11 Words for Fictional Substances


In science fiction, fantasy, and superhero stories, people frequently do the impossible—fly at light speed, travel through time, be Superman, etc. The creators of such stories sometimes try to do something even more impossible by scientifically explaining such impossibilities. Fortunately, there’s an amusing real-world byproduct: absurd terms for pseudo-scientific substances. Here are 11 of the most useful and ludicrous. 


This is one of the silliest substances ever named, but it does answer a question asked by many children and stoners: How do the Transformers transform? Duh, due to transformium! This substance was introduced in the 2014 movie Transformers: Age of Extinction.


Just as no one in the multiverse really needed to know how the Transformers transform, few Star Wars fans were clamoring for an explanation as to why some folks were strong with the force and others were just meh. But Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace provided this unessential answer to an unasked question: The culprit was midi-chlorians, which are micro-critters in the blood of people really good at swinging a light saber. Who would have thought potential Jedi knights, like potential disease carriers, could be determined by a blood test?


Supreme is an analogue of Superman, with a similar power set and cast of supporting characters. But one different element is literally an element: Supreme gains his powers thanks to exposure as a child to supremium, which arrived, like many of these substances, via meteorite. The Supremium turned little Ethan Crane’s hair white and gave him Superman-level powers, while fueling many wacky stories, including some by the great Alan Moore.


Wolverine’s claws are one of the deadliest weapons of any superhero or supervillain, partly because the damn things can’t be broken. Why not? Because the claws (and his entire skeleton) are laced with adamantium, a Marvel Universe substance that’s been around since 1969 and Avengers #66. Bad guys are also fond of the stuff: humanity-killing, self-replicating robot Ultron is made of adamantium.


Discovered by scientist Henry Pym, these molecule-majiggers are quite useful. They allowed Pym to get tiny as Ant-Man, then enormous as Giant Man. Pym particles were introduced back in 1962’s Tales to Astonish #27, which was also the debut of Ant-Man.


These chunks of the exploded planet Krypton are one of the most popular McGuffins in comic books, and it’s easy to see why. Since Kryptonite weakens Superman, it gives less super foes a fighting chance. But that’s just green Kryptonite. There’s also red, blue, white, gold, and other types, all of which have different effects on Superman, depending on that month’s plot. Kryptonite is also a very common term for someone’s weakness, particularly in sports: Recent news articles refer to Holly Holm as Ronda Rousey’s Kryptonite, Steph Curry as LeBron James’s Kryptonite, and the Philadelphia Eagles as the New York Giants’ Kryptonite. Like Jimmy Olsen, Kryptonite did not debut in the comics: It originated in 1943 in the Adventures of Superman radio show.


Any Star Trek fan should recognize this substance in the form of dilithium crystals, the substance that regulates the Enterprise's warp drive system. In the 1966 episode "Mudd’s Women," the important element was just lithium, but in 1967, that was changed to dilithium. According to the Star Trek Encyclopedia, the change was made because the show’s science advisor was concerned that lithium was a real element, while dilithium was made up and could be given whatever properties the writers wanted. Now, scientists are trying to create real-life "dilithium crystals" (actually lithium-6) to power a warp drive that would take us to Mars.


This word for an ultra-strong metal was apparently coined by J. R. R. Tolkien while writing The Lord of the Rings. The first-known use is in a Tolkien letter from 1944: “Sauron shows various tokens (such as the mithril coat) to prove that he has captured Frodo.” This term often pops in combinations, such as mithril-ring and mithril-coat, but rarely mithril-underoos.


Though it often appears in fiction, this is a term from actual science—well, hypothetical science. As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, a tachyon is “a hypothetical particle which travels faster than light (and whose rest mass is therefore an imaginary number).” Hypothetical is a useful word when scientists are discussing something that doesn’t exist. The term was first found in a 1967 article from The Physical Review: A Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Physics, and an adjective form popped up in the same journal in 1970: “A and B use tachyonic antitelephones to communicate backwards in time.”


Captain America’s shield is one of the most wondrous weapons in comics, capable of knocking out bad guys, deflecting bullets, and bouncing around a room like a Frisbee. This combination of strength and flexibility is thanks to vibranium—a substance found primarily in Wakanda, a country found only in the Marvel Universe. Vibranium has been discussed in comics since 1966’s Daredevil #13, but in the Marvel Universe it’s been around since a meteorite landed about 10,000 years ago.

