Jim Guigli, a retiree from Carmichael (no relation), California, is the winner of this year's Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest, named after the dashing gent pictured at left, who gave us "It was a dark and stormy night:"
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you... READ ON
Not to be confused with International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which isn't for another two months.
Anyway, since lately I seem to do nothing but look up POTC: DMC-related trivia, I thought I'd try to find out who the basis was for Bill Nighy's nefarious cephalopod-person, Davy Jones. Trouble is, no one knows where the original "Davy Jones" (or for that matter his locker) came from:
One legend suggests that a particularly fiendish pub owner named David Jones used to incapacitate hapless drinkers in his... READ ON
No, that's not a picture of the newly refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean ride: It's Sea World's Kraken coaster, named after the mythical sea beastie who features in the latest installment of the Pirates franchise.
According to stories this huge, many armed creature could reach as high as the top of a sailing ship's main mast. Krakens would attack a ship, wrap their arms around the hull and capsize it. ... In 1752, when the Bishop of Bergen, Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan, wrote his The Natural History of... READ ON
I finally got around to seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest last night, and I have only one gripe: cross-dressed Keira Knightley and the swampy voodoo priestess aside, where are the women? (I know, the headline was way too easy.) Pirates 1 had a feisty female pirate, but no such luck here. I want to see someone like Cheng I Sao, who's featured in our current issue:
Cheng I Sao was eventually responsible for nearly all the piracy in the [South China Sea] and her fleet exceeded the size of... READ ON
Since I can't enter the Ernest Hemingway Lookalike pageant -- I mean, I assume it's no girls allowed -- I'm thinking about indulging my competitive spirit elsewhere, on MySpace. My very favorite self-styled mock-newscaster studbucket, Ze Frank, is running a contest to see who can create the world's ugliest MySpace page. (Even before the contest started there was a lot of competition.) If you think you can out-awful Ze's own creation and 144 others at last count, you've got three days... READ ON
It's been 51 years since his death, but Albert Einstein still makes for good gossip fodder. Yesterday, there were new revelations from his personal correspondence: He discussed his many affairs with his second wife and stepdaughter, was "fed up" with his own theory of relativity, and lost most of his Nobel money -- which should have gone for child support -- in the Great Depression. The Boston Globe has the best rundown:
Before he and Mileva married, they had a daughter, Lieserl, who was given up for... READ ON
Assuming you've already read the Most Important Question of the Day (because jeez, if it's that important shouldn't you already have read it?), you may also be interested in this tidbit I came across while researching our upcoming cover story on "The Future": NASA is building a warp drive -- powered by antimatter, just like the one beloved of Trekkies -- to take us to Mars.
Some antimatter reactions produce blasts of high energy gamma rays. Gamma rays are like X-rays on steroids. They penetrate matter and... READ ON
Hey, guys: You've got just 10 more days to grow out your beards, boost your alcohol tolerance, brush up on your boxing (and your knack for writing unadorned but devastating prose) and get down to Key West for the annual Hemingway Look-Alike contest!
