Attention K‑Mart Shoppers: Hear 90 Hours of Background Music & Ads from the Retail Giant’s 1980s and 90s Heyday

Back in high school, I worked part-time at the Gap, a job that, for all its dis­com­forts — the late-night restock­ing, the Sisyphean fold­ing and re-fold­ing, those head­sets — real­ly only left a bit­ter mem­o­ry because of the music. Each month, the store received a new disc of back­ground shop­ping sound­track, but only an hour-long sound­track, to be played on loop over over and over again, and so to be heard by me six or sev­en times per shift. Need­less to say, the start of a new month, and, with this, the arrival of a new mix of bland pop hits, felt like a sal­va­tion.

This sort of pro­gram­mat­ic musi­cal engi­neer­ing already had plen­ty of prece­dent by that point, as thor­ough­ly doc­u­ment­ed by Mark Davis, who spent the late 1980s and ear­ly 1990s work­ing at K‑Mart’s cus­tomer ser­vice desk and — per­haps fore­see­ing both the future ease of shar­ing audio­vi­su­al mate­ri­als over the inter­net and the waves of nos­tal­gia for the recent past that ease would enable — pock­et­ed all the shopp­ping-sound­track cas­sette tapes that passed through his hands, build­ing the impres­sive col­lec­tion you can see in the video above.

“Until around 1992, the cas­settes were rotat­ed month­ly,” writes Davis. “Then, they were replaced week­ly. Final­ly some­time around 1993, satel­lite pro­gram­ming was intro­duced which elim­i­nat­ed the need for these tapes alto­geth­er. The old­er tapes con­tain canned ele­va­tor music with instru­men­tal ren­di­tions of songs. Then, the songs became com­plete­ly main­stream around 1991. All of them have adver­tise­ments every few songs. The month­ly tapes are very, very, worn and rip­pled. That’s because they ran for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week on auto-reverse.”

The high­ly delib­er­ate, near-fric­tion­less mild­ness; the inter­spersed spo­ken-word adver­tise­ments and their hyp­not­i­cal­ly repet­i­tive empha­sis on low, low prices; the wob­ble and hiss of the bat­tered record­ing media; all of it adds up to a lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence his­tor­i­cal­ly and aes­thet­i­cal­ly like no oth­er. (If you enjoy this sort of thing and haven’t yet heard of the move­ment called “vapor­wave,” hie thee to Google, look it up, and pre­pare for aston­ish­ment.) You can hear over 90 hours of it at Atten­tion K‑Mart Shop­pers, Davis’ dig­i­tized repos­i­to­ry of his cas­settes at the Inter­net Archive.

If you have any mem­o­ries of shop­ping at K‑Mart twen­ty to thir­ty years ago, these tapes may bring on a rush of Prous­t­ian rec­ol­lec­tion. But not all of them scored the aver­age shop­ping day. One, for exam­ple, came just for play on March 1st, 1992, K‑Mart’s 30th anniver­sary. “This was a spe­cial day at the store where employ­ees spent all night set­ting up for spe­cial pro­mo­tions and extra excite­ment. It was a real fun day, the store was packed wall to wall, and I recall that the stores were asked to play the music at a much high­er vol­ume,” a pro­gram which includ­ed “oldies and all sorts of fun facts from 1962.” Final­ly, a way to feel nos­tal­gia for one era’s nos­tal­gia of anoth­er era. How’s that for a 21st-cen­tu­ry expe­ri­ence?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

As Benev­o­lent Dic­ta­tor, Vladimir Nabokov Would Abol­ish Muzak & Bidets: What Would Make Your List?

Why We Love Rep­e­ti­tion in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

Woody Allen Lives the “Deli­cious Life” in Ear­ly-80s Japan­ese Com­mer­cials

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Late, Great Alan Rickman Reads Shakespeare, Proust & Thomas Hardy

Just this week we lost Alan Rick­man, one of the most beloved British actors of his gen­er­a­tion. And like all the best beloved British actors of any gen­er­a­tion, he could, of course, do Shake­speare the way the rest of us can tie our shoes — and not just the lines from the plays, but the son­nets. In the clip above, you can hear Rick­man give a read­ing of the satir­i­cal Son­net 130, which sends up the wor­ship­ful excess­es of con­tem­po­rary court­ly son­nets with lines like “My mis­tress’ eyes are noth­ing like the sun” and “I have seen ros­es damask’d, red and white, but no such ros­es see I in her cheeks.”

