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.

The Gruesome Medieval Masquerade That Inspired Edgar Allan Poe

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In March 1849, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story with one of the most macabre dénouements in his entire body of work. Called Hop-Frog, it was the tale of an eponymous court jester who endures repeated humiliations from an abusive king and his ministers before finally exacting his revenge. Like other works of the great horror master, it may have been inspired by historical events—in this case, by a particularly grisly episode from 14th-century France.

In Poe's short story, both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are people with dwarfism stolen from their respective home countries and brought as presents for the king from one of his generals. Hop-Frog is described as having a disability that makes him walk "by a sort of interjectional gait—something between a leap and a wriggle." Forced to be the court's jester, he's the target of the king's practical jokes, and while enduring near-constant humiliations grows close to Trippetta, whose status at the court isn't much better.

One day, the king demands a masquerade, and as the evening draws near, he asks Hop-Frog what to wear. After a scene in which he and Trippetta are abused once again, Hop-Frog sees the perfect chance for revenge. He suggests the monarch and his ministers dress as escaped orangutans chained together, which he calls "a capital diversion—one of my own country frolics—often enacted among us, at our masquerades." The king and his ministers love the idea of scaring their guests, and especially the women. The jester carefully prepares their costumes, saturating tight-fitting fabric with tar and plastering flax on top to resemble the hair of the beasts.

On the evening of the masquerade, the men enter in their special outfits just after midnight. The guests are duly terrified, and amid the hubbub, Hop-Frog attaches the chain that surrounds the group to one hanging from the ceiling that normally holds a chandelier. As the men are drawn upwards, he brings a flame close to their bodies, pretending to the crowd that he's trying to figure out who the disguised men really are. The flax and tar ignite quickly and the noblemen burn to death, suspended above the crowd. "The eight corpses swung in their chains," Poe writes, "a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass."

Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Rijksmuseum, Europeana // Public Domain

The gruesome scene was likely inspired by a historical event: the Bal des Ardents (literally, "the Ball of the Burning Ones"). This obscure episode took place during the reign of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), known to posterity as "Charles the Mad." His periods of illness are well-documented by contemporary chroniclers, who tell us that he ran through his castle howling like a wolf, failed to recognize his own wife and children, and forbade anyone to touch him because he believed he was made of glass. After his first bout in 1392, when delirium led him to kill several knights, his physician prescribed "amusements, relaxations, sports, and pastimes."

Meanwhile, the royal council was controlled by his brother Louis d'Orléans and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy—who both had their eyes set on the throne. It was also the middle of the Hundred Years' War, and England was seen as a severe threat to national stability. In spite of the unrest, on January 28, 1393, Charles's wife, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, held a ball in the royal palace of Saint-Pol to celebrate the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting Catherine de Fastaverin. The plan was also to entertain the king, as the royal physician had prescribed. One of the guests, the knight Sir Hugonin (sometimes Huguet) de Guisay, suggested that a group of nobles dress as "wild men" or "wood savages," mythical creatures associated with nature and pagan beliefs. The king liked the idea so much that he decided to join in as one of the masked dancers.

The six noblemen wore garments made of linen covered in pitch and stuck-on clumps of flax, so they appeared "full of hair from the top of the head to the sole of the foot," according to contemporary historian Jean Froissart. Poe preserved these details in Hop-Frog, though his characters weren't dressed as wild men, but as orangutans—an animal he had also used in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) to great effect.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Charles VI was aware that the costumes were highly flammable, so he ordered all torch-bearers to keep to one side of the room. As they entered the ballroom, five of the wild men were chained to one another. Only the king was free. The men probably humiliated the newlyweds, howling and dancing; some historians believe the wild dance was a charivari, a folk ritual intended to shame newlyweds at "irregular" marriages. (As a widow getting married for the third time, Lady Catherine would have been a target.)

But there was an important guest missing: the king's brother, Louis d'Orléans. He arrived late, carrying his own torch, and joined the dance. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, before long his torch had set fire to one of the wild men's costumes. The fire spread quickly. Two of the knights burned to death in front of the guests, and two more died in agony days later. Court chronicler Michel Pintoin, known as the Monk of St. Denis, describes the dancers' "flaming genitals dropping to the floor … releasing a stream of blood."

