Science theater begins at home

October 27th, 2014

… for me, anyway. If you aren’t married to one of the world’s foremost science comedians, it might be different for you. Here is Mr. Improbable’s TEDMed talk, and it’s a gem:

And then, this happened. Florence Henderson of “The Brady Bunch” was a contestant on NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and to answer questions about the Ig Nobel Prizes. From the show’s transcript:

SAGAL: And we always know Mrs. Brady always had a happy ending, so here we go. A special prize was given in Arctic Science and that was given to an international team of scientists who explored what question? A, if ice cubes taken from the polar ice cap can improve a cocktail; B, if putting up big fans on the poles to blow on the Arctic ice can help reverse global warming; or C, how reindeer behave when they are approached by humans dressed as polar bears.

HENDERSON: Oh, jeez. What was A again?

SAGAL: A was if ice cubes taken from the ancient polar ice cap will actually make your cocktail taste better.

HENDERSON: I think I have to go with that.

People often say, “It was a dream come true” when what they really mean is that something they hoped very much would happen happened. But having Florence Henderson answer questions about your husband’s business on a game show? Now that really is like a dream–a post-pizza-and-Netflix-binge dream–come true.

So, my husband wrote a book

September 11th, 2014

Mr. Improbable, aka Marc Abrahams, has not one but two bouncing baby books to brag about–This Is Improbable, Too, a collection of Marc’s essays and columns from the Guardian (exploring such questions as why it is so impossible to estimate the number of stupid people in circulation and who is the Einstein of pork carcasses), and The Ig Nobel Prize Cookbook, a “science humor cookbook filled with delicious and other recipes invented, inherited, devised, and/or improvised by winners of the Ig Nobel Prize, Nobel laureates, and organizers of the Ig Nobel Ceremony.”

Speaking of the Ig Nobel Prizes, they’re next Thursday, and sold out, but you can watch them online. Here’s a promo!

You can also join us at the Informal Lectures on Saturday, September 20 at 1pm at MIT Building 26, room 100. Come early, it’s free and always jammed. (If you like strange science and/or strange people, the Informal Lectures are even more fun than the ceremony proper, since the speakers get five whole minutes to explain what they did, and audience members can ask them questions.)

And because that’s not enough, he’s also doing a talk at TEDMED in Washington, D.C., this week. I’m joining him there, so posting may be light for the rest of the week.

The scented scuit

September 28th, 2011

Tomorrow the Ig Nobel Prizes will be awarded — 10 prizes given for achievements that first make people laugh, then make them think. You can watch the ceremony at 7:30 pm EST on Improbable.com.

Past winners are always invited back, if they so desire, and this year one of the returning winners is Hyuk Ho Kwon, inventor of the self-perfuming business suit. Here is Mr. Improbable talking about the suit:

He really does own one of those self-perfuming suits, in peppermint. In fact, it’s the only suit he owns, because you don’t really need to dress up to spend all day in your attic writing funny things about science, and when he gives talks, he ought to look like a scruffy academic, not a businessman. Which means every time we have some formal occasion, like a friend’s kid’s bat mitzvah or a wedding, he winds up wearing the scented scuit because I forget to drag him into J Press or some such and have an odorless suit fitted for him in time.

Mr. Kwon won the prize in 1999, and presented Marc with his suit at that time. Ten years and several dry-cleanings later, we took the suit to the wedding of a good friend of mine in Lincoln, Nebraska, during a glorious Indian-summer September. The day of the wedding, it was 85 degrees outside. The wedding venue was nine blocks from our hotel.

Turns out, the scented scuits can be activated by friction … or by heat. By the time we got to the wedding, my man was a walking Altoid, the misbegotten love child of Pigpen and Peppermint Patty.

You just never know.

Improbable Science shows next week!

April 27th, 2011

As part of the Cambridge Science Festival, Mr. Improbable will be putting on two shows at Central Square Theater next week. Do you like things (and people, and songs) that first make you laugh and then make you think? Then join us! Here’s the deets:

Scientists (and Friends) Sing Improbable Science Songs
Monday night, May 2, 7:30 pm

A benefit for the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Science Theater Project

Some of the world’s great scientists (and some friends from the Boston area’s theater and music communities) perform songs by Tom Lehrer, songs from the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony mini-operas, and other beloved, and hated, purportedly funny songs about science, including: New Math, Pollution; Poisoning Pigeons in the Park; Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Dress; the mini-opera Atom & Eve; The Coffee Diet, and much more!

