A Knowledge Engine Powered by Your Curiosity

Whether you’re after serendipitous discovery or goal-driven research, you can explore
millions of interconnected topics, videos and books—all in one place.

Goodness Gracious:
Nejapa’s Blaze of Glory

As the saying goes, If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. But what if that ball is…on fire?   Every year on August 31, residents of Nejapa, El Salvador, gather after sundown to throw flaming, kerosene-soaked balls at each other in the Las Bolas De Fuego. The festival simultaneously marks the eruption of the El Playon volcano and celebrates San Jeronimo, who is said to have fought the devil with balls of fire.   [caption id="attachment_8803" align="aligncenter" width="600"]NejapaFireInset Photo courtesy of Wikimedia[/caption] But how do festivalgoers so easily lob—and catch—these great balls of fire without bursting into flames themselves? Participants don heavy gloves, water-soaked clothing, masks and freaky face paint to protect against spontaneous combustion, though singeing is known to happen to both participants and onlookers. To the uninitiated, it can look pretty bonks.   [caption id="attachment_8802" align="alignnone" width="600"]FireInset Photo courtesy of Wikimedia[/caption] So we salute the Salvadoreans slinging hellfire all through the night. Como se dice “flame on”? Feature photo courtesy of elchurro/Flickr Nejapa_connects_bottom

