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15 Non-Sex Uses for Condoms

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A condom may just be the most versatile tool you have lying around. Some of these are good ideas. Some of them are terrible ideas. But all of them are real and tested. (NOTE: You’ll want to use unlubricated condoms for most of these.)

You can use condoms to … 

1. ... STORE WATER.

Compact, super-stretchy, and watertight, condoms are a survivalist’s dream. If you do it right, you can collect and store up to two liters of water in a single condom.

2. ... WRAP UP YOUR WEAPON.

Soldiers love condoms, and not just for the reason you think. GIs have covered their rifle barrels with condoms to keep the guns clean and dry since World War II. During the Gulf War, the British Ministry of Defense shipped 500,000 custom-made camouflage condoms to troops in Saudi Arabia with the express purpose of protecting the guns from filling with sand.

3. ... PLAY BALL.

Children in Chimoio, Mozambique, make soccer balls out of condoms. They scrunch up a few condoms as a lightweight core, tie them together, and cover them with rags. The kids get the condoms from their mothers or swipe them from family planning clinics, much to the consternation of public health officials. "When used consistently and correctly, condoms are an effective means of preventing HIV, gonorrhea and unwanted pregnancies,” one official told IRIN News, “but the results of distribution efforts can be reduced to zero when they're used to make toys instead."

4. ... GO FISHING.

Image Credit: Mike Warren

Left your bobber at home? No problem. Simply inflate a condom halfway, tie it off, and add it to your fishing line. Presto: instant bobber.

5. ... LET OFF SOME STEAM.

Feeling a little tense? Have you squeezed the life out of all your stress balls? Never fear: You’ve got the makings of a new one at home.

6. ... OPEN THAT %$*& PICKLE JAR.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, condoms can do pretty much everything. The next time you encounter a jar lid that resists even your mighty grip, try stretching a condom over the top. The rubber should provide enough traction to twist that sucker right open. 

7. ... DO SCIENCE.

Scientists and engineers digging up soil samples use condoms to protect both their collections and their equipment [PDF]. Science condoms also had a role in the D-Day invasion. Allied engineers used condoms to collect samples of sand from Normandy Beach, then analyzed the sand to make sure their vehicles could actually run up onto it without sinking.

8. ... WATERPROOF YOUR MICROPHONE (OR YOUR PHONE).

A hydrophone is an instrument for recording underwater noises. But not every sound team has a hydrophone. Those that don’t turn to condoms as a cheap way to waterproof a regular microphone. This same technique works for any other kind of small electronics, including smartphones, as long as you tie the knot very, very tightly. Mike Warren at Instructables says he can even use his touch screen through the condom. 

9. ... KEEP YOUR BANDAGE DRY.

Wearing a bandage or a cast is awful enough, but trying to bathe with one on just adds insult to injury. But you can waterproof your arm or leg with, yes, a condom. You should be able to fit a good part of your arm or leg into a condom. For wounds that don’t cover the hand or foot, just snip the tip off your condom, then pull it on like a sleeve.

10. ... FAKE A GUNSHOT WOUND.

Anybody with an army of computer graphics wizards at their disposal can add realistic-looking gunshot wounds to a movie. For the rest of us, there are condoms. Watch and learn as this young special effects guru walks you through the cheap-and-dirty (and kind of gross) process of gunshot-by-condom.

11. ... START A FIRE.

The condom is like the Swiss army knife of fire. You can use the condom to protect your tinder from the elements (dryer lint is a favorite). You can use the condom itself as kindling; it’ll burn super-hot for a few minutes, although the smell will be pretty bad. You can fill the condom with water and use it as a magnifying glass to focus sunlight on something flammable. And if all else fails and you have to resort to the rubbing-two-sticks-together method, you can twist the condom into thumb loops, which will really speed up the process.

12. ... SPEED UP YOUR WEAVING.

Sari weaving is an ancient art that’s been threatened in recent years by an influx of machine-made saris from China. To keep up their pace, weavers in Varanasi, India rub lubricated condoms on their looms’ shuttles to keep them moving fluidly. Weavers estimate that using condoms saves them about four hours per sari. They also use the condoms to polish gold and silver threads in the finished saris. The condoms are a natural choice, weaver Bacche Lal Maurya told Little India, because the lubricant doesn’t stain the silk—and because the condoms are free from local health centers.

13. ... JUMP OFF A BRIDGE.

