Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Mental Floss is a magazine developed by two Duke undergrads. It's fresh and edgy, sometimes irreverent, and often downright silly. Imagine opening a magazine, and out pops a cocktail party full of Gen X intellectuals, animatedly discussing everything from art to zen. This is Mental Floss. Articles are not lengthy, but they are informative. If one needed to cram for a trivial pursuit competition, Mental Floss would be a great study tool. It familiarizes the reader with the basics, in a language that is accessible but not condescending. Anything and everything is fair game for a Mental Floss article, as long as it makes people think. Obscure scientific knowledge cozies up to pop culture, and bizarre facts are juxtaposed with sobering statistics.
Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame is a regular contributor. His “Six Degrees” column links two apparently unrelated words or phrases in six short steps. One month he was challenged to connect Wasabi (a spicy Japanese mustard) with Kemosabe (Tonto's pet name for the Lone Ranger, supposed to be a Native American word for faithful friend). Another issue has Jennings connecting the dots between PC (personal computer) and PC (politically correct).
Another regular feature is the “Know It All” column by A. J. Jacobs. An editor at Esquire magazine, Jacobs read the entire 32 volume Encyclopedia Britannica in his quest to become the world's smartest man. Now, in Mental Floss, he's sharing random facts based on a different alphabet letter in each issue. L, for instance, has A. J. discussing such diverse topics as the London Zoo, Ligers (offspring of a lion/tiger breeding), Liar paradox, and Lucky Luciano.
“The Dead Guy Interview” by Michael A. Stusser showcases a famous deceased person each month. Stusser's imaginary exchange with Sun Tzu is hilarious, though I found the Andy Warhol piece a bit macabre. I can imagine the inquisitive reader might be spurred on to read up on their history, just to get the inside jokes.
Mental Floss is intended for adults; some material may be inappropriate for preteens. I'd love to see a kid's version of Floss. It's an intriguing magazine and a subscription would make a fine present for a gifted teen.