Our 40 Favorite Stories of 2018

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Like parents with their children, Mental Floss’s editors and writers don’t want to have to choose a “favorite” story during any given year. But also like parents with their children, we do tend to play favorites (sorry, kids—it’s true for your parents, too). Whether it’s a piece we wrote, a story we edited, or just something we read on the site and loved, our team agreed to share some of their favorite stories of the year (listed in chronological order). Just in case you missed them.

Lucas Reilly is probably best known for his impeccably-researched long form stories, but he’s just as adept at offering a quick glimpse of a situation few have stopped to ponder: How does one tidy up the rooms of an ice hotel in Sweden? (Hint: Maids carry ice picks instead of feather dusters.) I like this story because it presents a totally alien situation, piques the reader’s curiosity, and then summarizes the logistics involved. Also: Having “manager of ice hotel” in your list of contacts is a very Mental Floss thing to do. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

I just loved the details of how Hollywood food stylists accomplish their goals: mashed potatoes as ice cream (it doesn’t melt under hot lights)! Ground-up Oreos to stand in for Pakistani dirt! Prosciutto slices when you need to mimic slivers of a human arm for Hannibal! It’s all here! —Bess Lovejoy, Staff Editor

I’ve long been fascinated by the 17 miniature coffins a group of rabbit-hunting boys found in Edinburgh in 1836. Were they connected to some sort of spellwork, like a Scottish version of voodoo dolls? Or an eerie homage to the Burke and Hare murders? I love how Allison Meier laid out the various bizarre theories and delved into the the scholarly analysis of what must be some of the stranger museum artifacts on display in the world. —BL

The disappearance of the Yuba County 5 was a tragedy for their families. But when I found mention of it deep in a Reddit thread over the holiday break of 2017, I knew we had to cover it. Young men driven into the forest for no apparent reason, only to meet their icy doom? It seemed like something out of Twin Peaks, or, as some have said, like an American Dyatlov Pass incident (a reference to the mysterious deaths of nine Soviet students in 1959 while camping). And even though I knew the whole story, Jake Rossen still spooked me retelling it. The sense of atmosphere and mystery he created here is, to me, far darker and more interesting than the average blood-soaked murder—perhaps because, when left to its own imaginings, the mind often creates something much worse than the truth. —BL

Several years ago, before we had ever worked together, Jake Rossen wrote a story for Mental Floss about the awesomely terrible little-kid-is-a-robot sitcom Small Wonder. Jake and I had never spoken, emailed, or in any other way communicated (we were both freelancers at the time), but I was determined to see him make some of my bizarre, half-formed story ideas come to life. When we both came aboard as staffers, I set about putting my devious plan into motion. And it worked (this is the part where Jake would add that he got the raw end of that deal). In addition to sharing a rather warped sense of humor and desperate love of Cobra Kai (seriously—go watch it), Jake has a knack for turning my random emails—“Stop the Insanity!” “John Wayne Bobbitt”—into fully fleshed out stories (no pun intended, John) that go beyond the surface or just some kitschy “hey, remember this?” kind of thing. His piece on The Day After—which scared the sh** out of me as a kid, and 100 million other people—is the perfect example of this. I’m still not sure why my parents let me and my siblings watch it. But I’m glad that Jake suggested a deep dive into how it came to be. —Jennifer M. Wood, Senior Editor

Can you fangirl over a skeleton? Well, I did this year. Jeremy Bentham is my favorite preserved dead philosopher, and not only because he’s the only preserved dead philosopher in the world—or at least, the only one who left such specific instructions. For me, the joy of this story was to talk to the curators involved in displaying Bentham’s auto-icon (as his articulated, stuffed skeleton topped with wax head is known) on both sides of the Atlantic. I could hear Luke Syson at The Met Breuer positively beaming delight down through the phone wires, and thought about how weird—but beautiful—it is that this corpse brings so much joy to people, including me. Part of that is because Bentham himself was so iconoclastic, and his attempt to make a political, or at least ethical, statement with his own body feels very modern. Not to mention wonderfully eccentric. —BL

Michele Debczak always manages to answer questions I didn’t even know I had. Can I get paid to eat Nutella? What does Uranus smell like? Why do tumbleweeds tumble? But I’m especially thankful for this jewel: This was a huge debate in the Mental Floss office back in 2014, and I’m glad somebody finally put it to bed. —Lucas Reilly, Features Writer

In our line of work, typos are a very, very bad thing. So when a typo mistakenly landed a cryptogamist (a person who studies algae) instead of a cryptogramist (a codebreaker) a job at Bletchley Park in 1939, it seemed like one big embarrassing mistake. But when Allied forces managed to salvage a bunch of critical—albeit waterlogged—documents from some German U-boats they had torpedoed, it turned out that having a cryptogamist on hand was just the thing they needed to salvage the documents. Once dried, the Bletchley codebreakers were able to use the information to crack German communication, which likely hastened the end of the war by two to four years, saving millions of lives in the process. And all because of a seemingly embarrassing typo! —JMW

As a child of British Columbia, sasquatches are close to my heart. In this piece, I particularly admired the primacy of indigenous knowledge: A lesser writer could easily paint the whole thing as “weird,” or dismiss it due to lack of evidence, but Kat explores the role of the sasquatch as a member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais community. The result is a much fuller account of what this creature means for the people of the Pacific Northwest than you usually see. She also paints a rich picture of the land where she reported—something that’s all too rare in our mostly desk-bound days. —BL

I studied Vietnamese for about a year while living in Hanoi, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn anything during the animal lesson because I couldn’t get past the hilarious literal translations. For example, a crocodile is literally called an “ugly fish” and a skunk is a “stink fox,” which is actually a pretty perfect naming system, in my opinion. This inspired me to research some of the amusing literal translations in other languages, and I wasn’t disappointed. My personal favorite is “paper vampire” for stapler in Afrikaans. —Emily Petsko, Staff Writer

When Netflix dropped the docuseries Wild Wild Country in March, I was instantly hooked. A true crime series with a sex cult at the center? Sign me up! Though I binge-watched all six hours in one sitting, Emily Petsko managed to reveal even more about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the man at the center of the documentary, offering an even deeper understanding about who he was and why he was compelled to do the things he did. If you haven’t seen the series or read the story, I won’t give too much away. But I will say that pairing a binge-watch with this article is one great way to spend a weekend. —JMW

One of the things people seem to love about Pixar films is how they speak to adults as much as they do kids. One possible reason to explain this could be Pixar mainstay Lee Unkrich’s love of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. As such, Unkrich—who has directed and/or co-directed a handful of films for the animation company, including Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo, and Coco—has hidden subtle nods to the iconic Stephen King adaptation (which, ironically, King doesn’t like) into the Pixar world. Rebecca Pahle had some fun sharing some of them here. —JMW

It’s hard to believe that a place like Action Park actually existed, and it’s even harder to believe that it remained open for nearly two decades. I’m simultaneously relieved and a little disappointed that I never got to experience the “Cannonball Loop.” —EP

I’ve been trying to work Hellhörig into conversation ever since I read this piece, which—in addition to that delightfully German word—is full of other terms you’ll want to start using immediately. —Erin McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief

When Scott Beggs pitched me this idea, I had just one question: Will Walton Goggins be included? He swore he was already at the top of the list, and I was sold. But I could have very well asked the same question about every actor he included here, each of whom really does elevate every project they’re in—even if it’s already great to begin with. Side note: It hardly seems coincidental that a handful of the actors in here have appeared in the television version of Fargo (or, in the case of Peter Stormare, the original film). Yes, that’s a total plug for Fargo. No, I have no affiliation with the series beyond loving it and always being amazed by the casts they manage to assemble. —JMW

A lot has been written about Beale’s treasure, and people love debating whether it’s real or not. But what’s most real to me is that people can get so wrapped up in solving this mystery that they become utterly consumed by it. This isn’t so much a story about treasure; it’s a story about the people who hunt it—and how their passion transforms their lives, for better and worse. (Treasure hunters, by the way, are incredibly fun people to interview!) —LR

Wiping your butt seems like something you shouldn’t be able to mess up, but here’s a dirty little secret: You totally can. I love that we spoke to an expert who walked us through how it’s done properly (wet wipes are a no-no!) and introduced us to the frankly horrifying Polished Anus Syndrome. —EM

While we tend to steer clear of modern-day politics in our everyday coverage, it’s always interesting to see how so many of our historical stories have a resonance in the world today. Scott Beggs’s excellent story about FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which sanctioned the removal of Japanese immigrants and Americans of Japanese heritage from their homes to be imprisoned in internment camps throughout the country, is a perfect example of that. And a great read—particularly when you consider that it happened in 1942, which is really not that long ago. —JMW

I loved the sense of tension and suspense that Lucas wrought from a simple question: Will the man trapped in the cave survive? He brought the long hours of stillness and tedium within the pitch-black cave to life, and gave readers a thread—like the weak flame of Collins’s lamp—on which they could cling to hope. The contrast between those scenes and the crass, party-like atmosphere outside the cave captured a time in American history that held a mirror to today’s sensationalizing of disasters. —Kat Long, Staff Editor

Though I rarely buy into fan theories, I love reading about them. And Kristin Hunt has really become our go-to writer for digging up some truly bizarre ones on everything from Mary Poppins to The Sopranos. As a rabid Sesame Street fan (yes, even as an adult—and I’ve got the socks to prove it), the idea that Count von Count occasionally gives into his vampiric need for human blood or that Oscar the Grouch’s trash can is actually a TARDIS gave me a lot to think, and laugh, about. (Yes, I’m also a Doctor Who nerd.) —JMW

Librarians and archivists are my rock stars, so the whole video series we did at little-known local museums this year had me fangirling. But the highlight may have been in June, when we went to the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, and the conservator, Jere Ryder, opened up the deep storage. While the automata and musical instruments upstairs in the museum are sublime (think ornate and expensive), these not-quite-ready for primetime players, including a taxidermy cat playing a harp and meowing “kittens” playing cards, were so incredibly awkward and sweet I think I squealed. The place is definitely worth a trip to New Jersey, even if a child on a previous visit did scream “This is going to give me nightmares!” —BL

Though movie theaters had a very good year in 2018, their so-called “comeback” was due in large part to major blockbusters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Which makes me long for the days when even the smallest towns seemed to have a repertory theater, where midnight screenings of movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, El Topo, and The Warriors were a standard option on a Saturday night. Matthew Jackson wrote about some of the best of them here, and what made them perfect for late-night moviegoers. —JMW

Over the years we’ve written about spite houses and spite fences, but Shaunacy Ferro’s exploration of a teeny tiny mosaic tile that sits in the ground in New York City’s West Village might be the ultimate middle finger—if only because it largely goes unnoticed, and will hopefully remain there forever. —JMW

I love covering professions many people don’t think much about, like the companies brought in to clean up after violent deaths. Deanna Cioppa focused both on the memorable details—like the training set-ups made out of sheet rock and pig’s blood—and the emotional heart of the story, which I think is the immense satisfaction people get from doing this job. As one interviewee put it, “It’s the beat of another human being’s heart against yours, thanking you for helping them on the worst day of their lives.” —BL

Any kid who ever ate a bowl of cereal in the 1980s probably remembers staring at the back of the milk carton and being confronted with the haunting faces of “missing” children. To a child, it was slightly alarming—and it’s a tactic that has long confounded me, mostly because I wondered just how effective it really was. The answer, it turns out, is: not very. But the genesis of the concept and how milk cartons came to be the vessel of choice for spreading the word about missing children makes for a wonderful read. —JMW

Any story about a mysterious artifact that confounds experts instantly has my attention. This piece doesn’t give a definitive explanation for dodecahedrons—the intricate, 12-sided objects that have been dug up across northern Europe—but it does offer some plausible theories that don’t involve extraterrestrials. —Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

Most people are probably familiar with the horrific tale of the Donner Party, but this part of the story—in which Lewis Keseberg was accused of not just cannibalism, but of murder—I was not familiar with. Michele Debczak does a great job telling a story that’s fascinating and tragic in equal measure, and a must read for those who love history. —EM

Erin McCarthy talked to a boatload of malaria experts and pieced together this great feature detailing just how acutely malaria has changed the course of world history—it’s changed human evolution, it’s changed America’s government, and it’s now helping drive scientific research in directions that are beyond our wildest imaginations. This thoroughly reported piece is enlightening. —LR

Sometimes I just want to open up Jake Rossen’s brain so I can see where he gets all of his ideas. He always finds the most unusual and unbelievable stories to tell! Usually, they sound like the set-up to a weird joke. Take this one: “Did you hear about the time a politician who crusaded against an edition for Playboy made for blind people?” It sounds too wacky to be true. But, alas, here it is. —LR

Who among us hasn’t paused our binge-watch of Making a Murderer to wonder whether the current deluge of true crime content is healthy? Erin McCarthy’s breakdown of the psychology behind our addiction to morbid subject matter is both reassuring and informative. There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in a criminal narrative. There’s even a case for an evolutionary benefit to hearing these disturbing tales. —JR

I love a good ghost story, and this one by Shaunacy Ferro—featuring a Chicago ghost gang, a man of the cloth, a lawsuit, and a hilariously angry New York newspaper that declared “Chicago is not old enough to have ghosts”—is a good one. —EM

In many ways, I owe my career to Fangoria. The legendary horror movie magazine—which recently made a comeback—was a must-read for any serious horror movie fan back in the 1980s and 1990s. And while its covers made it clear that blood and guts were on the menu, its dedication to going behind the scenes of the movies they covered—to speak not just with the actors and directors, but the special effects and makeup teams and the many other artists who were essential in bringing these films to life—instilled in its readers a serious appreciation for the moviemaking process as a whole (which too few magazines do today). The magazine has gone through a few different iterations, and Jake Rossen took the time to speak with several of the people who were there and make it all happen. Also: Props to my brother for allowing me to dig into his full collection of mint-condition copies for a few photo ops. —JMW

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, so it was fun to learn about what’s actually happening behind the scenes at a haunted house. I have newfound respect for these actors, who work extremely hard and wear themselves out scaring the crap out of their patrons (quite literally, as you’ll see in fact #8). —EP

Not everyone knows this, but Lucas Reilly is an alchemist: You can give him a one-page scan of a book, or an old newspaper article, and he’ll turn it into gold. This beautifully written story is ostensibly about a murder of a man in the Everglades, but what you feel most deeply (at least I did) is the murder of all the birds the man was sent to protect. All of Lucas’s stories have these layers, which are always revealed at just the right moment. This one is also a sadly timely story given the rollback in protections for migratory birds, not to mention other species, and a reminder that humans are the most dangerous animal of all. —BL

As a teen, there were few things I found scarier than MTV’s Fear—so I naturally loved this oral history about how the show came together (and, frankly, ended way before it should have). Some of the stories included in it are as scary as the show itself! —EM

If you asked me if I believe in ghosts, I’d probably say “no.” But, perhaps contradictorily, I somehow believe that houses can be haunted. And am pretty sure that I’ll be the person who one day buys one. Thanks to Michele Debczak, I now know which states must disclose if a house is “stigmatized” and have learned that a site called DiedInHouse.com exists, so am feeling much better about my chances of not moving into a Poltergeist situation. —JMW

It’s easy to fall into the idea that women of the past were always obedient homemakers. Then comes along someone like Mary Frith, who in 1600s England was dressing in men’s clothing, smoking, stealing, singing, having plays written about her, and generally doing whatever she pleased. I love how Meg Van Huygen resuscitates her story and tells it even with its complexity (some of her biography may be invented) and gaps. It’s a reminder that history is messy, non-linear, and often so much more interesting than we’ve been taught. —BL

I was lucky enough to visit Sark and interview Dame Sibyl’s great-grandson and current Seigneur, Michael Beaumont. I admit I’ve never interviewed a feudal lord before. He invited me into the Seigneurie, the feudal mansion, and we chatted in the same plush personal library that the Dame used. Afterward, the seigneur gave me a tour of the house and casually showed me the centuries-old, yellowing charters that granted Sark its fiefdom—all signed by long-dead monarchs! It was surreal to explore the building where Dame Sibyl confronted the Nazis. —LR

I’m always looking for “flossy” music stories to run, and when a Rolling Stone gets to celebrate a birthday, wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of his most famous accessory all on the same day? I just couldn’t resist. —Erika Berlin, Senior Editor

At Mental Floss, we sometimes write sweeping features about defeating Nazis. We sometimes write about fun facts and trivia, or useful how-tos that allow our readers to live smarter. And sometimes, we write about fart-based controversies. You can’t tell me this isn’t the best job in the world. —EM

Source: http://mentalfloss.com/article/568730/favorite-stories-2018

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