Magazine of Ideas and Trivia

Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix
Feel Smart Again!

When we were in school, we all learned so many things—we were all a bunch of little generalists. But as we grow up, so much of it is forgotten. It is this phenomenon that brings us books such as An Incomplete Education and entertainment such as Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

In the Spring of 1999, two students at Duke University, Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, were discussing that phenomenon and how enjoyable an educational magazine could be if handled with a sense of fun.

From this conversation came mental_floss. Their first issue, distributed only on campus, went to press in the Spring of 2000—they sold 3,000 issues.

Both men took part-time jobs and even raided their savings in order to pay for another issue. They finally published it in May of 2001. In the periodical industry, new magazines dream of selling 40% of their print run. mental_floss sold 60% of that initial print run, to the glee and amazement of Pearson and Hattikudur.

Success followed success, with Library Journal naming mental_floss as one of the top 10 new magazines, and favourable reviews by such stately publications as the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education giving the new periodical glowing reviews.

When Courtney Cox appeared on Friends reading an issue of mental_floss, they knew that their magazine had arrived.

The mental_floss staff has grown, adding such great talents as Al Jacobs (Editor-at-Large for Esquire) and former Newsweek reporter Mary Carmichael (now the book and web editor for mental_floss). More recently, Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings has been a regular column. Dave Feldman, the Imponderables guy is also featured. Will Pearson has also done more than 100 spots on CNN Headline News.

The magazine features informative articles about a variety of topics. Often the articles will be grouped or themed in quirky ways. mental_floss regularly offers briefings on world events or hot trends. One of their regular features is the "50 Cent Tour." These articles (three or four per issue, very short and all connected to a single destination) whisk the reader away to some exotic locale and give a very enjoyable tour, history, some fun facts, a biography of one of the great figures in the land's history, and more besides!

Another regular feature is their "Interviews with dead people," wherein the staff writers conduct an imaginary interview with some of history's most interesting figures (using their actual words, where possible!) mental_floss also has a regular column which features a few pieces of artistic note, whether a painting, sculpture, film, pice of music or other masterpiece, explaining its significance, telling about the artist, and breaking down just exactly why people think it is so great in the first place!

mental_floss is largely PG rated, but it is not specifically intended for kids. The target audience is actually for time-starved adults who would enjoy some educational material, but do not want to slog through musty or dry books and periodicals. The magazine features a strong sense of graphic design, although not as wildly avant garde as, say RayGun, and always with an eye toward bringing a smile.

mental_floss has published several books of their most interesting material (and odds and ends which did not make it into the magazine)—including Condenesed Knowledge and Forbidden Knowledge.

Their website features interactive trivia, back issues and information about subscribing.

Reworked and revised: 8/24/07

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