CLOSE
Alex Eben Meyer
Alex Eben Meyer

10 Services You Never Knew You Needed

Alex Eben Meyer
Alex Eben Meyer

By Gabe Luzier

The perfect gift for the goat-loving, grandma-hogging adrenaline junkie in your life.

1. NOSTRIL-HAIR NOTIFICATION

Nasal hair stops dirt, bacteria, and other microscopic intruders from entering the body. But sometimes the bushy gatekeepers can go overboard. If you don’t have the nerve to tell a friend or loved one that his or her nostrils resemble overwatered Chia Pets, you can use the online service Chololi to send an anonymous email. Messages can be customized to be “mild” or downright “scornful,” though you’ll need to provide details identifying the offending nostril, and how many hairs are poking through.

2. LAWN-MOWING GOATS

Clearing land of annoying vegetation can be a headache, especially when it’s on a slope. Rent-A-Ruminant, a land management service in western Washington, offers a simple solution: Release a tribe of goats to gobble up the brush. “Goats are a pesticide-free, noise-free, emission-free, economical, efficient, and amusing way to cut and discard of dry grasses and invasive weeds,” the website states. Customers include Washington’s Department of Transportation and the U.S. Navy.

3. KIDNAPPERS-4-U

If being tossed into a windowless van, blindfolded, taped to a chair, and left in a basement sounds like your idea of a good time, you should see a doctor. Or book the French kidnapping company Ultimate Reality. For around $1000, the firm mixes the terror of abduction with the fun of … abduction. When GQ’s Drew Magary was “kidnapped” by a service in 2013, he was forced to listen to Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams” on repeat. And repeat.

4. RIP YOUR OWN BODICE

Thanks to YourNovel.com, you can star in your own romance for about $50. Just complete a questionnaire about your preferred pet names and your dreamboat’s hair color, and the husband-wife team of J.S. Fletcher and Kathy Newbern will incorporate your answers into one of 50-plus prewritten bodice rippers. (We recommend A Ren Faire to Remember.) All stories come in “wild” or “mild” versions. And for those looking for an excuse to grow out your hair like Fabio, they’ll even put your picture on the cover.

5. EAR-CLEANING PARLORS

Centuries before cotton swabs appeared, Vikings and other cultures used tiny spoons to scoop out earwax. In Japan, they used bamboo picks called mimikaki. Today, the tool is still a cultural mainstay. In fact, when Japan declared in 2006 that ear-cleaning professionals didn’t need medical licenses, ear-picking parlors sprouted up across the country. A half-hour session is a popular time-saving alternative to the spa.

6. TRAVEL AGENCIES FOR TEDDIES

If you need a vacation but don’t have the time or money, companies such as Teddy Tour Berlin and Unagi Travel will schedule a once-in-a-lifetime adventure … for your stuffed animal! Just ship your plaything overseas and, for as little as $35, an employee will take it on a sightseeing tour and document it on social media.

7. GRANDMA RENTALS

Not every kid is lucky enough to have a living grandma, and not all parents trust a teenager to babysit their children. That’s where Rent a Grandma steps in. The Los Angeles–based company hooks up mature women with jobs as full-time nannies, personal assistants, pet-sitters, and bakers. (But good luck getting your hands on their brownie recipes.)

8. HANGOVER HELPERS

The hangover treatment cottage industry is booming! In Las Vegas, Hangover Heaven offers intravenous hydration and antinausea meds at their clinic (or, ironically, aboard a moving bus). If you can’t roll out of bed, Colorado’s Hangover Helpers will deliver a Gatorade, cook you a breakfast burrito, and even clean up unsightly reminders of the night before.

9. FIREWORKS FOR THE AFTERLIFE

When you die, your ashes can be transformed into diamonds, rocketed into space, and even mixed with paint for the ultimate portrait. But if you insist on going out with a bang, book your funeral with U.K.–based Heavenly Stars Fireworks. For £3999 (around $5500), they’ll mix your ashes in “aerial shell bursts, Roman candles, multi shot barrages, and mines.” For his “blast rights,” gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson had his remains scattershot into a brilliant firework display over his Colorado farm.

10. LAWN COLORISTS

If you live in Northern California and drought has turned your Kentucky bluegrass brown, don’t worry about watering your lawn. Just paint it! Starting at around $250, landscaping services like Xtreme Green Grass will tint your turf with earth-friendly, waterproof dyes. And if you want to get festive during the holidays, they’ll even paint your lawn white.

