• Celebrate New Year's Eve with a friendly game of chess

    In 1995, a group of four chess enthusiasts were devastated when their opponents took their queen in a very public New Year's Eve match at Madison Square Garden. Exactly 25 years later, they are staging a rematch, online of course. Phish will present "Dinner and a Rematch" on New Year's Eve, pitting themselves against thousands participants. You can join in through Chess.com (registration required). In addition to chess, there will be recipe swapping and some music. Drinking is optional, since you'll be at home anyway. And may the best mass player win.

    [via Metafilter]

  • The forgotten life of Einstein's first wife

    Mileva Marić Einstein was a brilliant physicist who is barely remembered today, mainly because she was a woman born in 1875. The reason she is known at all is because she was married to Albert Einstein from 1903 to 1919. Their collaboration in both science and life started in 1896 when both were at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich. In what appeared to be a pattern set for their entire time together, Mileva dragged Albert through his classes.

    Albert and Mileva became inseparable, spending countless hours studying together. He attended only a few lectures, preferring to study at home. Mileva was methodical and organized. She helped him channel his energy and guided his studies as we learn from Albert's letters, exchanged between 1899-1903 during school holidays: 43 letters from Albert to Mileva have been preserved but only 10 of hers remain(5).

    Mileva had better grades than Albert, but the professor giving the final oral exam gave her such low marks that she did not graduate. Her four male classmates did. Albert and Mileva went on to collaborate on groundbreaking physics research, but Mileva's name rarely appeared in published papers, possibly because she knew from experience that her participation could diminish those papers and therefore Albert's job prospects. What she felt would advance their future together ended up costing her everything. Read the story of Mileva Einstein at Scientific American.

    [via Damn Interesting]

  • What did we get stuck in our rectums in 2020?

    It's time for Barry Petchesky's annual list of things people had to go to emergency rooms to have removed from various bodily orifices in the preceding year. That includes the ear, nose, throat, penis, vagina, and rectum.

    All reports are taken from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's database of emergency room visits, all descriptions are verbatim, and hey don't put that in there, you might lose it.

    Most of the list is just the object and its size, but there are some quotes from the reports. The reports of earbuds stuck in ears are quite believable, and the things pulled from noses appear to be mostly children, but you can almost hear the skepticism in the reports of how objects became stuck in rectums, as reported by the patients. See the list at Defector.

  • Founding Father Gouverneur Morris died from a self-inflicted penis injury

    Gouverneur Morris was given an awesome name at birth, and became a well-respected representative of what would become the state of Pennsylvania. He wrote the Preamble to the Constitution, and spoke up against slavery at the Constitutional Convention. Morris was later to serve as both a senator and a diplomat. But he had long term health problems, and died in 1816 at the age of 63.

    Modern medicine has seen its greatest advances in the past century or so, with ever improving techniques and knowledge. Prior to that, people were often on their own to treat themselves and sadly such experimentation often met with unsuccessful results. This includes Gouverneur Morris, an American founding father, who died as a result of a self-inflicted injury to his penis.

    The actions that led to Morris' death are cringe-inducing, but were the result of desperation. Read about Morris and his strange death at Medium.

    [via Strange Company]

  • The 'Batman Effect': how having an alter ego empowers you

    Science says that having an alter ego, a different persona than the one you inhabit every day, can boost confidence and reduce anxiety. I can attest to that, as I used a stage name on radio and another on the internet. Batman probably got a lot of courage in hiding behind a batsuit. And others have tried that method of overcoming stage fright.

    From BBC:

    Beyoncé's was the assertive and empowered 'Sasha Fierce', who allowed her to perform with extra self-confidence and sensuality. "Usually when I hear the chords, when I put on my stilettos, like the moment right before when you're nervous… then Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different," she told Oprah Winfrey in 2008. It was a strategy that she continued to use until 2010, when she felt she had matured enough to avoid the psychological crutch.

    Inspired by an emotional meeting with Beyoncé herself, Adele followed suit, telling Rolling Stone magazine in 2011 about her creation of 'Sasha Carter'. The persona was a combination of Beyoncé's Sasha Fierce persona and the (real) country music star June Carter. Adele said the strategy helped her give her best to every performance during her breakout year.

    Although the embodiment of a fictional persona may seem like a gimmick for pop stars, new research suggests there may be some real psychological benefits to the strategy. Adopting an alter ego is an extreme form of 'self-distancing', which involves taking a step back from our immediate feelings to allow us to view a situation more dispassionately.

    "Self-distancing gives us a little bit of extra space to think rationally about the situation," says Rachel White, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College in New York State. It allows us to rein in undesirable feelings like anxiety, increases our perseverance on challenging tasks, and boosts our self-control.

    Of course, that confidence isn't always used for good, as any internet comment section reader can tell you. Read about the experiments that led scientists to these conclusions at BBC. 