11. URU

Like Captain America’s shield, Thor’s hammer Mjolnir is an extremely iconic superhero weapon—and it has its own made-up ingredient: uru. Uru is a type of metal that is not only super-strong, but good at holding enchantments such as the hoodoo Odin put into Mjolnir. In Jack Kirby Collector #44, Thor co-creator (along with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) Larry Lieber said, “I made up Uru hammer. I remember calling it that. I wanted something short so it would be easy to letter. It was off-beat and sounded like a foreign language.” By the hammer of Thor, uru was a fine coinage.

8 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 3

[Warning: There are lots of Stranger Things season two spoilers ahead.]

Stranger Things season two is in the books, and like we all hoped, it turned out to be a worthy follow-up to an addictive debut season. Now, though, we’re left with plenty of questions, mysteries, and theories to chew on as the wait for a third season begins. But for everything we don’t know about what the next year of Stranger Things will bring us (such as an actual release date), there are more than enough things we do know to keep those fan theories coming well into 2018. While the show hasn't been officially greenlit for a third season by Netflix yet, new details have already begun to trickle out. Here’s everything we know about Stranger Things season three so far.


The third season of Stranger Things won’t pick up right where the second one left off. Like the show experienced between the first two seasons, there will be a time jump between seasons two and three as well. The reason is simple: the child actors are all growing up, and instead of having the kids look noticeably older without explanation for year three, the Duffer Brothers told The Hollywood Reporter:

“Our kids are aging. We can only write and produce the show so fast. They're going to be almost a year older by the time we start shooting season three. It provides certain challenges. You can't start right after season two ended. It forces you to do a time jump. But what I like is that it makes you evolve the show. It forces the show to evolve and change, because the kids are changing.”


If the series’s second season was about expanding the Stranger Things mythology, the third season won't go bigger just for the sake of it, with the brothers even going so far as to say that it will be a more intimate story.

“It’s not necessarily going to be bigger in scale,” Matt Duffer said in an interview with IndieWire. “What I am really excited about is giving these characters an interesting journey to go on.”

Ross Duffer did stress, though, that as of early November, season three is basically “… Matt and me working with some writers and figuring out where it’s going to go.”


The second season ended on a bit of a foreboding note when it was revealed that the Mind Flayer was still in the Upside Down and was seen looming over the Hawkins school as the winter dance was going on. Though we know there will be a time jump at the start of next season, it’s clear that the monster will still have a big presence on the show.

Executive producer Dan Cohen told TV Guide: "There were other ways we could have ended beyond that, but I think that was a very strong, lyrical ending, and it really lets us decide to focus where we ultimately are going to want to go as we dive into Season 3."

What does the Mind Flayer’s presence mean for the new crop of episodes? Well, there will be plenty of fan theories to ponder between now and the season three premiere (whenever that may be).


The Duffer Brothers had a lot of material for the latest season of the show—probably a bit too much. Talking to Vulture, Matt Duffer detailed a few details and plot points that had to be pushed to season three:

"Billy was supposed to have a bigger role. We ended up having so many characters it ended up, in a way, more teed up for season three than anything. There was a whole teen supernatural story line that just got booted because it was just too cluttered, you know? A lot of that’s just getting kicked into season three."

The good news is that he also told the site that this wealth of cut material could make the writing process for the third season much quicker.


Stranger Things already had a roster of fan-favorite characters heading into season two, but newcomer Erica, Lucas’s little sister, may have overshadowed them all. Played by 11-year-old Priah Ferguson, Erica is equal parts expressive, snarky, and charismatic. And the Duffer Brothers couldn’t agree more, saying that there will be much more Erica next season.

“There will definitely be more Erica in Season 3,” Ross Duffer told Yahoo!. “That is the fun thing about the show—you discover stuff as you’re filming. We were able to integrate more of her in, but not as much you want because the story [was] already going. ‘We got to use more Erica’—that was one of the first things we said in the writers’ room.”

“I thought she’s very GIF-able, if that’s a word,” Matt Duffer added. “She was great.”


The season two episode “The Lost Sister” was a bit of an outlier for the series. It’s a standalone episode that focuses solely on the character Eleven, leaving the central plot and main cast of Hawkins behind. As well-received as Stranger Things season two was, this episode was a near-unanimous miss among fans and critics.

The episode did, however, introduce us to the character of Kali (Linnea Berthelsen), who has the ability to manipulate people’s minds with illusions she creates. Despite the reaction, the Duffers felt the episode was vital to Eleven’s development, and that Kali won’t be forgotten moving forward.