Each year, the annual look-alike challenge attracts a field of national and international entrants who dress in Hemingwayesque safari garb, wool fishermen's turtlenecks and other sporting attire in an attempt to emulate the Pulitzer and Nobel winner's "Papa"... READ ON
... and less Luddite than an abacus, it's the perfect gift for your mathematician friend who has everything: it's Consul the Educated... READ ON
This morning, as I flew from the world's busiest airport to (IMHO) the world's most inefficient airport, I got to wondering why my chosen airline was named after a geographical feature that has nothing to do with (A) air, (B) planes, (C) Delta's hometown of Atlanta, which is bereft of deltas. It turns out that Delta wasn't always an Atlanta institution. It got its start in 1924 on the banks of the Mississippi as the world's first commercial crop-dusting operation. If you ask me, that puts the lie to United... READ ON
With memories of the media retreat rapidly, er, retreating from my mind, I thought I'd better provide the answer to the question I posed on Friday. A reader named Xander (hi, Xander!) offered his solution via the comments:
People are generally loss-averse so most will choose the guaranteed loss of $3000 to avoid the likely hit of 4 grand. In the case of the winning money, nothing ventured, nothing gained, something cliche: people will roll the dice for the extra cash cause hey, if you don't win,... READ ON
I adore SEED magazine, but this headline is just waaaay out of bounds for an article that doesn't actually show any hoo-has:
PLANTS GO TOPLESS
Despite the lamentable lack of nudity, the article's pretty interesting:
In a case of Greek mythology gone green, scientists in California have created a double-tailed plant: a mutant with a second root where its stalk would typically reside. ... The scientists determined that a variant of the gene known as TOPLESS can cause the development of a root instead... READ ON
Last week I was all about David Sedaris; this week it's his sister Amy, whose home decor ("a collection of plaster meats, a few stuffed squirrels, books on skin disorders") was recently featured in the New York Times and whose masterwork of aÂ movie, "Strangers with Candy," comes out today in New York and July 7 everywhere else. Amy's character inÂ "SwC" was based on Florrie Fisher, a bizarre B-list star of the 60s and 70s who, according to Wikipedia, Â
traveled to high schools in the United... READ ON
Will, Mangesh, David, John, AJ, Greg: I'm sure all of you are respectful, polite, gentle souls who would never dream of undressing aÂ female strangerÂ with your eyes while making strange hissy/kissy/lip-smacking noises at her. (Actually, I'm not sure about Greg.) But in case I'm wrong, consider yourself warned:
Guy walks up behind me, lets out a wolf whistle. Walks around in front of me and says: "Lady, has anyone told you that you have a beautiful a--? It's beautiful, and so big!" ... So I looked him... READ ON
The Chronicle of Higher Ed doesn't publish all its material online, but when it does, it chooses doozies like this:
Jesus is Not a Republican
... Corporate interests are treated with the kind of reverence and deference once reserved for the deity. The Bible contains something like 2,000 references to the poor and the believer's responsibility for the poor. Sadly, that obligation seems not to have trickled down into public policy. ...
I'm sure the author would be horrified, but this reminds me of nothing... READ ON
Okay, it doesn't have the same ring as "Juneteenth," but today isÂ also aÂ little-known holiday commemorating the freedom of black people historically oppressed by white people, the independence day of my very favorite former French colony, liberated in 1977: Djibouti. How can you not love a country with a name that evokes Lil Jon? Alas, all most people know about Djibouti is its amusing moniker. Let's remedy that:
* Djibouti's motto is "Djibouti by Choice."Â
* Djibouti's capital is called...... READ ON
Research on birds has shown that female canaries are more devoted to their young when they hearÂ Al GreenÂ -- er, aÂ "sexy" male serenade prior to reproduction:
Researchers discovered that certain phrases in a canary's song are "sexier" than other syllables. ... When the researchers played female canaries a recording of males singing sexy syllables, the females laid significantly larger eggs than birds that heard recordings of normal songs. "It may be that this is a difficult kind of vocal... READ ON
... comes courtesyÂ of theÂ brilliant interactive public radio show Open Source, which is focusing today on a subject it knows all too well: The Limits of Crowds. The hook for the show is an essayÂ by all-around guru Jaron Lanier that's been making the rounds among the digerati (yeesh, whatÂ a silly word); it critiques and to a large degree criticizes comprehensive wiki-ish projects like, er, Wikipedia, MySpace, and (for some reason) the New York Times. To try and summarize it would do it a great... READ ON
I'm always looking around for something interesting to drink (I think there's a word for that?), particularly in the hot,Â stickyÂ summer when my beloved Highland Park scotch loses some of its toasty, smoky appeal. As soon as I get some free time I'm going to try out this recipe for "fake grappa," courtesy of the Village Voice:
Cherries, which are just coming into season now, are sprinkled with sugar and soaked in vodka for a few months. ... The cherries, which lose their bright color and turn... READ ON
Lifehacker had some fantastic footage a couple of days ago of aÂ Windows desktop thatÂ lets youÂ play withÂ your documents as if they were actual pieces of paper. Combined with the new multi-touch-screenÂ technology thatÂ lets you manipulate several different thingsÂ on your screen at once with just your hands, this could be theÂ key to finally making your virtual desktop look just like your real one -- messy, cluttered, and constantly in flux. Er, I'm sure it's still a good... READ ON
Talk about a buzzkill -- my boss just waltzed into the office wearing a fabulousÂ new top from a local vintage store, and instead of oohing-and-ahhing as was clearly expected, my co-worker said, "oh, you got that at the Garment District? I bought a shirt there once and it gave me ringworm."