To prop­er­ly deliv­er this mate­r­i­al requires a cer­tain sense of irony, and we could rely on Rick­man to bring his own for­mi­da­ble yet sub­tle iron­ic capac­i­ty to the screen.

We always enjoyed see­ing him pop up in a movie — no mat­ter how impres­sive or mediocre the movie in ques­tion — because, I would argue, of the dis­tinc­tive sense of intel­li­gence with which he imbued all his char­ac­ters, from the ghost boyfriend in Tru­ly, Mad­ly, Deeply to the Sher­iff of Not­ting­ham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Har­ry Pot­ter’s Severus Snape to the bad guy in Die Hard. And nat­u­ral­ly, he does­n’t leave it at home when assum­ing the role of the nar­ra­tor of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native, a sam­ple of which you can hear above.

One must strike an even more com­pli­cat­ed bal­ance of emo­tions to do jus­tice to the prose of Mar­cel Proust, a task to which the actor proves him­self equal in his recita­tion just above.  “I think that life would sud­den­ly seem won­der­ful to us if we were threat­ened to die,” he says, using his inim­itable voice for words that now sound more mean­ing­ful than ever:

Just think of how many projects, trav­els, love affairs, stud­ies, it – our life – hides from us, made invis­i­ble by our lazi­ness which, cer­tain of a future, delays them inces­sant­ly.

But let all this threat­en to become impos­si­ble for ever, how beau­ti­ful it would become again! Ah! If only the cat­a­clysm doesn’t hap­pen this time, we won’t miss vis­it­ing the new gal­leries of the Lou­vre, throw­ing our­selves at the feet of Miss X, mak­ing a trip to India.

The cat­a­clysm doesn’t hap­pen, we don’t do any of it, because we find our­selves back in the heart of nor­mal life, where neg­li­gence dead­ens desire. And yet we shouldn’t have need­ed the cat­a­clysm to love life today. It would have been enough to think that we are humans, and that death may come this evening.

Mr. Rick­man, you, too, will be missed…

Note: Do you want to hear Alan Rick­man read Hardy’s Return of the Native in its entire­ty for free? Just head over to and reg­is­ter for a 30-day free tri­al and you can down­load that, and anoth­er book of your choice, at no cost. Find more details here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alan Rick­man Does Epic Vio­lence to a Cup of Tea in Super Slow Motion

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Lis­ten­ing to Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past, (Maybe) the Longest Audio Book Ever Made

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remem­brance of Things Past

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Watch David Bowie & Annie Lennox in Rehearsal, Singing “Under Pressure,” with Queen (1992)

It’s com­mon to feel like we know our artists, writ­ers, musi­cians, actors… we want so bad­ly to touch their lives in some way, as their lives touch ours. This over­whelm­ing desire is respon­si­ble for a huge mar­ket share of our mass media, from the most taste­less tabloid hit jobs to the most respect­ful long­form essays. Since David Bowie’s pass­ing, we’ve seen no short­age of the lat­ter, and thank­ful­ly lit­tle of the for­mer.

Vul­ture has col­lect­ed some of the best of these online trib­ute arti­cles and obit­u­ar­ies, and one in particular—Judy Berman’s “We Always Knew Who David Bowie Real­ly Was”—has res­onat­ed with me. Berman cuts through “all the clichés about how he was a chameleon or a shape-shifter or opaque or unknow­able” and shows some of the ways Bowie made him­self inti­mate­ly avail­able in his work.

