Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Better living through chemistry

WD-40. An essential item for toolboxes across America. It's perfect for loosening up hinges, lubricating joints, and cleaning off rust and dirt. It also has countless other uses around the house, garage, and workshop. Additionally, small quantities have been shown to cure the rickets. Despite its utility and ubiquity, few would guess that this product owes its existence to the space race.

During the days of the Mercury space missions in the early fifties, the Atlas rockets used in those launches were highly vulnerable to rust.

Norm Larsen, a self-taught chemist from Chicago, was one of many who attempted to fix the problem. After trying out 39 variations of a chemical water displacer, Larsen concocted a successful formula on the 40th try and founded the Rocket Chemical Company to market his product. General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the Atlas rockets, was soon using Larsen's creation. It was called WD-40, for "Water Displacer-40."

Sadly, the Rocket Chemical Company changed it's name to the far more prosaic WD-40 Company in 1969. To this day, the exact composition of WD-40 remains unknown, much like the secret recipe for Coca-Cola.

This may be more than coincidence.

Would you like to know more?
-Listen to this BBC World Service report
-Visit WD-40's homepage and behold the 2000 uses of this fine product.

Beautiful Scissor Smile

The days are flying past at a terrifying rate, and once again it is time for the Hyper Kitchen to turn the spotlight on a new monstrosity for your reading pleasure. In past installments of our Monster of the Month series, we've mainly focused upon creatures, maniacs, and oddities from the Americas and Europe. With the notable exception of the sea-dwelling Vampire Squid from Hell, we've remained firmly within the Western Hemisphere. Well, no more we say! There's a whole planet of freaks out there and it's time we broadened our scope. So, this September, we journey to the birthplace of the Subaru Legacy:

(not Brazil)

While Japan is perhaps best known in the West for their radioactive reptiles, vicious phantom children, and problematic octopi, we decided to look for a more obscure monster. Our lovely discovery is known as the Kuchisake-onna, which in English essentially "Slit-Mouthed Woman" or "Severed Mouth Woman." The original legend of the Kuchisake-onna dates to the Heian period, and tells of a samurai who discovers his gorgeous wife has been sleeping with another man. Insane with rage, the samurai uses his sword to slices her mouth open from ear to ear before killing her. Years later, unlucky travelers would be attacked her vengeful spirit, replete with a ghastly torn mouth.

The ghost story was passed down through the generations and underwent many permutations. By the mid-seventies, it had been re-vamped into an urban legend, circulating amongst the terrified children of the era. In this new version, Kuchisake-onna was a woman clad in a raincoat and surgical mask (the latter item not uncommon in the germ-conscious Japan). Found wandering the city at night, she would approach passers-by and ask if them if they thought she was beautiful. To those who answered "yes", she would tear off her mask and reveal her horrific visage. Then she'd proceed to murder the stranger, using a pair of scissors to slice her victim's face to match her own.

And if they answered "no?" Well, those poor souls were carved up on the spot. The only way to ward off the Kuchisake-onna was to look upon her face without showing fear and reply "you're average." This clever tactic would confuse the scar-faced psychopath long enough for one to make a hasty retreat.

This modern iteration of the Kuchisake-onna is a fairly well-known monster in Japan, analogous to the Hook Hand of American urban-legends. She has appeared in various manga and anime series, and even a few movies. Her depictions range from the comical...

To the grotesque.

Oh sweet lord, that will haunt our nightmares forever. Fortunately, here at the Kitchen we are prepared to defend ourselves with fondue forks if need be.

Would you like to know more?
-Read about the Kuchisake-onna and other classic Japanese urban legends in this article
-Know Japanese? Try this.
-Watch this goofy trailer for the Kuchisake-onna movie , aka "Carved"

Saturday, September 26, 2009

We will restore picture clarity in a few moments.

They say that the first year of any restaurant is the most difficult, and this also holds true for the allegorical lunch-house of learning that is the Hyper Kitchen. Thanks to some unforeseen technical difficulties, we've been unable to post new stories on the Hyper Kitchen for a while now. But fear not! Thanks to eleven fire-extinguishers and a half-full box of baking soda, the situation is well under hand. Exciting food for the thought is on it's way. Be prepared.

Gnarh! Gnargh Gnargh!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy moments in art!

