Crate of Curios part 21

It’s already past midnight, Cinderella has left the ball and the realization that this week’s Crate is late is slowly dawning upon me. However, an effort of willful ignorance overpowers the embarrassment and the process commences. Hence, albeit slightly late, the Crate will be opened as if nothing had happened and as if it were still Sunday.

  1. It’s just about to be the time of the year that during “normal” times is one of the few occasions when one can legitimately sport a mask – indeed it’s Carnival time! And in Japan it’s possible to get a mask that’ll take one directly to the Uncanny Valley.

2. Walking is good for many reasons – not only for physical exercise, but it’s now been scientifically proven that walking also makes one more creative. The Dadaists also dedicated a lot of thoughts to the poetics and politics of walking in a city and seemingly got up to some rather surreal shenanigans themselves while practicing it.

3. As I already mentioned in connection with Ig Nobel prizes in the previous Crate, science when it’s done right involves great opportunities for laughter and wonder. A good example being the Nautilus Ocean Exploration team observing a gulper eel.

4. We all know that friends are important – but what about acquaintances, casual mates or the local newsagent? As it turns out, they are much more important for our mental welfare than we’ve ever realized.

5. The UK is a home to a great number of charming oddities and one of them is a crinkle crankle wall. As unusual as it looks, in fact it has a greater stability and strength than a regular straight brick wall.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 20

Athens was cold on this Valentine’s Day, and if the weather forecast is to be believed, it will get colder still. So it’s all about layers, layers, layers, warm food and rejoicing in the pleasures of a warm heater. But all this is just to keep the body temperature stable. In order not to have the mind go into hibernation state, let’s go ahead and open this week’s Crate without further ado.

  1. Why do we actually consider steak to be ‘manly’ and ‘salad’ to be feminine food? Well, it’s actually an oddity that we owe to the Victorians.

2. Continuing on the subject of food, it’s estimated that there are about 350 types of pasta. This rather extensive infographic shows about a half of them.

3. Would we have chairs if we had tails? How would a nursery look like if we laid eggs? How do science fiction writers come up with all this stuff? Unsurprisingly, it depends on the particular writer. (On the photo – Nnedi Okafor)

4. The famous quote attributed to Isaac Asimov goes something like “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny …”. Science is generally considered a serious business, but Ig Nobel prizes are awards celebrating precisely this sentiment – or as they themselves put it – they are all about research that makes people laugh and then think.

5. The limelight has finally started to seek out female artists who for different reasons have not made it to the mainstream art curricula. Gabriele Münter, one of the initiators (although not a full-fledged member) of the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter deserves every bit of it.

6. And, just because it’s Valentine’s Day, I’ll throw in an extra poem. This one by Edith Wharton and dates all the way back to 1909.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 19

It’s Sunday again and our weekend curfew has been moved up to 6 pm, but the weather gods have somewhat ironically been kind this weekend – the Halcyon Days are in full force, so we’ve enjoyed delightful spring temperatures. However, now it’s time to open the new Crate.

  1. Everyone needs to see Shetland ponies being dressed in hand-knitted jumpers.

2. Generally we think of depression as something entirely negative and disabling, but could there be an evolutionary upside to it? A new theory argues that it could have evolved as a survival technique. (Comic by the brilliant Hannah Hillam).

3. Mold is by and large a good sign that something is no longer fit to eat. Yet it’s an integral part of some delicacies like the Hungarian Tokaji wine where the botrytis fruit fungus is the component giving the wine its characteristic sweet taste and mild antiseptic properties.

4. Every creative person knows how difficult in can be to get started with a new project – and I mean really started, besides the preparation and research phase. Yet there’s no way around it – Khe Ky gives some very workable tips on how to get around the typical excuses. (Cartoon by the amazing Gemma Correll)

5. Art and science are usually not considered to be bedmates, yet they have had their moments. One of those involves the skeleton of a stegosaurus and Gary Larson’s ‘thagomizer’.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


If you want to receive the Crate to your mailbox, you can subscribe here at Substack.
The Crate is now also available on Medium.

Crate of Curios part 18

This week has passed rather fast, mostly with rather miserable winter weather. There was a little hope for more things opening up from the starting week, but that didn’t last long – at the moment we can feel lucky for not having the evening curfew changed to 6pm in stead of 9pm. As there are only counted minutes left of this Sunday, let’s get right to it and open this week’s Crate.

  1. Fairy tales (at least in their original form) can be rather sordid affairs, but now it turns out that some of them might also hide a grain of historical truth. The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin who, after not getting his due payment, led the all the children of Hamelin out of the village never to return, seems to point to a real historical event from 26 June 1284. What exactly transpired in Hamelin on that date is still a target of much speculation among historians.

