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Duncan Shotton
Duncan Shotton

12 Amazing Pencils for Jotting Down Your Really Good Ideas

Duncan Shotton
Duncan Shotton

The Yellow No. 2 pencil might be a classic schoolroom staple, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix things up.

1. ARROWS; $7

This colorful set of four pencils is a nostalgic callback to trying to figure out the bow and arrow at summer camp. Each pencil has fletching at the end and looks like a real arrow when sharpened.

Find it: Amazon

2. KING KONG; $3

Fans of King Kong can use this skyscraper-like pencil and its accompanying eraser to reenact the giant ape's climb right at their desks.

Find it: Amazon

3. SAFARI ANIMALS; $7

Animal lovers who'd rather be on safari can get a little taste of the wild with this pencil set, which features a tiger, lion, elephant, and zebra. If woodland animals are more your scene, you can try this pack

Find it: Amazon

4. SPROUT; $15

These seemingly innocuous pencils have a secret: Inside each pencil stub is a pack of seeds. When the pencil gets too short to write with, the owner can plant the pencil in the ground and watch as a plant grows in its place. The #2 pencils are made with harvested cedar wood. The pack comes with eight different colored pencils: brown (cilantro), red (cherry tomato), purple (sage), black (sunflower), blue (forget me not), green (basil), and pink (thyme).

Find it: Amazon

5. TWIGS; $15

Made from real pine sticks, the pencils come in six colors: blue, green, orange, red, yellow, and pink. 

Find it: Amazon

6. RAINBOW SHAVINGS; £5

Duncan Shotton is known for his whimsical product designs. His fanciful pencils have colorful tips that transform into rainbows when sharpened. The pencil shafts come in white or black to make the rainbow interior pop.

Find it: Duncan Shotton

7. MATCHBOOK; $9

These tiny pencils, created as part of the Mexico Design Challenge 2011, have a simple purpose: to make their users think about deforestation. The tree-friendly pencils are made with recycled paper and come in a matchbook-like case; the sandpaper strip sharpens them.

Find it: Amazon

8. SCENTED; $14

Scented markers make frequent appearances in school supply boxes, but what about pencils? These colored pencils have food-inspired smells that promise to give off a sweet smell for two years. The flavors include strawberry cupcake, grape soda, cotton candy, root beer, and more.

Find it: Amazon

9. BENDY; $8

Ever get so frustrated that you wanted to bend your pencil in half? Then these might be the pencils for you: They bend enough to ease anger but won't leave wooden shards in your wake. (You can even tie them in knots!) The pencils, which come in a set of 30, are very fun, but tough to sharpen, according to reviews.

Find it: Amazon

10. DRUMSTICKS; $7

Drummers are known to turn almost anything into a pair of drumsticks, especially writing utensils—which makes these drumstick-shaped pencils the perfect gift for the drummer in your life.

Find it: Amazon

11. ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT QUOTES; $14

Arrested Development is one of the most quotable sitcoms to ever grace television, so honor it with a collection of pencils with various quotes pressed into the sides. The pack comes with 12 pencils with six different quotes.

Find it: Etsy

12. BROOM; $9

We’re all familiar with the scourge of eraser pills left over from intense erasing. Luckily, these pencils are shaped like brooms, which are perfect for sweeping away all the unwanted eraser debris.

Find it: Amazon

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job secrets
14 Secrets of Costco Employees
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Costco has become something of a unicorn in the brick-and-mortar industry. While employees at other chains express concerns over low wages and questionable management choices, the 200,000-plus ground troops at Costco’s massive shopping centers rave about generous pay ($13 to $22.50 hourly, depending on seniority), comprehensive benefits, and pension plans. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is only 6 percent, compared to an average of 16 percent across the retail industry. Not having to incur costs of training replacements is just one reason the company keeps prices low.

It’s no secret that Costco employees are a relatively happy bunch. But we wanted a little more information, so we’ve asked several current Costco workers about everything from pet peeves to nail polish bans to revoking memberships. (All requested we use only their first names to preserve anonymity.) Here’s what they had to tell us about life in the pallets.

1. WORKING THERE IS BETTER THAN GOING TO THE GYM.

Turns out that navigating a warehouse full of goods stacked to the ceiling is kind of like getting an all-day gym pass. “I walk about five to eight miles a day on average, and that's all within the confines of the store,” says Rachael, a Costco employee in Colorado. “When you see pallets stacked with 50-pound bags of flour or sugar or dog food or cat litter, a lot of that stuff had to be stacked by hand by employees before the store opens. Ditto for those giant stacks of shoes and bottles of salsa or five-gallon jugs of cooking oil. It's a lot of hard work.”

