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900 Copies of the World’s Most Baffling Manuscript Will Soon Be for Sale

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Voynich Manuscript—an illustrated book written in inscrutable, curlicue code—has been stumping the world’s top codebreakers for over a century. Now, amateur cryptologists will have a chance to take a crack at solving the mystery at home. A small, Spanish publisher is releasing 898 replicas of the world’s most secretive book to the public, AFP reports.

The original manuscript is believed to be about 600 years old, but it didn’t gain its notorious reputation until the early 20th century. In 1912, a book dealer named Wilfrid Voynich purchased the rare treasure from a Jesuit College in Italy. Since then it’s been examined by experts across the spectrum, including the man responsible for translating Japan’s “unbreakable” Purple cipher in World War II. So far, no one has succeeded in penetrating its contents. The only person to come close was applied linguistics professor Stephen Bax, who claimed to have decoded nine words in 2014 using the book’s colorful illustrations.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Hopefully the owners of the 898 new copies will have better luck. “Touching the Voynich is an experience,” Juan Jose Garcia, editor of the Spanish publishing house Siloe, told AFP. “It’s a book that has such an aura of mystery that when you see it for the first time ... it fills you with an emotion that is very hard to describe.”

Getting the rights to replicate the book wasn’t easy. Siloe petitioned Yale for 10 years before they finally agreed to let them produce the facsimiles. The manuscript is currently secured in a vault at the university’s Beinecke Library and is rarely seen by the public. Using photographs captured of each page, it will take Siloe about 18 months to recreate the book down to the stains and tears. When they're finally ready to hit the market, the copies will sell for between $7900 and $9000. If that doesn't fit your rare book budget, you can keep an eye out for copies appearing in libraries and museums.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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