But don’t, actually. In 2008, South African thrill seeker Carl Dionisio wove a 98-foot bungee cord out of condoms, then jumped off a bridge. Fortunately for Dionisio, the cord held. “I was 99 percent sure it would work,” he told Metro UK.

The cord, made of 18,500 condoms, took four months to make. “It was difficult, as the condoms were slippery,” said Dionisio, who apparently never considered using unlubricated condoms.

14. ... BUILD BETTER ROADS.

India’s health workers are really facing an uphill battle. Hundreds of millions of free condoms are handed out each year, but only one quarter of those ever see the inside of a bedroom. Sari weavers use many of them, but many more are used in construction. Condoms are mixed into tar and cement to smooth out roads and make them more resilient. They’re layered beneath cement plaster to keep monsoon rains from breaking through roofs.

15. ... SEAL UP THAT BAG OF CHIPS.

Image Credit: Mike Warren

Fresh out of rubber bands? Get out your condom and a pair of scissors. Lay the condom flat and cut straight vertical lines. If you’re careful, you can get a good 20 stretchy bands out of a single condom.

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History
7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.

1. THE MELBOURNE DART RIOT

The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).

2. THE LEICESTER BALLOON RIOT

In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.

3. THE TORONTO CLOWN AND FIREFIGHTER RIOT

Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.

4. THE BELGIAN NIGHT AT THE OPERA RIOT

A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.

5. THE NEW YORK DOCTORS' RIOT

Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.

6. THE BROWN DOG RIOTS

Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.

7. THE EEL-PULLING RIOT

Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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Weird
9 False Rumors With Real-Life Consequences
King Louis XV of France
King Louis XV of France
Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Don’t believe everything you read—or everything you hear. Unverified but plausible-sounding rumors have been the basis for violent death and destruction throughout history, whether or not the stories had anything to do with the truth.

In their book A Colorful History of Popular Delusions, Robert Bartholomew and Peter Hassall describe rumors as “stories of perceived importance that lack substantiating evidence.” They also note that the sociologist Tamotsu Shibutani describes rumors as “improvised news,” which tends to spread when the demand for information exceeds supply. Such an information deficit most often occurs during wars and other crises, which might explain why some rumors have had such dramatic results. Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting rumors with real-life results collected in Bartholomew and Hassall’s book.

1. KING LOUIS XV WAS KIDNAPPING CHILDREN.

In 1750, children began disappearing from the streets of Paris. No one seemed to know why, and worried parents began rioting in the streets. In the midst of the panic, a rumor broke out that King Louis XV had become a leper and was kidnapping children so that he could bathe in their blood (at the time, bathing in the blood of children was thought by some to be an effective leprosy cure).

The rumor did have a tiny kernel of truth: Authorities were taking children away, but not to the king’s palace. A recently enacted series of ordinances designed to clear the streets of “undesirables” had led some policemen—who were paid per arrest—to overstep their authority and take any children they found on the streets to houses of detention. Fortunately, most were eventually reunited with their parents, and rumors of the king’s gruesome bathing rituals were put to rest.

2. LONDON WAS GOING TO BE DESTROYED BY AN EARTHQUAKE.

Two small earthquakes struck London at the beginning of 1761, leading to rumors that the city was due for “the big one” on April 5, 1761. Supposedly, a psychic had predicted the catastrophe. Much of the populace grew so panicked that they fled town for the day, with those who couldn’t afford fancier lodgings camping out in the fields. One soldier was so convinced of the impending doom that he ran through the streets shouting news of London’s imminent destruction; sadly, he ended up in an insane asylum a few months later.

3. JEWS WERE POISONING WELLS.

A deep well
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Reports that Jews ritually sacrificed Christian children were not uncommon during the Middle Ages, but things took a particularly terrible turn during the spread of the Black Plague. In the 14th century, thousands of Jews were killed in response to rumors that Satan was protecting them from the plague in exchange for poisoning the wells of Christians. In 1321 in Guienne, France alone, an estimated 5000 Jews were burned alive for supposedly poisoning wells. Other communities expelled the Jews, or burned entire settlements to the ground. Brandenburg, Germany, even passed a law denouncing Jews for poisoning wells—which of course they weren't.

