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The Uncommon Life

Get Your Brain Buzzing: 8 Uncommon Facts About Honey

September 11, 2015

Casey-in-Uniform

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to meet with Casey Elsass from MixedMade and tour his honey infusing and bottling facility, where Bees Knees Spicy Honey is born. Casey is a home gourmand turned condiment entrepreneur who makes Spicy Honey, and it was clear that he had his honey facts down. When I asked him about the odd looking organic debris he had to skim from the top of a massive, 60 lb. bucket of honey, he told me — “that’s pollen.”

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At this point, I chimed in something about how eating local honey is supposed to be good at alleviating allergies, since it can contain some local pollen — but Casey’s “ehhhh, I dunno about that. I think that’s just a myth.” left me second-guessing. When I did my research, I confirmed that this was nothing more than a bowl of Honey-Nut Lies.  Honey is actually made from nectar, not pollen, and flowers aren’t the source of allergy-inducing pollen anyways. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet…

To make up for that blunder, we’ve put together a few of our favorite true honey facts sure to have any honey obsessed foodie buzzing.

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1.) Grin and Bear It

Aside from classic ketchup and mustard bottles, few foods can claim to be as visually iconic in the landscape of the post-war American supermarket as the honey bear bottle. The ursine design was first used in 1957 by the Dutch Gold Honey Company; future president of the company Ralph Gamber allegedly remarked: “a bear likes honey, why not a bear of honey?” Classic. Since plastic was more expensive to produce back then, it was somewhat of a business gamble – but it clearly paid off. America’s favorite bear even has a name too – “Nugget.

PicMonkey Collagesghzhf

2.) Sweet and Somber

Today, we drizzle honey on a lot of things – toast, cheese, you name it. How about a dead emperor? I doubt that would fly now – would probably be pretty chalky – but the use of honey in burials used to be all the rage. Notably, Alexander the Great is rumored to have been buried in a golden coffin filled with white honey. That sounds pretty excessive, but he had his reasons; as a prized treat, honey was understandably associated with special occasions, rituals, and distinguished persons way back in the way back. Honey also symbolized death in many ancient cultures, presumably in reference to the sweet sustenance that honey would provide to the soul. Plus, honey is the only organic food that will never expire, and thus a likely preservative. I wonder how good ol’ Alex is holding up after all these years?

Where “Nugget” has his charm, the Varietal Honey Flight brings back the elegance of ancient honey, minus all the morbid death stuff.

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3.) Clean from the Comb

Using honey as a beauty and grooming product may be part of the all-natural beauty industry trend, but honey has been used to clean wounds since ancient times due to it’s antimicrobial properties and viscous stickiness.  Today, the US Food and Drug Administration actually recommends a special kind of honey – Manuka honey – for this purpose, since it has the added effect of releasing hydrogen peroxide. Plus, it’ll help the band-aid stay on better.

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4.) The Honeymoon Isn’t Over

While we’re on the sticky subject, ever wonder where the term “honeymoon” comes from? The term dates back to the Medieval European traditions of a newly married couple drinking honey wine (mead) for a full cycle of the moon after their wedding. Mead was thought to be an aphrodisiac – you get the picture. While “mead” might conjure up imagery of Medieval jousting lists and downy, dirty men slurping from tankards, it’s actually somewhat of a universal beverage, surfacing in cultures from Ancient Greece to Sub-Saharan Africa to Imperial China, and likely predating both wine and beer as the first alcoholic beverage due to its tendency to arise naturally under the right conditions.

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5.) What’s the Buzz?

Not only are honeybees industrious – they’re highly advanced communicators, central to which is their excellent perception of time. Biologists have determined that bees relay the location of food sources through a kind of dance code – first cracked by Karl Ritter von Frisch in 1973 – detailing the direction and distance of the flower relative to the sun’s position, by which they are even able to account for the movement of the sun when they tell their tale. It’s almost like a crude form of vector calculus mixed with interpretive dance.

