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Tongue Depressors

Great Moments in Shutting Your Piehole


The Roman Catholic monks most renowned for their tight lips are the Trappists, a sect that grew out of the Cistercian Order in the 17th century. At the time, monks at the abbey of LaTrappe in Normandy felt that the Cistercians had become too lax in their pursuit of the "desert solitude" needed for a close relationship with God, so they bolted. Today, there are about 175 Trappist monasteries worldwide, populated by about 2,500 monks and 1,800 nuns. Contrary to popular belief, these monastics don't have to take a vow of silence; they're merely encouraged to maintain "an atmosphere of silence" -meaning they can speak when it's functional, when it's part of a "spiritual exchange", or on special social occasions. Trappists aren't completely shut off from the rest of the world, either. In fact, they're well known for making a mean ale. Chimay, a favorite beer brand among moneyed hipsters, is brewed by Trappists in Belgium. (Image credit: Flickr user Michael Verhoef)


Apparently, phoning Guinness World Records is something monks don't think to do. How do we know this? Because the first person to set the "official" world record for Longest Vow of Silence was a college freshman from Haddonfield, N.J. Yes, Brett Banfe bit his tongue from August 31, 2000 to to September 5, 2001, in order to become a better listener and raise money for the child development program Head Start. You'll be glad to know that he broke his silence in a setting strictly adherent to the monastic impulse -in front of a scrum of TV cameras at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Times Square. He opened with a nice Shakespeare/Wink Martindale one-two punch: "'To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.' How's everybody doing today?"


Whether the story is apocryphal or true, it's worth retelling: During a 1956 speech for his campaign of de-Stalinization, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was asked by an unseen audience member why, as an advisor to the dictator, he had never stopped Stalin from committing his atrocities.  Khrushchev immediately lashed out, "Who said that?" The room grew quiet. Khrushchev repeated his query to more silence, waited a beat,. and then said, "Well, now you understand why."


In March 1986, the last place Romual Piecyk wanted to be was on the witness stand. Eighteen month prior, he'd been assaulted by two members of the Gambino mob family, including its boss, John Gotti. Piecyk knew that if he fingered the Teflon Don during testimony, his life -or whatever would've been left of it- wasn't going to be pleasant. (Threatening phone calls and mysteriously broken brakes served as helpful pre-trial hints.) So on the day he was to testify, Piecyk went AWOL. Where'd he turn up? At a Long Island hospital, undergoing elective shoulder surgery. When he was finally forced to take the stand four days later, he clung to ignorance. "To be perfectly honest," he said, "it was so long ago, I don't remember." The next morning, the front page of the New York Daily News screamed, "I FORGOTTI". Poor Piecyk even went beyond silence to later advocate on Gotti's behalf, saying that the media had unjustly painted the mob boss as a "human monster." In a show of deep appreciation, Gotti didn't have Piecyk whacked. And in a show of deep pity, the Queens district attorney's office declined to file perjury charges.


In 1952, legendary avant-garde composer John Cage wrote "4'33"," the most famous work of music to feature no music at all. The piece is precisely what it sounds like: four minutes and 33 seconds of silence. All you're supposed to hear are the clicks and shuffles that naturally occur within a song's duration. Since it's release, the silent composition has inspired a cover version by Frank Zappa, a tribute by John Lennon & Yoko Ono, and a scene in the film "Pootie Tang." But not until after Cage's death did his music publishing house, Edison Peters, decide to cash in on the royalties. Mike Batt of The Planets credited their 2003 track "A One Minute Silence" to Batt/Cage in what he called "a tongue-in-cheek dig at the John Cage piece." Edition Peters apparently didn't see the humor and sued for copyright infringement, demanding royalties for their late client. Ultimately, they reached a settlement, but future silence artists beware: Batt fought back by getting in on the game. He's now registered several other silent composition times, including four minutes and 32 seconds and four minutes and 34 seconds.


The article above appeared in the Jan - Feb 2007 issue of mental_floss magazine.