    [via Damn Interesting]

  • A 50-year timeline of pop music by DJ Earworm

    DJ Earworm put together instrumental snippets of 52 hit songs, one for each year from 1970 to 2020 (there's two for 1985). It's like a timeline of pop music, accurately called Time of Our Lives. The part you will like best starts at whatever year you turned 12. I knew all of them until they got to the years when I was raising children, then my recognition got a little spotty. There's a list of the songs used at the YouTube page.

  • Cary Grant pilots the Millennium Falcon in Darth by Darthwest 2

    It's been more than four years since French filmmaker Fabrice Mathieu brought us the surreal short Darth by Darthwest, in which Cary Grant was chased down by a TIE fighter in a mashup of North by Northwest and Star Wars. Now we have episode 2! Roger Thornhill (Grant) is taken aboard the Millennium Falcon for a ride. He bonds with C-3PO and Chewbacca, gets chased by pilots of the Empire, and is finally safety deposited at Mount Rushmore.

    In case you never saw it, here's the first Darth by Darthwest.

    [via Digg]

  • Christmas lunacy from Jean-Luc Picard

    John C. Worsley has a thing for Star Trek and Christmas. For years, he's been editing Star Trek clips to fashion 23rd-century versions of classic Christmas songs. Now he's taken on the challenge of recreating Mariah Carey's mega-hit "All I Want for Christmas is You," sung by Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The entire song is covered, the editing is the best he's done, and there are some lyrical surprises to make you grin.

  • Perseverance: coming soon to a planet near you

    "A planet near you" is relative, of course, as 300 million miles is still quite a journey. NASA's Perserverance rover launched in July, and is scheduled to land in the Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18. The landing will be covered live, and to drum up enthusiasm, NASA released a "trailer" for the landing, with all the drama you might expect for a blockbuster event. Perserverance's mission is to:

    Seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.

    They named the mission Mars 2020, which was probably unavoidable but still seems unfortunate. Catch up on what the mission is all about at NASA.

    [via Mashable]

  • How bees stay warm in the winter

    You may have heard at one time or another that honeybees hibernate in the winter. Insects use many different methods to survive cold weather, but bees do not hibernate. The beekeepers at Bell Farm in Iowa explain what they do to stay warm.

    In the winter, honeybees cluster together in a ball roughly the size of a basketball. By flexing their wing muscles (the same muscles they use to fly), they are able to generate warmth and hold the cluster at about 85-90 degrees. The bees take turns shifting from the inside to the outside of the cluster so that everyone can stay warm. The queen is always kept at the center of the cluster.

    The bees keep track of time passing and make sure it is even warmer when it's time for the queen bee to start laying eggs. But they still have to eat. Bored Panda contacted Ellen Bell, who owns Bell Farm, to find out more about honeybees and beekeepers, and how they help each other get through a cold winter.

  • The feature films of 2020 in one great mashup

    Despite the fact that movie theaters were closed for a big part of the year, and many productions were postponed, 2020 still had movies. And like every year, Sleepy Skunk made an artistic and emotional mashup of those movies with footage taken from their trailers. If you stayed home this year and don't have a multitude of different streaming service, you may well find something in this mix that you'll want to explore further. There's a list of the movies here.

    [Thanks, Louis!]

  • Heavy metal: down the rabbit hole of cast-iron doorstops

    Have you ever seen a cast-iron dog? They were once quite popular, used to prop open doors or to keep doorknobs from damaging the wall behind them. Scott Thompson knows all about doggie doorstops, rabbit and fox doorstops, too, as he has collected hundreds of these antiques. Their value depends on age (which can sometimes be hard to determine), condition, and rarity.

    Collectors also pay a premium for animals that face one way or another. "Boston terrier doorstops came in left-facing and right-facing models," Thompson says. "Believe it or not, only 10 percent were made with their heads turned to the left, so the value of left-facing Boston terriers is like four times that of right-facing ones." Thompson also has a couple of Boston terrier doorstops that are looking straight ahead. "You don't see many of those," he says. "As a collector, it's rare to even come by one, but I'm fortunate enough to have two in my collection."

    As he learned more and more about antique and vintage cast-iron doorstops, Thompson's collection multiplied, like Leporidae, you might say. "After I bought that Albany doorstop, that spurred me to buy another, and another, and another. At this point, I probably have 100 or so rabbits and hares." For the record, there's a difference.

    For their part, the rabbits and hares got Thompson interested in dogs. The dogs, in turn, sent him down a rabbit hole filled with foxes, probably because Thompson has also always been intrigued by English fox hunting, a social ritual that happens to involve a lot of dogs. "Those are my favorites," Thompson concludes, "rabbits, foxes, and dogs." Foxes, it should be noted, are the rarest of these three animals, at least in doorstop form, which is why Thompson only has a dozen or more, including a boot scraper, another type of heavy object found near doors that Thompson collects.

