- Disgusting Food Museum2 months ago
- Valley of Fire State Park3 months ago
- Navajo Bridge3 months ago
- Gage Hotel3 months ago
- Nothing5 months ago
- Goldfield6 months ago
- Sam Houston Statue 6 months ago
- The Lumberyard Cafe7 months ago
- Edgewood Heritage Park Museum7 months ago
- Weekend Trip '18 April 12-147 months ago
- Cinderella Pumpkin Coach7 months ago
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The year was 1781 and a Patriot soldier by the name of James Spears was fleeing from Tory troops during the American Revolutionary War. According to legend, Spears lost his shoe while trying to escape and went back later to find it in a hole filled with water in Blenheim, South Carolina. He sampled the water and was surprised by the heavy mineral flavor. The springs soon became an attraction, drawing visitors who wanted to try it for themselves.
In the 1890s, Dr. Charles R. May was advising his patients to drink the water from the springs to remedy stomach ailments. After several patients complained about its heavy, iron-like taste, May added Jamaican ginger and sugar to make it more palpable. In 1903, May and a partner began bottling the sweetened, spiced mineral water. Built next to the spring, the Blenheim Bottling Company quickly gained fans with its ginger ale, which offered a unique spicy kick.
After the company changed ownership and the bottling facility burned down in 2008, production of Blenheim ginger ale has moved to an amusement park in Hamer, South Carolina.
You are lost, but not worried. Your curiosity about the secrets of this new place propels you forward, though your direction remains unknown. The whimsical sound of seabreeze clues you in to the fact that you’ve landed on an island—a seemingly deserted one with no one to guide you. Though the environment is foreign, the thrill of exploration is familiar and fun.
Twenty-five years ago, two brothers—Rand and Robyn Miller—designed a new destination in the form of their wildly successful computer game Myst. The hybrid mystery-logic game, in which you, the anonymous explorer, solve a series of puzzles to gain access to alternate dimensions and uncover the sinister storyline, debuted on the then-novel CD-ROM format. Consumers soon discovered that the flatness of the disc belied the three-dimensional topography of the world within.
In its first seven months on the global market, the game sold 200,000 copies and held its title as the top-selling game (to the tune of six million copies, and counting) until The Sims usurped it in 2002. Somehow, the brothers Miller had cracked the code behind what makes a game with little hype surrounding it a multimillion-dollar success. Part of that formula was how hard the Millers leaned in to innovation. But more centrally, what distinguished Myst was the concept that making moral choices is an advantage of adventure, and that exploration becomes more satisfying when one faces adversity followed by triumphant relief.
Myst created a new language in interactive media: one that depended less on violence and hemorrhaging “lives” and instead on our natural human interest in free choice and overcoming obstacles. Exploring Myst’s island was a first-person and non-linear experience. The narrative depended wholly on the player’s decisions for what to do next. The possibilities were seemingly endless, and were decidedly self-determined.
Though the 1980s produced text-based adventure games like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that used fiction as the game’s central vehicle, when Myst first hit shelves in 1993 it was still an underdog: There was no time limit, so where’s the urgency? There were no machine guns, so where’s the thrill? Scores of computer games rotate on the axis of adventure. But what Myst reinforced is that exploration—in both the virtual and the real world—has the potential to teach us a lot about ourselves.
Robyn and Rand, who at the time of Myst’s development jointly operated under their game production company Cyan Inc., say that Myst (their first adult game) began as an experiment. “I’m not sure we knew exactly what we were doing, a lot of what we were putting into the game was instinctive,” Rand says. The brothers’ instincts had been formed by previous computer games they had made for children, like Cosmic Osmo. This game features a point-and-click interface and takes place on a friendly spaceship, giving players the ability to explore different planets through various animated shortcuts, like a miniature mouse hole.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Myst was the first-person point of view. It had worked well in the narrative of their kids games, so they maintained it for their adult one. The brothers also actively worked against the dominating computer game template at the time, which was predicated on competition and “being killed and starting over,” Rand says. “In reality you don’t die every five minutes. So we thought, why don’t we build something where it feels a little ominous, that feels interesting like it could be threatening … people might expect a jump scare, but it won’t come.”
The tension that mounts throughout the game is thanks to two feuding characters, brothers Sirrus and Achenar, and their mysterious, slowly unfolding backstory. Both have been imprisoned in books and it’s up to the player to choose which brother to free at the end. But things are not what they seem and betrayal is seemingly inevitable.
