The Racial Symbolism of the Topsy-Turvy Doll

The uncertain meaning behind a half-black, half-white, two-headed toy

by K. Tait Jarboe

It’s unclear whether topsy-turvy dolls were first created to reinforce racial and sexual power dynamics or if they were something more subversive. Either way, the dolls have since the beginning been reinterpreted and appropriated.

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The Implant That Helps Fight Cancer

How the medical port, placed under the skin to facilitate the flow of drugs, makes chemotherapy a part of a patient's body

by Anna Leahy

Approximately 650,000 people undergo chemotherapy treatment annually in the United States. The medical port has become an integral part of treatment for many of them.

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The Fonts We Love to Hate

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Let’s take a trip back in time to revisit the worst fonts of each decade since fonts became usable on computers.

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Making Music With Color

How color organs connect light and sound

by Michael Betancourt

The invention of color music (and the instruments that perform it) is rooted in the similar way humans experience sound and light, two entirely unrelated phenomena that behave in similar ways—both can penetrate materials, radiate in all directions equally, and diminish with distance following the square-cube law.

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The Pregnancy Test as Plot Device

A Mini Object Lesson

by Anya Groner

The pregnancy test provides endless opportunities for misinformation and dramatic comedy.

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Life Among the Vampires

How the real-life people who feed on blood became an organized community, with its own rules and traditions

by John Edgar Browning

For its participants, real vampirism isn’t a fad to be adopted one day and discarded the next (and those who treat it as such dismissed as mere “lifestylers” by the community). They feed out of what they are convinced is a biological need.

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The Football Play

A Mini Object Lesson

by Mark Yakich

The enjoyment I find in a poem is in the words, sounds, and structures that repeat, connect, or hang together in specific ways. For me, football is most beautiful in the interplay of such pattern and variation.

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Why the Sparrow’s Beak Is an Evolutionary Puzzle

New findings about bird bills yield additional mysteries.

by Robin Tricoles

For evolutionary biologists, the bill is iconic.

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Through the Plexiglass: A History of Museum Dioramas

How animal displays have shaped, and been shaped by, humans’ relationship with the natural world

by Bridgitte Barclay

Dioramas: created to mimic the natural context of the animals that they contain, these scenes invite their viewers to question how those animals relate to each other, their environment, and humans.

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Fishing Shirt

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

The fishing shirt pledges to spirit us through the world with foresight, durability, and protection; but it also nestles blandly into the consumerscape numbly taking place all around.

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Uber for X

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Reanimating the once-dead, mobile on-demand industry, Uber brings you services and products ranging from alcohol to haircuts, from house call doctors to laundry.

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The Mason Jar, Reborn

How a container once integral to farming culture came to be the hipster vessel of choice

by Ariana Kelly

The Mason jar’s resurgence is due, in part, to the variety of ways in which it can be repurposed. It’s repeatedly praised for its reusability, its aesthetic appeal, and its purity. It has, however, recently taken on a negative connotation of its own.

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Consider the Lavatory

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

While airlines go to great lengths to sell the experience of flight as individuated, personal, and endlessly customizable—the lavatory is the only truly private place on normal commercial airliners.

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The Art of Fridge Magnets

A Mini Object Lesson

by Jonathan Rees

What refrigerator magnets do best is to make a boring, mass-produced appliance seem more individualized than it otherwise would be. They give us a chance to fill the largest blank space in our houses other than our walls with whatever we decide defines us at any particular moment.

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Gas Leaks Can’t Be Tamed

They’re invisible, everywhere, and mostly harmless

by Nicholas Kawa

Aside from their contribution to climate change, most natural-gas leaks pose little threat. And, for that reason, the gas company generally lets them be. They belong to a much broader world that is often well beyond our control, even when we try to pretend otherwise.

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Watermelon, Fruit of the Flesh

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Seeds. Seeds everywhere, just like there used to be before the Great Unseedening. Back when watermelon was a seasonal, seeded fruit, it was really something else entirely.

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Makeover Your Keurig

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

K-Cups—those self-contained coffee pods for Keurig Green Mountain instant brew machines—were once as hot as, well, coffee. But they have cooled off considerably. Even assuming Green Mountain erodes and browns into oblivion, what are we supposed to do with all those brewers?

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Sculpting Identity: A History of the Nose Job

For centuries, people have used nasal surgery to protect, or improve, their place in society.

by Tiffany Hearsey

Plastic surgery sells norms of youth and beauty by offering consumers opportunities to recreate their appearance. However, they don’t always succeed. It’s when plastic surgery is visible—think of Michael Jackson’s infamous nose—that social fears of disfigurement manifest as revulsion.

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How The Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive

Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands

by Josh Giesbrecht

Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is complicated.

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The Piano That Can’t Play a Tune

How the restoration of Fats Domino’s Steinway grand piano reflects the trajectory of post-Katrina New Orleans

by Mary Niall Mitchell

Submerged in nine feet of water from a massive breach in the nearby Industrial Canal, it sat for weeks in the fetid lake that covered 80 percent of New Orleans after Katrina. It is a tale about persistence in the face of government neglect, cataclysmic disaster, and the painful incompleteness of reconstruction.

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