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Whisk & Flour / Isle Box / Vegan Cuts/ Sprezza Box / Yarn Crush / Kiwi Crate Inc.

25 Brilliant Subscription Boxes For Everyone on Your List

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Whisk & Flour / Isle Box / Vegan Cuts/ Sprezza Box / Yarn Crush / Kiwi Crate Inc.

Selecting the perfect present can be tough—so why not leave it to the pros? Each of these 25 subscription boxes—for everyone from the wine lover to the makeup junkie—is curated by a team of experts. So whether your bestie is obsessed with coffee or really into knitting, you can find a gift that will make them sing your praises.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. FOR THE BOOKWORM: BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

Book of the Month Club

Give the gift of polished prose. Subscribers receive an email on the first of each month detailing five books selected by a panel of judges. They input their choice and the tome arrives at their door a week later. Want to join in the fun? When you purchase a subscription for a pal, you get half-off your own three-month membership.

Find It: Book of the Month Club

2. FOR THE ADVENTURER: ISLE BOX; $45 PER MONTH

Isle Box

Here’s what to get that sporty pal who’s always conquering a new mountain or setting up camp in a remote place you’ve never heard of. Each month—or season—they’ll pocket a crate of outdoorsy loot (think: a backpack or an inflatable hammock) they can put to good use. For newbies, add the $200 starter box filled with essentials such as a headlamp, stove, and medical kit.

Find It: Isle Box

3. FOR THE PAWSOME PUP: BARKBOX; $35 PER MONTH

BarkBox

Don’t leave Spot off your list. Sign your four-legged pal up for this service and they’ll score a monthly gift brimming with up to six healthy treats and toys the company vows are “crazy dog person-designed and dog-approved.”

Find It: BarkBox

4. FOR THE SELF-PROCLAIMED NERD: LOOT CRATE; $14 PER MONTH

Loot Crate

Chock full of lust-worthy, pop-culture collectibles, this gift will thrill the proud geek in your life. Monthly deliveries are theme-oriented (August’s anti-hero box contained Kill Bill socks and a Harley Quinn figurine). But if your pal is fixated on a particular franchise, you can opt for a one-off limited edition crate like the ones dedicated to Gears of War 4 or South Park.

Find It: Loot Crate

5. FOR THE HOME BARISTA: MISTO BOX, $20 PER MONTH

MistoBox

Deliver a monthly perk-me-up: A coffee curator will work with your java-loving pal to determine their preferences. Then, every 30 days they’ll open a new 12-ounce bag of whole beans thoughtfully selected from more than 300 fresh-roasted blends.

Find It: Misto Box

6. FOR THE TRENDY GUY: BESPOKE POST; $45 PER MONTH

Dubbed the subscription club for men, Bespoke Post delivers carefully curated themed collections of home goods, accessories, grooming products, food, and alcohol. Your bud gets to preview the selection each month so if Copper (custom hammered mugs, crushed ice and ginger syrup to make a perfect Moscow Mule) or The Barber (a razor and other shaving goodies) isn’t for them, they can opt out.

Find It: Bespoke Post

7. FOR THE ONE WHO ALWAYS PUTS HIS OR HER BEST FOOT FORWARD: SAY IT WITH A SOCK; FROM $12 PER MONTH

Say It With A Sock

This service is perfect for those that put thought into accessorizing from head-to-toe. (Emphasis on the toes.) Once they share if they prefer patterns (i.e. polka dots and stripes), graphic designs (say, pizza slices?), or both, they get a monthly shipment of up to four pairs of snazzy socks.

Find It: Say It With A Sock

8. FOR THE CANDLE-OBSESSED: VELLABOX; FROM $10 PER MONTH

VellaBox

Help your luminary-loving friend burn, baby, burn. You choose the gift—a 4-ounce candle, an 8-ounce, or both—and every 30 days they’ll get a new scent to light up plus a surprise gift!

Find It: VellaBox

9. FOR THE SMART SNACKER: GRAZE; $12 A BOX

Meet the answer to the 4 p.m. cravings. Delivered weekly, bi-weekly, or once a month, the eight-snack pack is filled with perfectly portioned bites that are free of artificial flavors, preservatives, trans fats, and high fructose corn syrup. On their menu of more than 100 good-for-you, 150-calorie-and-under treats: berry compote with shortbread dippers and apple and cinnamon flapjacks.

Find It: Graze

10. FOR THE STYLISH WOMAN: POPSUGAR MUST HAVE BOX; $40 PER MONTH

The editors at celebrity and lifestyle site POPSUGAR—who test-drive countless beauty products, accessories, and foods—curate these monthly arrivals. Expect boxes packed with $100 worth of gluten-free treats, on-trend cosmetics, and fun conversation pieces like emoji cocktail napkins and an inflatable swan drink holder.

Find It: POPSUGAR Must Have

11. FOR CURIOUS KIDS: KIWI CRATE & TINKER CRATE; $25 PER MONTH EACH

Kiwi Crate Inc.

Inspire budding innovators. These kits—the Kiwi Crates are for ages 5 to 8; Tinker is age 9 to 16—are designed to get kids engaged in science, technology, engineering, art and math. Each includes a kid-tested, expert-reviewed project, instructions and a magazine to stimulate more ideas.

Find It: Kiwi Crate Inc.

12. FOR YOUR FAVORITE FELINE: KITNIPBOX; $30 PER MONTH

KitNipBox

These packages will please even the finickiest of felines. Shipments are stocked with all-natural treats and toys (see: a wool felt bell stuffed with catnip), with a side of largesse. A portion of proceeds go to shelters, rescue groups, and other cat-related causes. Get $15 off your purchase with the code: MENTALPAWS.