The parallels between Myst Island and reality multiply: two brothers were created by two brothers, and the quest for morality became a useful path to success both inside the computer and out. “In some ways, Myst became our adventure,” Rand says. “We were truly lucky to have had our adventurous life mimic the game and the surprises. We had friction in life and we overcame it, and now you look back 25 years later and you say: Wow. I guess we played the game well and got rewarded.”
The mysterious environment of the island makes exploring it equal parts intimidating and exciting. And its elements, both surreal and slick, bear a strong resemblance to the environment of Cyan’s homebase: the Pacific Northwest. “People who visited our offices would remark about the similarity between the pine trees in the game and the piney woods of the Northwest,” Robyn says. “I'm sure the environment subconsciously found a place in our design.”
According to the game developer, operating from an office just outside of Spokane, Washington had its pros and cons. “We were unable to communicate with a broader community of game creators, or even technology enthusiasts. I remember the shock of first moving to Spokane and feeling like I was totally disconnected,” Robyn notes. But the silver lining of creating a cerebral computer game in Washington state? Silence. “In Spokane, we were the only company making games. In a way, this might have been a positive. Instead of looking at what everyone else was doing, we were forced to look inward and think only about what we wanted in a game.” The lush isolation of this region is mirrored in the feeling of playing Myst—picturesque and private. By isolating the player’s anonymous solo character on Myst Island, the two brothers were able to challenge users’ sense of self.
“We wanted the player to make some sort of ethical choice,” Robyn says. In the narrative, the main character is often tasked with making tough choices to drive their journey forward. During the design phase, Robyn says they asked themselves: “When people make the wrong decision [in the game], would they feel the same feelings that they’d feel if they made the wrong decision in real life?” Some might argue that the stakes are dramatically lower in a computer game—that without a society around you to judge your morality, those choices ultimately don’t matter. But Myst aimed for a greater moral resonance. “We just had this aspiration that a player will have legitimate emotion and that they’d examine themselves because of it,” Robyn says. “[We hoped they’d] ask: Wait, why am I feeling this if it’s just a game?”
According to Rand, the answer is adversity. “The issue was just the friction,” he says. The friction he’s referring to is a synonym for the logic-driven puzzles included in the game, which serve to frustrate the player into a slower pace of play. “You get a little bit of tension and then you get the resolution, and it’s this great feeling. You’re a part of that resolution, you’re the one actually overcoming that frustration … it has a real profound, satisfying effect for somebody playing the game.”
Though the environment of Myst is dreamlike, the real-world relevance was no doubt instrumental in its success. Much like the joy we get as travelers to new places, which are steeped in unfamiliar symbols we must navigate based on some latent internal compass, Myst activated an adventure-based adrenaline. “The way Robyn and I looked at it was: The fiction and the fantasy worlds we enjoyed, whether that’s science fiction or Lord of the Rings, it felt like they had this really interesting balance between reality and dreamlike,” Rand says. “In other words, if you push too hard on the reality, it becomes a little mundane, or too normal … and if you push too hard in the dreamlike, it doesn’t feel relatable enough. Striking a balance between the two made it viable, like this could be a real thing.”
The books the brothers read when they were younger influenced their understanding of exploration and the atmosphere of their computer-generated island. “I was reading Mysterious Island [by Jules Verne] when we started designing Myst,” Robyn says. “It's about a group of people shipwrecked on a desert island. As they try to survive, they begin to encounter mysterious evidence of a dark presence.” Additionally, Robyn says that when he and Rand were thinking about portals and how to create ways for players to travel to different worlds (which are called “ages” in Myst), they were “really inspired by the sensibility in books like the Chronicles of Narnia” and tried to approximate its thick, heavy mood.
In 1993, when the game debuted, desktops operated as islands: totally isolated from the outside world, a digitized room of one’s own. Myst became an analog for the entire computer gaming experience. It provided players a chance to create their own identity and path, much like the internet and its social media offshoots allow us to do today.
What is it about a self-determined experience that keeps the spirit of exploration alive? “We’re humans, we like to choose. It feels like that’s our superpower,” Rand says. “Animals don’t have that, they don’t get to choose, they kind of just run by the instincts. We get to override our instincts … that’s really powerful.” Other forms of entertainment, like movies, allow us to watch adventure performed by protagonists, but we don’t get the chance to truly experience it. “In computer games and active media, we have to make those choices, and that’s like life.”