This prompted a lively discussion in which I learned the following not-very-fun facts: (1) you really can get ringworm from sharing clothes, (2) ringworm is not a worm, but a skin-infecting fungus, (3) "jock itch"... READ ON
First a Green Day album cover saves a little girl from exploding, now this:
British popster James Blunt's song You're Beautiful has taken a beating of late, with even the singer himself referring to it as "overplayed". ButÂ Britain's Daily Mail has revealed that the song might have miracle powers. Five-year-old Claudia De'Alwis, had been a coma for 10 days following a head-first plunge from a five-metre balcony. She began to awake after her favourite song came over the hospital radio - it was [James]... READ ON
This blog is mostly written by guys, and I bet youÂ guys don't read the New York Times Styles section, and hey, I can understand that, because you're guys, but -- this isÂ the lede of the Times' current "Critical Shopper" column:
The first time I ever came across the term "penis bone" — in JT Leroy's novel "Sarah," the main character wears such a bone on a necklace — I thought it was made up, a novelist's surreal fictional version of perma-Viagra.
Later it turned out that JT Leroy was... READ ON
Ah, the South in the summertime -- land of creeping kudzu, stifling humidity, and the fire ant:
In the 70 years since the imported red fire ant sneaked into Mobile aboard a ship from Brazil, no insect has been more vilified or subjected to such a relentless chemical assault from Southern homeowners, gardeners and farmers. Even the government joined the quest to kill the pest, but through it all, the fire ant has not merely endured, but prospered, expanding from its original beachhead in Alabama to... READ ON
A couple of weeks ago, a writer named Jason Feifer formulated a hypothesis that all of us have probablyÂ also come up with: (a) YouTube videos are almost uniformly terrible, therefore (b) an awesomely terrible video posted to YouTube couldÂ conceivably hit it big and make the filmmaker famous. Unlike the rest of us, Feifer decided to actually test the hypothesis:
One week ago, at almost exactly midnight, I uploaded this stupid video and officially launched Operation Shockless and Awful, an experiment... READ ON
Over at Collision Detection, Clive Thompson has stumbled on another interesting internet art project:
MillionArtists is fundraising project with an interesting way of gathering donations: Everyone who gives money can choose the color and placement of single pixel on a massive online canvas. In theory, as thousands or millions of people donate, it'll take shape as a picture. But a picture of what? Heh -- interesting question. A story in the Globe and Mail points out that at the moment, there are only 88... READ ON
I've always liked reading other people's college-graduation addresses, maybe because I didn't get to hear the one directed at me -- the geniuses at Duke set up the stadium's acoustics so the parents in the stands could hear the speech but the kids sitting on the field might as well as been deaf. (Or maybe it was just my corner of the field.Â Mangesh, you must have been there; can you confirm?)Â So I was delighted to see thatÂ the New Yorker this week printed David Sedaris' amusing, if slightly... READ ON
First the Midwest mumps outbreak, now this: Several people here in Boston have come down with the measles and/or rubella, apparently including a member of the Christian Science Church, which is well known for its queasy stance toward MMR vaccination. Anti-vaccine hysteria has also been blamed for a huge epidemic of measles in Britain, even though by now many studies (including a new one in next month's Pediatrics) have disproven any link between vaccines and autism. And "vaccine fatigue" may also be behind... READ ON
Here at mental_floss, we make a point of telling you about things that happened in the pastÂ (executions of royal mistresses, origins of nursery rhymes, and so on).Â It's a little-known fact that we can also predict the future. For instance, I predict that you are about to readÂ two paragraphs about The Amazing Criswell, a character I recently came across while doing m_f-related research:
The Amazing Criswell began his career as a television newscaster. One night he ran out of copy, and faced with... READ ON
I'm not going to pretend this post contains any deep truths orÂ world-changing ideasÂ or heck, any actual information, but -- lately I've been noticing a wee mini-trend of ridiculously named reporters:
Denisa R.Â Superville (writing a column called "City Living")
Helen Couture (writing about dumpster diving)
Rebecca Fairley Raney (who would make an excellent weathergirl)
And that's not even getting into the horde of absurdly named male meteorologists, as listed by McSweeney's and The... READ ON
I generally don'tÂ go toÂ the kind ofÂ gatherings where I might be asked for my opinion of Philip Roth's new book, Everyman -- I mean, I spent my weekend at Six Flags -- but, as I'm sure to be hanging out with my absurdly overeducated in-laws this summer, I thought I ought to prepare for such a question. Rather than, y'know, actually read the book, I came up with several strategies:
