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screencap from "Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony Promo" // Improbable Research

2015 Ig Nobel Prize Winners Announced, Chicken Rejoices

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screencap from "Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony Promo" // Improbable Research

Nearly all mammals urinate for the same amount of time, regardless of size. If you attach a stick to the rear end of a chicken, it will walk like a dinosaur (at least, we think). You can accurately diagnose acute appendicitis in a patient if they felt a lot of pain when their vehicle drove over speed bumps. A bee sting hurts when it’s delivered to the upper arm, but it hurts much, much more on the shaft of the penis, as one committed scientist can tell you from the painful experiment he conducted on himself.

These are a few of the admittedly odd research findings recognized last night in Boston by the Ig Nobel Prizes, perhaps science’s strangest—and funniest—award ceremony. Now in its 25th year, the Ig Nobels recognize “research that makes people laugh and then think,” as its tagline goes.

The Ig Nobels are the brainchild of Improbable Research, a multimedia publisher that covers “research that's maybe good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless,” as the site relates, most notably through the magazine Annals of Improbable Research. Their finds are culled from some 2000 science journals.

Getting a laugh isn’t the only goal: “We also hope to spur people's curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not—in science and everywhere else?”

About 1100 people attended the sold-out, often goofy awards ceremony, held at Harvard’s Sanders Theater. The 10 winners, chosen from a pool of about 9000 nominees, received their prizes from actual Nobel laureates. They also routinely hammed it up on stage. Check out the scientists behind the appendicitis-speed bump study giving what is clearly an accurate depiction of a real-life scenario: 

Screencap from live webcast of ceremony

The full list of winning research is below. If you’re in the Boston area tomorrow, September 19, some winners will be discussing their research in a free public event at MIT. The Ig Informal Lectures will be held in MIT’s building 10, room 250, at 1 p.m.

CHEMISTRY

For inventing a chemical recipe to partially un-boil an egg. 

Winners: Callum Ormonde, Colin Raston, Tom Yuan, Stephan Kudlacek, Sameeran Kunche, Joshua N. Smith, William A. Brown, Kaitlin Pugliese, Tivoli Olsen, Mariam Iftikhar, and Gregory Weiss

Study: "Shear-Stress-Mediated Refolding of Proteins from Aggregates and Inclusion Bodies," published in ChemBioChem

PHYSICS

For testing the biological principle that nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).

Winners: Patricia Yang, David Hu, Jonathan Pham, and Jerome Choo

Study: "Duration of Urination Does Not Change With Body Size," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

LITERATURE

For discovering that the word "huh?" (or its equivalent) seems to exist in every human language—and for not being quite sure why.

Winners: Mark Dingemanse, Francisco Torreira, and Nick J. Enfield

Study: "Is 'Huh?' a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items," published in PLOS ONE

MANAGEMENT

For discovering that many business leaders developed in childhood a fondness for risk-taking, when they experienced natural disasters that—for them—had no dire personal consequences.

Winners: Gennaro Bernile, Vineet Bhagwat, and P. Raghavendra Rau

Study: "What Doesn't Kill You Will Only Make You More Risk-Loving: Early-Life Disasters and CEO Behavior," published in the Journal of Finance

ECONOMICS

To the Bangkok Metropolitan Police, for offering to pay policemen extra cash if the policemen refuse to take bribes. (Many have criticized this tactic, by the way.)

MEDICINE

Awarded jointly to two groups for experiments to study the biomedical benefits or biomedical consequences of intense kissing (and other intimate, interpersonal activities).

Winners: Hajime Kimata; Jaroslava Durdiaková, Peter Celec, Natália Kamodyová, Tatiana Sedláčková, Gabriela Repiská, Barbara Sviežená, and Gabriel Minárik 

Studies: "Kissing Reduces Allergic Skin Wheal Responses and Plasma Neurotrophin Levels," published in Physiology & Behavior; "Reduction of Allergic Skin Weal Responses by Sexual Intercourse in Allergic Patients," published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy; "Kissing Selectively Decreases Allergen-Specific IgE Production in Atopic Patients," published in Journal of Psychosomatic Research; and "Prevalence and Persistence of Male DNA Identified in Mixed Saliva Samples After Intense Kissing," published in Forensic Science International Genetics

MATHEMATICS

For trying to use mathematical techniques to determine whether and how Moulay Ismael the Bloodthirsty, the Sharifian Emperor of Morocco, managed, during the years from 1697 through 1727, to father 888 children.