Wildflower Honeycomb | UncommonGoods

6.) Waxing Philosophical (and Mathematical)

The fastidious and colonial regularity of the honeybee is showcased perfectly by the precise uniformity of honeycomb… but why hexagons? Why not another shape? It’s an age-old question, first posed in 36 BC by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro. Since wax is resource intensive for honey bees – they need to eat about 8 oz. of honey to make one oz. of wax – it makes sense that they wouldn’t use a shape like a circle, which would create gaps between cells that would need patching with wax. But why not a triangle or square then? It turns out that a hexagonal structure is the most compact and thus uses the least wax – proved only recently in 1999 by mathematician Thomas Hales. The bees knew it all along…

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7.) Mind Your Beeswax

Bees secrete beeswax from special abdominal epidermal glands. Long coveted by humans for use in candles, beeswax has actually been used as a form of currency throughout history! In 181, when the Romans defeated the neighboring Corsicans, they imposed a hefty tax of 100,000 pounds of beeswax on the islanders. Later, in 4 AD, the Roman Catholic Church decreed that only beeswax candles may be used in church rites. The decree still stands today, but church candles are usually only 5 – 50% pure.

 

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8.) It Takes a Colony

Ecological and agricultural issues surrounding domesticated honeybees have gotten a lot of media attention in the past few years. Honeybee populations seem to be vulnerable where they weren’t especially so before, with die-off rates as high as almost 50% in 2013 due to a mysterious phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). The causes of CCD are still under investigation, but scientists speculate that the prevalence of crop monocultures – which reduce the variety of a colony’s diet – and increased use of pesticides are at least partially to blame. Bees play an integral part in human agriculture as pollinators, and there’s never been a better time to give bees a home.

See Our Honey Products | UncommonGoods

The Uncommon Life

The Best of Uncommon Knowledge: 10 Tidbits to Tighten Your Trivia Game

September 10, 2015

The Best of Uncommon Knowledge | UncommonGoods

Have you ever wondered why so many things are referred to as things or why we wish upon stars? We do, and we’re not about to just sit around wondering! Each week we go out and find a bit of Uncommon Knowledge that answers one of those less-than-pressing, but certainly entertaining, questions. We’ve compiled quite the collection of trivial tidbits over the years, and we figured it was about time to find out which fun facts our readers find the most interesting. The 10 questions below received the most clicks from customers when featured in our weekly emails. (We threw in the answers, too.)

Why are moonshine jugs marked XXX?

Personalized Whiskey Barrel | UncommonGoods

 Personalized Whiskey Barrel

Most of us have only seen them in cartoons or caricatures, but we all know what it means: an old-fashioned jug marked with XXX is full of moonshine. It turns out that the marks refer specifically to moonshine’s distilling process. The moonshiners would start by distilling a mash of fermented sugar cane pulp. The resulting liquid, known as the “singlings,” is foul-tasting and a mere 30-40% alcohol by volume. To get the kick that moonshine is known for, it has to go through two more distillations—rendering it almost 100% pure alcohol. The three X’s on the jug were meant to signify that its contents had completed that triple-step process, and also that it might just be strong enough to knock your shoes off, curl your hair, and take your breath away for the next thirty-six hours.

Why do refined people have blue blood?

Anatomical Heart Pendant | UncommonGoodsAnatomical Heart Pendant 

They don’t. No one does. Blood does vary in color—but only from bright red to dark red. The fact that some blood vessels appear blue beneath the skin is actually trick of the light. Much in the same way that the ocean looks blue even though water itself has no color, when light passes through the outer layers of our skin and bounces off a blood vessel, the frequency most likely to bounce back out to our eyes is blue. That does not have any effect on the color of the blood itself. However, this misconception has long been a tool for supporting class distinction. Starting as far back as medieval Spain, being able to see veins of “sangre azul” beneath pale skin was a mark of a privileged, sheltered life that was unavailable to the sun-tanned working class. And though now we live in an age where sun-starved office workers dream of luxuriating out on the beach somewhere, our blue-blooded illusion of the upper class remains.

