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Bobamnertiopsis via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 
Bobamnertiopsis via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

10 Rules, Laws, and Theorems You Should Know

Bobamnertiopsis via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 
Bobamnertiopsis via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

You may be familiar with Murphy’s Law and the Peter Principle, but the world is full of wisdom distilled into simple rules for understanding life, human nature, and the world around us.

1. THE PIZZA THEOREM

The Pizza Theorem [PDF] states that you can pick an arbitrary point on a pizza, arrange an even number of slices to meet at that point, and you’ll find that the sum of the areas of alternate slices are equal. This is fine if you're sharing a pizza with only one other person. But the easier Pizza Theorem by Eric W. Weisstein is for calculating the volume of a pizza using the thickness (a) and radius (z). The formula is: pi z z a.

2. ARKHAM'S RAZOR

Occam's Razor proposes that when more than one explanation is available to solve a problem and/or predict outcomes, the simplest one is probably your best bet. The opposite rule is Arkham's Razor, which holds true in fiction, particularly comedy: “When given multiple explanations for an event, the oddest one is most likely to be true.” After all, the essence of comedy is the unexpected.

3. THE STREISAND EFFECT

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Trying to suppress something, only to have it blow up in the news as a result, is known as the Streisand Effect. It takes its name from singer Barbra Streisand, who, in 2003, sued the California Coastal Records Project over pictures an aerial photographer took of her house, claiming the photos violated her privacy. Few knew about the images before the lawsuit (in fact, they'd only been viewed six times—and two of those were her lawyers); now everyone does. She lost the lawsuit.

4. BETTERIDGE'S LAW OF HEADLINES

Betteridge's Law of Headlines states that "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." If the answer is yes, then the headline would simply make that declaration. A question in a headline implies that either 1.) The writer doesn't have enough facts to be sure of the answer, 2.) The question makes the available information more sensational, or 3.) The writer is honestly just asking for the reader’s input.

Ian Betteridge responded to such a headline in 2009, leading to the law in his name. In academia, the same principle is enshrined in Hinchcliffe’s Rule.

5. THE BUTTERED CAT PARADOX

When two laws contradict each other, we have a paradox. The Buttered Cat Paradox states that since a slice of buttered toast, when dropped, always lands butter side down, and cats always land on their feet, then if you attach buttered toast to the back of a cat and drop it, neither the cat nor the toast will land on the ground. The working theory is that this phenomenon can be harnessed for its potential energy, but no one has yet demonstrated this.

6. COHEN'S LAW

Geoff Cohen observed that “The likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases.” This became known as Cohen’s Law. Shirky expounds on the internet group dynamics at work here.

7. SKITT'S LAW

If you're tempted to leave a comment to correct someone’s grammar or spelling, beware of Skitt’s Law, which states, “Any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself.” While such an occurrence appears to be karma, a different wording shows a more generous view of the poster’s intentions: “The likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster.” Skitt wasn't the first to propose this law. It appears under other names as far back as 1990, when Bell’s First Law of Usenet was proposed. The easiest-remembered name for this law is Muphry’s Law, which is a typo of Murphy’s Law, first proposed in 1992.

8. CUNNINGHAM'S LAW

Cunningham's Law is related to Skitt’s law in that it is born from the urge to correct others’ mistakes. According to the law, “The best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, but rather to post the wrong answer." Internet users can easily ignore a request for help, but have a hard time resisting the urge to appear smarter than the original poster.

9. GODWIN’S LAW

Randall Munroe at xkcd // CC BY-NC 2.5

The worst thing you can say about someone is that they remind you of Adolf Hitler, right? It's an easy insult to hurl, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the comparison is used even when it isn't called for. Mike Godwin noticed this trend on the internet and coined Godwin’s Law in 1990. The law states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." The takeaway is that the person who mentions Hitler has no further information to add at that point, but wishes to emphasize his hatred for the subject of the discussion.

10. THE SHIRKY PRINCIPLE

Although most of Clay Shirky’s writing revolves around the internet and new media, the Shirky Principle covers the world at large as well. It reads, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” For example, an organization may want to make their procedures simpler, so they form a committee, or even a new management level, to simplify things. However, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy only makes what you’re doing more complicated.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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