Bowie’s self-rev­e­la­tion by way of the­atrics and cos­tume changes resem­bles the less intel­lec­tu­al, more emo­tion­al, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of his friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Fred­die Mer­cury. Just as musi­cians around the world cel­e­brate, and mourn, Bowie now, he per­formed a sim­i­lar ser­vice for Mer­cury 24 years ago at Lon­don’s Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um for an audi­ence of 72,000 peo­ple, along with the remain­ing mem­bers of Queen and a full ros­ter of super­stars. Bowie did four songs in total, but the most poignant was cer­tain­ly “Under Pres­sure,” which he’d com­posed with Mer­cury 11 years ear­li­er. The song became, of course, a mas­sive hit (twice over, thanks to Vanil­la Ice’s appro­pri­a­tion). It’s wrench­ing lyrics also gave us yet more insight into Bowie’s per­son­al­i­ty: his fears, his sense, as Berman writes, “of how fleet­ing and insignif­i­cant one human life is in the grand scheme of the uni­verse,” and his defi­ance in the face of that knowl­edge.

In the video at the top of the post, you can see Bowie, Annie Lennox, John Dea­con, Roger Tay­lor, and Bri­an May rehears­ing “Under Pres­sure” for the Mer­cury trib­ute, with an audi­ence of just them­selves and a few crew peo­ple. Bowie has one of his regret­tably ubiq­ui­tous cig­a­rettes in hand and an enor­mous grin on his face as he watch­es Lennox belt out Mer­cury’s parts. The per­for­mance on show day, above, is pow­er­ful and pitch per­fect, but the loose, infor­mal rehearsal footage is more of a treat for those of us eager for as much of the unguard­ed Bowie as we can get. For even more stripped-down, behind-the-scenes Bowie, lis­ten to an a cap­pel­la ver­sion of “Under Pres­sure” with Mer­cury, and learn all about how that song came to be.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Artist Julie Green Paints the Last Suppers of 600+ Death Row Inmates on Ceramic Plates

What would you choose for your last meal?

The com­fort food of your child­hood?

Or some lav­ish dish you nev­er had a chance to taste?

What might your choice reveal about your race, region­al ori­gins, or eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances?

Artist Julie Green devel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with death row inmates’ final meals while teach­ing in Okla­homa, where the per capi­ta exe­cu­tion rate exceeds Texas’ and con­demned pris­on­ers’ spe­cial menu requests are a mat­ter of pub­lic record:

Fried fish fil­lets with red cock­tail sauce from Long John Silver’s

Large pep­per­oni piz­za with sausage and extra mush­rooms and a large grape soda.

Chateaubriand steak, medi­um rare with A‑1 steak sauce, fried shrimp entree with cock­tail sauce, large baked pota­to with but­ter, sour cream, chopped scal­lions, bacon bits, salt and pep­per, six pieces of gar­lic but­ter toast, whole Ken­tucky Bour­bon pecan pie, one liter of Coca Cola Clas­sic, and bag of ice

Last Meal Plate

The lat­ter order, from April 29, 2014, was denied on the grounds that it would have exceed­ed the $15-per-cus­tomer max. The pris­on­er who’d made the request skipped his last meal in protest.

Green recre­ates these, and hun­dreds of oth­er death row pris­on­ers’ last sup­pers in cobalt blue min­er­al paint on care­ful­ly select­ed sec­ond-hand plates. The influ­ence of Dutch Delft­ware and Span­ish still life paint­ing are evi­dent in her depic­tion of burg­ers, Ken­tucky Fried Chick­en, and pie.

Many of the requests betray a child­like poignan­cy:

A sin­gle hon­ey bun (North Car­oli­na, Jan­u­ary 30, 1998) 

Shrimp and ice cream  (New Mex­i­co, Novem­ber 6, 2001)

 A peanut but­ter and jel­ly sand­wich (Flori­da, Feb­ru­ary 26, 2014)

One man got per­mis­sion for his moth­er to pre­pare his last meal in the prison kitchen. Anoth­er was sur­prised with a birth­day cake after prison staff learned he had nev­er had one before.

Some refrain from exer­cis­ing their right to a spe­cial request, a choice Green doc­u­ments in text. She resorts to sim­i­lar tac­tics when a pris­on­er requests that his final meal be kept con­fi­den­tial.

Final Meal Not Made Public

Each meal Green paints is accom­pa­nied by a menu, the date, and the state in which it was served, but the pris­on­ers and their crimes go unnamed. She has com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing fifty plates a year until cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is abol­ished.