1. Announce that the book "is a great focal point for a broader discussion of Roth and his place in American... READ ON
I have been meaning to blog about Ze Frank, theÂ crackbaby lovechild of Jon Stewart and Greg Kinnear,Â for about as long as this blog has existed (which admittedly isn't long). Now the Times has beaten me to it -- and, again, because I am crazy busy, I'm going to let the article do most of the talking:
Like a lot of young adults, Mr. Frank, 34, has a Web site, zefrank.com. There, he documents elaborate and often ridiculous stunts of his own creation, like having two people on opposite sides of the... READ ON
I am crazy busy today, so I'm letting my friend AaronÂ do my work for me -- he just sent me this email and I had to share it with the rest of you, especially as you've already demonstrated interest in the audible-to-teenage-punks-only ringtone:
Today I stumbled across a story NPR did about [the ringtone] and they included a link to download the ringtone for free.
The ringtone is not actually the same tone as the device, and consequently it's more audible to adults (I can hear it well enough that it... READ ON
I just got the best piece of weight-loss spam I've ever seen. The headline was "If you like to taste but have an ugly waist..."Â I like my waist just fine, thanks, but I have to commend the authors of the email for their literary flair. Anything that brings poetry back into American life is good by me.
Speaking of weight-loss and spam, the Jan/Feb issue from this year covered them both: there was a very serious piece on fat vaccines, and an only-slightly-less-serious piece on 10 bizarre museums, one... READ ON
The smearing of Heather Mills McCartney -- okay, it's not really "smearing" if the tabs say you've been in hard-core German porn, and you have -- has left one-legged young girls bereft of a role model. May I nominate Virginia Hall, my favorite female spy this side of Mata Hari?Â Apparently, the CIAÂ has a book reviewer (what a desk job!), who says:Â
The Wolves at the Door does more than chronicle Hall's extraordinary career. Pearson gives vivid detail about Hall driving a crude ambulance... READ ON
Whenever I feel so sleep-deprived that I just. can't. go. any. further, I think of Randy Gardner -- not because he cheers me up, but because compared to himÂ I have no excuse for whining. As Gelf magazineÂ says:
Gardner holds the world record for sleep-deprivation. In 1965, as a high-school student, he went 265 hours without so much as a nap. In the past 41 years, no one has equaled his mark.
This wouldn't be a terribly difficult feat for an insomniac, but then Gardner isn't one of those:Â
Even... READ ON
The job market is tough for a lot of us, but apparently at least one segment of the population has its career search well in hand (or paw): dogs.
A year ago, Jada, a frisky black mutt, was living in a Florida pound, her days numbered. Today she commands hundreds of dollars an hour at some of Manhattan's most exclusive hotels and apartment buildings. Her fate turned on her newly gained ability to sniff out something reviled in New York these days: bedbugs. ... Dogs have long been partners in law... READ ON
As Slate points out today, the rich are different from you and me: They die more glamorously.
If you survive paycheck-to-paycheck, you can also rest easy about dying while fleeing paparazzi (Princess Diana); at the hand of a servant jealous of your other servants (Edmund Safra); at the hand of the president of your fan club (Selena); at the hand of a lunatic stalker (John Lennon); at the hand of an impatient heir (the royal family of Nepal); from a face lift (Olivia Goldsmith); in your Porsche, while drag... READ ON
Over on The Morning News, there's an article on how music soothes the savage beasts -- okay, not really savage. The author likes to sing to cows, and they like it right back. Apparently, music makes cows produce more milk.Â Judging by the two studies he cites, cows' tastes are as sedate as your parents': They don't like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but they do rock out to "Everybody Hurts" and (unsurprisingly) Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony." For theÂ younger, hipper cow, however, here's a more up-tempo playlist:... READ ON
Sadly, that day will not be today, because I have stumbled across the best World Cup coverage on the planet, by writer Austin Kelley.Â A sample:
Legendary French midfielder Zinedine Zidane retired from international soccer a few years ago. Then, he had a vision at three o'clock in the morning. "I woke up suddenly and then, I talked to someone," he said. "It's a mystery"¦ I can't explain that encounter myself. That person really exists but it all comes from... READ ON
In a development that will delight John to no end, doctors inÂ L.A.Â are currently working to separate a set of conjoined twins:
The complex surgery on Regina and Renata Salinas Fierros began at about 6 a.m. at the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. About 80 doctors and staff members will try to separate many of the girls' vital organs.