2. THEY CAN DO THEIR SHOPPING AFTER HOURS.

Costco shopping carts are arranged together
Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images

While employees typically don’t get shopping discounts, they have something that’s arguably better: the opportunity to shop in a near-empty store. “You can shop after hours, and a lot of employees do that,” says Kathleen, a Costco employee in Washington state. “You just bring your cart to the front register.” The store will keep the member service counter open so workers can check out after other registers have closed.

3. THE GENEROUS RETURN POLICY CAN GET MESSY.

Costco infamously places very few restrictions on returns. Most anything purchased there can be brought back for a refund as part of the company’s overall emphasis on exceptional customer service. Naturally, some members are willing to abuse the privilege. “Members return couches that are over five years old, and interestingly enough, they still have the receipt,” Rachael says. “My guess is that they buy that couch with the intention of returning it someday, so they tape the receipt to the bottom of the couch so they don't lose it. Then, when they've worn it out and want something new, they bring it back and get a full refund.”

Rachael has also seen a member return a freezer that was allegedly no longer working. The store refunded both the cost of the appliance and the spoiled meat inside. “The meat smelled like death,” she says.

4. THEY CAN ALSO TELL WHEN YOU’RE A SERIAL RETURNER.

A shopper at Costco looks at the computer display
Tim Boyle, Getty Images

Costco purchase records typically date back 10 years or so, but employees working the return counter don’t always need to reference your account to know that you're making a habit of getting refunds. “When someone comes in to return something without a receipt and they go, ‘Oh, you can look it up on my account,’ that’s a tell,” says Thomas, an employee in California. “It tells me you return so much stuff that you know what we can find on the computer.”

5. THERE’S A CONVENIENCE STORE-WITHIN-A-STORE.

While employees are generally allowed to eat their lunch or dinner meals in the food court, not all of them are crazy about pizza and hot dogs as part of their daily diet. Many opt for the employee break room, which—in some warehouse locations—looks more like a highway rest stop. Rows of vending machines offer fresh meals, snacks, and sodas, along with a complete kitchen for preparing food brought from home. “[It’s a] relatively new addition that is being implemented at more warehouses,” says Steve, an employee in California. “It's basically like a gas station's convenience store, with both frozen and fresh meals and snacks. The only difference is the prices are more reasonable.”

6. THERE’S A GOOD REASON THERE ISN’T AN EXPRESS CHECKOUT LANE.

A Costco shopper goes through the checkout lane
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Walk into a Costco and you’ll probably notice an employee with a click counter taking inventory of incoming members. According to Rachael, that head count gets relayed to the supervisor in charge of opening registers. “They know that for a certain amount of people entering the store, within a certain amount of time, there should be a certain amount of registers open to accommodate those shoppers who are ready to check out,” she says. If there aren’t enough cashiers on hand, the supervisor can pull from other departments: Most employees are “cross-trained” to help out when areas are understaffed.

7. THERE’S A METHOD TO THE RECEIPT CHECK.

Customers sometimes feel offended when they’re met at the exit by an employee scanning their receipt, but it’s all in an effort to mitigate loss prevention and keep prices low. “We’re looking for items on the bottom of the cart, big items like TVs, or alcohol,” Thomas says. Typically, the value of these items might make it worth the risk for a customer who's trying to shoplift—and they're worth the double-check.

8. THEY TAKE SAFE FOOD HANDLING TO A NEW LEVEL ...

A Costco employee works in food preparation
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

At Costco, employees are expected to exercise extreme caution when preparing and serving hot dogs, pizza, chicken and other food to members. “If an employee forgets to remove their apron before exiting the department, they must remove that apron, toss it into the hamper, and put on a fresh apron because now it's contaminated,” Rachael says. “Or, let's say a member asks for a slice of cheese pizza. We place that piece onto a plate, with tongs, of course, then place the plate onto the counter. If the member says, ‘Oh darn, I've changed my mind, I'd rather have pepperoni pizza,’ then we have to toss the pizza that they didn't want into the trash. Once it hits the counter, it can't come back.” Some store protocols even prohibit employees from wearing nail polish in food prep areas—it could chip and get into the food.

9. ... BUT WORKING AT THE FOOD COURT CAN PREPARE THEM FOR ANYTHING.

Costco employees who find themselves behind the counter at the chain’s food court say it's one of the few less-than-pleasant experiences of working there. For some members, the dynamic of waiting on food and peering over a service counter can make them forget their manners. “Usually members are rude when they are waiting on their pizza during a busy time,” Steve says. “If an employee can excel in the food court, any other position in the warehouse is pretty easy by comparison.”