2. Our current obsession with too much screen time is apparently just another one in a long line of historical grievances – as documented by Pessimists Archive. In 1898, it’s ‘too much reading’, in 1938 ‘ too much radio’ that might cause ‘boiler factory ears’ and in 1956 ‘too much TV’.

3. Snoozing, as these candle clocks show, is definitely not a new phenomenon either.

4. Artists tend to think that eventual fame is only dependent on the quality of their work, but research has shown that it -surprise, surprise – also comes down to who they are acquainted with. (Photo from 1911,
from left: Maria and Franz Marc, Bernhard Koehler sen., Heinrich Campendonk, Thomas von Hartmann, sitting: Wassily Kandinsky.)

Wassily Kandinsky with group of artists from the Blue Rider. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

5. Cars can be used for showing off many things, starting with one’s self-esteem and ending with other products. The practice of using cars as marketing vehicles in fact, dates back all the way to 1920’s and a number of these curious vehicles are still out and about.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios – ISOLATION special

As our somewhat softening lockdown has been prolonged for yet another week, it seems to be a good occasion for making a special edition of the Crate this time around. The topic – surprise, surprise – is ISOLATION and in order to celebrate this little event, this Crate will contain more treasures than usual. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

  1. Whilst the current isolation is born out of necessity, throughout history there have been (and still are) people who have sought it out voluntarily. Indeed, I’m referring to hermits who in the medieval period were highly honoured for their reclusive lifestyle.

2. Speaking of hermits, the most famous contemporary one must surely be the hermit in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’.

3. How much trouble can one possibly take to get away from the maddening crowd? For one, someone has erected a solitary dwelling on the remote Elliðaey island in the Icelandic Vestmannaejar archipelago. Who it might have been is hitherto unknown, as the owner of the house has despite various speculations remained a mystery.

4. When Robinson Crusoe and the protagonists of Jules Verne’s “Mysterious Island” ended up isolated by accident, French cave explorer Michel Siffre spent extended periods underground in complete solitude in order to find out how living ‘beyond time’ influences the human body.

5. One more thing a propos hermits, at Verena Gorge in Switzerland one could actually be hired to work as one. Considering that one of the tasks required is talking to tourists, the life might prove slightly less solitary than expected.

6. Artists are supposedly another naturally reclusive bunch, or at least people theoretically comfortable with the natural solitude of the profession. In reality the story behind this perception is a bit more complicated.

7. As the previously mentioned Elliðaey island might prove a touch too isolated for most, the Holy Isle just off the coast of Scotland could be a better bet. With a spiritual history dating back to 6th century A.D., it currently houses a Tibetan Buddhist community that welcomes visitors during summer season in non-Covid times.

8. Quarantine as means to contain disease is by no means a new invention – it was used successfully in Sardinia in 1582. Doctor Quinto Tiberio Angelerio, who had experienced a plague outbreak in Sicily a few years earlier, risked lynching by the angry mob due to his orders to lock down the city. Some of the 57 rules from his Ectypa Pestilentis Status Algheriae Sardiniae booklet sound rather familiar.

9. And finally in the Old English words of John Donne…

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 17

It is Sunday night again and this time the cold front ‘Leandros’ is promising us all possible weather phenomena starting with torrential rain and ending with snow. Whilst appreciating the leftover warmth in the radiator, let’s get to it without further ado.

  1. Fear of the new is anything but new and even things we consider rather nice and harmless now used to cause uproar in their early days. Bicycles, for instance were supposed to freeze the lovely features of the female pedallers into a ‘bicycle face’ (which sounds rather similar to the infamous Resting Bitch Face). However, ladies took the risk and bicycles became good business.

2. Archaeology is not only mud and ditches, but also state-of-the-art imaging technology as shown here to restore the text of one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

3. I wrote about Doorkins Magnificat, the cat of London’s Southwark Cathedral in Crate No.6 – they held a memorial service to her, that I, although an agnostic, found very moving. So now I’m happy to report that the old Cathedral has a new feline inhabitant – Hodge. And yes, he also has a Twitter account.

4. We might consider drones annoying for a number of reasons, but there’s no denying that they help the Andrews brothers produce stunning top-down photography – as Abstract Aerial Art thoroughly proves.

5. Today’s poetry spamming comes from the pen of the Russian poetess Marina Tsvetaeva and from the year 1916.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 16

Here we are again, it’s yet another lazy lockdown Sunday and what better pastime could there be than to make a cup of tea (although as an exception I made coffee today) and open the new Crate of Curios. Let’s get to it!