Only two of the wild men survived. One of them, named Nantoiullet, had reacted to the blaze by throwing himself into a barrel of water, which spared him a horrid death. The other was the king. He was saved by the Duchess of Berry, who used her gown to extinguish his costume before it was too late.

The event shook French society. It was seen as the height of courtly decadence, causing outrage and further unrest. That the king had engaged in this extravagant amusement, and that his life had been spared only by chance, was further proof that he was unfit for the throne.

Meanwhile, the part that Louis d'Orléans played in the tragedy was subject to some debate. Most chroniclers blamed his youth and recklessness for the terrible accident; some reportedly suggested it was a prank to "frighten the ladies" that got out of hand.

Although it seems that the Bal des Ardents wasn't a planned crime, the king's brother must have felt responsible for the fatal accident, since he founded a chapel in the convent of the Célestins shortly afterwards, hoping it would buy him a place in heaven. It didn't save him from a violent end, however: In 1407, Louis was assassinated on the orders of his cousin and recently minted political rival the Duke of Burgundy, which triggered a civil war that divided France for decades. The Duke of Burgundy justified the murder by accusing Louis of having used sorcery and occultism to attempt regicide on several occasions—one of them, he claimed, during the Bal des Ardents.

Regardless of the truth behind the matter, the horror of the event filtered down through the centuries to inspire one of Poe's most macabre works. (It's not clear where the author first heard about it, but it may have been in the pages of The Broadway Journal, where he was soon to become editor, and where a writer likened it to the accidental onstage burning death of the dancer Clara Webster in London.) Today, the shocking historical event lives on in Poe's story—and in Hop Frog's memorable final line: "I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest."

Additional source: Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys

A Scientific Spirit: Sir Francis Bacon and the Ghost Chicken of Highgate

iStock.com/GrabillCreative
iStock.com/GrabillCreative

Most ghost stories involve suspense, evil deeds, and a terrifying specter, but this one is a bit different. This is a ghost story about a philosopher, an innovation, and a plucked chicken.

It was an unseasonably cold and snowy day back in April 1626 when the famed philosopher, statesman, and proto-scientist Sir Francis Bacon was driving through Highgate, north London, in a horse-drawn carriage with his good friend Dr. Witherbone, the king's physician. The learned pair was discussing the best methods to preserve food when, inspired by the snowy landscape, Bacon proposed that ice might be used to keep food fresh. So excited was he by this bold new idea that he demanded the carriage stop in Pond Square, where Bacon procured a chicken from a nearby farm. After it was plucked and gutted, he proceeded to pack it with ice from the ground—in effect creating the world’s first frozen chicken.

Sadly, Bacon never lived to see the results of his innovative experiment in refrigeration. His exposure to the freezing temperatures reportedly led to a case of pneumonia, and he died on April 9, 1626.

Sir Francis Bacon painted by Paul Van Somer
Sir Francis Bacon painted by Paul Van Somer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a more typical ghost story, Bacon himself might come back to haunt the scene of his undoing. Instead, it was the chicken who returned.

Reports supposedly soon surfaced of a half-plucked chicken appearing in Pond Square, running madly in circles or sitting sullenly in a tree. When approached, the mysterious chicken would vanish into thin air. The sightings continued over the following decades: During World War II, an air raid warden patrolling Pond Square caught sight of the mangy bird and thought to catch it for his supper. He chased the fowl, but was thwarted when it disappeared before his eyes. In 1943 a man crossing Pond Square heard the sound of a horse and carriage before witnessing the squawking ghost fleetingly appear. In the 1970s a young couple was courting in the picturesque square when their romantic moment was ruined by the arrival of the ghostly chicken, flapping its plucked wings and charging around in indignant circles.

In recent years, sightings of the frozen ghost chicken have become less frequent, the specter of the fowl perhaps assuaged by the passage of time. Both the ghost, and reports of Bacon's experiment, have their doubters, but the story lives on. It reminds us of an important scientific development—and might prompt us to whisper a little thanks to the ghost chicken of Pond Square as we prepare our frozen chicken for dinner.

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