Are you a citizen of Pelisipia?

Scratch Map | UncommonGoods

Scratch Map

If Thomas Jefferson had had his way, you might be. In 1787, the newly-formed government of the United States passed an ordinance claiming the land south of the Great Lakes as American soil. Called the Northwest Territory, this act established the pattern by which the government would expand its borders westward: by creating new states rather than by expanding existing ones. Thomas Jefferson was one of the early proponents of this plan. The author of the Declaration of Independence turned his pen to the map of this new frontier, drew straight lines dividing the area into seventeen proposed states, and invented names for them all using a combination of Latin and Native American words. Some of those names, like Illinoia and Michigania, were adapted into official usage. Others, however, would have given an entirely different flavor to the American landscape. Can you imagine hailing from the great states of Metropotamia, Equitasia, Chersonesus, Assenisipia?

Can math save your toast?

Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags | UncommonGoods

Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags

We’ve all experienced the devastating loss of freshly buttered toast. One careless knock off the plate, a case of…butterfingers…en route to your mouth, and the whole slice goes plummeting to its certain doom—almost always to land butter-side down. Conventional wisdom would suggest that you only stand a 50-50 chance of completely ruining breakfast. However, conventional wisdom does not take into account the nature of bread. Bread is made up of delicious pockets of air, which affect its drag as it falls. Cover up those pockets with butter, and you have a rotation situation, meaning (according to science) the bread is only able to rotate one and a half times on its way to your kitchen tile. If your table is standard height, this means you’ll probably be cleaning butter off the floor in the near future. So what’s a bruncher to do? After dropping 100 perfectly good pieces of toast, food science specialists determined that an eight-foot tall table would allow for a full 360-degree rotation, and the salvation of your morning carbohydrate. Incredibly tall toast fans rejoice!

Does short hair make women wild?

Honey Bears Shampoo and Conditioner Set | UncommonGoodsHoney Bears Shampoo and Conditioner Set

It sure must have seemed that way in the early 20th century. Women had worn their hair long in Western culture for centuries, and the latest look at the turn of the century—the Gibson girl—required long tresses piled luxuriantly on top of the head. So during WWI, when women began cutting their hair at ear-level, it was considered rather scandalous. But 1915 was a tipping point, when famed ballroom dancer Irene Castle introduced the “Castle Bob” haircut. Suddenly short hair for women entered the mainstream, along with other shocking fashions, such as high hemlines and cloche hats—which could only be worn by those with short hair. Hairdressers were initially so resistant to the new trend that women would line up outside of men’s barbershops just to get their locks sheered. So did the bob make women wild? Not exactly. The fact is that, in the beginning, short hair was a practical choice for women during the war who were joining the workforce. Long hair is lovely for a magazine spread, but impractical when working with heavy machinery. And even Irene Castle picked her signature look for its ease when dancing. It was only later, in the 1920s, when women—now with a literal weight off their minds—began wondering what additional kinds of liberation they might enjoy.

Did you inherit DNA from both parents?

Genetic Code Glasses | UncommonGoods

Genetic Code Glasses

Yes and no. The kind of DNA that we typically think of in our cells, which is responsible for giving you your father’s nose or your mother’s dimples, definitely comes from both parents. However, that’s not the only kind of DNA you have. Inside your cells are a variety of “organelles” that perform specific functions. One of those, the mitochondrion, is known as the cell’s power plant. It also happens to contain its own independent set of DNA. Research suggests that this genetic material actually has a separate evolutionary origin than our regular DNA, and that mitochondria may have once been bacteria that established a symbiotic relationship within our cells. The other surprising fact about mitochondrial DNA? Children only inherit it from their mothers.

Are beards good for you?

Razor Pit Sharpener | UncommonGoodsRazor Pit Sharpener

It has been scientifically proven that beards are awesome. For one thing, a beard can literally save you from cancer, by blocking 90% of the UV rays that would ordinarily be hitting your face. Since UV radiation also causes signs of aging in skin, a beard can keep you looking younger longer. Facial hair can also reduce your trouble with allergies, by trapping dust and pollen. On the other hand, shaving can cause skin irritation, ingrown hair and bacterial infections. So don’t just grow that beard to enhance your rugged manliness. Grow it for your health.

