” one would have copies flying off the shelves.

31. CROCHETING ADVENTURES WITH HYPERBOLIC PLANES 

 

If you’ve ever wished there could be more complex geometry in your crocheting adventures, then this book is for you. It includes 200 photographs of comfy, colorful hyperbolic models with instructions on how to craft them.

32. THE BOOK OF MARMALADE: ITS ANTECEDENTS, ITS HISTORY, AND ITS ROLE IN THE WORLD TODAY 

Here is the be-all and end-all of comprehensive marmalade guides. One review from the Bristol Evening Post reads, “(C. Anne) Wilson has found out just about everything anyone could ever have wanted to know about the splendid preserve.”

33.  THE MADAM AS ENTREPRENEUR: CAREER MANAGEMENT IN HOUSE PROSTITUTION

This account follows one member of the world’s oldest profession from getting her start as a teenage to stepping down as a house madam in her forties. It’s part sociological analysis part business guide.

34. MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

Genghis Khan was a busy guy, and he was never able to find time to open a dental practice in between building an empire. This book still suggests that dentists should be taking a page from his book.

35.  THE STRAY SHOPPING CARTS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: A GUIDE TO FIELD IDENTIFICATION

The book’s summary calls it, “A must-have for anyone with a passion for shopping carts and a love of the great outdoors.”

36. NATURAL BUST ENLARGEMENT WITH TOTAL POWER: HOW TO INCREASE THE OTHER 90% OF YOUR MIND TO INCREASE THE SIZE OF YOUR BREASTS

Instead of blowing thousands dollars on surgery, Dr. Donald L. Wilson suggests that increased breast size can be achieved through the power of mindful thinking.  The contents read more like soft-core erotic poetry than a self-help guide. One noteworthy line reads, "You look up at the sky, and you see a white cloud formation in the shape of your breasts which reminds you of how perfect your breasts can be."

37. COOKING WITH POO

The “Poo” in this title refers to world-renowned Thai chef Khun Poo.

38. PEOPLE WHO DON'T KNOW THEY'RE DEAD: HOW THEY ATTACH THEMSELVES TO UNSUSPECTING BYSTANDERS AND WAHT TO DO ABOUT IT

In this book, the author tells the story of his Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth who counseled lost spirits that moved into bodies that didn’t belong to them. It’s full of practical information for both the living and the deceased.

39. STRANGERS HAVE THE BEST CANDY

Thankfully, this isn’t the title of a children’s book. Margaret Meps Schulte’s travelogue documents the interesting conversations she’s had with strangers over the years.

This story originally ran in March 2014.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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