by Mediander Staff

Aug 31, 2015

Mediander Presents…The First Annual Caligula Award

Dictators: They don’t make ’em like they used to. So I’m finding the job of picking the recipient of Mediander’s first Caligula Award tougher than it ought to be. That’s right: the Caligula Award. Today is the birthday of “Little Boot” (that’s the meaning of the nickname Caligula, given to Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus when he was a tot and liked to dress up as a soldier). So what better time to honor a present-day tyrant who hews to the rotten-government ethic embraced by Caligula, whose four-year rule (A.D. 37–41) was one of the worst in Roman history. If reports about him are to be believed—a biggish if, given that some of the major ancient sources date from decades after his death—Caligula was a mega-monster. He spent lavishly on himself, bankrupting the imperial treasury. He caused a famine. He declared himself a god, erecting statues of himself in temples and synagogues, and masquerading as a variety of deities, including Venus. He exiled and executed perceived enemies—some of whom were family members—with abandon. And he was quite the libertine to boot: He infamously turned the imperial palace into a brothel and had sex with all three of his sisters. Caligula_connects_sidePerhaps worst of all, Caligula was absolutely capricious, issuing commands—silly or lethal—according to whim. He once promised to appoint his favorite horse, Incitatus, to the imperial consulate. Certainly, the past century saw plenty of Caligula-type personae strut across the global stage—not just the world-historical likes of Hitler and Stalin and Mao, but plenty of demented strongmen whose power was more geographically confined: Uganda’s Idi Amin, Haiti’s François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu, to name a few. Trouble is, they’re all dead, and none of the current crop of totalitarians really measures up. Take North Korea’s young supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. Yeah, he wields absolute power and seems a bit soft in the head, but he hasn’t yet crawled out from the shadow cast by his much crazier papa, the late Kim Jong-il. And ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is certainly a nasty piece of work, but ISIS’s crimes, horrific as they are, lack the insane arbitrariness so essential to Caligula’s reign of terror. And democratically elected despots like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan aren’t in the running, either. They’re awful, to be sure, but the obnoxious agendas they pursue don’t quite qualify as nutty. (Though Erdoğan did approach Caligulan excess in building an ostentatious, budget-busting palace for himself.) So I’m kind of stuck, though I may have an idea. What if we consider someone who has definite Caligula potential, even if unproved? With that possibility in mind, I turn my gaze upon the field of Republican presidential contenders. God knows the American imperium will be in for a disastrous spell if any one of them manages to win the White House. But each member of this promising bunch is an uptight prude—most certainly not a Caligulan trait. And although they all lie and pander and flip-flop as political expediency demands, only one seems possessed of the requisite capriciousness. And that candidate, of course, is real-estate mogul–cum–raving lunatic Donald J. Trump. Trump’s narcissism and contrariness are inarguably of Caligulan magnitude, but there are other parallels between him and the long-ago Roman emperor. There is, for example, the shocking popularity that’s attended the start of his presidential campaign. You may be surprised to learn that Caligula, too, was immensely popular—at least for the first year he wore the purple. Rome felt refreshed by its new leader, so different from his reclusive predecessor, Tiberius, who holed up on the isle of Capri and let others do his dirty work. Like reality-TV star Trump, Caligula was skilled at mass entertainment, staging elaborate gladiatorial contests for the fun-starved Roman populace. The public’s enthusiasm waned at later games, when Caligula began ordering that spectators be seized and thrown to the lions. Then there’s Trump’s violent temperament. He has never been officially accused of any felony, but his first wife, Ivana, did claim during their divorce proceedings that Trump had raped her and torn out clumps of her hair in retribution for having referred him to an inept plastic surgeon—a fit of pique that sounds genuinely Caligulan. Add to this Trump’s fondness for using killer as a compliment and the glee with which he delivered his signature gibe, “You’re fired!” over all those seasons of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice. It’s a gauge of Trump’s megalomania that he actually once tried to trademark the phrase. Trump also shares with Caligula a penchant for insulting political elites: He relishes ridiculing members of the U.S. governing class—just about all of them—calling each one “stupid,” just as Caligula enjoyed poking mean fun at the Roman senators who annoyed him. [caption id="attachment_8729" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Mandatory Credit: Photo By Erik C Pendzich / Rex Features, courtesy Everett Collection Donald Trump NBC PRIMETIME 2005 / 2006 PREVIEW, NEW YORK, AMERICA  -  16 MAY 2005  FACIAL EXPRESSION OPEN MOUTH MOUTHED 523230l Photo By Erik C Pendzich/Rex Features/Everett. Caligulan accents by Stephanie Adams[/caption] And then there is the business of the hair. Trump’s outlandish tuft is his most salient feature, but Caligula was apparently as tonsorially challenged as his latter-day acolyte. As classical scholar John Pollini has reported, “The height of the fringe of locks worn on [Caligula’s] forehead in his official portraiture suggests some thinning of the hair.” In other words, Caligula had the ancient equivalent of a comb-over, though whether Trump’s bizarre coiffure is merely a comb-over or some more complicated intervention remains a mystery. The hairdo parallel is scary, but for me the most frightening similarity is that Trump presents himself as a truth-teller, just as the looney-tunes emperor does in Albert Camus’s great play Caligula. Camus’s Caligula is a man on a mission—to make all his fellow human beings recognize the grim truth that “men die, and they are unhappy.” Of course, he does this by making his subjects unhappier than they might otherwise be—and by having a goodly number of them killed! A similarly troubled logic attends some of Trump’s “truth-telling.” In all the uproar over Trump’s treatment of Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly during and after the first Republican candidates’ debate on August 6, scant attention was paid to something else Trump said during the forum. Talking about how he regularly buys politicians, Trump said:

by James Waller

Aug 31, 2015

Will the Madden Curse
Claim Odell Beckham Jr.?

It’s that magical time of year again. Forget Christmas, it’s football season—when it’s perfectly acceptable to spend all your Sundays day drinking and screaming in public. Also, your Monday and Thursday nights. Plus Saturdays, if you’re into college games. And if that somehow isn’t enough football for you, you can always pick up the latest installment of Madden NFL. Each year since 1999, the massively popular video game has featured one of the NFL’s top players on its cover. It’s a huge honor to appear on Madden. Unfortunately, it’s also a curse. Nearly every player featured on Madden has seen either a significant drop in performance or gotten seriously injured. The Madden Curse started out as a joke, but it has since grown into a genuine superstition—to the point where fans actively campaign against their favorite players appearing on the box! Electronic Arts, the game’s publisher, doesn’t like to talk about the Curse, and players have claimed either that they don’t care or that they’ll be the ones to beat it. Have any of them succeeded? The only way to find out is to check the catalog. Madden NFL 1999 Madden99John Madden took center stage on the U.S. edition, but European fans of American football (they exist) got San Francisco 49ers running back Garrison Hearst on the cover. The Curse didn’t take effect immediately. Hearst had a great regular season, picking up the third most rushing yards in the NFL. The 49ers made it all the way to the divisional playoffs, but in the first play of the game Hearst’s foot got caught in the turf and he suffered a severe ankle break. He sat out the next two seasons. Madden NFL 2000 Madden2000Madden himself again appeared on the U.S. cover, but Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders was visible in the background. Sanders unexpectedly retired before the next season even began. Madden NFL 2001 Madden01When Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George became a Madden cover boy and the Titans subsequently dominated the regular season, it looked like the two-year-old Curse was just a fluke. But during the divisional playoff match against the Baltimore Ravens, a pass bounced off George’s hands and was intercepted by Ray Lewis, who ran it in for a touchdown. Just like that, the Titans were out. Madden NFL 2002 Madden02After his Madden appearance, Daunte Culpepper—called one of the most talented quarterbacks to wear a Minnesota Vikings jersey—threw 23 interceptions and tied the NFL record for most fumbles in a single season. He also suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly after the cover was announced. Madden NFL 2003 Madden03St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk used to be a beast. For multiple seasons, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and, if you include receptions, he picked up more than 2,000 yards four years straight. After Madden NFL 2003, his performance steadily declined until 2005—the year he got knee surgery. Madden NFL 2004 Madden04When Michael Vick appeared on Madden, we knew him as the quarterback who beat the favored Green Bay Packers 27-7 and led the underdog Atlanta Falcons to the NFC divisional playoff game. After his Madden cover, Vick broke his right fibula and sat out 11 games. Three years later, we learned all about his dogfighting ring. Madden NFL 2005 Madden05After appearing on the cover of Madden 2005, Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis got off relatively light. He saw his first season without a single interception (although he did miss a game due to a broken wrist). The next year, however, was measurably worse: An injured hamstring ended Lewis’s season only six weeks in. Madden NFL 06 Madden06After a blowout victory over the Green Bay Packers during the 2004 regular season, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb showed up on Madden 06. The following November, a groin injury put McNabb on the injured reserve list for the season. Almost exactly a year later McNabb tore his ACL and was out for the rest of that season too. Madden NFL 07 Madden07Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander racked up a record 28 touchdowns in the 2005 season on the way to the Seahawks’ first-ever Super Bowl appearance. No wonder he was named MVP. The season after Madden 07, however, Alexander broke his left foot in the third week. He returned to the field in November, but never again was he the same record-breaking phenom. Madden NFL 08 Madden08Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young announced his 08 cover on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, dismissing all concerns about the Madden Curse. And it looked like he was right. He missed only one game the next season, due to an injured quad. After reinjuring it, however, backup quarterback Kerry Collins took over and led the Titans to victory. Young injured his knee in the first game of the following season and the Titans made Collins the starting quarterback. Madden NFL 09 Madden09When Brett Favre appeared on the cover of Madden 09, he was a legendary quarterback for the Green Bay Packers—and he’d just retired. No way the Madden Curse could strike, right? Well, Favre came out of retirement and was traded to the New York Jets, where he had the worst season of his career. It started out well enough, with Favre throwing a personal-best six touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in a single game. The Jets built an impressive 8-3 record, but then lost four of the next five games, during which Favre threw eight interceptions and only two touchdowns. An MRI revealed he’d been playing through a torn biceps tendon. Madden NFL 10 Madden10Derailing one football career per year apparently wasn’t enough, so two athletes were featured on the cover of Madden 10: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. Fitzgerald got through the season nearly unscathed, but Polamalu wasn’t so lucky. In the season opener, he sprained his MCL and was out for four games. Three weeks after his return, he injured himself again, missed more games and kept the Steelers out of the playoffs. Madden NFL 11 Madden11Hot off his 2009 Super Bowl win, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was the perfect choice for the cover of Madden 11. The following season, he fell into a huge slump, throwing twice as many interceptions as he did the previous year. The accursed Saints made it to the playoffs, but the Seattle Seahawks bested them in the wild card round. Madden NFL 12 Madden12Before Madden 12 came out, Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis racked up 1,177 rushing yards and was the first Brown to be named AFC Offensive Player of the Week since 1992. His next season included a hamstring injury, strep throat, six missed games and contentious contract negotiations. Hillis later said the season made him “believe in curses.” Madden NFL 13 Madden13Calvin Johnson might be the only player immune to the Madden Curse. The Detroit Lions wide receiver had a phenomenal year after appearing on Madden 13’s cover, breaking Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a single season. But Megatron later revealed that he’d played through the season despite three broken fingers. Madden NFL 25 Boxshot Wizard file used for creating global boxshots EA decided to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary with Madden 25. (We’ll just have to wait until 2025 to see how they handle that year’s installment.) To celebrate, they again chose Barry Sanders, the first player to appear on the cover in the U.S. Long since retired, Sanders couldn’t possibly be affected by the Curse. But the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions featured Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Despite having been the MVP the previous season, Peterson played only 14 games due to a foot injury. The year after that, Peterson was indicted on charges of child abuse and was suspended for nearly the entire 2014 season. Madden NFL 15 Madden15After a game-winning interception in the NFC championship against the 49ers, followed by an absolute drubbing of Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl, who else could take the cover of Madden 15 but Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman followed up his cover appearance with a strong regular season, but injured his elbow late in the NFC championship game against the Packers. (Additionally, the four members of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, who were featured on the game’s menu screens, were hampered by injuries throughout the post-season.) If that weren’t enough, the Seahawks went on to lose the Super Bowl in the final seconds because of what might be the dumbest play call in recent history. As a Seahawks fan, the Curse felt especially cruel last year. Now, it’s OBJ’s turn to adorn the cover—and some Giants fans are nervous. Will he succumb to the Curse? I want to say no. Beckham’s a young player and it’s clear that his best years are ahead. Nobody can predict injury, though. And as much as a cursed video game series sounds ridiculous, there’s definitely a pattern here. Still, OBJ making the cover is major, and I can’t wait to watch him make more impossible three-finger catches this season. Just be careful out there, OBJ. Feature photo courtesy of Everett Madden_connects_bottom    

by Nick Mangione

Aug 28, 2015

Meet the McWhopper: The Burger of Frankenstein

After Burger King proposed a mash-up of its Whopper and the McDonald’s Big Mac into one artery-clogging abomination, I just had to try it. When McDonald’s passed on the idea, meaning the monstrosity would never come to fruition, I decided to make my own. Presenting: the DIY McWhopper. I followed the official recipe as laid out by Burger King in a video proposal. You take the upper six ingredients from a Big Mac (everything from the middle bun on up) and the lower six ingredients from a Whopper (everything except the lettuce, mayo and top bun) and basically slap them together. MakingMcWhopper   See? Easy! From this angle, it doesn’t look half bad. McWhopperTest               Let’s get a nice cross section of this thing. You’ll notice the two Big Mac buns are significantly smaller than the Whopper bun. That is a problem. McWhopperCut               There’s the money shot. Doesn’t that look delicious? No? McWhopperHalf   Well, we’ve come this far. I can’t put it off any longer. Let’s see what this thing tastes like. Just gonna put it in my mouth.… Okay, on three: one…two…two and a half.… McWhopperNEW   The burger brains behind this concept were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. This definitely isn’t the worst fast food I’ve ever had (Taco Bell’s breakfast still holds that title), but I can see why McDonald’s didn’t go for it. There’s just too much going on. The Big Mac special sauce combines with the Whopper’s ketchup and tomato to create an overwhelmingly sweet tomatoey smack. You can’t really taste much of either patty. It’s a whole lot of filler and not much meat—and McMeat doesn’t have that much flavor to begin with. At least the fries are still good. Watch my McWhopper assembly and reaction below. And maybe don’t try this at home.... Photos by Stephanie Adams

by Nick Mangione

Aug 27, 2015




Enter whatever topic is on your mind—a person, place, movie, book or idea! With millions of topics available, you’re likely to discover what you’re looking for and even be surprised by new topics you hadn’t considered.

Jump into Connects >




Browse our featured book shops or search a specific topic, title or author to experience our custom shops, intelligently built around nearly any topic.

Save up to 40% off list price on daily deals. Click for details. Shop >




Our editors have innovated a new form of article! CultureMaps provide fresh, original riffs on our world and illustrate the intriguing and often unexpected relationships between curated topics.

Explore All CultureMaps >