Why do you want to eat a baby?

Egg Roll Baby | UncommonGoods

Egg Roll Baby

You know all those times when seeing a newborn makes you say, “Oh, what a sweet baby! I could just eat you right up!” Or that inclination to pop those cute little toes into your mouth, or to blow a raspberry on that roly-poly tummy? Research suggests that you do those things because babies make you subconsciously think about food. It’s the smell that does it. The scent of a newborn baby activates the area of the brain that controls food cravings, and prompts a release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Fortunately, this hunger doesn’t drive us to literally eat our young. Instead, it gives us a craving to nurture, feed and protect those precious little dumplings.

How powerful is a name?Personalized Subway House Sign | UncommonGoodsPersonalized House Sign – Times Square Subway

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but an embarrassing nickname can haunt you for centuries. King Alfonso IX of Leon, for example, is still recorded in the history books as “The Slobberer” because of his tendency to foam at the mouth when angry. Sometimes, however, the nicknames stick so well that we don’t even realize they are nicknames. Ernesto “Che” Guevara was given his nickname because he used the word “che” so often—it’s the Argentine equivalent of saying “dude” or “bro.” The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was actually named Aristocles. The name Plato was supposedly given to him by his wrestling coach, and means “broad”—perhaps the ancient Greek version of “tubby.” But when a nickname sticks, sometimes the best defense is to run with it. When James Hickock couldn’t shake the nickname “Duck Bill”—a reference to his large nose and protruding upper lip—he instead altered it just a bit, and became known as Wild Bill Hickok, one of the most famous gunslingers of the American West.

Why are wedding cakes so tall?

Gold Rimmed Serving Pedestal | UncommonGoods

Gold Rimmed Serving Pedestal 

Those hilarious videos you’ve seen online, where hapless newlyweds accidentally topple their towering wedding cakes, are actually right in line with a centuries-old tradition. Before wedding cakes as we know them were developed, a tradition in medieval England was to celebrate a marriage with a towering pile of sweetened buns. The bread was heaped high on the table, and if the couple could reach across for a kiss without knocking any over, they were said to be guaranteed a life of happiness together. It seems likely that the guests would leave the stack just short enough for the bride and groom to succeed—and yet, the entertainment value of seeing it fall must have been a sore temptation. So, perhaps all of these collapsing confections in the videos are not accidents, but exactly what the wedding cake was originally designed to do.

See more Uncommon Knowledge

The Uncommon Life

Celebrating The Bard’s Birthday: 5 Uncommon Facts About Shakespeare

April 22, 2015

Shakespeare Printable Party Kit | UncommonGoods

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, so it’s pretty impressive that someone who was born 451 years ago is still influencing pop culture today. (On the other hand, he’s had plenty of time to make a lasting impression!) Not only do we owe words, commonly used phrases, and even a popular first name to The Bard, here at UncommonGoods we also owe him for inspiring our Shakespearean Soiree Printable Party Kit. Our kit is packed with fun Shakespeare facts, making it a great way to sneak a little nerdery into your party. (Bonus fun fact, “nerd” actually wasn’t coined by Shakespeare, the credit for that one goes to Dr. Seuss.)

We worked with our friends at Mental_Floss to find the perfect pieces of trivia to incorporate into the kit and give us ideas for the decorations, games, and party accessories included. So, in honor of Shakespeare’s birthday, we’re sharing a few of the posts that helped us make sure our stories weren’t bogus.

Shakespeare

Image Credit: THINKSTOCK/ERIN MCCARTHY via Mental_Floss

1.) “To Be or Not to Be?”