Don't forget to feed your brain, subscribe to the magazine and visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

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How to Make a Pentagonal Trapezohedron

These are ten-sided fuzzy dice for geeks to hang in their car. Each is a decahedron known as a pentagonal trapezohedron. And you can make them yourself, with instructions from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. Link

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The Best Viral Videos Of 2010: A Retrospective

(video link)

Videogum put together their annual retrospective of the best viral videos of the year. The edit is a delight in itself, as you see big memes and their spinoffs as well, all sewn together by the catchiest video soundtracks found on those videos. See a list of the clips used at Videogum, with links to the originals. Link -Thanks, Gabriel!

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2,000-year-old Pills

In 1989, a shipwreck from about 130 B.C. was discovered. Divers retrieved dishes and other artifacts. One surprising discovery was a chest of vials and containers with tablets in them, some still dry! Evolutionary geneticist Robert Fleischer said they were made of compressed vegetation.
"It was assumed the pills were medicines that the physicians were using. There were things associated with this chest that led them to believe it was a physician's chest," said Fleischer.

Using DNA sequencing, Fleischer has identified some of the plant components in the tablets: carrot, radish, parsley, celery, wild onion, cabbage, alfalfa, oak and hibiscus.

Researchers are looking into the ingredients to determine what they were for. Speculation is that the tablets were used to treat dysentery, which was common among ancient sailors. Link

(Image credit: Harry A. Alden)

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Festive Holiday Kids

(YouTube Link)

Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like bouncing baby goats! -via Arbroath

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Squid Ware

Who wouldn't love a coffee mug with a cephalopod handle? Etsy seller skybirdarts makes them in all colors, as well as cookie jars, teapots, and other ceramic vessels featuring squid and octopuses. Link -Thanks, Magill!

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Pearl Removed from Ear -41 Years Later

Calvin Wright of Athens, Georgia went to a hospital for bronchitis and received a thorough examination. A nurse found something stuck in his ear. It was removed and found to be a pearl that Wright didn't know was there!
The pearl got stuck in his right ear when Wright was 5 and roughhousing with his sister, Regina. The family lived in Chicago at the time.

"She had broken my mother's pearl necklace," Wright said. "I can remember (our baby sitter) picking them up off the floor - except for two, of course."

Regina stuck those two missing pearls - either by accident or because kids do weird things - into her older brother's ear.

A doctor retrieved one of the pearls from the child's ear, but missed the other. Wright has undergone ear exams in the years since, but the pearl was never discovered until the nurse at St. Mary's Hospital found it. Link -via Arbroath

(Image credit: Merritt Melancon)

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Christmas Ornament Mobiles

They look like a floating Christmas trees! These are mobiles: tree ornaments suspended from above by invisible filament. So easy to put gifts underneath! Link to pictures. Link to instructions. -via Laughing Squid

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Why the Other Line Moves Faster

(YouTube link)

The Engineer Guy, Bill Hammack (previously at Neatorama) explains why standing in line at the checkout counter is so frustrating, especially during Christmas shopping season. He also tells of a better idea, if we will only accept it. -Thank, Bill!

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RIP Naked Mole Rat Old Man

A naked mole rat named Old Man was found dead last Thursday at his home at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies in San Antonio, Texas. He was believed to be 32 years old. Old Man spent three decades assisting researchers in studying the process of aging. University of Texas at San Antonio physiology professor Rochelle Buffenstein knew him best.
Old Man was thought to be 11/2 to 2 years old in 1980 when he and 75 of his naked mole rat brethren were captured in a Kenyan sweet potato field — sweet potatoes being one of the mole rat's favorite dishes.

Buffenstein brought him first to Cape Town University in South Africa, and then to City College of New York in Harlem. The pair arrived in San Antonio in 2007.

Naked mole rats are noted for their longevity with an average lifespan of 26 years. Other rodents live for two to four years. This makes them particularly useful for aging studies. Naked mole rats do not develop cancer. They develop plaque in their brains as they age like Alzheimer's patients, but they do not display cognitive decline like humans do. Scientists are trying to find out why. Among the long-lived research subjects at the institute, Old Man stood out from the rest.
Even in his old age, Old Man remained an alpha male in his colony. Come feeding time, Old Man was served a special cereal that he loved and that Buffenstein imported from South Africa.