Performers include:
Frank Wilczek (Nobel physics prize winner) & Teresa Winner Blume (soprano), Deborah Henson-Conant (jazz harpist, Museum of Burnt Food), Debra Wise (Underground Railway Theater), Ben Sears & Brad Conner (cabaret), and many more!

Improbable Research After Dark
Saturday night, May 7, 11 pm (After “Breaking the Code“)

A benefit for the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Science Theater Project and Improbable Research

Dramatic, 2-minute-long readings of Ig Nobel Prize-winning studies and patents, performed by some of the Boston area’s leading scientists, actors, and journalists. These are studies that make people laugh, then think. Studies include: “Effect of Coca-Cola on Sperm Motility”, “Farting as a Defense Against Unspeakable Dread,” “The Collapse of Toilets in Glasgow,” “Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Duck,” and many more.

Warning: Do not come to this event if you are easily offended by anything.

TICKETS: $15/$30 online here or call 866-811-4111

Don’t those sound fun? If you wanted to make it a full night of science theater, you could also attend the brilliant, brilliant performance of “Breaking the Code” before the Saturday show. It’s a play about the life of Alan Turing, a British mathematician considered the father of modern computing. Mr. Turing helped break the Nazi’s Enigma code in World War II, only to be hounded to his death by the forces of intolerance at home.

I sort of hate to mention it …

December 14th, 2010

… but it’s that time of year, and I really have to.

Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners makes an excellent Christmas present for anyone with a sense of humor and a curiosity about human behavior, and it’s discounted at Amazon.com. And if that doesn’t do it, isn’t there someone in your life — a teenager, a help desk techie, a stay-at-home mom — who could use a “Please Stop, I’m Bored” mug?

What’s up with this?

November 12th, 2010

In the past couple of months, we’ve been experiencing an odd phenomenon around here: people calling Mr. Improbable to find out if his website is real or a hoax. These are usually students — and once or twice, teachers — who call, on speakerphone, from a classroom.

Presumably, the idea is to teach critical thinking skills, and how to evaluate information on the internet.

Sometimes, we get e-mails. Mr. Improbable’s webmaster forwarded him this one yesterday:

hi my friend and i shane want to know if your website is credible or not. “http://improb.com/airchives/classical/cat/cat.html” You may think why the heck are we talking to you about this. but we are in school and are practicing how to know if sites are credible sources or not. so please let us know asap.

… and as she noted, “determining someone/something’s credibility often requires asking uninterested third parties who are not directly associated with the entity in question.” Well, and tactfully, put.

Parents, have your children experienced the ridiculousness of this particular assignment? Seriously, what is going on here?

Oh, I didn’t tell you there was going to be a part II?

September 2nd, 2010

… because there is. Part II of Mr. Improbable’s manga adventures came out today!

Also, I am a manga sidekick

August 30th, 2010

I believe I mentioned this on Twitter, but one of the biggest Japanese manga publishers has come out with a manga about Mr. Improbable and the Ig Nobel Prizes. Part 1 came out this week, part 2 next week. And I get to be in it, as Mr. Improbable’s loyal sidekick:

That’s not how I wear my hair anymore, but they did an excellent job with my eyebrows. I may take this in to the salon the next time I go to get them waxed.

People, I hope you all know: I never intended to have a life like this. I grew up in a series of aggressively normal Midwestern suburbs. Granted, I was kind of the Sookie Stackhouse of the Midwest: people knew there was something different about me, and weren’t necessarily comfortable with it. (I never had a convincing accent, either.) But this …

I don’t take it for granted, that’s all I mean to say. I know not everyone gets to be a manga sidekick. I know not everyone gets to be paid to write a story about their dog in a national magazine. I wake up sometimes and realize that I was born a Midwestern Christian, daughter of a good union man and a stay-at-home mom, and now I am a genu-wine member of the east coast Jewish media elite. I thought there might be more money involved in that then there’s turned out to be, but you can’t deny it’s still a hell of a long journey.

I’m grateful. I’m mightily amused. I laugh at least once a day at the sheer absurdity, the improbability, of my life. And I know God hears a prayer in that laugh, a prayer that words can’t articulate.

Yet more dry, classic comedy

August 19th, 2010

If you’ve been enjoying the Parker and Saki references of late — their succinct wit, their keen social observations — you might also enjoy the classic movie “The Man in the White Suit”:

Alec Guinness delivers one of his most beloved performances in this smart satirical comedy that pits a mild-mannered but single-minded inventor against the forces of Britain’s textile industry. Sidney Stratton (Guinness) is a brilliant if under appreciated research chemist on a quest to bring progress to mankind by inventing a new kind of fabric that never gets dirty and never wears out. When he finally succeeds, he is hailed a genius. But both textile manufacturers and labor unions soon come to realize that his miracle cloth could destroy their industry, and resort to desperate measures to make sure his invention never gets to market.

“Man in the White Suit” is going to kick off Coolidge Corner’s “Science on Screen” series on September 6, and will feature a post-show talkback featuring Mr. Improbable himself. Check out the theater’s description- — they’ve got a great page, including a trailer from the film — and perhaps I’ll see you there, yes?

Because I kind of have to

December 3rd, 2009

The general consensus on yesterday’s chat (which was an awfully good one; do read it if you haven’t!) was that “gift guides” in magazines, blogs, etc. are rather pointless. And yet — and yet –

I must. Because not only is Miss Conduct’s Mind Over Manners an excellent, stocking-sized, and reasonably priced Christmas or Hanukkah gift, but

(drum roll)

Mr. Improbable has opened up a Cafe Press store! You can get t-shirts, mugs, and all the usual decorated with the Improbable Research logo, or ones identifying you as an “Improbable Researcher.”

My favorites are the Miss-Sweetie-Poo-inspired items. The Ig Nobels are an awards ceremony honoring achievements that first make people laugh and then make them think, and like all awards ceremonies, tend to run over time because the winners make excessively long speeches. Tended, that is, until Mr. Improbable came up on the brilliant solution of Miss Sweetie Poo.

Miss Sweetie Poo is an adorable eight-year-old girl in a party dress, who, when a speaker has gone over the allotted time limit, will march over to the podium and announce, in a clear, loud voice, “Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored. Please stop. I’m bored.”

She doesn’t stop until they do, and it works.

So we’ve got some lovely “Please stop, I’m bored” merchandise as well. Mugs are classic, of course:

boredmug

But I’m particularly fond of the bib, myself:

boredbib

(The very first Miss Sweetie Poo is now a freshman in college. I wonder how often her trademark phrase occurs to her in class?)

On Mr. Improbable’s blog

November 8th, 2009

I’ve been quoted, and there’s some wonderful news posted about “Project Grizzly.” (If you’re looking for an evening of bear-themed entertainment, and why wouldn’t you be, you could do worse than back-to-back viewings of “Project Grizzly” and “Grizzly Man.”)

Mr. Improbable (and Milo!) on Boston television

September 11th, 2009

UPDATE: The video’s up of Wednesday’s “Chronicle” segment on inventions. Here’s the whole story, and here‘s the segment with Mr. Improbable — and Milo! (In this segment, Mr. Improbable is teasing Milo with a broom so that he will bark and demonstrate the effectiveness of Bow Lingual, the dog-to-human translation device. Don’t worry. Milo had fun.)

milorc

[From Wednesday] If you’re a Boston local, tune into Channel 5′s “Chronicle” tonight at 7:30. They are doing a report on inventions. Mr. Improbable will describe some Ig Nobel Prize-winning inventions, and Milo will demonstrate a few, including Bow-Lingual and Clocky.

We know some real characters, we do

August 18th, 2009

Our friend Dan Meyer, professional sword swallower and winner of the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, is … well, really, where do you go after that? Of course he’s an unforgettable character. In addition to swallowing swords, Dan has a passion for collecting languages and exotic animals. From a recent Facebook exchange:

fbdan
danfb2

All together now! “Watch me wallaby’s feed, mate, watch me wallaby’s feed! They’re a dangerous breed, mate, so watch me wallaby’s feed!”