4. BRIGANDS WERE TERRORIZING THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE.

In July 1789, amid the widespread fear and instability on the eve of the French revolution, rumors spread that the anti-revolutionary nobility had planted brigands (robbers) to terrorize the peasants and steal their stores of food. Lights from furnaces, bonfires, and even the reflection of the setting sun were sometimes taken to be signs of brigands, with panic as the predictable result. Provincial towns and villages formed militias in response to the rumors, even though, as historian Georges Lefebvre put it, “the populace scared themselves.” In one typical incident, near Troyes on July 24, 1789, a group of brigands were supposedly spotted heading into some woods; an alarm was sounded and 3000 men gave chase. The “brigands” turned out to be a herd of cattle.

5. GERMAN-AMERICANS WERE PLOTTING SNEAK ATTACKS ON CANADA.

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in a Canada Day parade
iStock

Canada entered World War I in 1914, three years before the United States did. During the gap period, rumors circulated that German-Americans sympathetic to their country of origin were planning surprise attacks on Canada. One of the worst offenders of such rumor-mongering, according to authors Bartholomew and Hassall, was British consul-general Sir Courtenay Bennett, then stationed in New York. In the early months of 1915, Bennett made “several sensational claims about a plan in which as many as 80,000 well-armed, highly trained Germans who had been drilling in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, New York, were planning to invade Canada from northwestern New York state.” Bizarre as it may sound, there was so much anxiety and suspicion during the period that Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden requested a report on the story, which the Canadian police commissioner determined to be without any foundation whatsoever.

6. THE INDONESIAN GOVERNMENT WAS HUNTING HEADS FOR CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS.

In certain parts of Indonesia, locals reportedly believe—or once did—that large-scale construction projects require human heads to keep the structures from crumbling. In 1937, one island was home to a spate of rumors saying that a tjoelik (government-sanctioned headhunter) was looking for a head to place near a local jetty construction project. Locals reported strange noises and sights, houses pelted with stones, and attacks from tjoelik wielding nooses or cowboy lassos. Similar rumors surfaced in 1979 in Indonesian Borneo, when government agents were supposedly seeking a head for a new bridge project, and in 1981 in Southern Borneo, when the government headhunters supposedly needed heads to stabilize malfunctioning equipment in nearby oil fields. Terrified townspeople began curtailing their activities so as not to be in public any longer than necessary, although the rumors eventually died down.

7. POWERFUL APHRODISIAC GUM WENT ON SALE IN THE MIDDLE EAST.

An assortment of sticks of pink bubble gum
iStock

In the mid-1990s, the Middle East was home to some alarming rumors about aphrodisiacal gum. In 1996 in Mansoura, Egypt, stories began spreading that students at the town’s university had purchased gum deliberately spiked with an aphrodisiac and were having orgies as a result. One local member of parliament said the gum had been distributed by the Israeli government as part of a plot to corrupt Egyptian youth. Mosque loudspeakers began warning people to avoid the gum, which was supposedly sold under the names “Aroma” or “Splay.” Authorities closed down some shops and made arrests, but never did find any tainted gum. Similar rumors cropped up the following year in the Gaza Strip, this time featuring a strawberry gum that turned women into prostitutes—supposedly, the better to convince them to become Shin Bet informants for the Israeli military.

8. SORCERERS WERE PLAGUING INDONESIA.

In the fall of 1998, a sorcerer scare in East Java, Indonesia, resulted in the deaths of several villagers. The country was in crisis, and while protests raged in major cities, some in the rural area of Banyuwangi began agitating for restitution for past wrongs allegedly committed by sorcerers. The head of the local district ordered authorities to move the suspected sorcerers to a safe location, a process that included a check-in at the local police station. Unfortunately, villagers took the suspects’ visits to police stations as proof of their sorcery and began killing them. Anthropologists who studied the incident said the stories of supposed sorcery—making neighbors fall sick, etc.—were based entirely on rumor and gossip.

9. OBAMA WAS INJURED BY A WHITE HOUSE EXPLOSION.

These days, rumors have advanced technology to help them travel. On April 23, 2013, a fake tweet from a hacked Associated Press account claimed that explosions at the White House had injured Barack Obama. That lone tweet caused instability on world financial markets, and the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index lost $130 billion in a short period. Fortunately, it quickly recovered. (Eagle-eyed journalists were suspicious of the tweet from the beginning, since it didn’t follow AP style of referring to the president with his title and capitalizing the word breaking.)

An earlier version of this story ran in 2015.

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