Find It: KitNipBox

13. FOR THE WINE ENTHUSIAST: WINC; $50 PER MONTH

For your pal with the discerning palate, opt for this three-bottle-a-month service. Pre-delivery, they’ll be quizzed on their taste preferences so they’re insured vintages they’re eager to uncork.

Find It: Winc

14. FOR THE MUSIC ENTHUSIAST WHO WANTS TO REVISIT THEIR FAVORITES: VINYL ME PLEASE; $100 FOR THREE MONTHS

Skip the iTunes gift card: With this service your old school pal scores a limited edition vinyl LP each month along with a 12-inch-by-12-inch print inspired by the album and a recipe for a cocktail meant to be enjoyed as they listen. They’ll also get a $25 coupon to purchase more albums. Record player not included.

Find It: Vinyl Me Please

15. FOR THE MUSIC ENTHUSIAST WHO WANTS TO FEEL LIKE AN INSIDER: VINYLMNKY; $30 PER MONTH

Vinylmnky

Thanks to you, your giftee will be able to say they’ve been listening to that hot new artist for years. Vinylmnky keys in on emerging musicians before they become the next big thing and sends their subscribers a vinyl copy of their album, a custom lithograph, and a special add-on like an autographed poster.

Find It: Vinylmnky

16. FOR THE MAKEUP MAVEN WHO WANTS TO DO GOOD: VEGAN CUTS BEAUTY BOX; $23 PER MONTH

Vegan Cuts

Perfect for your BFF who refuses to eat meat and gets teary-eyed at the thought of cosmetic companies testing on adorable bunnies. Each month, they can up their beauty game with between four and seven makeup and skincare products (retail value: roughly $50) that are all cruelty-free.

Find It: Vegan Cuts

17. FOR THE WELL-GROOMED GENT: SPREZZA BOX; $28 PER MONTH

Sprezza Box

Nudge your boyfriend into a more stylish 2017 or keep your sartorially inclined brother in the loop. A team of in-the-know trendsetters curates this monthly delivery of designer goodies (valued at more than $100), so they can rest assured that their new tie, pocket square, or shiny cufflinks are stylist-approved.

Find It: Sprezza Box

18. FOR THE HOME BARTENDER: SALOONBOX; $38 PER MONTH

SaloonBox

Rather than spring for another bottle of whisky, surprise the aspiring mixologist in your life with this DIY cocktail kit. Their monthly arrival includes recipe cards (the fancy mixes are created by top bartenders) and small batches of the necessary liquors, syrups, bitters, and garnishes.

Find It: SaloonBox

19. FOR THE NEWBIE KNITTER: KNITWISE; $29 PER MONTH

Knit Wise

Gift this now; reap a handmade scarf next year. Each month, wannabe knitters are sent a project in a box—all of the supplies they need to craft a certain item, plus step-by-step instructions for getting it done. And if they hit an, er, knotty spot, they can head online for video tutorials.

Find It: Knit Wise

20. FOR THE KNITTING QUEEN: YARN CRUSH; $33 PER MONTH

If your pal’s knitting hobby is firmly established, opt for this service that delivers a full-size skein of premium yarn (suited to their color preferences) plus a crochet pattern. (And they’ll usually throw in fun extras like a “My Hobby Takes Balls!” pin.) They also have a Sock Crush option for those dedicated to cozy feet warmers or you can spring for the one-time-only $75 Holiday box with yarn, patterns, books, and handmade trinkets.

Find It: Yarn Crush

21. FOR THE TRENDSETTER: FABFITFUN BOX; $50 PER BOX

FabFitFun

Fashionable goodies for all seasons! Every three months, members collect a virtual swag bag of full-size products hand-selected by the FabFitFun tastemakers as well as a compact guide that details each brand and features interviews from pros. In vogue items include adult coloring books, eye shadow palettes, and yoga towels. Get $10 off your first box with the code: MENTALFLOSS.

Find It: FabFitFun

22. FOR THE BAKING FANATIC: WHISK & FLOUR; $28 PER MONTH

Whisk & Flour

You know that friend who always has the most Pinterest-worthy holiday cookies? Treat them to this monthly service. They’ll receive a new dessert recipe each month along with the pre-measured dry ingredients, including hard-to-find artisanal eats like matcha and dulce de leche. You’ll receive a steady infusion of pecan covered cinnamon rolls and poppy seed shortbread. Get 10 percent off your first box through December with the code: LETSBAKE.

Find It: Whisk & Flour

23. FOR THE PARTY PLANNER: MOSTESS; $120 PER BOX

Perfect for the hostess with the, well, you know. Shipped every two months, the curated crate includes up to seven entertaining must-haves such as a decorative wine stopper, a gold cocktail shaker and strainer, and porcelain coasters. Potential buyers are able to check out the contents before they order, guaranteeing they’ll never be stuck with something they don’t want.

Find It: Mostess Box

24. FOR THE PERSON LOOKING FOR A WARDROBE UPGRADE: STITCH FIX; $20, PLUS COST OF CLOTHES

A personal shopper at your fingertips: Users fill out a style profile, detailing their size, price and trend preferences, then receive five clothing items, from designers like Citizens for Humanity or Joie, hand-picked by their personal fashion guru. They can buy the pieces they like—the $20 style fee goes toward the cost—and ship back the rest (for free!).

Find It: Stitch Fix

25. FOR THE CRAFTER: DARBY SMART TO DIY FOR BOX; $19 PER MONTH

Darby Smart

Consider this a monthly reminder to unleash their inner Martha Stewart. Kits come stocked with everything they’ll need to completely a cute DIY project such as a personalized planner or metal stamped jewelry. They simply use the included supplies, craft, and then show off their work on Instagram!

Find It: Darby Smart

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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