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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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Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
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Design
This Snow Sculpture of a Car Was So Convincing Cops Tried to Write It a Ticket
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.
Photo composite, Mental Floss. Car, ticket, Simon Laprise. Background, iStock.

Winter is a frustrating time to be on the road, but one artist in Montreal has found a way to make the best of it. As CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reports, his snow sculpture of a DeLorean DMC-12 was so convincing that even the police were fooled.

Simon Laprise of L.S.D Laprise Simon Designs assembled the prank car using snow outside his home in Montreal. He positioned it so it appeared to be parked along the side of the road, and with the weather Montreal has been having lately, a car buried under snow wasn’t an unusual sight.

A police officer spotted the car and was prepared to write it a ticket before noticing it wasn’t what it seemed. He called in backup to confirm that the car wasn’t a car at all.

Instead of getting mad, the officers shared a good laugh over it. “You made our night hahahahaha :)" they wrote on a fake ticket left on the snow sculpture.

The masterpiece was plowed over the next morning, but you can appreciate Laprise’s handiwork in the photos below.

Snow sculpture.

Snow sculpture of car.

Snow sculpture of car.

Note written in French.

[h/t WGCL-TV]

All images courtesy of Simon Laprise.

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Animals
The School Book That Pioneered Funny Cat Pics 100 Years Before Lolcats

If you were learning to read in the early 20th century, you could do a lot worse than practicing on Eulalie Osgood Grover’s 1911 masterpiece of an early reader book, Kittens and Cats; a Book of Tales, which we spotted on the Public Domain Review. Long before lolcats or Instagram-famous felines, Grover’s teaching tool imagined what cats would say if they could talk. And boy, do they have things to say. In one chapter, a cat muses about how hard it is to drink out of china cups. In another, a cat wonders who that cat he saw in the mirror was. The first chapter’s narrator proclaims “I am the Queen of all the Kittens. I am the Queen! the Queen!” (Show me a cat who doesn’t think that.)

The chapters, usually just a page or so long, are all accompanied by photographs of cats and kittens dressed up in silly hats and frilly outfits and labeled with captions related to the story, like “I am taking a bath,” “I am Granny Gray,” and “I am the queen!”

According to the Public Domain Review, the photographs were likely the work of pioneering animal photographer Harry Whittier Frees, who insisted that his carefully posed portraits were the result of human handling, not taxidermy. Given how crisply his early-20th-century camera shutter managed to capture piles of kittens, the claim seems suspicious. But please dwell on how amazing these little stories and portraits are and not the stuffing that might be hiding behind these cute kitties’ glassy eyes. Go ahead and enjoy a few of the most delightful spreads below.

Not sure why every elementary school on earth isn't teaching their students to read with this book.

[h/t Public Domain Review]

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