Our cupcake toppers feature a play on this extremely well-known quote from Hamlet, which continues, “that is the question—/Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer/The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,/ Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles…” It turns out that line was once something else entirely. According to Bad Quartos: What Shakespeare Could’ve Been, the line appeared as “To be or not to be. Aye, there’s the point. To die, to sleep—is that all? Aye, all.” in an edition that was available between 1603 and 1604. The cause of this lesser known soliloquy? Piracy! Bootlegged copies of Shakespeare’s plays made their way into bookstores after shady playgoers copied down what they could remember and then printed their knockoff versions.

2.) “Sweets to the Sweet”

This one comes from Hamlet as well, but how could we resist using this perfect quote on our treat bag? We learned from 7 Geeky-Cool Translations of Hamlet that Hamlet has been translated into hundreds of languages. It’s no surprise that such a famous play has been so widely translated, but we were surprised (and oh so pleased) to see it translated into Klingon, Emoji, and even a Lego animation.

3.) “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

Our Pin the Soap on Lady Macbeth game is definitely less gruesome than The Scottish Play, but fans of the tragedy will recall that that murder and mayhem run rampant through the Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is riddled with guilt and attempts to scrub clean a blood stain that isn’t actually there. This is pretty dark stuff, but there is a bright side. The article Out, Damned Spot! explains the Macbeth effect , “a psychological phenomena where cleanliness lessens guilty feelings.”

Macbeth | UncommonGoods

4.) Titania and Oberon

Titania and Oberon are perhaps best known as the King and Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the comedy featured in our “playbill” guest book. Although this list of 12 Distant Places in the Solar System (And What They’re Named After) isn’t specifically about famous fictional couple, it does feature their celestial namesakes. Titania and Oberon are also moons of Uranus. Not only are all of Uranus’ moons traditionally named for characters created by Shakespeare or Alexander Pope, their geographical features are also named for people and places in Shakespeare’s work.

5.) Who Will Be Named King?

The crown we chose for our party hats was based on King Lear, and while a specific Mental_Floss post didn’t point us to the design, we were happy to learn from 13 Titles Inspired by Shakespeare Phrases that a line from the play indirectly influenced the title of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Other authors who looked to Shakepeare to help title their work include David Foster Wallace, Ray Bradbury, and Mental_Floss host John Green.

Baxter as King Lear | UncommonGoodsBaxter as King Lear


Print the Kit | UncommonGoods

Gift Guides

Melissa’s Game Night: Kwizniac Trivia Countdown Game

January 15, 2013

Welcome to the second installment of “Melissa’s Game Night,” the blog post series where I fill you in on the behind-the-scenes product testing I conduct on new uncommon games. Basically, I force all of my friends to play games with me, then I write about it.

This time around, we played Kwizniac, “The Trivia Countdown Game.”

Kwizniac is the kind of game that is the perfect time-filler. As people trickled in for the game get-together (I have some punctual friends, and some not-so-punctual friends) I had the box sitting on top of my counter. I was whipping up some dinner for everyone–boiling pasta, and heating up canned pasta sauce. I know, I’m a culinary genius–and people kept grabbing cards out of the deck, reading through them, chuckling, and then reading out the clues to me and the others while I “cooked.” This informal play was just as much fun as when I got the whole group to sit down with their dinners and we actually played the game for real.

The way the game works is simple. There’s “a set of 10 clues provided in decreasing order of difficulty, where each clue is easier to decipher than the previous clue in the sequence.”

The scoring system is also easy to follow. If you guess the answer on the first clue that is read you get 10 points, and “the number of points a player receives for a correct answer decreases as he or she progresses through the sequence of clues. The player with the highest score wins the game.” To be honest, though, I have never even paid attention to the score while playing the game – what’s great about Kwizniac is that the score isn’t really necessary or isn’t even the most fun part of the game. It’s highly interactive, and seems to spiral off into fun conversational tangents every time I play. It’s the kind of thing that you can pick up and read through only one card and it still has that moment of competitive trivia fun, or play for an entire span of time. You can use it for a true game night with a bunch of friends, as a conversation starter among two friends or on a date, or as a fun moment of learning alone. (Yes I have done all 3, don’t judge.)

