mental_ floss

by , Dec 6, 2006, 6:30 PM
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This edition of mental_ floss boasts a giant hazel eyeball on its cover, next to lines like ''Grow your own organs'' and ''Fill Up Your Tank with Coconuts.'' I found something about the unexpected proximity of all those spheres (eyeballs and organs and coconuts!) really sweet and intriguing. Thus, upon discovering that this is the Special Edition, 5th Anniversary issue of MF, I wondered where I'd been all its life. Really, how come I hadn't heard of this?

The subhead earnestly offers up, ''feel smart again.'' And indeed, after one quick flip-through, darn if my brain didn't start firing itself up, throwing off the mental trans fats that had accumulated around it, like cheese on a Whopper, for the last, oh, 30 years. Suddenly I was processing info about the ''World's Best Wife Carrier'' (the technique is called ''The Estonian'') faster than the master himself, Margo Uusorg, can carry an upside-down female through major land and water obstacles. (He's won five out of the last seven championships, which take place in Finland. The prize is his wife's weight in beer.)

I never tire of such stuff, but now that my brain's tuned up, I was also searching for something more than mere party snacks. A piece analyzing Edward Hopper's iconic New York coffee shop painting, ''Nighthawks,'' not only offers insight and intelligence, but also a way for me to get off the forced use of annoying food metaphors.

The article is as informative as a trip to the Whitney, and just as high-brow. Notoriously uncommunicative about his work, Hopper made quintessentially American paintings that were all about the treatment of light. As the writer Elizabeth Lunday puts it, ''Perhaps the most intriguing element of Hopper's art is its interactive element. Hopper rejected storytelling in his work, so there is never a narrative.... It's this sense of mystery that causes... a disquieting feel... It's also why film noir movies of the '50s used Hopper-inspired settings and camera angles.''

The rest of the magazine has a geeky tone that's smart but not too smart-ass. There's a lot about various gadgets and geegaws, but another intellectually meaty piece (sorry) called ''A Walk on the Far Side: the Life and Times of Gary Larson.'' (The title makes the cartoonist sound dead, but he's not.) I have a scientist friend who told me that the doors of his lab were covered in cut-out ''Far Side '' cartoons, and the piece bears that out, saying that scientists and researchers are among Larson's most fervent devotees.

But it wasn't easy getting newspapers to run the cartoons in the beginning. ''For reasons unknown, a population comfortable with being baffled by 'Hi and Lois' just couldn't handle a tool-wielding cow,'' writer Kelly Ferguson explains. There's a wonderful box explaining how the Dayton Daily News once switched the captions for ''The Far Side'' and ''Dennis the Menace.'' Apparently Larson ''was the first to note that both cartoons were vastly improved.''

For those who want to get their supernerd on, there's a trivia quiz in every issue, and also a column called "Six Degrees of Ken Jennings" (the annoying know-it-all from "Jeopardy.") He connects two things that are unrelated except by the way they sound--here, Wasabi and Kemosabe--and it's pretty funny.

There's so much I haven't even gotten to, including ''The Dead Guy Interview'' in which Michael Stusser talks to Sun Tzu. In all, MF is an eccentric collection of information that's an absolute delight.

And the Web site ( is worth checking out as well: it made my day to see someone calling out Andy Rooney for general grossness when he announced last week in his piece on "60 Minutes," "I don't like metal watchbands, my wrist hairs get caught in it."

Ooh, who wants to think about Andy Rooney's enormous wrist hairs, just when my brain was getting some sustenance? Just thinking about it brings back the fog of Velveeta enveloping my gray matter.

(Check out Amy Corr's earlier critique of mental_floss here. )

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