“He'd wrap his body around the bowl and eat until he was full,” she said. “The other rats would wait until he was finished before they ate.”

He also continued to mate with the colony's breeding female right to the end. About the only outward sign of his advancing age was the sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, he developed about five years ago.

Tissue samples will be studied to determine the cause of death. Buffenstein is sure of one thing -it wasn't cancer. Link -Thanks, Richard Marini!

(Image credit: Helen L. Montoya)

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Name That Weird Invention!

It's time for the Name That Weird Invention! contest. Steven M. Johnson comes up with all sorts of crazy ideas in his weekly Museum of Possibilities posts. Can you come up with a name for this one? The commenter suggesting the funniest and wittiest name will win a free T-shirt from the NeatoShop. Have fun, and good luck!

Update: Congratulations to Madam Atom, who named the boots Ankle Biters, and Carolyn Bahm, who called them Moc Martens. Both win t-shirts from the NeatoShop!

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The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas

Allie at Hyperbole and a Half tells about the time she decided to rewrite the story of Jesus' birth to give it more pizzazz. The production included a flying baby Jesus, two drunk wise men, and Kenny Loggins. And although it was supposed to be serious drama, her family rolled on the floor, as you can see here. Link

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How Different Age Groups Celebrate Christmas

Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has us pegged. A series of comics details how celebrations differ by age and family composition. Since I am always 20 years behind, I fit exactly in the "30-somethings with kids" category, which is "pretty damn awesome". Link -via Digg

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The Plastic Bag Monster of Ljubljana

This monster art project situated in the city square of Ljubljana, Slovenia (with tentacles trailing down the streets) was created from 40,000 plastic bags and 7,500 discarded plastic cups collected from the local schools. It's a statement about consumerism and waste. Pretty scary! Link -via RightBrainTerrain

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(YouTube link)

The new animation from Cyriak Harris might induce nightmares, if you are susceptible to suggestion. You've been warned. -via Laughing Squid

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The Origin of Rudolph

Most folks know Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer from the 1964 Rankin-Bass TV special, or from the 1949 version of the song sung by Gene Autry. But Rudolph was born as a coloring book.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first appeared in 1939 when Montgomery Ward department store asked one of its copywriters, 34-year-old Robert L. May, to create a Christmas story the store could give away to shoppers as a promotional gimmick.

The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year; and it was decided that creating its own book would save money. In the first year of publication, 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story were distributed by Montgomery Ward.

Read the rest of the story at the Smithsonian Institution. Link

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Injured Dog Mothers Litter Plus One

Esperanza was a stray dog at a reserve in Alberta, Canada who got hit by a car. Her rear leg was badly injured, but she kept right on with her family responsibilities. She had six babies, after all -five puppies and a kitten- to nurse.
Criss Gerwing, who runs a small animal rescue group, discovered the dog earlier this month and couldn't believe it when the canine led her to her blended brood.

"I cried because she was in such bad condition with her leg, but she was obviously nursing her puppies and this kitten," Gerwing told a media outlet.

Gerwing took the entire family to the Edmonton Humane Society, where veterinarians thought they'd have to amputate the mother dog's bad leg.

But local vet Dr. Milton Ness volunteered to do a special surgery that saved Esperanza's hind quarter. He calls her a "special soul."

That's a good dog. Link -via Arbroath

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Solstice Lunar Eclipse

(vimeo link)

In case you couldn't stay up all night and watch it, or you are someplace where it wasn't visible, here is the video of last night's lunar eclipse. Four hours of moonlight are compressed into two minutes. The video was captured over Gainesville, Florida by professor William Castleman. -via The Daily What

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How to Write an Interdisciplinary Research Paper: Planning for Retirement by Solving Time Travel Paradoxes Using Open Book Management in Nearby Disk Galaxies

By Eric Schulman1,2,
Eric Schulman3,4,
Eric Schulman5, and
Eric Schulman6

Figure 1. Eric Schulman, nearby disk galaxy expert


Saving for retirement can be an arduous task. The galactic fountain model predicts that energetic stellar winds and supernovae in OB associations produce superbubbles containing hot gas that breaks out of the galactic disk, cools radiatively as it rises upward, and recombines and returns to the disk ballistically. Time travel has occurred when the separation between the time of departure and the time of arrival does not equal the duration of the journey. Open book management theories include teaching employees the rules of the game, giving them the information needed to play the game, and making sure that they share in the risks and the rewards.