10. THEY GET FREE TURKEYS.

Costco’s generous wages and benefits keep employment applications stacked high. What people don’t realize, Kathleen says, is that the company’s attention to employee satisfaction can result in getting gifted a giant bird. “We get free turkeys for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I didn’t even know that before I started working there. It’s a nice perk.”

11. THEY CAN REVOKE YOUR MEMBERSHIP.

Shoppers go down an aisle at Costco
Gabriel Buoys, AFP/Getty Images

But it’s got to be a pretty extreme situation. According to Thomas, memberships can be terminated if a member is caught stealing or having a physical altercation inside the store. For less severe infractions, employees can make notes under a “comments” section of your membership. They’ll do that for frequent returns, if you’re verbally aggressive, or if you like to rummage through pre-packaged produce looking for the best apples. (Don’t do that.)

12. MANAGERS GET THEIR HANDS DIRTY.

During peak business times on weekends and around holidays, the influx of customer traffic can get so formidable that managers jump in with employees to make sure everything gets taken care of. “Most people would be surprised if they realized that the person who just put all of their groceries into their cart at the registers or who helped load that huge mattress into their car was actually the store's general manager,” Rachael says.

13. EVERY DAILY STORE OPENING IS CONTROLLED CHAOS …

Shoppers appear in front of a Costco store
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

Like most any retail store, Costco prides itself on presenting a clean, efficient, and organized layout that holds little trace of the labor that went into overnight stocking or display preparation. But if a customer ever happened to see the store in the last hour before opening each day, they’d witness a flurry of activity. “It's controlled chaos with loud music along with the blaring of the forklift sirens,” Steve says. “Employees are rushing to finish and clean up, drivers are rushing to put merchandising in the steel [shelving], and the floor scrubber slowly but surely makes its way around the warehouse. It truly is a remarkable choreography that happens seven days a week.”

14. … AND EVERY CLOSING IS A SLOW MARCH.

To avoid stragglers, Costco employees form a line and walk down aisles to encourage customers to move toward the front of the store so they can check out before closing. Once the doors are locked, overnight stocking begins in anticipation of another day at the world’s coziest warehouse. “Our store has over 250 employees altogether,” Rachael says. “If all of us do our little bit, then it's a well-oiled machine that runs without a hitch.”

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Up Your Sunbathing Game This Summer With a Round Beach Towel

Here's the simple truth: Round beach towels are amazing.

If you haven't heard of round beach towels (a.k.a. roundies), they are large, circular beach towels usually featuring cute designs, including round foods like watermelons and doughnuts. According to The Cut, this Instagram-worthy trend originated in 2013 when Australian brand The Beach People invented roundies and saw them immediately sell out. The craze spread to the U.S. a few years later, when roundies went viral on the internet.

ROUND TOWEL #today #beachday #whitesandbeach #roundbeachtowel

A post shared by MYRIAM KATJA (@myriamkatja) on

So, why are roundies superior to your average rectangular towel? From a practical point of view, the large size and circular shape mean you have lots of room to move around and flip over. With a rectangular towel, you're always struggling to stay on a narrow strip of terrycloth to avoid the sand surrounding you on every side, threatening to stick to your wet skin. If you want to turn over, you pretty much have to do it in place. Who decided that a tiny rectangle was the best size and shape for a towel anyway? Why have we put up with this nonsense for so long? Round towels are logically the better choice.

You may be asking yourself: Why not just have a large square towel? Why does it have to be a circle? And the answer is: Stop being a Debbie Downer. They're round because it's fun and whimsical and it means you can have a pizza-shaped towel. (In all seriousness, though, big square beach towels do exist, and they're great. They just haven't blown up on Instagram the way roundies have.)

Having a round towel makes it easy to spot your group at the beach: Your roundie will stand out among all those regular ones. It's also big enough to share. What's more, it can easily double as a picnic blanket, a tablecloth, or even a shawl for walking on the beach (just fold it in half first).

In conclusion, save yourself from the clutches of your tiny, rectangular towel and buy a roundie. Here are a few of our favorites:

WATERMELON; $68

watermelon round towel
ban.do

Find It: ban.do

DOUGHNUT; $20.99

doughnut round towel
Amazon

Find It: Amazon

MANDALA; $19.99

round mandala towel
Amazon

Find It: Amazon

PIZZA; $21.99

A round beach towel in the shape of a pizza
Amazon

Find It: Amazon

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