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Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Who Made Jaws’ Jaws?

May 31, 2016

22179_SharkSlippersThe blockbuster’s iconic poster image owes as much to a museum as it does to pulp fiction illustration. The monstrous Great White shark surging from the bottom of the frame toward a hapless swimmer was designed by Roger Kastel for the paperback edition of Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel. From that, you might expect that Kastel spent weeks in a wetsuit and a shark cage, studying the ocean’s uber-predators firsthand. Nope. He just took the C train uptown to the American Museum of Natural History to study their shark exhibits, dry and threatened only by mobs of tourists. Kastel’s museum inspirations might have included the fearsome, disembodied reconstruction of a Carcharodon megalodon’s jaws, a shark ancestor that terrorized the seas some 10 million years ago. The bathing beauty at the top of Kastel’s image was actually a model that he had been sketching for a Good Housekeeping ad. He asked her to stay a little longer and had her pose for the image by lying on a stool and pretending to swim.

Handmade Shark Slippers | $42

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge
Wedding Etiquette: Do I Have to Invite the Underworld?

May 18, 2016

First Kiss Personalized Art | UncommonGoodsWeddings are spirited occasions. Love. Happiness. Cake. Champagne. The Electric Slide. There was a time, though, when couples would want their big day to be anything but, taking many measures to ensure that an RSVP was not extended to evil-intentioned souls from the underworld.

Contrary to popular belief, matching bridesmaids dresses was a tradition started not by brides with a twisted sense of humor, but rather Romans who believed having certain female guests wear dresses that matched the bride’s would confuse supernatural party crashers seeking to do harm to the newlyweds. If they didn’t fall for that, then surely wearing a veil—another spirit-deterring measure—would do the trick. Finally, a lift over the threshold was thought to prevent underworld beings from turning a love nest into a haunted house. Boogie-woogies, after all, should always remain at the reception.

First Kiss Personalized Art | $300.00 – 500.00

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What Game’s Got the Most Moves?

May 11, 2016

16834_uk051116“A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing.”

– Emo Philips

Most amateurs who’ve tried playing chess can agree on one thing: the basic rules aren’t hard to follow, but learning to play well is incredibly difficult. There’s a reason that the “game of kings” is associated with mind-bending strategic thinking, MENSA-level IQs, and supercomputers: the Shannon number—a calculation of all the possible iterations of moves in games of chess. Calculated by mathematician and cryptographer Claude Shannon in 1950 for a study on teaching a computer to play chess, the Shannon number is between 10^111 and 10^123. Incredibly, that’s substantially larger than the number of atoms in the known universe—a mere 10^81. It’s no wonder the game is a nail-biting brain teaser.

Bonus: also in 1950, Shannon invented Theseus, a magnetic mouse. Named for the maze-running hero of Greek mythology, Theseus was programmed to “learn” to navigate mazes, and may be the first rudimentary form of artificial intelligence.

Wobble Chess Set | $250

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the Gold Standard for Sushi?

May 9, 2016

41752_uk050916As much a fine art as a cuisine, Japanese food can be a pricey proposition. Sushi in particular inspires chefs to go to great lengths, pushing the envelope of freshness, presentation, and…price. Sure, the ingredients can be expensive, and sushi preparation isn’t exactly cooking 101, but unusual and extravagant preparations also add a premium. Take for example the current record holder for world’s most expensive sushi: nigiri prepared by Filipino chef Angelito Araneta at his Manila restaurant. Wrapped in 24-karat gold leaf and garnished with diamonds, these five pieces of sushi will set you back 91,800 pesos, or nearly $2,000 USD. Yes, that’s about $400 per piece. At that price, you could fly from Manila to Tokyo and enjoy the equally famous (and much more traditional), 20-piece tasting menu at Sukiyabashi Jiro (about $300). The tiny Tokyo establishment—subject of the fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi—is often cited as the best sushi in the world, and President Obama seems to agree after dining there on a state visit in 2014. No gold or diamonds at Jiro’s joint; that would just be fishy.

Sushi Board Set | $75

Uncommon Knowledge

Uncommon Knowledge: Where Did the Silhouette Get its Name?

May 8, 2016

Custom Silhouette Tote | UncommonGoods

Long before selfies, the silhouette was a popular, cheap alternative to formal portraiture like oil paintings or marble busts. From the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, they were a common way to quickly capture a likeness, preserved today only as souvenirs from spots like Colonial Williamsburg. But did you ever wonder why they’re called silhouettes instead of “quaint black paper cut-outs often seen over Grandma’s mantle?” Other than that being a mouthful, silhouettes are named for Étienne de Silhouette, a mid-eighteenth century French economist. If this doesn’t make perfect sense, let me profile it for you. A sharp critic of the French aristocracy’s spendthrift ways, Silhouette’s conservative economic approach became synonymous with “cheap” in his day, making silhouette shorthand for chintzy things, including cut paper portraits. While this is the most plausible theory of the association, it might also be based on the brevity of Silhouette’s tenure (less than a year), reflecting the short sitting required for a silhouette. It’s also suspected that Silhouette himself was a weekend silhouette maker, so his hobby was named for him. In any case, that’s the outline of this quirky history.

Custom Silhouette Tote | $100