Figure 2. Eric Schulman, open book management expert


The most popular and widespread methods for obtaining a nest egg are in stocks and bonds. The hot gas was observed with X-ray telescopes, while the cool returning neutral hydrogen was observed through 21-centimeter emission from high-velocity clouds. There are three major paradoxes within time travel: reverse causation, casual loops, and the time traveler’s ability to alter the past. In modern day Corporate America, this unpretentious set of principles applies to every business.


Figure 3. Eric Schulman, time travel paradox expert

Both equities offer a wide array of sectors in which to put your money and can be extremely profitable when playing the market correctly. High-resolution X-ray images of M33 revealed two possible superbubbles, while sensitive 21-centimeter observations found high-velocity neutral hydrogen in 10 of 14 nearby disk galaxies. It does not matter if getting into the time machine produces arrival in the past, because the personal time of the traveler does not depend on the external time. Employees can be taught to play this game, but they are also required to have the information needed in order to play successfully. This entails trading when you have a liquid derivative in the height of demand or conversely obtain the derivative at the beginning of the ascent. Galaxies with high-velocity neutral hydrogen have more dust-enshrouded far-infrared sources and an average star formation rate an order of magnitude larger than galaxies without it. Time travel can still occur without the existence of causal loops, and their removal eliminates a major paradox. Information should not be something that is used as a method of domination or power.

Figure 2. Eric Schulman, open book management expert

These two types of savings plans are geared for investors who plan to continue making money for an elongated period of time and can afford to take a loss and recover. Both of these results are expected if a substantial fraction of the high-velocity clouds are produced in galactic fountains. The second, and far more satisfying and clever resolution of this dilemma, comes with the possibility of branching timelines. Open book management is not for everyone, but for a radical change, it may be just what a company needs.


As Figure 5 shows, it is of vital importance when planning for retirement to ensure that employees have all the information necessary to support managers when they use high-velocity gas to go back in time in order to kill their grandfathers, thus creating a new temporal branch in which hands-on training leads to increased profits from the recirculation of the galactic fountain in nearby disk galaxies and therefore a steady star formation rate later in life when your risk should be lower.

Figure 5. The operational risk in each of the Basel II event type categories measured in solar masses per galaxy per year as a function of the number of grandfathers killed after having gone back in time.


In this paper we conclusively demonstrated the utility of planning for retirement by solving time travel paradoxes using open book management in nearby disk galaxies.

The Authors

1Alexandria, Virginia; 2The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan; 3Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island; 4Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida; 5Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts: 6Economic Analysis Group Ltd., Washington, DC


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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What Is It? game 157

It's time for our giveaway collaboration with the always amusing What Is It? Blog! Can you guess what this is a picture of?

Place your guess in the comment section below. One guess per comment, please, though you can enter as many as you'd like. Post no URLs or weblinks, as doing so will forfeit your entry. Two winners: the first correct guess and the funniest (albeit ultimately wrong) guess will win T-shirt from the NeatoShop.

Please write your T-shirt selection alongside your guess. If you don't include a selection, you forfeit the prize, okay? May we suggest the Science T-Shirt, Funny T-Shirt and Artist-Designed T-Shirts?

For more clues, check out the What Is It? Blog. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to commenter Just a guess who won for knowing these are for the ends of bulls horns -supposedly for decorations during a show, but common sense tells us they should be a safety feature as well. No one else came close by the time the What Is It? Blog announced the answer. Okkent wins for funniest guess when he said, "My wife requested this as her engagement bracelet. The attachment of my jewels was a condition of us getting married." Both win t-shirts from the NeatoShop!

