Get Out of the Way: A History of How Ambulance Lights Save Lives

For as ear-piercing as ambulance sirens are, you’d think they’d be better alert systems. Truth is: they’re shockingly ineffective. Drivers register the sound only at close proximity and at very low speeds. Guessing from which direction the ambulance will appear is always tricky, too—especially when the new Daft Punk is … » 6/06/13 2:00pm 6/06/13 2:00pm

There Is a Right and a Wrong Way to Use a Beach Towel

You think your beach towel is just some colorful barrier between your ass and the sand? Wrong. That water-wicking blanket is actually an intricately designed instrument, fine-tuned to provide you with the best possible poolside experience. And here's the thing: It's entirely possible that you've been using it wrong all … » 8/23/12 12:20pm 8/23/12 12:20pm

Toilet Paper: A Brief and Sometimes Painful History

Seinfeld excelled at criticism of the everyday. A few months ago, in a fine essay in the NY Times, Sam Anderson suggested that Roland Barthes was the father of pop cultural criticism and that we are all now cultural critics in the Barthian vein, "decoding everything." Perhaps. But if Barthes gave us serious criticism of… » 8/06/12 3:20pm 8/06/12 3:20pm

How the Creator of Wonder Woman Also Invented the Lie Detector

We learn to lie around age two or three. By the time we're adults, we do it a lot-at least once a day, and perhaps more like 2.92 lies in 10 minutes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. It's no wonder we've been chasing after an accurate lie detector for so long. » 7/12/12 1:00pm 7/12/12 1:00pm

From Fish Bladders to the Reservoir Tip: A History of Condom Design

It's summer, and you're (hopefully) going to get some game. It starts at a bar or a BBQ or your living room—wherever you go to meet a private dance-partner. You get ready to get sweaty, and then, the grab for contraception: "Honey/dude/whatsyourname, can you grab the fish bladder?" Or maybe it's: "Got your reusable sheep… » 7/05/12 3:20pm 7/05/12 3:20pm

How an 11-Year-Old Invented the Popsicle and Changed Summer Forever

Ever wonder why the popsicles you make at home don't taste quite as uniformly delicious as the ones in the freezer case? Well, you may have been perfecting your popsicle-making technique for years, but the ones in the store have a hundred years of science and innovation in their corner. It all started with one… » 6/14/12 1:30pm 6/14/12 1:30pm

Ketchup Used to Be Made of Fish: The Crazy History of The World's…

Here's something that might just blow your mind: ketchup—the national condiment of 1896, according to the New York Tribune—wasn't always tomato based. In fact, if it had remained in its early form, we might be spreading fish paste on our burgers (gulp) instead of the tangy tomato-y goodness we presently rely on. » 5/03/12 12:30pm 5/03/12 12:30pm

We've Been Trimming Our Nails Wrong for More Than 100 Years

Trimming your nails sucks, and it's not your digits' fault. Technology is to blame. Nail clippers. Blech. With a one size fits all design, it's impossible to get your whole nail in one clip. And curling over the bathroom bin doesn't make us any more likely to keep the floor clean of our cast offs. » 4/19/12 3:20pm 4/19/12 3:20pm

How the Pen Evolved from a Humble Paintbrush Into a Precise Instrument …

Yeah, you can buy those blue Bic pens in bulk if you want—a boatload costs about as much as your morning coffee. And all pens are pretty much the same, right? Of course not. Cheapo pens are much more likely to leave ink smeared across your nose, bleeding through your pants pocket, or glopping up your page. » 4/12/12 3:20pm 4/12/12 3:20pm

How the Bow and Arrow Took Over the World

If pop culture is any indication, bows and arrows are the weapon of the future. Weird, right? But also delightful: The Hunger Games stars an arrow-slinging heroine. Hawkeye will defend the Earth using a bow and arrow in The Avengers. The summer Olympics will have awesome archery competitions to ogle. And the TV's… » 4/05/12 12:00pm 4/05/12 12:00pm

Safe, Smart, and... Fun? The Surprising Science of ATMs

Using an automated teller machine is inherently risky. You stand there, your back turned, signaling to everyone around that you're about to have a wad of twenties in your pocket. If you're lucky, there's a security guard on duty. But usually it's just you and whoever is lurking in that little convex mirror. » 3/22/12 2:00pm 3/22/12 2:00pm

This Is How Spaceships Are Born

» 2/02/12 3:01pm 2/02/12 3:01pm

Have you ever wondered how the hell spaceships get made? I mean, how does something like the six-legged ATHLETE rover go from an engineering fantasy into an actual working thing? Creativity? Technological know-how? Sure, you need plenty of that. But most of all: It takes the stones to dream up what no one ever… » 2/02/12 3:01pm 2/02/12 3:01pm

How the Greenest Skyscraper Ever Is Rising Out of the Rubble of the…

On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center transformed from a pair of gleaming towers into a carcinogenic pile of smoldering rubble that's still killing people. Currently rising out of that rubble, though, is a skyscraper with the most environmentally advanced technologies ever attempted at the scale. » 9/08/11 11:30am 9/08/11 11:30am