The variety of clues is also great. There were a bunch of clues about everyday objects and creatures that were great in the “wow, I had no idea!” kind of way (i.e. Did you know that giraffes have the highest blood pressure of any animal? Or that garlic belongs to the onion family?), and then clues that are a little harder to capture at first but become obvious as you go through. For example, for Barbie, the first clue is “She made her debut in 1959” (no idea), the 5th clue is “She has over 40 pets, including a horse named Dancer” (still fairly open), the 3rd is “Every second, two of her are sold somewhere in the world” (getting warmer), the 2nd is “Her boyfriend’s name is Ken” (got it!), and the last is “If she was a real person her measurements would be 36-18-38” (yikes).

I love this deck. We had a ball at game night, and my copy of Kwizniac now lives next to my couch, where houseguests pick it up all the time and flip through it. It’s a fun, easy piece to keep around – perfect for kids and adults alike. Kwizniac is destined to teach you something new!

Thanks for joining me for Game Night. See you next time!
Melissa

P.s. Our community moderator just told me that she should have read through and memorized all of these before she tried out for Jeopardy! recently. I agree.

*Editor’s Note: The quiz game fun doesn’t have to come to an end after the first deck. Kwizniac 2nd Edition is also available, so your friends can guess the answers to those countdown clues for many game nights to come! And, there’s a version for younger trivia fans, too: Kwizniac Kidz!

The Uncommon Life

Sláinte! Here’s to the ‘Water of Life’ on St. Paddy’s

March 15, 2012

You might not feel particularly lively the morning after a festive St. Patrick’s celebration, but that doesn’t stop many from partaking in the “water of life” in celebration of Ireland. In other words, the rivers of Whiskey will flow on March, 17.

This golden-brown beverage has a rich history, so we thought we’d share a little more about Irish Whiskey.

Whiskey Stones

Whiskey Stones Gift Set

Uisce on the rocks, please.
Actually, whiskey as we know it came to be in Ireland. In the 6th century Monks used distilled grains as the base for medicines. They called it “Uisce Beatha,” in Goidelic, or “water of life,” thanks to its healing properties. (While some may argue that whiskey doesn’t have any healing properties, keep in mind that it is antiseptic and a pain killer.) Over time, the spirit became known as “whiskey,” a mispronunciation of “Uisce.”

Irish Spirit
Whiskey love spread across Europe over time. For example, to Scotland, where it developed in to Scotch. It’s said that Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed imbibing in the distilled drink, and Peter the Great once proclaimed, “of all the wines, the Irish spirit is the best.”

clover and little white flowers image by roens

Spell it how you want–just don’t spill it!
Irish Whiskey remains a favorite, and will certainly be enjoyed the world over on St. Paddy’s, but it’s competition has grown over time. English Whisky, and North American rivals like Canadian Whisky, Bourbon, and Tennessee Whiskey now compete with the original.

Each variety is unique, since the recipes are different. While we can’t help you distinguish the subtle taste differences between a Straight Bourbon and a single-malt Scotch, we can provide a little tip to help you determine wither it’s whiskey or whisky. Countries with an “e” in their name produce whiskey–like Ireland’s Whiskey. No “e” in the country means no “e” in the drink–like Scotch Whisky.

Whiskey Business
Since you won’t want to be caught drinking the wrong whiskey on St. Patrick’s Day, here are a few notes on what makes the original malt masterpiece truly Irish. First, as Tennessee Whiskey must come from Tennessee and Scotch must come from Scotland, Irish Whiskey must be distilled in Ireland or Northern Ireland from native ingredients. Also, true Irish Whiskey comes from a yeast-fermented grain mash that is aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of 3 years. Different brands of Irish Whiskey do have their own subtle flavors, so you’ll have options when it comes time to toast to good health. Sláinte!

Shot Spilz Glasses

Sources: Little Shamrocks, Tullamore Dew, Whiskey Guild, Real Men Drink Whiskey, The Kitchn