Winners: Elisabeth Oberzaucher and Karl Grammer 

Study: "The Case of Moulay Ismael—Fact or Fancy?" published in PLOS ONE

BIOLOGY

For observing that when you attach a weighted stick to the rear end of a chicken, the chicken then walks in a manner similar to that in which dinosaurs are thought to have walked.

Winners: Bruno Grossi, Omar Larach, Mauricio Canals, Rodrigo A. Vásquez, José Iriarte-Díaz 

Study: "Walking Like Dinosaurs: Chickens with Artificial Tails Provide Clues about Non-Avian Theropod Locomotion," published in PLOS ONE

DIAGNOSTIC MEDICINE

For determining that acute appendicitis can be accurately diagnosed by the amount of pain evident when the patient is driven over speed bumps.

Winners: Diallah Karim, Anthony Harnden, Nigel D'Souza, Andrew Huang, Abdel Kader Allouni, Helen Ashdown, Richard J. Stevens, and Simon Kreckler 

Study: "Pain Over Speed Bumps in Diagnosis of Acute Appendicitis: Diagnostic Accuracy Study," published in BMJ

PHYSIOLOGY and ENTOMOLOGY PRIZE

Awarded jointly, for painstakingly creating the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which rates the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects; and for carefully arranging for honey bees to sting repeatedly on 25 different locations on the body, to learn which locations are the least painful (skull, middle toe tip, and upper arm) and most painful (the nostril, upper lip, and penis shaft).

Winners: Justin Schmidt and Michael L. Smith 

Studies: "Hemolytic Activities of Stinging Insect Venoms,"  published in the Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology; and "Honey Bee Sting Pain Index by Body Location," published in PeerJ

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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers
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Animals
Inside Crumbs & Whiskers, the Bicoastal Cat Cafe That's Saving Kitties' Lives
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Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

It took a backpacking trip to Thailand and a bit of serendipity for Kanchan Singh to realize her life goal of saving cats while serving lattes. “I met these two guys on the road [in 2014], and we became friends,” Singh tells Mental Floss about Crumbs & Whiskers, the bicoastal cat cafe she founded in Washington, D.C. in 2015 which, in addition to selling coffee and snacks, fosters adoptable felines from shelters. “They soon noticed that I was feeding every stray dog and cat in sight," and quickly picked up on the fact that their traveling companion was crazy about all things furry and fluffy.

On Singh’s final day in Thailand, which happened to be her birthday, her friends surprised her with a celebratory trip to a cat cafe in the city of Chiang Mai. “I remember walking in there being like, ‘This is the coolest, most amazing, weirdest thing I’ve ever done,'” Singh recalls. “I just connected with it so much on a spiritual level.”

Singh informed her friends that she planned to return to the U.S., quit her corporate consulting job, and open up her own cat cafe in the nation’s capital. They thought she was joking. But three years and two storefronts later, the joke is on everyone except for Singh—and the kitties she and her team have helped to rescue.

A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
A customer pets cats while drinking coffee at the flagship Washington, D.C. location of cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers.
Washington, D.C. customers stroke a furry feline while enjoying coffee at Crumbs & Whiskers.
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Crumbs & Whiskers—which, in addition to its flagship D.C. location, also has a Los Angeles outpost—keeps a running count of the cats they've saved from risk of euthanasia and those who have been adopted. At press time, those numbers were 776 and 388, respectively, between the brand’s two locations.