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Jack Kennedy or Jack Donaghy?

Jack Kennedy was president of the United States from January 1961 to November 1963. Jack Donaghy is a character on the TV show 30 Rock. In today's Lunchtime Quiz at mental_floss, you'll be given quotes, and you decide which Jack said it. It's not as easy as you think -especially for someone who either hasn't seen the TV show or can't remember the presidency. I scored 67%, because I haven't seen the TV show. Link

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12 Foreign Objects

The late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar had a pet hippopotamus named Pepe that went on the loose and was shot in 2009. This highly-detailed poster by Dan Zettwoch documents the foreign objects that Pepe ingested and were found after his death. Link -via Laughing Squid

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Monkey Face

(YouTube link)

You've seen this trick before, but this one is particularly well executed. -via Arbroath

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Working from Home

The boss sent an email at 11:30 “reminding” everyone that he’s working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.
This Twaggie, inspired by a Tweet from MeetingBoy, was selected for illustration by a contest at mental_floss. Link

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The Most Heroic Animals of 2010

The Daily Beast collected stories of animal heroism from the past year that might make you a bit teary-eyed. The story of Angel the golden retriever is an example.
Eleven-year-old Austin Foreman was gathering firewood near his home in Boston Bar, British Columbia, when he came face to face with a cougar. When the wild cat lunged at him, his Golden Retriever, Angel, stepped in. She put herself between Austin and the cougar, giving him time to escape to the house. The cougar viciously attacked Angel, carrying her around by the neck while Austin’s mother called 911. Police arrived just in time to shoot the cougar, and after a few moments of suspense, Angel coughed back to life. She had several puncture wounds and a punctured sinus cavity, but she made a full recovery.

See a video report about Angel and read about the other heroic animals in a slide show. Link -via Nag on the Lake

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Holiday Guinea Pigs

Aren't they adorable? The best-dressed guinea pigs are wearing holiday costumes from Cuddly Cavies Costumes and Clothes for Guinea Pigs & Rabbits. It may be too late to order your Christmas clothing, but there are costumes for guinea pigs to wear for Halloween, Thanksgiving, graduation, Talk Like a Pirate Day, and everyday animal and super hero costumes as well! Link -via Rue the Day

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Ben Chapman was the Creature

Actor Ben Chapman didn't get a credit in the movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio wanted to leave the possibility that the creature was real! Link -via TYWBIWDBI

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Sweet Starts

The following is an article from the History's Lists book from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

Some familiar candy brands have been in production for more than a century, while some others reach back even further. How did these sweet treats get their start? We've got their sugar-coated beginnings right here.


The oldest mass-produced candy brand in the United States, NECCO wafers got their start in 1847 when Oliver Chase, a candy-making English immigrant, went into business selling the wafers with his brother Silas. (Chase also invented the machine the wafers were stamped out on.) Their company became the basis for the New England Confectionery Company, which rebranded the candy as NECCO Wafers around 1910 or 1912.


Adults today might be more familiar with Squirrel Nut Zippers as an eclectic rock band active in the 1990s, but the candies the band took their name from reach back a full century earlier to 1890, when the first of the excessively chewy taffy candies known as Squirrel Nut Chews rolled off the line of the Austin T. Merrill Company in Massachusetts. The "zippers" candy arrived in the 1920s. Since 2004, the candies have been made by NECCO.


The quintessential American chocolate bar got its start in 1900 when Milton Hershey perfected a formula to mass-produce milk chocolate, which until that time had been a confection limited primarily to the upper classes. The bar's widespread success helped Hershey to found what is now the Milton Hershey School, in 1909, which provides education for disadvantaged children.


The famously triangular bar of Swiss chocolate with nougat, almonds, and honey got its shape and name (a combination of the last name of inventor Theodor Tobler and torrone, the Italian word for "nougat") in 1908. Given the image of the Matterhorn on its wrapper,  you may be forgiven for thinking the triangular shape is a tribute to the Alps, but the company website maintains the shape was actually inspired by "a red and cream-frilled line of dancers at the Folies Bergeres in Paris, forming a shapely pyramid at the end of a show."