The spirit of exploration, particularly one that leads you into the curious unknown, is the middle space in the Myst / Atlas Obscura Venn diagram. Of this, Rand says: “[Atlas Obscura] opens up the fiction of real life, and we kind of make the fiction feel like real life. It’s the same goal for both—it’s to pique someone’s sense of wonder and to play off their desire to see what’s around the next corner and intrigue them to go forward and to explore a little more.”
Much like discovering a new place somewhere in the world, the only prerequisite for playing Myst is a curious mind. And Rand and Robyn cultivated a fanbase of explorers by designing a world that was believable, albeit unreal. “I think the power of this game was not with the characters,” Robyn says. “It took me so many years to realize that the power of all games are not with the characters but instead the actual environment.”
Twenty-five years after its release, Myst’s appeal endures. In May, fans aching for Cyan’s updated version of the game crowdfunded $247,500 in eight hours.
Those who love Myst have often complimented the brothers on the game’s ability to make them forget that they were in the real world. Both the graphics and the novel-like narrative were so convincing, that devotees began to feel truly transported—as if they were experiencing a new place based on coordinates they’d discovered.
“That felt like we had accomplished what we were going for,” Rand says. “Making people feel like this was an alternative world that they could explore.”
According to the legend, it all began when a patriot soldier lost his shoe while fleeing Tory troops during the American Revolutionary War. After returning to the area, in Blenheim, South Carolina, to retrieve it, Spears discovered a spring. The water had a striking mineral flavor that eventually led doctors to start prescribing it as a stomach soother in the late 19th century. There was just one problem: It didn’t taste great.
When patients started complaining, Dr. Charles R. May decided to give the beverage a boost with Jamaican ginger and sugar. In 1903, May began producing his sweet, spiced soda on a larger scale out of the Blenheim Bottling Company, a facility built right next to the spring. In the century since, the ginger ale has become a regional favorite, especially due to its unique spiciness. The sinus-clearing soda has a fiery-sweet flavor that, according to the company, “goes down as smoothly as a firecracker exploding in your throat.” It packs such heat that some fans suspect another spice, such as cayenne, might be at work. But this has never been confirmed.
A drinkable firecracker might not sound enticing, but Blenheim has developed a cult following. In addition to drinkers who enjoy its spicy sweetness unadulterated, the ginger ale is especially beloved by mixologists who swear by its ability to enhance everything from straight bourbon to a Dark ’n’ Stormy. Unfortunately, the original Blenheim Bottling facility burned down, but that was not the end of the ginger ale. Now under new ownership and produced from a facility at an amusement park in Hamer, South Carolina, it comes in three varieties: No. 3, the original recipe; No. 5, a milder version; and No. 9, a diet version.
Recently we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about their unusual collections, and much to our delight, they showed us some truly incredible (and incredibly surprising) personal exhibits.
You told us about your beloved collections of everyday objects like dice and cocktail stirrers; ultra-specific collections such as a set of factory employee badges or Alka-Seltzer ads from the early 20th century; and even slightly eerie collections of bodily bits like eyelashes and kitty whiskers. More than anything, it's your enthusiasm for your unusual personal collections that makes each one intriguing.
Take a look at some of our favorite submissions below, and head over to our new forums to share pictures of your own incredible collection!
Historical Employee Badges From Detroit
Collection Size: "700+ badges"
“About 20 years ago, I saw an employee badge that had particularly interesting Art Deco lettering. I bought it and then did a little research into its origins, and discovered that it was from a defunct company that had existed in my area of the city. I looked for others and found that there were many Detroit-related employee badges available. They embody the vitality, ambition, creativity, and muscularity that represented the city both as the Motor City and the Arsenal of Democracy.” — Robert McBroom, Detroit, Michigan
Vintage Found Photographs of People Kissing
Collection Size: “I've collected anonymous found photos for over 30 years, so I've got a lot!”