  1. Clowns tend to be more a matter of phobias than a hilarious stage act these days (looking at you, Stephen King), but there are still interesting things to discover about them. For instance, since 1946 all members of Clowns International get to have their personal stage makeup immortalized on an egg in Clown Egg Register. Originally these were actually emptied-out chicken eggs, but now for practical reasons they have moved on to ceramic eggs.

2. The Guardian has gathered a lot of interesting facts about Emily Brontë and “The Wuthering Heights” into a handful of nifty charts. However, if you see her compared to an emperor penguin somewhere, they are actually talking about her sister Charlotte.

3. Living in the city it’s sometimes easy to forget where our food comes from. OneSoil has gathered data about different crops grown in the US and Europe and made a fascinating map of it. Check out their Random beautiful fields feature!

4. How do Hollywood filmmakers know how the dwellings on desert planet Tatooine should look like in order to provide shelter for its inhabitants? Now they might Google, but first of all they visit the Michelson Cinema Research Library. In December 2020 it was taken over in its entirety by the Internet Archive, so after a period of uncertainty, it has finally found a forever home.

5. In a time period of pervasive employee surveillance, it’s rather refreshing to see the animation studio owners William Hanna and Joseph Barbera taking a stance on time clocks.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 15

And finally we made it over the finish line and tumbled into 2021. Will it be better or worse than 2020? Who knows. Probably the best way is to keep taking things day by day and enjoying the small things in life at least for the time being. And speaking of small things… it’s time for another Crate of Curios.

  1. Unless there’s a terrorist attack or some conflict between countries, we don’t really hear much about India in the news. Yet in a similar vein as elsewhere, people in India are taking to the streets in order to try and improve their lot – or at least keep it from getting worse. And in this spirit, protesting farmers in India have made their own rendition of the well-known Italian folk protest song “Bella Ciao”.

2. You think you know how to microwave your food? Think again. Most likely you are not doing it in the most optimal manner.

3. Orchids are generally considered the gracious swans of the flower world, but even they have an occasional duckling. Gastrodia agnicellus from Madagascar keeps itself quietly underground and only surfaces to flower and disperse its seeds. Although it looks rather like a flesh-eater, it’s actually a member of the genus of potato orchids.

4. Ever since the race to develop vaccines for Covid-19 started, mRNA has become one of the buzzwords. It sounds new and scarily unknown. However, the research behind it dates back to 1990 and owes much of its existence to the stubbornness of the Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó.

5. After 2020, it feels like a very practical approach to be prepared for every survival scenario.

And that’s it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!


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Crate of Curios part 14

Here we are in a mellow after-Christmas mood, ready to open yet another Crate of Curios. So let’s get to it!

  1. Cats, as we all already know, are the rulers of Internet and generally fascinating creatures. Those among us who do not cohabit with any, might not even know that one of their strange features is chirping when stalking their prey. This is thought to be either an expression of frustration or excitement or a more or less successful attempt to mimic the sounds of the creature they happen to be hunting. Ekekekkekkek has a great collection of the chirps on Instagram, but this feature is not unique for house cats, as proven by this Chilean güiña.

2. How came there always seems to be a little room left for dessert no matter how much you’ve eaten before? The culprit is to be found in our hormonal system.

3. Could the color of dried blood ever be fashionable with anyone except vampires? Well, in fact it has had its heyday in royal court.

4. This beauty is the very rare South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher.

5. Did you know how the different types of screw drives are called? Me neither before I found this nifty little chart.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until the next Crate that’ll be opened already in 2021!

Crate of Curios part 13

This week has passed unnoticeably as the lockdown lasts – days merge into a mellow river of time recently illuminated by the lonely Christmas lights on the streets. In short, it’s Sunday again and time to open a new Crate! So, here we go without further ado.

  1. If you for whatever reason happen to be wondering what the national animals of European (and its neighbouring) countries might be, you can see all of them on this gorgeous map (link leads to larger resolution version).

2. The maddening crowd might be everywhere – especially if one happens to be an urban dweller, but there are still places in the world where you can in a very literal sense get away from it all. Tristan da Cunha, the tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic, is even more remote than Napoleon’s geographical prison St. Helena.

3. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the recently passed US Supreme Court Justice, was known both for her tireless work to advance women’s rights and her sublime sense of fashion expressed by her robe collars.

4. To put it shortly – “Man has no garden, creates a stunning nano pond.” The man in question is ethnobotanist James Wong.

5. Lest we forget that writers are also humans who eat, The Paris Review is running a fascinating column called ‘Writers’ Fridges’.

And that was it for this time. Happy reading and until next week!