For more stories from our 10 issue, click here. Subscribe to mental_floss magazine here!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
job secrets
9 Secrets of People Who Answer Santa’s Mail
iStock
iStock

Every year, as temperatures begin to cool, letters to Santa Claus start rolling in to post offices around the country, filled with wish lists and questions from children. But since Santa himself tends to be too busy to handle all his mail, the duty falls to a wide-ranging group of volunteers, postal workers, and folks filled with the holiday spirit. Mental Floss spoke to a few of these dedicated individuals to find out some of the secrets of answering Santa’s correspondence.

1. SANTA HAS MANY ADDRESSES.

There are numerous Santa headquarters in the United States alone. If a kid drops a letter addressed to “Santa Claus” in the mail, it will likely end up at their local post office—and at hundreds of post offices around the country, the postal employees answer Santa’s mail themselves.

“It’s the kindness of our own employees,” Darleen Reid-DeMeo, senior public relations representative for the United States Postal Service (USPS), tells Mental Floss. But the letter may also be forwarded to the nearest Operation Santa Claus site, which is run by the Post Office and allows members of the public to adopt and answer as many letters as they like.

Any post office can sign up to be an Operation Santa Claus branch, if the local postmaster and employees agree to follow the USPS rules for the program and volunteer their time to run it. Currently there are 15 official branches throughout the U.S. The program is voluntary for the local employees and postmaster, so any post office can decide to do it one year and not the next.

2. SANTA HAS DIFFERENT WAYS OF ANSWERING.

If a letter is addressed specifically to “Santa Claus, 4141 Postmark Dr, Anchorage, Alaska," and includes a self-addressed, stamped envelope, senders can get a reply with a “North Pole” postmark. “That’s for people who want to respond on behalf of Santa—for parents who want their child to get a note from Santa himself,” Reid-DeMeo says. If a kid writes a letter to Santa and includes the city “Santa Claus, IN” on the envelope, it will go to the Santa Claus Museum & Village in that city, where the letters are responded to by volunteers with a note postmarked by the city of Santa Claus.

3. KIDS WRITE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF LETTERS.

While it’s difficult to get an exact number of the letters sent, Gail Branham, customer relations coordinator and Chief Elf at the USPS, who oversees Operation Santa Claus, estimates that they receive about 50,000 letters a year at the New York branch alone. Emily Weisner Thompson, director of the Santa Claus Museum in Indiana and author of the books Letters to Santa Claus and But What if There’s No Chimney?, estimates they get about 20,000 letters annually.

4. IT’S AN ALL-HANDS PROCESS.

With such a heavy volume, those working to answer Santa’s mail need plenty of help. On any given day during the season at the Santa Claus Museum, there are seven to 10 volunteers (a.k.a. “elves”) opening and responding to letters throughout the day. “The few who are here most days of the week are really efficient and they can pump them out,” Thompson tells Mental Floss. Every night in December, the museum has at least one group—a small business, high school students, elementary school teachers, and so on—who come in to answer a stack of letters over several hours. All told, Thompson estimates they have about 250 volunteers throughout the month.

At the USPS, it’s a similarly diverse group of answerers lending a hand. “For some companies, it’s part of their holiday protocol,” Branham says. “They get letters for their organization and deliver it among the coworkers. It’s a group effort for a lot of people.” She describes a group of “big, burly guys,” who came in to the James A. Farley Post Office (home base for New York City’s Operation Santa Claus) last year but were not part of any particular organization. “They said, we just go to games, go to the bar together, and now we answer Santa letters,” Branham says. “They sat, read the letters, went shopping, bought boxes in the lobby, paid for their postage—they were here all day.”

5. IT’S A PEEK INTO WHAT’S HOT.

Boy writing letter to Santa
iStock

Answering Santa letters gives one a good sense of the most popular toys and gifts of the year. Thompson points to the baby monkey Fingerlings, Shopkins toy figures of grocery store items, superhero action figures, and Hoverboards as a few of the popular items in letters to the Santa Claus Museum this year.

From what Branham’s seen, “Everybody wants an i-something: an iPhone, an iPad, an iWatch.” But no matter what the requests, she says, “There’s a letter that will appeal to [everyone]—some people have deep pockets, some don’t. But they take their time and look for something they can fulfill that’s within their means. They want to participate and help someone.”

6. SOME LETTERS DON’T ASK FOR ANYTHING.

“We get simple requests, and sometimes letters that don’t even have a request, like, ‘Santa, I love you, I think you’re great,’” Branham says.

Thompson describes getting “some very introspective letters,” such as a recent one where the child wrote, “Dear Santa, I’m really struggling with turning 10 this year.” Another one read “I’ve been good, please come to my house, I’d really like my dad to be smarter.”

“There’s certainly a perception that the world is increasingly materialistic and in some ways that’s true, but there is a lot of mail that comes through that is kids thinking of others,” Thompson adds, giving examples of kids asking on behalf of their siblings or parents or commenting on poverty and wider difficulties.

