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2016 Ig Nobel Prizes Honor Studies on Rats Wearing Pants

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Wearing tiny polyester pants affects the sex life of rats. Rocks have distinct brand personalities. Dragonflies have a fatal attraction to black tombstones. Things may look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

These are just some of the scientific revelations that were celebrated, tongue firmly in check, at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony on September 22. The awards are organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, which combs through thousands of scientific journals for amusing (but not necessarily trivial) research news. Recent articles have covered the kissing games of adolescents in Ohio, the health benefits of dirty water and smoking, and feminist glaciers.

This year’s awards—given in honor of “achievements that first make people laugh then make them think”—went to a man who lived as a goat, a man who wrote a multi-volume autobiography on the pleasures of collecting flies, and a team that studied the reception of pseudo-profound bullshit. The awards were held at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre during a hijinx-filled live webcast that featured genuine Nobel laureates giving out the awards (live tweets gave a taste of the proceedings). The full list is on the Ig Nobel website, but here are a few highlights—and if you happen to be near MIT on September 24, there will be a "half-afternoon" of informal public lectures by the winners.

REPRODUCTION

For studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

Winners: Ahmed Shafik

Study: "Effect of Different Types of Textiles on Sexual Activity. Experimental study," published in European Urology and "Contraceptive Efficacy of Polyester-Induced Azoospermia in Normal Men," published in Contraception

ECONOMICS

For assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.

Winners: Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson

Study: "The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale," published in Marketing Theory

PHYSICS

For discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.

Winners: Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth

Study: "An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat," published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and "Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones," published in Freshwater Biology

BIOLOGY

For two projects: to Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.

Winners: Charles Foster and Thomas Thwaites

Books: GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, Thomas Thwaites, published by Princeton Architectural Press and Being a Beast, Charles Foster, published by Profile Books.

LITERATURE

For a three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.

Winner: Fredrik Sjöberg

Book: The Fly Trap is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg's autobiographical trilogy, En Flugsamlares Vag ("The Path of a Fly Collector"), and the first to be published in English, by Pantheon Books.

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A Hairy Situation: Meet the Winners of the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships
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From long and thick to coiled or curly, every type of mustache, beard, and goatee under the Sun (and barber's pole) seemed to be present at the 2017 World Beard and Moustache Championships. The biannual competition—held in Austin, Texas in early September, according to Laughing Squid—brings together hairy rivals from around the globe, who come before a panel of judges to see whose facial hair is the most coiffed and creative.

Participants compete across 17 traditional categories in three main groups: mustaches, partial beards, and full beards. Awards are granted to individuals with the best Salvador Dalí–inspired mustache; the best "goatee freestyle," or short beards styled into elaborate arrangements; and the best natural full beard, among other looks.

Held in Leogang, Austria, the 2015 World Beard and Moustache Championships had just 317 competitors, Bryan Nelson—who helped organize this year's event along with the Austin Facial Hair Clubtells Mental Floss. But the 2017 Championships attracted a staggering 738 participants from 33 countries.

Nelson believes that the Austin Facial Hair Club pulled off history's largest facial hair competition (the group is awaiting validation from Guinness World Records), and also says that the tournament was the first of its kind to include craft-based categories for women.

"We had Creative Moustache and Realistic Moustache, Creative Beard and Realistic Beard," Nelson says. For the realistic categories, female participants used either real or fake tresses to create authentic-looking facial hair (which they attached to their faces), and for the creative categories, "they were all over the place and could be made from whatever," Nelson explains. "Seashells, bacon, bones … it's such a creative event."

You can check out a handful of 2017's winners—who were captured in all their hairy glory by Las Vegas-based photographer Greg Anderson—below, or view even more hilarious looks on his Instagram.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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