Green nar­rates a Last Sup­per slideshow above, or you can browse all the plates in the project, orga­nized by state here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Pris­on­ers Ate at Alca­traz in 1946: A Vin­tage Prison Menu

The Odd Col­lec­tion of Books in the Guan­tanamo Prison Library

Mod­ern Art Was Used As a Tor­ture Tech­nique in Prison Cells Dur­ing the Span­ish Civ­il War

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

David Bowie Sells Ice Cream, Sake, Coke & Water: Watch His TV Commercials from the 1960s Through 2013

As the mourn­ing peri­od for David Bowie con­tin­ues this week, for which I am very much tak­ing part (my favorite Bowie is the Berlin tril­o­gy Bowie in case you’re inter­est­ed), the Inter­net con­tin­ues through its own stages of grief. First brief news sto­ries and anec­dotes from fel­low artists, then long think-pieces (some very good), then to best-of lists, and now to inter­est­ing ephemera.

For an artist who saw both sides of com­mer­cial suc­cess, Bowie’s tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial appear­ances num­ber less than a dozen over his life. Part of that comes from his mas­tery and con­trol over his image–he knew when to go out, and when to stay in, to get things done, you might say–and part may come from his ear­ly his­to­ry behind the scenes where the com­mer­cial sausage gets made.

In 1963, Bowie left school to go work at Nevin D. Hirst Adver­tis­ing on London’s Bond Street, where he worked as a sto­ry­board artist for about a year, a job he took to please his father. Although he was dis­mis­sive of that time doing his 9‑to‑5, it was lat­er clear to friends, band mates, and biog­ra­phers that he had picked up a lot from advertising–how to pack­age him­self, how to manip­u­late feel­ing, the pow­er of image and words.

Jump for­ward to 1967 and a long haired Davy Jones makes one of his ear­li­est appear­ances in this ice cream ad for Luv “The Pop Ice Cream,” direct­ed by anoth­er up-and-com­er, Rid­ley Scott, who had recent­ly made his first short film, “A Boy and a Bicy­cle.” It’s groovy, but, as Luv’s not around any more, appar­ent­ly didn’t move enough units.

And then Davy Jones turns into Major Tom and the ‘70s belonged to him. He final­ly agrees in 1980 to do a com­mer­cial, but only in Japan. In this min­i­mal ad for Crys­tal Jun Rock Sake, Bowie looks beau­ti­ful, hand­some, and sleek, right at the height of his sophis­ti­cat­ed Lodger-era glam­our. He plays a piano, gazes at a post-mod­ern Mt. Fuji, and utters one word: “Crys­tal.” Bowie wrote the music, an out­take from the Lodger ses­sions, and it was released as a sin­gle in Japan, and a b‑side in the West. Bowie com­ment­ed that “the mon­ey is a use­ful thing” for doing ads like this, out of sight from the West.

The next time Bowie appears is in 1983, call­ing out for Amer­i­cans to demand their MTV in a series of roto­scoped and col­orized ads near the dawn of the net­work. (This is a bad­ly edit­ed com­pi­la­tion of Bowie’s spots).

If Bowie had yet to “sell out” it was only four years lat­er, dur­ing the Glass Spi­der Tour, that he did, with this re-word­ed, re-record­ed ver­sion of “Mod­ern Love,” duet­ting with Tina Turn­er. At the time it felt like the end of a career that had turned Bowie into an over­ly coiffed par­o­dy of him­self. In ret­ro­spect, if you can look past the soda, it’s a cute com­mer­cial, with the star look­ing a bit like “Blind­ed by Science”-era Thomas Dol­by.

Then more silence and, by the time Bowie reap­pears in 2001, it is lit­er­al­ly as the man who falls to earth in an ad for XM satel­lite radio. (Bowie made yet anoth­er appear­ance in an XM ad in 2005.)

In 2004, he appears again, shilling Vit­tel water. Here Bowie’s in full career ret­ro­spec­tive mode, mak­ing peace with his chameleon self and appre­ci­at­ing it all. Set to the Real­i­ty track “Nev­er Get Old” (our dear wish that was not to be), it fea­tures Bowie trib­ute per­former David Brighton try­ing on every out­fit from the Starman’s crowd­ed wardrobe in a house filled with incar­na­tions.