At age 73, a sickly Goya purchased a small house by the banks of Manzanares River and produced fourteen oil paintings directly on the walls of his new home. They were called The Black Paintings as each had unsettling subject matter. The most famous of these paintings was Saturn Devouring his Children, depicting a moment from Greco-Roman mythology in which Saturn (or Kronos) eats his offspring to prevent them from eventually usurping his mastery of the universe. Jupiter (or Zeus) escaped this fate of course, but that's for another day. The painting is wonderfully gruesome, particularly in the partially eaten headless body and the wide, almost Muppet-like, eyes of Saturn.

Saturn Devouring his Children is on display in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Postcards are available in the lobby.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Utopia! Huzzah!

Behold the Morris Chair. One of first recliners, it was unveiled in England in 1866, and has since become a common item in living rooms across the globe. Few would guess that the chair's inventor, the Oxford-educated William Morris, was the author of early time-travel novels. In his most famous work, News from Nowhere, Morris depicts the then far-off future of the 21st century. His vision of tomorrow was heavily informed by his interests in medieval culture and socialism, and unsurprisingly it's radically unlike the world that we live in.

Morris' perfect society contains idealism and tedium in equal measure. In his version of the 21st century, there is no capitalism, poverty, religion, or social division. National governments are non-existent and regions are sub-divided into small, self-governed villages (each maintaining the Athenian ideal of democracy). It certainly sounds pleasant, but there's a catch. Civilization has taken on a form similar to that of a Renaissance fair, and life revolves around the production of "beautiful" handmade crafts. Machinery is frowned upon and idle-hands are not tolerated. Laziness is tantamount to mental illness. Additionally: goods and supplies are kept in warehouses managed by children. Everyone knows that children are not to be trusted, and this arrangement could only lead to disaster.

Many of Morris' predictions probably seem fanciful, but he was well aware how unlikely it was that his future would come to pass. The title, News from Nowhere, is an allusion to the term "utopia." While it has come to mean a perfect society, utopia is literally translated from Greek as "no place." The world depicted in his book was meant to be an ideal to strive for and not necessarily an achievable model. Ultimately, however, the world he envisioned sounds like an annoying place and unworthy of any serious consideration. Just as there are far more comfortable places to sit than the Morris chair, there are multitudes of better utopias to emulate.

But don't take my word for it! You can read about it in a book!
-Source: Wallace, Irving and Wallechinsky, David. (1975). "Utopia." The People's Almanac.1422: pp.1-10. ISBN:0-385-04060-1. Buy it here for a single penny. Jesus Christ, that's a bargain.

Soon the whole world will know my name

Don't touch that dial, folks. Touching the dial will result in the total destruction of your village.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Knowing is Half the Battle

According to our sources, the most common keyword searches that have lead people to the hallowed halls of the Hyper-Kitchen have been
  1. "Men's leopard print speedos"
  2. "Leopard print speedos"
  3. "Animal print speedos"
We at the Kitchen are proud to have dominated the all-important male jungle-themed-speedo-enthusiast demographic and hope that we parlay this accomplishment to ever greater readership.

Lost: One 7,600 pound hydrogen bomb. Answers to "Sparky."

There is a Mark-15 nuclear bomb off the coast of Georgia, somewhere out in Wassaw Sound. The bomb contains 400 pounds of explosives, along with uranium and possibly plutonium material. It is 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Despite three major search attempts, it has defied retrieval for more than half a century.

Back in 1958, a B-47 bomber took off from Florida on a secret training mission. The plane was piloted by Colonel Howard Richardon, and the flight was to serve as a test run for hypothetical long-range bombings against Russia. In an effort to make the simulation as real as possible, it was decided that the plane would carry a live nuclear weapon.

All went along normally until Richardson's bomber collided with an F-86 above the border between Georgia and North Carolina. The bomber sustained critical damage; its engine almost being torn off. While the pilot from the F-86 safely ejected from his wrecked aircraft, Richardson and his co-pilot didn't have that option on account of the explosive cargo they were carrying. An attempt at a crash landing might've resulted in a catastrophic accidental detonation. With no other choice, Richardson decided to jettison it. Flying low, he dropped the bomb in the swamps near Tybee Island and safely landed at Hunter Army Air Field. Richardson was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Naturally, dropping a H-Bomb in American waters was a public relations disaster for the military, so initial reports withheld important details of the event, insisting that only a "part" of a bomb had been dropped. As their search attempts yielded nothing, they gradually acknowledged that a complete weapon had been lost, and it has been only recently revealed that this bomb was live. The pentagon continues to insist that a detonation would be impossible, but these claims have been contradicted by other military officials. Meanwhile, Georgian residents are understandably wary about their unwanted nuclear neighbor.

Would you like to know more?
-Read this BBC article
-"There's an H-Bomb in Our Swamp"