“I am obsessed with vintage photos and they are all around us. I unearth photos from flea markets, garage sales, eBay, and dusty attics to understand their artifact nature and to hopefully reveal something not seen at first glance. With kissing photos we immediately start creating a story: Who are they? What do they see in each other? Is it mutual? Are they kissing the way I kiss, or want to be kissed? Who was the invisible photographer who had access to the intimate moment? I began and will continue to collect because the best found photographs transcend time and place to speak to contemporary questions and sensibilities.” — Barbara Levine, Houston, Texas, and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Collection Size: "636"
“I saw a set of dice that was really cool and then another and then another. The nice thing is that dice are relatively cheap and easy to acquire, unlike some collectibles.” — Kevin McCarthy, Central Texas
Juggling Props, Photos, and Posters
Collection Size: “It fills five rooms in one of my homes.”
“I'm the world's leading juggling historian and wanted to save historically important juggling props and images.” — David Cain, Middletown, Ohio
Cocktail Sticks and Stirrers
Collection Size: “Over 1,000 glass cocktail sticks, hundreds of cocktail items.”
“I like old cocktails and forgotten drinking items. I found some old glass cocktail umbrellas and became obsessed with finding out where they came from, and travelled to Germany to find more, so my collection of cocktail shakers grew to include glass cocktail umbrellas, and cocktail sticks in mechanical glass carousel holders, and other wacky forms from the '30s and '40s.” — Dominic Pennock, Yorkshire
Vintage Medicine Bottles and Glass Eye Wash Cups
Collection Size: "150+"
“[Originally] I was looking for some pretty old bottles to decorate a bathroom with.” — Liz, Boston, Massachusetts
National Park Service Visitor Pamphlets
Collection Size: "43 pamphlets and counting."
“Visitor pamphlets are an affordable, informational, and easily stored way of commemorating visits to our U.S. public lands.” — Brett Iredell, Flagstaff, Arizona
Headstone Rubbings of Deceased Prime Ministers of Canada (and One Governor General)
Collection Size: “35 to 40 rubbings of various sizes.”
“Some of the rubbings are normal headstone size. Some, like Laurier and Thompson, are much bigger. I require two more headstones to complete the collection, keeping in mind that Canada currently has eight living Prime Ministers. When l started, pre-Google, the grave sites were poorly marked and rather hard to find. I wanted a tangible memory of my visits and stumbled across the idea of doing headstone rubbings. I've drove/flown thousands of kilometers and have visited 14 grave sites in Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and England.” — Travis Shalla, Eastern Ontario
Antique Sample and Medicinal Tins
Collection Size: "Over 400, after weeding out about 100 that were duplicates."
"I began my collection when I was 8 years old, when a neighbor gave me a small tin egg filled with tiny little hard candies. Since then, I have spent nearly 50 years adding to my collection, but due to space constraints, I now limit myself to collecting only small sample and medicinal tins. Many of my tins still contain the original contents, such as pills, typewriter ribbons, and cosmetics. My most valuable tin is an old 'Three Merry Widows' tin which still contains an old (unused!) condom from the late 1800s, back when they were made of sheep intestines. I also have quite a few interesting tobacco tins, including several of the pre-World War II Lucky Strike tins that are green, instead of the red and white, which Lucky Strike is now famous for. The green paint was needed to paint military vehicles so 'Lucky Strike' went to war and have been red and white ever since." — Susan Purdue, Fairview, North Carolina
Vintage Potato Mashers
Collection Size: "15"
“There are so many different kinds of metal mashers and the handles are lovely!” — Ruth, Victoria, British Columbia
Paper Clips Found On the Ground
Collection Size: "300 to 400"
“It started while living in Spain and I was pregnant. On my first visit to the doctor I found a paper clip on the doorstep. It's said that the paper clip is a Norwegian innovation, so I picked it up an put a lot of luck into it. Ever since, I always pick up paper clips found on the streets or ground and the paper clips give me luck or I can wish for something. Been doing this since I was pregnant and my daughter is now 14 years old.” — Rikke Sanni, Norway
Gospel Records With Cringe-Worthy Covers
Collection Size: “Only about a dozen records at the moment”
“I’ve always been a record collector and in the search for more listenable material, I started to notice the incredible graphics, the over-the-top images and the not-so-subtle attempts to prey on people’s fears, which are used on the covers of these records. Plus, how can you pass on a gospel record with a small piece of paper attached to the back, stating: ‘This cover fails to give the much due credit to my talented wife, Joy. She has helped compose all our music and is a great source of inspiration. God bless.’” — Michael Fahey, Savannah, Georgia
Fortune Cookie Fortunes
Collection Size: “Over 1,000... maybe more”
“Who doesn't love a cheeky little saying or wise words to pick you up? I wasn't always an avid collector, until one fortune really hit home. I was feeling down about my situation in life and prayed to God that I would find love. A couple days later while eating at a Chinese restaurant I opened a cookie and the only word on that little paper was ‘Love.’ I laughed out loud… all by myself. It was the reminder I needed that I am loved. That fortune is currently the only one that I've laminated and will probably keep forever. My collection will continue to grow (with the help of friends and family who know my obsession) until who knows when! The upside is they're so small, my large collection hardly takes up any space.” — Francesca, New Jersey
Collection Size: “I started collecting them in 1983 and they are stored in 10 glass contact lens vials.”