That leaves us with his final tele­vi­sion ad appear­ance in 2013, seen at the top of this post, still look­ing fit, and per­form­ing a baroque ver­sion of The Next Day track “I’d Rather Be High” for a Venet­ian ball-set ad for Louis Vuit­ton. Fit­ting to go out sur­round­ed by beau­ty and glam­or, but check those lyrics:

I stum­ble to the grave­yard and I
Lay down by my par­ents, whis­per
Just remem­ber duck­ies
Every­body gets got

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How David Bowie, Kurt Cobain & Thom Yorke Write Songs With William Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

David Bowie Paper Dolls Recre­ate Some of the Style Icon’s Most Famous Looks

The Mak­ing of Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 Hit “Under Pres­sure”: Demos, Stu­dio Ses­sions & More

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity


Pierre-August Renoir, La Tasse de choco­lat

Last year we told you about the impor­tance of messy desks and walk­ing to cre­ativ­i­ty. This year, the time has come to real­ize how much cre­ativ­i­ty also depends on bore­dom. In a sense, of course, humankind has utter­ly van­quished bore­dom, what with our mod­ern tech­nolo­gies — com­put­ers, high-speed inter­net, smart­phones — that make pos­si­ble sources of rich and fre­quent stim­u­la­tion such as, well, this very site. But what if we need a lit­tle bore­dom? What if bore­dom, that state we 21st-cen­tu­ry first-worlders wor­ry about avoid­ing more than any oth­er, actu­al­ly helps us cre­ate?

Even if we feel no bore­dom in our free time, sure­ly we still endure the occa­sion­al bout of it at work. “Admit­ting that bore­dom to cowork­ers or man­agers is like­ly some­thing few of us have ever done,” writes the Har­vard Busi­ness Review’s David Burkus. “It turns out, how­ev­er, that a cer­tain lev­el of bore­dom might actu­al­ly enhance the cre­ative qual­i­ty of our work.”

He cites a well-known sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment which found that vol­un­teers did bet­ter at a cre­ative task (like find­ing dif­fer­ent uses for a pair of plas­tic cups) when first sub­ject­ed to a bor­ing one (like copy­ing num­bers out of the phone book) which “height­ens the ‘day­dream­ing effect’ on cre­ativ­i­ty — the more pas­sive the bore­dom, the more like­ly the day­dream­ing and the more cre­ative you could be after­ward.”

Burkus also refers to anoth­er paper doc­u­ment­ing the per­for­mance of dif­fer­ent sub­jects on word-asso­ci­a­tion tests after watch­ing dif­fer­ent video clips, one of them delib­er­ate­ly bor­ing. Who came up with the most cre­ative asso­ci­a­tions? You guessed it: those who watched the bor­ing video first. Bore­dom, the exper­i­menters sug­gest, “moti­vates peo­ple to approach new and reward­ing activ­i­ties. In oth­er words, an idle mind will seek a toy. (Any­one who has tak­en a long car ride with a young child has sure­ly expe­ri­enced some ver­sion of this phe­nom­e­non.)”

Writ­ing about those same exper­i­ments, Fast Com­pa­ny’s Vivian Giang quotes researcher Andreas Elpi­dorou of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Louisville as claim­ing that “bore­dom helps to restore the per­cep­tion that one’s activ­i­ties are mean­ing­ful or sig­nif­i­cant.” He describes it as a “reg­u­la­to­ry state that keeps one in line with one’s projects. In the absence of bore­dom, one would remain trapped in unful­fill­ing sit­u­a­tions, and miss out on many emo­tion­al­ly, cog­ni­tive­ly, and social­ly reward­ing expe­ri­ences. Bore­dom is both a warn­ing that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that moti­vates us to switch goals and projects.”

“Bore­dom is a fas­ci­nat­ing emo­tion because it is seen as so neg­a­tive yet it is such a moti­vat­ing force,” says Dr. San­di Mann of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cen­tral Lan­cashire, one of the mas­ter­minds of the exper­i­ments with the phone book and the plas­tic cups, quot­ed by Tele­graph sci­ence edi­tor Sarah Knap­ton“Being bored is not the bad thing every­one makes it out to be. It is good to be bored some­times! I think up so many ideas when I am com­mut­ing to and from work – this would be dead time, but thanks to the bore­dom it induces, I come up with all sorts of projects.” (This also man­i­fests in her par­ent­ing: “I am quite hap­py when my kids whine that they are bored,” she said: “Find­ing ways to amuse them­selves is an impor­tant skill.”)


