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Meg Robbins

Mental Floss, Dennis Publishing
Bernardsville, NJ | Bowdoin College

     There’s a line from a Shel Silverstein poem that my best friend sometimes references. It’s about colors that exist, but haven’t been invented yet. Its simplicity engages an almost childlike sense of wonder about the world, and its “unanswerability” makes it hard to forget. Like most other people, I memorized the color wheel in elementary school and have progressed through far more advanced topics of study (and poets) since the ROY G BIV and Silverstein days. But whenever my friend quotes that line, we’ll begin to debate a series of hypotheticals, and I’m reminded that even the most basic, taken-for-granted concepts can present tons of new terrain to explore. Are there colors that people see and experience, but are not yet named? How did the shades even get their names in the first place?

   My first assignment as an ASME intern at mental_floss threw me back into this recurring conversation I have with my closest friend. I was to pitch a list of story ideas for the magazine’s front-of-book section Scatterbrain, a cross-disciplinary smattering of stories, Q&As, and blurbs about a thing you thought you already knew everything about. This issue’s topic was color.  

    After flipping through pages of trivia books and wandering down the Internet’s vast and varied wormholes, I eventually found information surprising and new about every color of the rainbow. I wrote about the baby blue blood of horseshoe crabs that is used to test every FDA-certified drug and surgical implant administered to humans. I interviewed a man who decoded the genome of a carrot, but still couldn’t explain to me why orange became the vegetable’s most popular hue. I found out why tennis balls were changed from black and white to fluorescent yellow (to improve visibility on TV).  I was working for a magazine that delivers what I wish all of my thought provoking, existential college conversations ended with—unexpected, enriching, and irreverent answers. (This should have come as no surprise—the magazine was literally born out of a dorm room discussion at Duke.)

     As the internship progressed, my responsibilities grew. I wrote the opening piece for the pop culture Go Mental section, and helped choose books and games and an offbeat “holiday” to highlight within it (ampersand lovers, prepare to celebrate September 8). I researched and interviewed teachers to feature in the issue’s main package: the annual Platypus Awards, celebrating interdisciplinary innovators in various fields (this year, education). I posed “Big Questions” (Why does rain smell? Could lightning power a city?) for the annual “Big Questions” issue, and got to answer some of them, too. And when the September/October issue started to close, I even got a chance to line-edit and proof the pages alongside the magazine’s senior editors.

Meg is an English major at Bowdoin College and editor in chief of The Bowdoin Orient. Her non-academic interests include: grilled cheese and soup, driving, cats, and dry-humored Instagram memes.

I began this summer with a background exclusively in newspapers and investigative reporting, but I wanted to know how the magazine world works. I’m obsessed with story packaging strategies, and curious about how a publication with a digital counterpart differentiates itself in print—and translates itself to web. I had many questions about clickbait and sponsored content, and how to avoid “selling out” to advertisers while still making money. Working with a small (and fun and smart) print team at mental_floss, I was able to engage meaningfully in these sorts of conversations with the editors I worked with daily, along with many others they were eager to connect me with. And for the first time, I participated in an editorial internship that actually involved editing, not just writing. As pages landed on my desk for review, I saw the changes each editor made to a story and was given the opportunity to contribute my suggestions as well. Not every internship—not even every ASME internship—offers that, and it was one of the things I valued most about my experience at mental_floss.

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