“They kept falling out on my sketchbook (I'm a sculptor), so I decided to start collecting them.” — Mary Bailey, Connecticut
Collection Size: “About 150 square meters”
“Analog computers shaped our modern world and yet are nearly forgotten.” — Bernd Ulmann, Germany
Steel Dip Pens
Collection Size: “Over 800 different types. Over 25,000 individual nibs.”
“I began with wanting to learn old styles of penmanship. Then I became interested in the history of this lost industry. The more pens (nibs) I have, the better I understand what people used to know about pens.” — Andrew Midkiff, Durham, North Carolina
Vintage Postcards of Early 20th-Century Asylums
Collection Size: “Upwards of 80.”
“I like the brevity of the medium, the surprising ways in which text and image can converge, and the unexpected subject matter. So many of the images would never be replicated on modern cards.” — Devon W. Thompson, Ohio
Collection Size: “50+ items, including my current license plate, my email address since 1999, and artwork.”
“My dad was a corn farmer and a top seed corn salesman the year I was born. I inherited the land, so I am now a corn farm manager.” — Margaret Berry, Lincoln, Nebraska
Vintage Paperbacks With 'Shame' in the Title
Collection Size: "40 books"
“A thrift shop book, Baptism in Shame, with a great cover and terrible story [inspired my collection].” — Seth Berg, Telluride, Colorado
Vintage Souvenir Buildings
Collection Size: "200+ pieces"
”I have always loved old architecture.” — Lily Witham, Portland, Oregon
Collection Size: "60 items"
“They’re colorful, historic, and most of all, don’t take up too much space.” — Steve Wehr, Saugerties, New York
1930s Alka-Seltzer Advertising Fans
Collection Size: “Roughly 50+ fans.”
“As a graphic designer, I was drawn to the wonderful color cartoon illustrations of George W. French. Each fan features one of his cartoons and humorous copy that French himself wrote. French died in Chicago in 1955 at the age of 71.” — Steve Williams
Children's Watercolor Sets
Collection Size: “Somewhere around 150 pieces, probably a bit more.”
“I have collected tins of all sorts for about 40 years. In 1973 I found my first children's watercolor set at a yard sale. About two weeks later I found another similar one in an antique store. It was then that I realized I might be on to something. Most are from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, however some earlier schoolhouse sets are much older, '20s and '30s. They can be cartoon-related, nursery rhymes, or fairy tales. Many different themes, from manufacturers such as Binny & Smith and Milton Bradley. I like them because they're colorful windows to the past. A reminder of a gentler time gone by.” — Rick Davis, Starksboro, Vermont
Recordings of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'
Collection Size: "342 different versions"
“It was my first favorite song. When I heard it on the radio in the early 1970s, I needed to know more about it. I had never felt that way about a song before.” — Linda Simensky, Alexandria, Virginia
Typewriter Ribbon Tins
Collection Size: “I have just about 20 tins.”
“My mom typed address labels to earn extra money when I was little. She had an old typewriter ribbon tin that she used for paper clips, Carter’s Midnight, and I was entranced by the graphics on the lid. I set out to find my own Carter’s Midnight tin and discovered a world of colorful tins with a wide range of themes. Who knew‽” — Laurie McCabe, Orange County, California
Collection Size: “I have hundreds!”
“As a kid, when I found my first one, I wanted to glue it back on! I keep them just in case my kitties need spares!” — Terri Brink, Mayview, Missouri
Collection Size: “About 30.”
“I grew up on a small, family egg ranch in the 1950s and 60s. When I was real small, I remember using a primitive egg scale, such as one of these. At that time, most eggs came from small family farms like ours. Starting in the '60s, with rising feed costs and decreasing egg prices, egg producers either went out of business, or grew into large industrial operations. The scales graded the eggs by weight into jumbo, x-large, large, medium, small, & pee wee. Grading eggs by weight came into being during World War I, when the government paid more for eggs that were graded. “ — Kathy Smith, Goodyear, Arizona
Geckos bathe with tiny drops, use their tails as optional legs, and can alter the stickiness of their feet as needed. They come in brilliant colors, and make charismatic mascots. And now we know that they can run on water, Inside Science reports.
Ardian Jusufi, a biophysicist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, was observing flat-tailed house geckos in a Singapore rainforest when he noticed their ability to evade predators by scampering over puddles. Not through them, he observed, but “on the water’s surface,” as Jusufi and his coauthors write in a Current Biology study published yesterday. It was an impressive sight, but it wasn't until they conducted lab experiments that the true extent of the lizards’ aquatic dexterity was revealed.
The researchers found that the geckos could run at the speed of nearly three feet per second. That’s faster than ducks, mink, muskrats, marine iguanas, and juvenile alligators can swim, the researchers write. Predators, in other words, can eat their wakes.
But just how do the geckos do it? They’re not the only species that can walk on water—the basilisk lizard is famous for it, the insects called water striders, too—but the geckos don't do it in quite the same way. They're not heavy enough to create enough force just by slapping the water like the larger lizards, and they're too heavy to sit on water's surface tension like a bug.
Experiments revealed that the geckos combine four distinct techniques. First, they actually do utilize surface tension. When the team added surfactant to the water, the geckos’ velocity was cut in half. Second, the geckos also slap the water with all four legs, which creates air cavities like basilisks do. Third, they benefit from their water-repellent skin. And finally, the geckos undulate their bodies—even their submerged trunks and tails—to propel themselves forward, a little like a butterfly stroke.
There’s more at stake in these findings than geckos’ ability to outrun predators. Coauthor Robert J. Full, of the University of California, Berkeley, tells Inside Science that the geckos may provide a model for robots that could gracefully “run and climb and race across the water” to conduct rescue missions.
While using the bathroom in one of Washington, D.C.’s congressional office buildings, if you let your eyes wander to the stall dividers, you might notice something that transcends the political moment by a couple million years: fossils engraved on the glossy limestone, ancient shells and exoskeletons left behind by animals of a prehistoric Earth.
When the writer Lily Strelich was a congressional intern, she spent a lot of time admiring the hidden-in-plain-sight fossils that speckle the buildings. This week, she wrote a Self-Guided Tour of the Geology of D.C. Buildings for Eos, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The tour provides a 2.5-mile walking tour around the National Mall, with 11 stops highlighting a small piece of the geologic story of America’s capital city.
Strelich, who studied geology in college, wanted to spread her love of rocks to people who aren’t used to noticing them. “The idea that there's a sort of geologic landscape in this urban environment is really wonderful to me,” she says.
One of Strelich’s favorite stops on the tour is the Smithsonian Castle, built from Seneca red sandstone, quarried 20 miles north of the city. Its rusty red color comes from oxidized iron mixed into the rock—it’s literally rusty.
A lot of the geologic materials which make up and adorn the city are brought in from elsewhere, making for a rich mix of local and imported specimens. Strelich says she may have creeped out a guard or two while crawling around looking for nautiloid fossils on the floor of the National Gallery of Art, which is made of Tennessee limestone. “I've been to that museum so many times, but I've had never paid attention to the fossils,” she says. “It's almost like there are two museums for you: the art and the rocks.”
The geologic tour includes the old Lockkeeper’s House, which was once at the end of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal system, instrumental to moving heavy rocks up the Potomac River in order to build the capital. Bentley says the Potomac bluestone rocks on this building are ancient. They pre-exist the supercontinent Pangea and got metamorphosed in the early days of the Appalachian Mountains.
Stop four on the tour are the Capitol Gatehouses and Gateposts. These historic buildings are comprised of Aquia Creek sandstone, made by sand carried by rivers pouring into the young Atlantic Ocean after the breakup of Pangea.
Callan Bentley, a geology teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, helped Strelich develop the tour and has experience creating local field trips to sites of geological interest. When he looks at the D.C.-area landscape, he’s most interested in what’s underneath the trees and buildings. “We've got a lot of plants and buildings on top of our rocks, but where the rocks are exposed, they tell a pretty extraordinary tale,” he says.
Bentley says D.C. is at the epicenter of the diverse Atlantic geological area, containing pieces of two former supercontinents, and a variety of metamorphic and sedimentary rocks of different sizes, ages, and characteristics. “Each of these tells its own story and when you put them all together, you get this epic tale that spans a little over a billion years of geologic time,” he says. He adds that D.C. geology is defined by something called the Wilson Cycle, a model which says that geologic processes repeat themselves indefinitely.
“It’s an essential principle of geology. We're constantly changing, but we're basically playing by the same rules,” says Bentley. “We don't have to make up brand new rules for every single moment in geologic time. We can look at the present and apply it to our understanding of the past and to predict the future.”
Whatever one’s political inclination, Strelich thinks this tour will enhance the experience of visiting the city. “These sites are reminders of American history, but they’re also part of the Earth's history,” she says, “our larger shared history.”
References to tea drinking in China date back as far as the third century, but the evolution of one particular ritual is a bit more mysterious. Small figurines, usually made of special clay from Yixing, have become common companions to contemporary Chinese tea ceremonies (gong fu cha). Shaped like small animals, plants, or mythical creatures, the “tea pets” introduce a bit of humor to tea preparation and are part of impressing and entertaining one’s guests. Like an analog tamagotchi, tea drinkers are expected to “raise” the little objects by feeding and nurturing them. To do so, they must shower the pet in tea over the course of months, or even years, until they develop a pleasant patina and aroma from their regular tea baths.
One of China’s favorite tea pets is pee-pee boy, a hollow figurine in the shape of a child with a large head and a small penis. But pee-pee boy isn’t just a tea pet, he’s also a useful thermometer. When preparing tea, a drinker first submerges pee-pee boy, partially filling him with room temperature water (drawn in through the hole in his member), then sets him aright, usually on a tea tray. After boiling water, the preparer pours it over the figurine’s head, at which point, pee-pee boy emits a long, arcing, liquid stream, a sign that the water is hot enough for tea.
While the origins of pee-pee boy may be unclear, the physics behind his jet stream are scientifically verifiable. A 2016 study thoroughly explored the thermodynamics of several pee-pee boy figurines. The experiment revealed that when hot water is poured over pee-pee boy’s noggin, the air inside him expands, causing pressure to build and, after a few seconds, forcing a pee stream out. The hotter the poured water, the more expansion and the farther pee-pee boy’s stream. Additional factors affecting whizzing distance include head size (pee-pee boy’s cranium is disproportionately large, about and five times bigger than an adult’s) ceramic thickness, penis size, and hole diameter.
Not only are pee-pee boy’s pee-pee skills far-reaching, but researchers speculate that, if hollow ceramic figurines dating back to the Tang dynasty (618–906 CE) were also used like tea pets, that would establish them as the first thermometers, preceding Galileo Galilei’s 17th century invention of the thermoscope. While the tea pet’s provenance remains a postulation, at least one thing has been proven with certainty by the 2016 study: “Boys who pee the farthest have a large hollow head, a thin skin, and medium-size manhood.”
Construction projects are ostensibly all about the future, paving the way for smoother commutes, more housing, or maybe denser shopping districts. During the building process, though, crews often encounter the long-buried past. That’s what happened in Stockholm, Sweden, last month, when crews came upon a trove of centuries-old cannonballs.
The Slussen area of the city has had a number of past lives. It has been a lock connecting waterways, and then a clover-shaped traffic junction and a broader transit hub. In the future, it’s also slated to be a pedestrian paradise, with outdoor eateries and plenty of space to wander. At the moment, it’s a dig site—and that’s where, The Local reported, a crew recently uncovered some 200 cannonballs, plus a couple of grenades and cannons, strewn in an old moat.
Iron was a big business in Stockholm throughout the centuries. By the 1650s, exported bar iron topped 17,300 tons. Speaking to The Local, archaeologists from Arkeologikonsult surmised that the balls—which weigh as much as 18 pounds—may have been dumped on the site in the mid-1600s, deliberately left behind when fortifications moved elsewhere.
But why were they buried, instead of melted and reworked? That’s a puzzle that archaeologists have yet to solve.
After the morning mass, the Church of Our Lady Victorious, located in Lesser Town at the foot of Petřín Hill in Prague, doubles as a museum hosting what could be described as a permanent fashion exhibition for a statue of the Infant Jesus.
The 17th-century church boasts a 19-inch-tall statue of the Infant Jesus, forged in Spain and donated to the Carmelite Order in 1628. The statue dons a rotation of two crowns and over 40 symbolic dresses throughout the year, with a total of approximately 100 robes in the collection. The church has since made room for a small museum so that each of the Infant’s historic costumes may be displayed to the public.
The Museum of the Infant Jesus is a small, permanent exhibition devoted to the spectrum of colorful robes worn by the statue throughout the year. Some of the dresses have been donated by important historical and cultural figures, including Emperor Ferdinand II and the illustrious Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho; others have been gifted to the church from countries like Italy, Poland, South Korea, and the Philippines.
The Infant Jesus’ layers of clothing are part of a longstanding tradition with ritual significance. A white, sleeveless linen tunic called an "alb" constitutes the first layer, and over the tunic is a gown embroidered with exquisite Christian patterns. The outermost layer is a magnificent cloak in the same color as the gown, with lace-trimmed arms and a ruffled neck. Finally, the Imperial orb is placed in the Infant’s hand, and a crown atop his head.
Each of the Infant’s royal dresses indicates the divinity of his origin, and their respective colors are reserved for a specific holiday. The purity and holiness of white is for Christmas and Easter; red, which symbolizes blood and fire, is saved for Holy Week, Pentecost, and Feasts of the Holy Cross; green stands for life and hope between holidays. Pink, gold, and blue robes mark special occasions like the third Advent Sunday and the Feast of Our Lady.
The Carmelite Sisters are responsible for properly dressing the Infant, and a portion of his wardrobe is on view at the museum, alongside a curated selection of religious objects in the church's collection.
In Mexico City's Alameda Central, the oldest public park of the Americas, stands a charismatic bronze sculpture that portrays one of the greatest explorers and naturalists the world has seen, Alexander Von Humboldt.
The Prussian polymath is best known for his explorations and scientific discoveries in the Amazon and Andean regions of South America, but he also spent a significant amount of time in Mexico at the beginning of the 19th century, pioneering the study of its rich fauna, flora, and geology.
After having spent many years exploring vast areas of the South American continent, Humboldt and his colleague, the French botanist Aime Bonpland, were intent on undertaking a voyage across the Pacific to study Polynesia and Southeast Asia. The pair decided to head to Acapulco on the western coast of Mexico (then known as the colony of New Spain) where they hoped to board a ship destined for the islands of the Philippines, which were then also a part of Spain's vast empire.
Upon reaching Mexico, however, the possibility of fully exploring the country that greeted his arrival proved to be irresistible for the eternally curious Prussian. What was to be a short stay soon became a year of adventures and discoveries. The viceroy of New Spain gave Humboldt letters of permission and introduction, which allowed him to travel freely across the entire country. He was also granted access to crown records, mines, canals, estates, and even pre-Hispanic archeological sites that had been forbidden to explore for centuries.
This apparent act of generosity was not entirely devoid of self-interest on the part of the viceroyalty, who were keen for Humboldt to apply his geological expertise toward improving methods of mining of Mexico's rich silver deposits. Humboldt applied himself to the task at hand and within a couple of months had revolutionized the mining system of New Spain. He was then able to focus his undivided attention on exploring other aspects of Mexico. In a single year, Humboldt did more than most do in a lifetime as he excavated and measured ancient Aztec ruins and artifacts, climbed volcanos and mountains, and documented and studied strange plants and animals, discovering several new species in the process.
Humboldt finally left the country via the port of Veracruz and headed to Cuba, then took a ship to the United States where he was to meet and befriend then-president Thomas Jefferson. The year spent in Mexico was a formative one for both the scientist and the Mexican nation, and when the country achieved its independence from Spain, the first Mexican president, Guadalupe Victoria, granted Humboldt citizenship. Beset by financial and political burdens, Humboldt never returned to the Americas, but he continues to be viewed as a hero in the region.
The statue of Humboldt in Alameda Central Park, commissioned in 1999 by the Mexican government, commemorates the 200th anniversary of his visit to the country and the contributions he made to scientific progress. If you look at the boots of the figure you will notice three symbolic details representing his contributions to different fields. A basilisk lizard can be found crawling up the side of the explorer's boot, symbolizing his contributions to zoology and biology. A vine can be seen, representing discoveries made in botany, and finally, a little notepad with a mathematic equation represents the advances he made in geology.