In other cases, kids will ask Santa about his life and Mrs. Claus, or draw images of him and his world. In some cases, the writers will even include a gift from them to the holiday saint.

“It’s amazing to see what makes it through the mail sometimes,” Thompson says. “They’ll bedazzle the envelope sometimes, or you open one up and 20 pounds of glitter falls out. It’s nice when they take the time to decorate it.”

7. IT INVOLVES A LOT OF SECURITY MEASURES.

Santa reading a letter
iStock

With so many gifts and so much private information involved, Operation Santa Claus has put a number of strict rules in place. In 2006, the organization required that every address be redacted to ensure none of the kids’ locations are seen by the members of the public. Instead, each letter is assigned an anonymous number. They also began requiring donors to present a photo ID when picking up a letter. When donors drop packages off, the postal employees match the anonymous number with the address where the gifts are supposed to be delivered. To avoid duplicated gifts and track which letters are adopted, the USPS also has created a shared database where each letter is assigned a number and tracked.

“Our No. 1 goal before anything is to protect the letter-writers’ personal information,” Reid-DeMeo says.

8. THEY’RE GOING DIGITAL.

Operation Santa Claus has taken its approach a step further this year, with the launch of DeliverCheer.com, where those interested in answering Santa’s mail can go online and adopt a letter from a New York City kid.

An outside contractor opens, redacts any personally identifiable information, and uploads the letters. The contractor has been “deputized” by the postal service to open the letters, which then go to the postal “elves” actually employed by the USPS, who “check it twice” to be sure all personal info has been removed before pushing a button and going digital. If the project is successful in New York, the USPS hopes to roll out DeliverCheer.com nationwide next year, removing much of the manual work and expanding the Operation Santa program.

“For 105 years, we’ve been doing it manually—people are physically opening and copying the letters, redacting them and inputting information into a database and with this new pilot, we’ve removed the manual handling of the letters so it’s all done digitally,” Reid-DeMeo says. “Anybody can go on there and read letters, but if you decide to adopt, you click the button.”

9. THEY HAVE A LEGACY TO PROTECT.

Santa Claus opening his mail box
iStock

Speaking for Santa carries significant responsibilities.

“To think that you’re participating in something that’s 105 years old is a huge responsibility,” Branham says. “People expect to come here every year—this is their tradition, they bring their kids, when their kids become adults they want to bring their kids and see Santa letters.”

It’s also an unstated requirement for any person answering Santa’s mail to “maintain the magic,” as Thompson describes it, speaking of Santa as a real, if hard-to-pin-down, figure.

“When a reporter asks, ‘How do you feel about answering these letters?’ the volunteers are good about phrasing it as, ‘It’s great to be able to help Santa out—he’s so busy.’ They’re all Santa believers too.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Katie Carey
arrow
science
10 Times Correlation Was Not Causation
Katie Carey
Katie Carey

It’s a scientist’s mantra: Correlation does not imply causation. But sometimes wrong feels so right.

1. EAT ENOUGH CHOCOLATE AND YOU'LL WIN A NOBEL.

If you want to boost blood flow to your brain and (potentially) slow cognitive decay, consume flavanols. The plant compounds, found in green tea and cocoa, are great for getting blood into your noggin. That made New York doctor Franz Messerli wonder: Would a nation of bonbon–eaters be more intellectually accomplished than a country that didn’t consume as much cocoa? In a tongue-in-cheek 2012 paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine, he found that countries that ate a lot of chocolate also won the most Nobel Prizes. Messerli published the study with a wink, but some media outlets took the news seriously, failing to see that a confounding variable was at play—wealth. A richer country (like Switzerland, which has 26 Nobel winners) will have more quality scientific research—and well-stocked shelves of chocolate, too.

2. THE NIGHT-LIGHT BIZ IS IN CAHOOTS WITH YOUR OPTHALMOLOGIST.

Nearsightedness has been increasing worldwide for decades. In some Asian countries, up to 90 percent of adults can’t see distant objects clearly, and in 1999, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia thought they’d found the cause: night-lights. The evidence suggested that kids who slept with a light developed myopia later in life. But two groups of researchers argued that the study failed to see the evidence in front of its nose—myopic parents have myopic kids. And myopic parents, who can’t see well in the dark, are more likely to install night-lights in their children’s rooms.

3. BLACK CATS ARE SO UNLUCKY, THEY'LL GIVE YOU ALLERGIES.

Are black cats bad luck for your sinuses? In a January 2000 paper for the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers found that people with dark-colored cats suffered more allergic reactions than owners of light-colored cats (or no kitty at all). But the correlation appears to have just been a coincidence. Cat allergies are actually caused by a protein called Fel d 1, which is produced in salivary and sebaceous glands. A research team in New Zealand found that cat allergies simply aren’t related to cat color or hair length.

