Ig Nobel winners have encore in Times’ Year in Ideas

Elena N. Bodnar displays her bra gas mask at October’s Ig Nobel Informal Lectures. Time.com put itself in the minority by calling the idea among the worst science of the year. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Elena N. Bodnar displays her bra gas mask at October’s Ig Nobel Informal Lectures. Time.com put itself in the minority by calling the idea among the worst science of the year. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Curious thing about The New York Times’ Ninth Annual Year in Ideas list released this weekend: Two of these “most clever, important, silly and just plain weird innovations” — that cows that have been given names produce more milk and that empty beer bottles make better weapons — were Ig Nobel Prize winners in October.

The Cambridge awards ceremony and sponsoring journal, the Annals of Improbable Research, honor achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think,” and the Times’ editors have apparently been thinking about the Igs for a couple of months.

“Quite a year, eh?” said Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals and organizer of the Igs, when reached Sunday by phone. “I’m quite sure we’ve never had a year in which two appeared. I think it may be that the Igs are getting better known … they’ve traditionally gotten more attention in other countries.”

In fact, after traveling to San Diego in February as part of the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — the publisher of Science magazine — Abrahams and the Igs are off on a tour of five to eight cities in the U.K. and separate stops in Denmark and Sweden.

With Abrahams for those latter stops will be Elena N. Bodnar, inventor of a bra that can be turned into two masks to aid breathing and filter out impurities in the air. Her invention — inspired by growing up near the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site and newer disasters such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — somewhat inexplicably was named this month as one of time.com’s “Five Worst Inventions,” alongside snuggies for dogs and computer grading on student essays.

“They seem to be the exception,” Abrahams said of Time, despite the fact the bra gas mask is actually the Ig winner from 2009 that got the most media attention. “She’s almost been buried in requests for interviews. It’s been very pleasing to her and us.”

Ig Nobel winners have also been the subject of Trivial Pursuit questions and Jeopardy categories, Abrahams said.

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