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Why the Ouija Board Became So Big

Ouija board is parlor game, albeit one with no rules, strategy, or goal. What it does have is whiff of the supernatural, which is enough to make it a long-lasting hit. Vox brings us the history of the Ouija board, as part of its series called "Overrated." -via Tastefully Offensive


The 2018 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards

(Mary McGowan)

"Whoa!" says the squirrel, "They picked me?!" The annual Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards received thousands of entries this year, and they have been whittled down to 41 finalists. All kinds of animals, from backyard critters to exotic beasts, have been caught in the act. Like this rhino in a tutu.

(Kallol Mukherjee)

The winners will be announced on November 15th at the awards ceremony. Meanwhile, you can browse all 41 finalists at Bored Panda.


Jim Castigan's Hobbit House

Jim Castigan is a concrete construction pro and a Lord of the Rings fan. A few years ago, he decided he needed a shed for the lawn tractor, and thought it would be neat if it looked like a Hobbit house. The shed turned out well and inspired him to build a complete two-bedroom, two-bathroom, energy-efficient Hobbit house, which he began five years ago. Castigan chronicled the project in a blog. The Hobbit house exterior is finished, and the interior is almost finished, and not yet furnished.

You can see more pictures of the house, exterior and interior, with details, in this post and at Instagram. For construction geeks, there's a gallery of the entire project here. -via Laughing Squid


The Frozen Dead of Antarctica

There are many ways to die in Antartica: a fall from a cliff, a slip into an ice crevasse, starving to death, and of course, freezing. The oldest human bones found in Antarctica are from a Chilean woman who died between 1819 and 1825, a true pioneer, although her story is a mystery. She is only the first known of many people who have died in Antarctica and whose bodies remain there, frozen and often lost. A hundred years later, there was the Terra Nova Expedition (pictured), in which all five men died, but only three bodies were ever recovered. Over time, more explorers, sailors, and workers died in the frozen wilderness, some eventually buried in cemeteries on the continent, others lost to deep snow and ice, or becoming part of glaciers moving toward the sea. Read about the frozen dead of Antarctica at BBC Future. -via Real Clear Science


Zig Zag, the Happiest Kitten Ever

Chris Poole and his wife have adopted two new kittens! We don't know Jugg's story yet, but Zig Zag was rescued from underneath a car, where she had taken shelter from a busy road.

Zig Zag was scared, sick, and hungry, but has taken well to her new home, and has now joined Cole and Marmalade (and Jugg), the world's luckiest cats, inside the house. Poole also fosters kittens from a shelter, so Cole and Marmalade are used to extra cats around. Zig Zag and Jugg, however, are there for good.


Why 95.8% of Female Newscasters Have the Same Hair

These two pictures show Esther Katro presenting local news in Arkansas. The only difference is the TV news makeover. The way a woman chooses to present herself is very individual, the result of years of consideration and experiment by the time she is ready to join the workforce. But for a woman in TV news, her look will be shaped by outside forces, whether from management or from audience feedback. The pressure to look a certain way for television reporters is not necessarily to make them look better, but to make them less distracting. The result is that they end up looking the same across the country and up and down the dial.   

So what are the so-called rules of on-air hair? Anchors, reporters, and industry experts interviewed for this piece laid them out: Wear your hair down, in a smooth style that hits at the collarbone or above. Updos and complicated styles are a no, as are drastic color changes. Youthful appearance is key (better dye those grays away!). A bit of wave is okay (and increasingly popular at some stations), but ringlets and kinky curls are not.

It's not just perception, either. Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, analyzed more than 400 publicity images for local broadcast journalists and found that 95.8 percent of female anchors and reporters had smooth hair. About two-thirds had short or medium-length cuts. Nearly half of the women were blond. Zero had gray hair. Just one black woman in the UT study sample wore her natural curls.

The custom does not affect all women reporters equally. Black women spend an inordinate amount of time and money trying to conform to expectations for their hair, and older women must fight against the forces of time. News anchors do not want their looks to distract from their work, but must they sacrifice their sense of identity to keep a job? Read about the women in TV news who deal with that pressure at InStyle.  -via Metafilter


The Fake Neighborhoods on Google Maps

We are now becoming more dependent on Google Maps every day. You can find out all kinds of things about your own part of the world from those maps, which may surprise you -you didn't know that was the name of your neighborhood! Well, maybe it isn't. Anomalies and mistakes on Google Maps have real-world consequences, including almost starting a war between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. -via Laughing Squid


How Asia Got Crazy Rich

On the one hand, you can enjoy the movie Crazy Rich Asians without knowing a thing about Singapore. It's a modern romantic comedy with a main character, Rachel Chu, who is much more than a hot mess or a passive damsel in distress. It's also a long-overdue representative breakthrough for Hollywood. On the other hand, you might be interested in learning how the world of fabulous wealth that Rachel travels to became that way.  

The most prominent family in Kwan’s story are the Youngs, whose original fortune dates back to Nick’s Chinese-born great-grandmother, presumably at the turn of the 20th century. The Youngs got in on the ground floor of an older, Victorian-era wealth, viewed by its caretakers as sociologically distinct from the newer elites found across the Asia-Pacific. The unstated irony is that owning lots of land in Singapore—and Malaysia and China, not to mention London and Hawaii—made the Young family this fabulously wealthy only because the rest of Asia, along with its nouveau riche, made the region so economically productive in recent decades. These tensions across geography and generation appear at the margins of the romantic plot. Nick’s cousin explains to Rachel that in Asia’s richest circles, you will find Hong Kongers, “Taiwan Tycoons,” and “Beijing Billionaires.” These families are not equals.

While the story is fictional, the setting is not. Get a short course in Asian economics and how it gave birth to modern Singapore and its fabulous wealth at n+1 magazine.


How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars?

Sure, imagining a police force on Mars is jumping the gun a little, but if someday there were enough colonizers living on the red planet to actually have a murder mystery, how would you find the killer? We have protocols and procedures here on Earth that would have to be adapted to a very different environment. Christyann Darwent has studied archaeology in the Arctic, and was game to explain the challenges of extraterrestrial forensics.  

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

We've all seen that movie, but it's just the beginning. Other experts contributed their knowledge of government, technology, international law, politics, and human nature, in addition to what we know about Mars itself, to the thought experiment of a Mars murder mystery. Read what they have to say at the Atlantic.

(Image credit: Matt Chinworth)


Reporting From the Storm

For some reason, news outlets send reporters into hurricane areas that have been evacuated. The reporters tell us that everyone should leave, yet they stay to give us visuals that we don't need. Are they risking their lives unnecessarily? Often, no. Today, people have been sharing a video from The Weather Channel in which a reporter is working hard to stand up against the wind, but it doesn't seem to affect the two guys walking in the background.

Adam Gordon and friends had a little time on their hands, and figured they could do their own report. -via reddit


Pop Culture Evolutions

Illustrator Jeff Victor (previously at Neatorama) does "Pop Culture Evolutions," meaning a series of pictures showing how a character has changed over time. For comic book superheroes, that means drawing from the styles of movies and comic books, going way back, as far as 80 years in the case of Superman, and Wonder Woman is almost as old.  

He also does villains, monsters, and heroes without superpowers. But it's not just characters. Victor also shows the evolution of actors and the roles they select over time, like John Goodman, Nicolas Cage, Andy Serkis, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum.

Victor doesn't limit himself to actors and characters, as he has illustrated evolutions of people like Michael Jackson and Stan Lee. See more of Victor's art at his blog and at Instagram. -via Buzzfeed


Real Flamethrowers vs. “Not a Flamethrower”

Earlier this year, Elon Musk threw together a personal flamethrower and sold a ton of them through his Boring Company to raise some quick cash. The boxes were labeled "Not a Flamethrower," and that's what they came to be called. No one disputes that they are dangerous, but how do they stack up against professional and military grade flamethrowers? Watch and see as DriveTanks.com test three models. If you want to skip the unboxing, the flames begin at 2:00. -via Digg


What a South Carolina Ghost Story Says About Hurricanes and History

Tropical storm Florence, formerly a hurricane, is busy lingering over North Carolina and South Carolina, dumping floodwater over a large portion of both states. People who live near the coast know that hurricanes happen, and that each one brings different problems. In South Carolina, they also know that hurricane forecasts will bring sightings of the Gray Man.

Over the last week, some South Carolinians were talking about a different, folkloric warning sign, a ghost known as the Gray Man, believed to appear in the small town of Pawleys Island as a harbinger of hurricanes. While there is disagreement surrounding details (common to many ghost stories)—like who the Gray Man is supposed to have been and when he first appeared—the tale’s basic contours are generally accepted. In sum, a man was returning to his beloved on Pawleys Island after a long time away, but died in quicksand before arriving. Since then, he has been said to appear shortly before hurricanes, as a signal that it’s time to leave the island. He is also believed to preserve the homes of those he meets.

Read about the ghost story that goes back almost 200 years at Atlas Obscura. 

(Image credit: Pollinator)


Moody Groot in LEGO

First, we got to know Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy. Then we met Baby Groot. By the time Avengers: Infinity War came along, he'd grown into a moody teenager, completely attached to his handheld device, or phone, as we still call them. LEGO sculptor Ochre Jelly (Iain Heath) has recreated that version of Groot out of LEGO pieces- and he's posable, which means he can check messages, play games, and listen to music wherever he happens to be.

Ochre Jelly used his own phone-obsessed kids as inspiration for the series. See more pictures of Moody Groot in his Flickr album.  -Thanks, Iain!

The 2018 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded last night in a ceremony at Harvard University's Sanders Theater. These are awarded by our friends at The Annals of Improbable Research every September for scientific research that makes us laugh, and then makes us think. This year's winning research told us how to give ourselves a colonoscopy, how many calories cannibals consume, how riding a roller coaster can help with kidney stones, and how well your mother's spit shine worked on your face. The scientists involved always have a sense of humor about their work, even though they are pushing the limits of human knowledge in one way or another. The awards went to:

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