4. FORGET ABOUT APPLES: HEAD LICE KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY.

For centuries, natives of the New Hebrides islands considered a head full of lice a sign of good health. “Observation over the centuries had taught them that people in good health usually had lice and sick people very often did not. The observation itself was accurate and sound,” writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. But the correlation didn’t mean lice are the key to good health—it’s the other way around. Healthy people had lice because their body was just the right temperature, a perfect home for bugs. But when people ran a high fever, their flesh became hot, sending the lice scattering. Lice didn’t cause good health—they preyed on it.

5. SERVING BREAKFAST WILL BOOST YOUR CHILD'S REPORT CARD.

We’ve all heard that kids who eat breakfast do better in school. It makes sense; it’s hard to focus on an empty stomach. But despite their best attempts, researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint why breakfast aids learning—if that’s even the case. A 1996 study of Jamaican students found that, in some schools, kids behaved better after they ate breakfast; in other schools, they acted worse. The gap probably had more to do with each school’s resources than with a student’s daily ration of Cocoa Puffs. Students at well-equipped schools behave better regardless of their diet.

6. STORKS AND BABIES ARE INEXTRICABLY INTERTWINED.

Storks do not deliver babies. That bit of German folklore likely originated because the white stork’s migration rituals last nine months. (Plus, Hans Christian Andersen helped popularize the myth in his short story “The Storks.”) But that hasn’t stopped scientists from acknowledging a striking correlation: Between 1970 and 1985, the number of breeding pairs of white storks in Lower Saxony dropped. Over the same period, the birth rate there also fell. Meanwhile, stork numbers increased in Berlin’s suburbs, where doctors delivered more babies. As Robert Matthews writes in Teaching Statistics, “While storks may not deliver babies, unthinking interpretation of correlation ... can certainly deliver unreliable conclusions.”

7. IF YOU'RE A DIEHARD FAN, LOSING THE SUPER BOWL WILL LITERALLY KILL YOU.

Hours after the Seattle Seahawks lost the Super Bowl in 2015, fan Michael Sven Vedvik died. In his obituary, his family blamed the team’s “lousy play call for Mike’s untimely demise.” The joke echoed 2011 research in Clinical Cardiology linking Super Bowl losses to a 15 to 27 percent increase in cardiac deaths in the loser’s hometown. (The Grim Reaper has tried wearing cleats at least once: When the Steelers’ Jerome Bettis fumbled in a 2006 playoff game, a fan watching from a bar became so upset that he had a heart attack. Fortunately, he survived.) Problem is, the studies don’t take non-football variables into account. And the data in one study investigated deaths that occurred two weeks after the game. “I don’t think that everyone who dies within 14 days of the Super Bowl died because of the Super Bowl,” David Prince of Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Live Science.

8. EMPLOYED? THANK YOUR OVERPRICED GROCERY STORE.

In 1958, economist William Phillips published a paper claiming that when unemployment increased, inflation decreased (and vice versa). “That led nations to start thinking of these two variables as trade-offs,” says Rebecca Goldin, professor of math at George Mason University and director of the website Sense About Statistics. “Some would focus on unemployment while others focused on controlling inflation, but they all saw this as a causal trade-off.” Then came the 1970s, when many countries saw both high inflation and high unemployment. Turns out Phillips’s “rule” was just a short-term coincidence. While inflation can affect unemployment for short periods, it can’t fix joblessness over the long run.

9. LONELY PEOPLE KEEP THE SPA INDUSTRY ROLLING IN THE DOUGH.

In Scandinavia, people fight the cold of winter with cozy candlelit social gatherings. Called hygge in Denmark and koselig in Norway, the tradition suggests there’s a connection between physical temperature and the “social warmth” of friends. In 2011, Yale researchers suggested that people may instinctively reach for that connection in the shower. In a study, they found that lonely people were more likely to take long, warm showers and baths. Was it because higher temperatures make them feel less isolated? Well, the methodology left critics cold. The study used a small sample (only 51 undergrads); of those, 90 percent reported bathing or showering less than once a week. Not exactly a trusty sample. In 2014, a different team tried to replicate the results using a larger (and presumably better-smelling) group, and failed.

10. THE POPE SHOULD PRAY FOR THE WELSH RUGBY TEAM... TO LOSE.

According to the 2008 study “Rugby (the Religion of Wales) and its Influence on the Catholic Church,” the Pope is more likely to die when the Welsh rugby team wins the sport’s Grand Slam. The paper—which appeared in the British Medical Journal’s humorous annual Christmas issue—found no connection between the pontiff’s mortality and teams from other countries. Just Wales. We expect a Dan Brown book about this any time now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios