How can I repel mosquitoes?

My pal Socrates

Socrates is relevant to this question

Hilary Moon Murphy writes again to ask how to best repel mosquitoes. Now, my pal Socrates would leap right onto that question, but he wouldn’t answer it. Oh, no, that’s too easy. Instead he would ask another question, to wit: Are we sure that’s the question you really want answered? Is it necessary to repel mosquitoes, or is it enough to simply fail to attract them? Or, better yet, is what you really want for them to quit biting you? Socrates was a real smart-ass, and it’s no wonder he was put to death. That thing about corrupting the youth of Athens was just an excuse.

However, in this case he has a point. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t mind if they land on me so long as they don’t bite.

Hilary, assuming you are a natural woman who prefers not to use DEET, there are a few strategies you might consider.

First, know that mosquitoes are pure evil. Anyone who doubts the existence of evil, point to this. So it’s not sufficient for a mosquito to suck your blood; their bred-in-the-bone malice won’t let them enjoy biting you unless it also annoys you. Cultivate an attitude of detachment and calm, taking away their fun.

Yoga man

A serene person attracts few mosquitoes

Annoyed man fighting mosquitoes

They can get a rise out of this fellow

Of course, it’s not easy to achieve serenity in the face of a dive-bomb assault of hundreds of savage insects. If you don’t have time for years of practice to perfect your zen mind, take advantage of the variable tastiness factor: not everyone smells equally delicious. Try to find someone the mosquitoes like better than they like you, and hang around with them whenever you go outdoors. It’s the opposite of the strategy of dragging your ugly friend to bars. Find someone extra tasty, and marry them or something.

If you’re one of those unlucky few who are super scrumptious, however, this won’t work for you. What else can you try?

Science has proven that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide. If you can train yourself to stop exhaling this gas, you should be okay.

It’s also been suggested that because of their vampire-like nature, mosquitoes might be deterred from biting if you eat lots of garlic. But I’m a big garlic fan, and unfortunately, I’ve found this doesn’t work. I think they just regard it as seasoning.

How to eat a pickle

Pickle defense posture

Pickle defense posture #1

When you eat a pickle, you must stand. Never eat a pickle sitting or lying down, as you cannot effectively defend the pickle in those positions. The correct posture for pickle eating is shown here (the actual pickle is omitted to avoid undue temptation).

Lean forward slightly, holding the pickle in one hand and with the other hand out to the side, both for balance and to fend off anyone who might try to take your pickle. Your feet should be well apart and pointing slightly outward. Take large bites. Chew vigorously. Remain alert.

This applies to all types of pickle that are small enough to hold in one hand. If your pickle is larger than that, you would generally cut it into smaller pieces, then eat them one at a time. You may want to set the uneaten pieces in a corner so that you can stand in front of them and block others’ access.

For the advanced pickle eater, there are other defensive positions for special circumstances (e.g. if you are in a tree). But for most ground-based pickle eating, this will serve.

How do I tell the difference between cheese and soap?

Typical cheese and soap molecules

Typical cheese and soap molecules

A whitish-yellowish block. Could be cheese. Could be soap. How can you be sure?

The answer can have definite consequences. Eating soap is unpleasant and bubbly. Cleaning yourself with cheese is ineffective, and attracts mice. In these and many other ways, being able to distinguish between cheese and soap is crucial to your continued happiness. But how do you do it?

Fortunately, it’s simple to tell them apart if you know the secret. All you need is an electron microscope to inspect the molecules of the substance in question. Cheese contains many amino acid molecules (see Figure A). Soap, on the other hand, contains sodium dodecyl sulfate molecules, also known as sodium lauryl sulfate (Figure B) – called Laurie by its friends and known to the police under other aliases.

It’s easy to remember which is which, when you realize that the long wiggly tail of Laurie accounts for the scrubbing action of soap, whereas the happy hexagon explains the happy feeling in your tummy from eating tasty cheese.

How can I tell stories at summer camp?

Do you want to tell stories at camp? Surprisingly, the most important things you can do to insure success in story telling, begin before you start talking.

First, make sure the audience can all see and hear you from where they are sitting.

Wear a hood or mask, and plain clothing, so you cannot be identified.

Make sure your audience is comfortable. Check that the knots are tight, so that they cannot escape, but not so tight that circulation is cut off, which might distract them from your story.

Cover their mouths with duct tape, so they do not interrupt.

Remember the three basic principles of story-telling.

  • Make up outrageous lies.
  • Laugh loudly at your jokes so that the audience can tell when you’ve said something funny.
  • Use your hands to express yourself. For instance, if someone is not paying attention, use your hands to throw a pine cone at them.

Tyler, how can I become as knowledgeable as you are?

Hilary Moon Murphy of Minneapolis wrote to ask how I developed my expertise.

I sleep on books. I’ve found that if I place a book under my pillow at night, and skim the table of contents the next day, I can pretend to have read it. This saves a lot of time and lets me focus my energies on making up cool stuff. Too much actual knowledge tends to cramp my style anyway. It’s also more comfortable because I find pillows tend to be a bit too flat to suit me.

I recently bought a Nook, which I’ve found lets me sleep on many more books at the same time without getting a crick in my neck. My expertise should develop at an even more rapid pace now.

I theorize that this effect is due to invisible emanations (made visible for reference purposes in this illustration) of potential knowledge. It’s all very science-based.

What should I leave behind when I go to summer camp?

When they go to camp, some people bring many unnecessary things from home. Here’s a list of several items you might think you will need at camp, but you probably won’t.

  • Dirt: most camps have plenty already, and it’s free.
  • Anvil: The camp will supply tools for craft projects.
  • Monster Chow: some campers believe that if they bring monster food to camp and a monster comes, it will eat the monster food instead of them. Actually, monsters will smell the monster chow and come looking for it. It’s better to not attract their attention.
  • The Complete Collected Works of Bulwer-Lytton: There are many activities at camp, and you will not have as much time for reading as you might think.
  • The State of Connecticut: We don’t know why some campers think they will need this state, but don’t bring it. It’s much larger and heavier than it looks on the map.
  • Elephant bullets: Elephants won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. Plus, it is illegal to shoot them.
  • Louis XIV chair: The chairs at camp may not be the most elegant, but you only need to put up with them for a few weeks.
Dirt Louis XIV chair Anvil
The Complete Works of Bulwer-Lytton

What should I bring to summer camp?

Superhero costume

Your secret identity

This is the time of year when parents pack their kids away to summer camp, so they can briefly recapture the freedom of being childless. As a summer camp goer, you may be wondering what critically important things you must not leave behind. Here are some camping essentials you might have forgotten.

  • Communicator: To tell your starship to “beam you up” when you’ve had one too many mosquito bites.
  • Superhero Costume: If you have a secret superhero identity, you just know the Evil Doctor Zarg will show up right when you don’t have your costume. Bring it, and foil his insane plan for camp domination.
  • TV Remote Control: So your family will think of you while you’re away.
  • Electron Microscope:In case you need to tell the difference between cheese and soap.
  • Extra-large Pooper Scooper: In case an elephant gets into your cabin.


Tomorrow: What not to bother to bring.

On the horns of a dilemma: Jumpin’ Jack Flash vs. Red Dawn

An anonymous reader asks:

If I have a choice to watch either Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Red Dawn, which mid 80s movie should I watch?

I first want to point out that this is a free country, and you are not obliged to suffer through either of these movies. However, perhaps you’re in a different country (I should add a location field to my question form) where the citizens are forced to endure such things; I suppose it might dull their sensibilities and make them less likely to question the government.

I haven’t actually seen Red Dawn, but I am an expert in it because I read the wikipedia entry and looked it up in imdb.com. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is, unfortunately, seared in my memory, so I didn’t need to look it up. Now, it’s possible that is seems worse in retrospect than it was at the time, because I can neither forget nor forgive that Whoopi has since been in Burglar, with that annoying squeaky sidekick, and Sister Act 2, which prompted me to write members of the California legislature to urge that bad scriptwriting be made a capital crime. It’s a little hard to believe that one can go downhill after Jumpin’ Jack Flash, but there it is.

I guess the bottom line comes down to your personal preference. Would you rather see a film with a few laugh lines but sloppy acting and plot holes you could drive a T-72 tank through? Or would you prefer to see one with cardboard villains that glorifies violence, with an average rate of 2.23 violent acts per minute? My wife won’t watch films with icky bits in them, so if I had to choose one I’d probably re-watch Jumpin’ Jack Flash so at least I wouldn’t have to suffer alone. But I would bring a good book along.

By the way, if you just require a good mid-80’s movie, and it doesn’t have to be one of these, may I draw your attention to ‘Back to the Future’?

How should I salute a royal person?

Royal Salute

Royal Salute

Most people are unlikely to encounter any kings, queens, princes or princesses close up. However, just in case, here is what you need to know.

Upon sighting a member of a royal family, give the royal salute. Touch your thumbs to your forehead and spread your other fingers like the points of a crown. Make a little “O” of surprise with your mouth. Do this even if you are not surprised.

Don’t worry which country the royals are from. This is an international standard.

Later we will discuss proper forms of address. Until you have read about that here, it may be wisest to stand some distance off and just salute. Please use our RSS feed to be informed of future updates.

Is Cinderella a maiden?

At the beginning of the story, Cinderella is a maiden. She’s young, unmarried, and female; those are the basic requirements (some people might propose an additional rule, but I think it’s clear she meets that standard also). She’s also pretty, which doesn’t hurt. A very ugly girl might technically qualify as a maiden, but the villagers probably wouldn’t call her that. Villagers can be cruel.

Once Cinderella marries the prince, most people would no longer call her a maiden. Certainly not once there are little princes and princesses. You can be a maiden or a mother, but not both. And, since they live happily ever after, even if there are no children she will get older. At some point, she will be old enough that nobody will call her a maiden, unless they’re just trying to flatter her by implying she’s younger than she really is. Royalty get flattered a lot.

Had she never met the prince, and lived a lonely life, Cinderella would still eventually have been too old to be a maiden. At that point, the villagers would start calling her a spinster or “old maid.” This doesn’t occur at a set number of years; more like a state of mind. If the villagers still consider her marriage material, they call her a maiden. If they feel she’s missed the marriage boat and might as well start collecting cats, then she’s called a spinster. If she gets really old, they might start calling her a crone. She would have a lot of cats by then.

However, all this is old-fashioned terminology. The words maiden and (especially) spinster aren’t much used nowadays, since they reflect a mindset that women’s role in life is based on their relationship to a man. Today, most people recognize that women can do whatever they set their mind to, and whether they’re married and whether they’re still young, doesn’t have much to do with it.

If you like the idea of being a maiden, by all means go for it. But remember, maidenhood, like fame, is fleeting, so take advantage of it while you can.

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