“Near­ly the Week­end,” by David Feltkamp. Cre­ative Com­mons image

How to make use of all this? “Tak­en togeth­er,” Burkus writes, “these stud­ies sug­gest that the bore­dom so com­mon­ly felt at work could actu­al­ly be lever­aged to help us get our work done bet­ter,” per­haps by “spend­ing some focused time on hum­drum activ­i­ties such as answer­ing emails, mak­ing copies, or enter­ing data,” after which “we may be bet­ter able to think up more (and more cre­ative) pos­si­bil­i­ties to explore.” In the words of Dr. Mann her­self, “Bore­dom at work has always been seen as some­thing to be elim­i­nat­ed, but per­haps we should be embrac­ing it in order to enhance our cre­ativ­i­ty.” And so to an even more inter­est­ing ques­tion: “Do peo­ple who are bored at work become more cre­ative in oth­er areas of their work – or do they go home and write nov­els?”

David Fos­ter Wal­lace took on the rela­tion­ship between bore­dom and cre­ativ­i­ty in an ambi­tious way when he start­ed writ­ing The Pale King, his unfin­ished nov­el (which he pri­vate­ly called “the Long Thing”) set in an Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice branch office in mid-1980s Peo­ria. The papers relat­ed to the project he left behind includ­ed a note about the book’s larg­er theme:

It turns out that bliss – a sec­ond-by-sec­ond joy + grat­i­tude at the gift of being alive, con­scious – lies on the oth­er side of crush­ing, crush­ing bore­dom. Pay close atten­tion to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, tele­vised golf), and, in waves, a bore­dom like you’ve nev­er known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like step­ping from black and white into col­or. Like water after days in the desert. Con­stant bliss in every atom.

This, as well as the more every­day sug­ges­tions about work­ing more cre­ative­ly by doing the bor­ing bits first, would seem to share a basis with the ancient tra­di­tion of med­i­ta­tion. If indeed human­i­ty has gone too far in its mis­sion to alle­vi­ate the dis­com­fort of bore­dom, it has pro­duced the even more per­ni­cious con­di­tion in which we all feel con­stant­ly and unthink­ing­ly des­per­ate for new dis­trac­tions (which Shop Class as Soul­craft author Matthew B. Craw­ford mem­o­rably called “obe­si­ty of the mind”) while know­ing full well that those dis­trac­tions keep us from our impor­tant work, be it design­ing a sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment, com­ing up with a sales strat­e­gy, or writ­ing a nov­el.

Maybe we can undo some of the dam­age by delib­er­ate­ly, reg­u­lar­ly shut­ting off our per­son­al flow of inter­est­ing sen­so­ry input for a while, whether through med­i­ta­tion, data entry, phone-book copy­ing, of whichev­er method feels right to you. (WNY­C’s Manoush Zomoro­di even launched a project last year called “Bored and Bril­liant: The Lost Art of Spac­ing Out,” which chal­lenged lis­ten­ers to min­i­mize their phone-check­ing and put the time gained to more cre­ative use.)  But we all need some high-qual­i­ty stim­u­la­tion soon­er or lat­er, so when you feel ready for anoth­er dose of it, you know where to find us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

Why You Do Your Best Think­ing In The Show­er: Cre­ativ­i­ty & the “Incu­ba­tion Peri­od”

The Psy­chol­o­gy of Messi­ness & Cre­ativ­i­ty: Research Shows How a Messy Desk and Cre­ative Work Go Hand in Hand

John Cleese’s Phi­los­o­phy of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Cre­at­ing Oases for Child­like Play

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Are You One of the 2% Who Can Solve “Einstein’s Riddle”?

It’s some­times called “Ein­stein’s Rid­dle” because, accord­ing to leg­end, Ein­stein invent­ed it as a child. Oth­ers say that the puz­zle was actu­al­ly designed by Lewis Car­roll, best known as the author of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land. (Car­roll was also a logi­cian.) Where did this brain teas­er orig­i­nate? We’re not real­ly sure. Per­haps it was a 1962 issue of Life Inter­na­tion­al mag­a­zine.

