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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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Food
Burger King Taunts McDonald's By Offering Free Whoppers to Scary Clowns on Halloween
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Burger King

The rise of the scary clown trope, fueled by movies like It and real-life pranksters, has left McDonald’s with a bit of an image problem. The fast food chain took its mascot Ronald out of the spotlight following the clown crisis of 2016, but a new promotion from Burger King proves that suppressing the colorful mascot won’t be so easy. As Food & Wine reports, Burger King is offering free Whoppers to customers who come in dressed as scary clowns on Halloween night, an apparent jab at its competitor.

On October 31, from 7 p.m. to closing time, select Burger King locations in Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City, Utah; Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles will hand out free burgers to the first 500 guests who fit the spooky description.

A video advertising the stunt shows a diverse group of creepy clowns, but their ringleader—a familiar-looking red-headed clown dressed in red and yellow—makes it clear that the trolling is intentional.

This isn’t the first time Burger King has used Halloween as an opportunity to poke fun at the golden arches. Last year, a Burger King restaurant in Queens, New York “dressed up” as the ghost of McDonald’s. Customers interested in helping the chain with its latest prank better start planning their costumes now.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]

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