Not Your Grandmother’s Meatball

The hearty Olive Garden staple is a far cry from the dish that Italian immigrants first brought to the United States.

by Marissa Landrigan

The meatball is a staple of Italian restaurants across America, from the lowly Olive Garden to the white tablecloths of upscale Manhattan eateries. But the meatballs you’ll get at Olive Garden are nothing like those found in Italy. Writing in Smithsonian, Shaylyn Esposito explains that Italian meatballs, known as polpettes, are considerably smaller than their American brethren.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

The Season of Small Toys

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

The names of Lego toys in the 1980s show that the age of excess was ramping up, replete with all the hyperbolic promises of eternal growth in newly-unregulated industry.

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What Engineers Can Learn From the Design of the Penis

The mechanics of the erection may have applications for robotics.

by M. Sophia Newman

The concept of using the design of the penis for other purposes is part of an established field called biomimicry, the science of applying nature’s design lessons to human problems.

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Our Reactor in the Sky

A Mini Object Lesson

by Anya Groner

Though humans organize our schedules around the clock, Daylight Savings reminds us that our lives, like our planet, revolve around the sun.

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Finding Solace in a Storage Unit

The facilities occupy a complicated place in American life.

by Abigail Greenbaum

We refuse to let go of our possessions, even as our lives propel us away from them. Our stuff and our hearts are hard to separate.

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How to Vanquish the Automated Towel Dispenser

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The toilet is the ultimate venue of control. It’s where you start to learn control, as a toddler, and where you eventually lose it, as a golden ager. And yet, today’s toilet has abandoned its role as the temple of control.

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The Slow Death of the Political Bumper Sticker

Why the campaign staple has been falling out of favor

by Simona Supekar

Sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. Some blame it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.

Read this essay at The Atlantic

How Millennials (Almost) Killed the Wine Cork

A new generation of wine drinkers came of age with screw caps and plastic bottle stoppers, but cork producers are mounting a campaign to win their loyalty.

by John Gifford

Though it has recaptured some market share in recent years, the cork industry is now fighting against the newly discovered appeal of plastic and aluminum. Much of cork’s current struggle can be attributed to one group in particular: Millennial wine drinkers, a generation that has less of an allegiance to traditional cork closures.

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Still a Staple of Modern Life

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Everything about the stapler reeks of a time gone. The all-metal body. The satisfying and audible cha-chunk of its operation. The details, too, like the rubberized pads in its undercarriage to prevent shifting on the desk or table while the violence of paper fastening is enacted.

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The New Starman

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

There is the not-so-subtle correspondence drawn between aerial velocity and road speed. Acceleration obliterates both space in front of us and time behind us. But we no longer have the old promises or futuristic fantasies of space travel.

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How the Microscope Redefined the Fact

By making images, not words, the most reliable source of information, the device changed what it means to know.

by Aaron Hanlon

17th-century scientists understood the limitations of the human senses. Our eyes can only do so much observing on their own; they need lenses to see things far away, and to see the minute details of things up close.

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Fingerless Gloves for Winter Superheroes

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Today, fingerless gloves are practical tools before they are outerwear, sportswear, or fashion. Fingers have become the tools that make the difference between sub-human and super-human action for us ordinary folk, via technology rather than ability.

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Like Baseball Cards, but for Funerals

Funeral cards are reminders of loved ones who have passed away—but when the names on the cards belong to strangers, they’re also collectibles.

by Michael Williams

On the surface, funeral cards look like Catholic trading cards, adorned with religious figures like Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a popular saint. On the backs of these 4.25-by-2.5 inch cards are the names of the deceased, their birth and death dates, and brief prayers or poems. The lure of memorial cards extends beyond a morbid fascination with death.

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When the Coffee Machine Is Just a Human

How pour-over takes the automation out of the brewing process

by Andrew Pilsch

Pour-over coffee values deliberation, flavor, and quality, treating coffee as something to be savored rather than pure brain fuel.

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The Wire Hanger’s Flexible Symbolism

Its design hasn’t changed much over its short history, but its meaning has.

by Ravi Mangla

While most first-generation devices have faded away to make room for more modern iterations, the malleable wire hanger has endured, with startlingly few modifications, for well over a century.

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No, There Are Not 100 Eskimo Words for “Snow”

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The number of “words” for snow in Eskimo languages is a misnomer, a strange lost-in-translation sort of way of explaining that you can use “snow” and its variant terms in as many different sentences as you wish.

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Blue Apron and the Thing About Dinner

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Blue Apron does something funny to dinner: it turns it into a predictably good thing to make and consume. It seems to come out just right, every time. This is profoundly weird, if you think about it: the idea that every meal should be perfect. What life is this?

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Ten Thousand Years of the Mortar and Pestle

The culinary tools still look more or less the same as they did in their earliest days

by Kate Angus

Modern-day mortars and pestles, no matter the composition, connect their owners to this ancient culinary and material history. The design has changed very little over the past several millennia: When you use it to grind spices into powder or make food into paste, you’re using essentially the same tool as the Aztecs, the Celts, the Sioux, the ancient Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Romans, to name just a few.

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The Airport Restroom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The reverie of travel has long ceased for most leisure travelers; mere survival is the goal.

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When Does Bread Become Toast?

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Is bread toast only insofar as a human toaster perceives it to be “done?” Is bread toast when it reaches some specific level of nonenzymatic browning?

Read this essay at The Atlantic