A regional favorite from Nashville, Tennessee, where it was invented in 1912, this circular candy bar's claim to fame is that it was the first "combination" candy bar -that is, the first made with more than one type of candy (in this case, marshmallow, caramel, and roasted peanuts), all covered in milk chocolate. In the 1930s, the Standard Candy Company advertised the GooGoo Cluster as "a nourishing lunch for a nickel!" -a claim they'd be unlikely to get away with today.


These pocket-sized taffies made from molasses and peanut butter were named for the aunt of Charles N. Miller, who invented the candy in 1914 and inherited the candy company his father had founded in a house originally belonging to Paul Revere. Mary Janes eventually became so popular that the Miller Company stopped making other candies to focus on that brand alone. At the moment, however, the candy is being made by NECCO.


The crispy, peanuty chocolate bar was the signature bar of the D.L. Clark candy company, named for Irish immigrant David Clark, and founded in what is now the north side of Pittsburgh in the early 1900s. The Clark Bar came into existence in time to become a favorite for U.S. soldiers fighting World War I, and its popularity carried over after the boys came home. Like so many early candy favorites, this one is also currently produced by NECCO.


A popular misconception about this chocolate-covered bar of caramel and peanuts, created in 1920, is that it was named for baseball player Babe Ruth. While disputed, it has never been proven false. But Baby Ruth candy maker Curtiss Candy Company sued another candy maker who put out a "Babe Ruth Home Run Bar", on grounds that the candy names were too similar. The official line from Curtiss Candy, echoed to this day from contemporary producer Nestle, is that the bar is named after Ruth Cleveland, daughter of U.S. president Grover Cleveland. Some sources allege that Curtiss Company made up the Ruth Cleveland story in order to win the lawsuit and that it was actually named for the baseball player. Skeptics note that "Baby Ruth" died in 1904 -16 years before the creation of the candy bar.


The Mounds Bar was created in 1920 by the Peter Paul Candy Manufacturing Company and was originally a single bar of chocolate-covered coconut instead of the current two smaller bars. Although the Peter Paul Company would later produce a number of coconut-based treats (including Almond Joy), during World War II the company faced severe coconut shortages. Rather than ration its top product, the company temporarily discontinued several other candy brands to ensure that Mounds would stay in production.


Mars Inc., one of the largest privately-held companies in America, got its start with this candy bar in 1923, when the candy maker Forrest Mars developed the candy to approximate the taste of a malted milk drink in chocolate bar form. In 1926, the bar was offered in chocolate and vanilla flavors, with the vanilla version becoming the Forever Yours bar for over fifty years before becoming the Milky Way Dark bar (now the Milky Way Midnight).


1. United States: M&Ms

2. Australia and the United Kingdom: Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar

3. Germany: Milka milk chocolate bar

4. Brazil: Trident chewing gum

5. Japan: Meiji chocolate bar

6. France: Hollywood chewing gum

7. Russia: Orbit chewing gum

8. Mexico: Trident chewing gum

9. Thailand: Hall's cough drops


The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Bathroom Reader History's Lists.

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is having their annual Holiday Sale, in which you can save 30% on your purchase! Get free shipping on orders of $35 or more by using the code HOL10SHIP. And check out the BRI's newest volume, Uncle John's Heavy Duty Bathroom Reader.

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Tron Bag

This bag doesn't reflect light -it produces its own light! The secret is electro luminescent wire and batteries. Ladyada and Becky Stern used the wire to make a Tron-flavored messenger bag. Once you get the technique down, you can use electro luminescent wire to spice up any clothing or fabric items. Complete instruction and a video will show you how. Link -via Lifehacker

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The History of Santa Claus

Santa Claus came about when the story of the St. Nicholas of Myra was melded with the legend of Odin. The image was refined by poetry, illustration, and advertising. Get the details on the origins of Santa Claus at it THING. Link -via the Presurfer

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Profile for Miss Cellania

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