The girls, whose parents are from Mexico, are considered ischiopagus tetrapus twins, which doctors at the hospital said are among the rarest and most complex to... READ ON
The folks at Gawker are aping a Dorothy Parker poemÂ today (how long before this becomes a regular segment? "Gawker Parker?"). Alas, copyright probably forbids me from reproducing myÂ three favorites here,Â but I can tell you that:
* Though she'll forever be associated with Manhattan, Parker was a bridge-and-tunneler by birth. HerÂ mom went into labor whileÂ on vacation in New Jersey.
* She was obsessed with death, but she had good reason: Both her mother and her stepmother died while she... READ ON
Every time scientists try to pin human uniqueness on a particular behavior, they turn out to be wrong. We have culture; so do orangutans. We give ourselves names; so do dolphins. We're altruistic, empathetic, kind; so are chimpanzees, when they're not throwing feces at each other. So although I'm really excitedÂ about theÂ Modigliani-ish 27,000-year-old sketch of a face that's been found in a French cave,Â the following paragraph drove me bonkers:
The only reason we can be sure the people who... READ ON
If Al Gore wasn't impetus enough, now there's yet another reason to start worrying about global warming: It's forcing polar bears to eat each other. Sayeth the Discovery Channel:
Polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea may be turning to cannibalism because longer seasons without ice keep them from getting to their natural food, a new study by American and Canadian scientists has found.Â ...Â Researchers discovered the first kill in January 2004. A male bear had pounced on a den, killed a female and... READ ON
Ever since I sawÂ these pictures on Cute Overload last week, I've been trying to convince my landlord that it would be acceptable for me to have a pet alpaca. Our building doesn't allow cats and dogs, much less large South American ungulates, but on the other hand, according to Wikipedia,Â alpacas are well suited to domestic life:
1. They're already house-trained! "To help alpacas control their internal parasites they have a communal dung pile, which they do not graze. Generally, males have much... READ ON
This little story sounds like it's straight out of our magazine:
1. It's about mental_floss mascot Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and their legendary meeting-of-minds.
2. It also involves Arthur Schopenhauer, John Lennon, and Brigitte Bardot.
3. It refers to Freud as "a crotchety old cokehead."
Presented with no comment, because jeez, how can I improve on... READ ON
The January/February issue of mental_floss featured an unusually sober, and sobering, article -- the second in a series on global conflicts -- that explained the reasons for the Rwandan massacres of 1994. It was written in clear, straightforward terms, and I remember thinking at the time that maybe tragedies of such magnitude demand that kind of description; there's no point in cluttering it with overblown rhetoric because the atrocities speak for themselves. That thought was in the back of my mind again... READ ON
Today is Tim's and my second wedding anniversary (cue the oohs and aahs), so over the weekend I was scrambling to come up with a gift made of cotton. For those of you who haven't yet experienced wedded bliss, on each anniversary there's a traditional category of gift you're supposed to give: first anniversary is paper, fifth is wood (heh), fifteenth is crystal, and so on. I kind of enjoy the forced creativity of it all, but I've always thought it seemed a little Hallmark-holidayish. Turns out, it mostly... READ ON
Speaking of cars, I foundÂ myself thinking all weekend about David's idea for "McFuel" made from leftover french fry grease. It's just harebrained enough to be pure genius, but until David actually draws up a business plan andÂ waltzes intoÂ McDonald's corporate headquarters, it'll go un-executed and unknown to the world (except the part of the world constituted by the fine readers of the m_f blog). Unless... unless David registers it with one of the many idea repositories on the web.Â My favorite... READ ON
There are roughly 70 ingredients in the McRib.