“It feels weird to me that we wouldn’t solve [Kali’s] storyline. I would say chances are very high she comes back,” Matt Duffer said at the Vulture Festival.


We're already well acquainted with Eleven, and season two introduced us to Eight (a.k.a. Kali), and executive producer Shawn Levy heavily hinted to E! that there are probably more Hawkins Laboratory experiments on the horizon.

"I think we've clearly implied there are other numbers, and I can't imagine that the world will only ever know Eleven and Eight," Levy said.


Don’t be in too much of a rush to find out everything about the next season of Stranger Things; there might not be many more left. The Duffer Brothers have said in the past that the plan is to do four seasons and end it. However, Levy gave fans a glimmer of hope that things may go on a little while longer—just by a bit, though.

“Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the Brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors’ agents,” Levy told Entertainment Weekly. “The truth is we’re definitely going four seasons and there’s very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely.”

20 Random Facts About Shopping

Shopping on Black Friday—or, really, any time during the holiday season—is a good news/bad news kind of endeavor. The good news? The deals are killer! The bad news? So are the lines. If you find yourself standing behind 200 other people who braved the crowds and sacrificed sleep in order to hit the stores early today, here's one way to pass the time: check out these fascinating facts about shopping through the ages.

1. The oldest customer service complaint was written on a clay cuneiform tablet in Mesopotamia 4000 years ago. (In it, a customer named Nanni complains that he was sold inferior copper ingots.)

2. Before battles, some Roman gladiators read product endorsements. The makers of the film Gladiator planned to show this, but they nixed the idea out of fear that audiences wouldn’t believe it.

3. Like casinos, shopping malls are intentionally designed to make people lose track of time, removing clocks and windows to prevent views of the outside world. This kind of “scripted disorientation” has a name: It’s called the Gruen Transfer.

4. According to a study in Social Influence, people who shopped at or stood near luxury stores were less likely to help people in need.

5. A shopper who first purchases something on his or her shopping list is more likely to buy unrelated items later as a kind of reward.

6. On the Pacific island of Vanuatu, some villages still use pigs and seashells as currency. In fact, the indigenous bank there uses a unit of currency called the Livatu. Its value is equivalent to a boar’s tusk. 

7. Sears used to sell build-your-own homes in its mail order catalogs.

8. The first shopping catalog appeared way back in the 1400s, when an Italian publisher named Aldus Manutius compiled a handprinted catalog of the books that he produced for sale and passed it out at town fairs.

9. The first product ever sold by mail order? Welsh flannel.

10. The first shopping cart was a folding chair with a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs.

11. In the late 1800s in Corinne, Utah, you could buy legal divorce papers from a vending machine for $2.50.

12. Some of the oldest known writing in the world includes a 5000-year-old receipt inscribed on a clay tablet. (It was for clothing that was sent by boat from Ancient Mesopotamia to Dilmun, or current day Bahrain.)

13. Beginning in 112 CE, Emperor Trajan began construction on the largest of Rome's imperial forums, which housed a variety of shops and services and two libraries. Today, Trajan’s Market is regarded as the oldest shopping mall in the world.

14. The Chinese invented paper money. For a time, there was a warning written right on the currency that all counterfeiters would be decapitated.

15. Halle Berry was named after Cleveland, Ohio's Halle Building, which was home to the Halle Brothers department store.

16. At Boston University, students can sign up for a class on the history of shopping. (Technically, it’s called “The Modern American Consumer”)

17. Barbra Streisand had a mini-mall installed in her basement. “Instead of just storing my things in the basement, I can make a street of shops and display them,” she told Harper's Bazaar. (There are photos of it here.)

18. Shopping online is not necessarily greener. A 2016 study at the University of Delaware concluded that “home shopping has a greater impact on the transportation sector than the public might suspect.”

19. Don’t want to waste too much money shopping? Go to the mall in high heels. A 2013 Brigham Young University study discovered that shoppers in high heels made more balanced buying decisions while balancing in pumps.

20. Cyber Monday is not the biggest day for online shopping. The title belongs to November 11, or Singles Day, a holiday in China that encourages singles to send themselves gifts. According to Fortune, this year's event smashed all previous records with more than $38 million in sales.

A heaping handful of these facts came from John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, and James Harkin's delightful book, 1,234 Quite Interesting Facts to Leave You Speechless.


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