In any event, “Ein­stein’s Rid­dle” is a good test of your men­tal agili­ty. They say that only 2% of the pop­u­la­tion can solve the prob­lem. The TED-Ed video above will walk you through one ver­sion of the rid­dle. If you don’t want any assis­tance, you can find oth­er ver­sions online.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Albert Ein­stein Impos­es on His First Wife a Cru­el List of Mar­i­tal Demands

Lis­ten as Albert Ein­stein Reads ‘The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence’ (1941)

Albert Ein­stein Express­es His Admi­ra­tion for Mahat­ma Gand­hi, in Let­ter and Audio

Hap­pi­ness is Los­ing Your­self in Cre­ativ­i­ty (or “Find­ing Flow”)

Free Online Physics Cours­es

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Download 650 Soviet Book Covers, Many Sporting Wonderful Avant-Garde Designs (1917–1942)

Circus 1931

Amer­i­cans like to pride our­selves on the numer­ous ways our pop cul­ture pen­e­trat­ed the Sovi­et Union and seduced its young­sters, send­ing them to bed with dreams of Mick­ey Mouse, Bil­lie Hol­i­day, Elvis, and Star Wars. Whether it’s jazz in the ear­ly decades after the rev­o­lu­tion, or rock and roll in the 50s and after, Sovi­et youth so craved the ways of the West, it seems, that they famous­ly boot­legged Amer­i­can music on used X‑rays, with results of wide­ly vary­ing degrees of qual­i­ty. That’s all well and good, but we rarely ask what Sovi­et cul­tur­al exports we were miss­ing while we trum­pet­ed our supe­ri­or­i­ty. (I mean, besides Ayn Rand or the com­e­dy of Yakov Smirnoff.)

Unknown Soviet Cover 1

A few of those exports have become high water­marks of cre­ative inno­va­tion and aes­thet­ic beau­ty, such as the film­mak­ing of Dzi­ga Ver­tov and Andrei Tarkovsky. At least one Sovi­et export, the Theremin, rad­i­cal­ized music with its haunt­ing elec­tron­ic whine. Much less well-known, how­ev­er, are the fas­ci­nat­ing devel­op­ments in ani­ma­tion and illus­tra­tion (such as these out­er space utopias). Now—thanks to the New York Pub­lic Library’s huge­ly expan­sive, free dig­i­tal image archive—we can view and down­load 650 exam­ples of Sovi­et book cov­er design between the years 1917 and 1942 (most date from the 30s). Many of these cov­ers are as unre­mark­ably vanil­la as some of their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, but no small num­ber offer unique looks into avant-garde Sovi­et design trends.

Two Years In Northern Lands 1935

Addi­tion­al­ly, the archive gives us a broad overview of the kinds of books that were pub­lished in the Sovi­et Union dur­ing these pre-Cold War years. It’s unlike­ly many of these titles saw trans­la­tion into Eng­lish and unlike­ly many of them ever will. In some cas­es, the author and title of the book rep­re­sent­ed have been lost to his­to­ry (as with the col­or­ful cov­er sec­ond from the top). Each of the images here links to a page on the NYPL’s online data­base, where you can see pub­li­ca­tion info and down­load high-res­o­lu­tion scans. Browse, and down­load, hun­dreds more pre-War Sovi­et book cov­er designs at the NYPL’s “Scrap­book of Russ­ian Book­jack­ets, 1917–1942,” or see a few more choice selec­tions at The Paris Review, who drew our atten­tion to this won­der­ful online col­lec­tion.

Takers 1933

The Grim River 1933

M. Lermontov

Big Universe 1936

via The Paris Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The New York Pub­lic Library Lets You Down­load 180,000 Images in High Res­o­lu­tion: His­toric Pho­tographs, Maps, Let­ters & More

Sovi­ets Boot­legged West­ern Pop Music on Dis­card­ed X‑Rays: Hear Orig­i­nal Audio Sam­ples

Sovi­et-Era Illus­tra­tions Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hob­bit (1976)

Watch Sovi­et Ani­ma­tions of Win­nie the Pooh, Cre­at­ed by the Inno­v­a­tive Ani­ma­tor Fyo­dor Khitruk

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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