    Thompson took a winding path to collecting animal doorstops, involving top hats and antique trunks before he settled on heavy metal. Read about his unusual collection of cast-iron doorstops at Collectors Weekly.

  • Best Illusion of the Year 2020

    Mathematician Kokichi Sugihara of Meiji University has once again won first place in the Best Illusion of the Year contest. His "3D Schröder Staircase" can break your mind until you see how it's done… and then it may still break your mind. Another finalist that caught my eye shows an illusion you probably never thought about before.

    "Subtitles Illusion" is from high school teacher Masashi Atarashi. See the top ten illusions of 2020 in this gallery.

  • How to play a fiery Victorian Christmas game and not get burned

    Snapdragon is a game from the 18th and 19th centuries that involves sticking your hand in a bowl of flaming brandy to snatch a raisin. While it sounds painful and dangerous, the parlor game was a Christmas tradition, and a chance to show off your bravery. The staff at Atlas Obscura got together on Zoom to find out what the draw was, by playing snapdragon themselves.

    True, all of us hesitated before putting our hands into the fire. As the writer of this piece, I took it upon myself to snatch out the first almond. "It's fine, no pain!" I shouted, showing off the burning nut before popping it in my mouth.

    Soon, we were all grabbing at the raisins and almonds fearlessly. While brief bursts of heat did make us occasionally snatch our hands away, the sting faded quickly, and no one got burned. Some early accounts of snapdragon recommended throwing salt on the flames, without any explanation of what it would do. As it happens, pinches of salt tossed on the fire makes the flames pop and flare brilliant gold, for just a second.

    While we started the game nervous about dipping our hands into literal fire, it soon became clear that snapdragon is really, really fun. So why does no one play it anymore?

    A U.S. Forest Service fire scientist explains why the game works, and we get a recipe for proper snapdragon fire at Atlas Obscura.

  • The greatest Christmas movie Is The Lord of the Rings

    There are lists of the best Christmas movies here and there, and all are arguable, not only about how "great" they really are, but whether they are Christmas movies at all. Must a Christmas movie be about Christmas, or merely take place during Christmastime? What if there's only one scene that takes place during the season? By now, we've pretty much settled on the fact that Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie, but there are plenty of edge cases in various Christmas movie lists. Gabriella Paiella is of the opinion that The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the greatest Christmas movie, despite the fact that it's three movies, and she makes a point of watching all 12 hours every holiday season. Her first argument is that they were all released to theaters in December, during her childhood, so viewers of her generation will always have that connotation. But there are other reasons to see The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King as Christmas films.

    The most obvious is that there are elves. Yes, the elves are tall and lithe and have silky blonde extensions. And one of the main ones is now married to Katy Perry, one is Stephen Tyler's daughter, one was in The Matrix, and the last one is angry and sexy Cate Blanchett. Sorry, where was I going with this? They're still elves. But if you're looking for the traditional Keebler cookie and Santa's workshop variety short kings, there are hobbits. For more atmospheric holiday touches, the palantir are basically snow globes, Gandalf looks like Santa, and Saruman looks like the weird mall Santa you don't want to let near your kids.

    And there are more reasons that will cause you to squint your eyes and say, yeah, maybe you can see it, at GQ.

  • Behind the gorgeous railroad posters of New Zealand

    Between the 1860s and World War I, railroads were built to tie the various communities of New Zealand together. They were heavily advertised with gorgeous posters under the auspices of Railways Studios, the creative department of New Zealand Railways' advertising branch. The studio also produced propaganda posters and ads for other products, but the railway posters are their legacy. These travel posters, described as "more beautiful than they needed to be," are the subject of Peter Alsop's new book Railways Studios: How a Government Design Studio Helped Build New Zealand.

    Alsop and company's book is filled with many examples of graphic art that flirts with the finer stuff, although the vast majority of its gems lack attribution since most New Zealand Railways posters were signed "Railways Studios," if they were signed at all. Take the circa 1929 poster created by an anonymous artist, whose assignment was to promote the Night Express, a roughly 24-hour run on South Island connecting Christchurch and Ivercargill. In that poster, above blocks of text detailing the train's "Southbound" and "Northbound" timetables, we are confronted by a moody, cloud-filled sky rendered in various shades of blue. Beneath this depiction of heaven hovering over earth, a trio of sheep graze in a pasture. Two appear to be in mid-bolt or about to, but one of the animals stands still, facing the other direction. Only by following the creature's gaze do we see a pair of train tracks, and only then do we notice the tracks are partly illuminated in yellow, presumably by the headlamp of the Night Express, which the artist has cleverly left out of our field of vision. This is a great painting, no matter what it was selling.

    Read about Railways Studios' work and see some fine examples at Collectors Weekly.