Prices and services vary between establishments, but customers can typically expect to shell out anywhere from $6.50 to $35 to enjoy coffee time with cats (food and drinks are prepared off-site for health and safety reasons), activities like cat yoga sessions, or, in D.C., an entire day of coworking with—you guessed it—cats. Patrons can also participate in the occasional promotion or campaign, ranging from Black Friday fundraisers for shelter kitties to writing an ex-flame's name inside a litter box around Valentine's Day (where the cats will then do their business).

Cat cafes have existed in Asia for nearly 20 years, with the world’s first known one, Cat Flower Garden, opening in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. The trend gained traction in Japan during the mid 2000s, and quickly spread across Asia. But when Singh visited Chiang Mai, the cat cafe craze—while alive and thriving in Thailand—had not yet hit the U.S. "Why does Thailand get this, but not the U.S.?" Singh remembers thinking.

Once she arrived back home in D.C., Singh set her sights on founding the nation’s first official cat cafe, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped her secure a two-story space in the city’s Georgetown neighborhood. Ultimately, though, she was beat to the punch by the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California, which opened to the public in 2014, followed shortly after by establishments like New York City’s Meow Parlour.

LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
LA customers at cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers
Courtesy of Crumbs & Whiskers

Still, Crumbs & Whiskers—which officially launched in D.C. in the summer of 2015—was among the nation’s first wave of businesses (and the District's first) to offer customers the chance to enjoy feline companionship with a side of java, along with the opportunity to maybe even save a tiny life. Ultimately, the altruistic concept proved to be so successful that Singh, sensing a market for a similar storefront in Los Angeles, opened up a second location there in the fall of 2016. "I always felt like what L.A. is, culturally, just fits with the type of person that would go to a cat café," she says.

Someday, Singh hopes to bring Crumbs & Whiskers to Chicago and New York, and “for cat cafes as a concept, as an industry, to grow,” she says. “I think that it would be great for this to be the future of adoptions and animal rescues.” Until then, you can learn more about Crumbs & Whiskers (and the animals they rescue) by stopping by if you're in D.C. and LA, or by visiting their website.

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LEGO Ideas
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Design
Fans of The Office, Rejoice: A Dunder Mifflin LEGO Set Could Someday Become a Reality
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LEGO Ideas

After nine seasons filled with pranks, gags, awkward jokes, and just a few too many “That’s what she said's,” the finale of NBC’s The Office aired on May 16, 2013. While the beloved show probably won’t be getting a reboot anytime soon, LEGO fans may someday be able to recreate the cast’s shenanigans with their very own Dunder Mifflin-inspired set.

Jaijai Lewis, a 36-year-old market researcher from New York City, has submitted a toy recreation of the fictional paper sales company’s Scranton branch to the LEGO Ideas website. It’s a miniature replica of the TV show's titular office, complete with the main shared space (cubicles and desk plants included), a conference room, and separate offices for Michael and Darryl. These rooms are designed to be modular, and can either be connected together or remain separate.

Of course, Lewis made sure to include mini-replicas of the whole gang, including Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, Angela, Meredith, and more. They come with tiny accessories, like Michael’s Golden Dundie, Meredith’s water bottle, and Pam’s ring. (The last one fits in Jim’s suitcase.)

If 10,000 different fans support a design on the LEGO Ideas blog, it will become eligible for review to become a real-life product. The LEGO Dunder Mifflin has already hit the coveted 10K number, so with any luck, you could eventually see it on the shelves of a toy store near you.

Check out some pictures of Lewis’s design below, or visit the LEGO Ideas site for more details.

LEGO fan Jaijai Lewis's design of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc., a fictional paper company from NBC's TV show 'The Office.'
LEGO Ideas

LEGO fan Jaijai Lewis's design of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc., a fictional paper company from NBC's TV show 'The Office.'
LEGO Ideas

LEGO fan Jaijai Lewis's design of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc., a fictional paper company from NBC's TV show 'The Office.'
LEGO Ideas

LEGO fan Jaijai Lewis's design of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc., a fictional paper company from NBC's TV show 'The Office.'
LEGO Ideas

LEGO fan Jaijai Lewis's design of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc., a fictional paper company from NBC's TV show 'The Office.'
LEGO Ideas

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