Friends in High Places
Have your parents ever scolded you for playing with your food? Well, next time, show them one of Amaury Guichon’s videos. The French-Swiss chocolatier and pastry chef molds cakes and chocolate into edible sculptures—telescopes, little drummer boys, lions, and even full-sized violins. He posts videos of these creations online and ends many of them with the same sign-off: taking a big bite out of his masterpiece.
Born in Switzerland, Guichon always loved food and art. At age 14 he moved to France and started his culinary training. Next, he was back in Switzerland to study chocolate and pastry.
His creations require more than just cooking skills. To make a dessert version of King Arthur’s sword, Guichon had to engineer a dark-chocolate base that could hold a 60-pound sword without collapsing. “It’s actually highly complicated” he told The Wrap. “There is so much science behind it.” Lucky for us, eating the chocolate requires no special skills.
Now, Guichon is making his TV debut on School of Chocolate, a new Netflix show in which he mentors eight pastry chefs from around the world.
It’s a competition show, but no one gets eliminated because Guichon wants chefs to learn new techniques. If someone needs extra time or help with a challenge, the other chefs assist.
Only one person will win the grand prize, though: $50,000 and the chance to teach a class at Guichon’s pastry academy in Las Vegas. When you tune in, be sure you have chocolate on hand. —Jacob Robbins
Playing for Money
You may have thought Legos were merely something to play with, or make movies about, or have parents curse at when they step on a stray brick in their bare feet. But a new study says Legos are also something you can make money on, thanks to adult collectors willing to pay high prices for pieces of colored plastic anyone could have bought for a song at Toys “R” Us 20 or 30 years ago.
“We are used to thinking that people buy such items as jewelry, antiques or artwork as an investment. However, there are other options such as collectible toys,” said a co-author of the study, Victoria Dobrynskaya, an associate professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.
Dobrynskaya and her colleagues researched 2,322 different Lego sets that were manufactured between 1987 and 2015, comparing their original prices in stores to what collectors were subsequently willing to pay. She found that Legos ended up being a better investment, on average, than even the boring usual things people invest in, like stocks, bonds, and gold.
For example, American stock prices rose at an average rate of 9.02 percent a year during the period Dobrynskaya studied (based on the Dow Jones Industrial Average). That’s good: If you bought stocks in 1987 and sold them in 2015, you probably made a bunch of money.
But Lego prices rose at an average rate of 11 percent a year over that same period—even better than the stock market. This means that if you could go back in time to 1987 and buy a hypothetical Lego set for $10, and then go forward to 2015, that set would now be worth almost $160, assuming you didn’t stop in 2003 for a snack and leave it somewhere.
Of course, “average” and “hypothetical” are important words here. Some Lego sets grew even pricier over time, compared to the average, while some turned out to be more or less worthless. Not surprisingly, a few Star Wars Lego sets are among the most valuable, including kits to build Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon and the second Death Star, from Return of the Jedi. Another winner is a Taj Mahal kit. In general, sets based on Minecraft are a good bet.
“It is very important to be a fan of Lego and to know the market very well,” Dobrynskaya advised potential investors in an interview with The Times of London.
But here’s the real catch. She is talking about unopened Lego sets. If you open a box and actually play with the Legos, no one will want it, except maybe your kid brother or sister, but only because they want everything of yours, right? Air Mail Pilot’s advice: just have fun with your toys. If you think you want to invest in something, ask your parents about bitcoin. —Bruce Handy
Every year, the U.K.’s security intelligence agency—Government Communications Headquarters, or G.C.H.Q.—sends out a Christmas card. Because it’s staffed by some of the country’s top problem-solving minds, the card includes a series of puzzles for the public to decipher. (Eight cryptographers took two months to create the 2016 puzzles. They were so difficult that of the 600,000 individuals who attempted to solve it, only three people got them right.)
After a long year, this time around the agency took it easy on the holiday riddles. They also included seven puzzles for youths—ages 11 to 18—to solve. It’s festive, but it also has a purpose beyond holiday cheer. By extending the puzzles to kids, G.C.H.Q. hopes to spark their interest in science, technology, engineering, and math.
“If we’re to help keep the country safe, problem-solving skills and teamwork are absolutely crucial,” Sir Jeremy Fleming, the director of the G.C.H.Q., told The Times of London. “I want to show young people that thinking differently is a gift.”
Kids, if you crack those codes and go on to join the G.C.H.Q., you won’t be the next James Bond, but you won’t be too far off. The G.C.H.Q. has a storied presence in English history, like for their work deciphering the Nazi’s Enigma code, which helped the allies win World War Two.
If a life cracking codes sounds exciting to you, check out some examples of the GCHQ Christmas card:
What completes the sequence: GRYFFINDOR, UFFLEPUF, VENCL, ??
Solve the code; answer the question; encode the answer: Cwog og cwi 7cwahigcoet: xiexui kent kicziit toticiit lencj gov stf toticiit govcj lehn sni yeppetuj dtezt sg kskj zwsc?
Now that you’ve solved those in a matter of seconds, you can download the full Christmas card—and the rest of the puzzles—on the G.C.H.Q. Web site. Oogday ucklay! —Alex Oliveira