But in the end, the poop knives simply didn't make the cut
September 16, 2019 12:01 PM   Subscribe

What a Waste! Frozen Poop Knives Are Crappy Cutters, Scientists Find (Live Science): An anthropologist reported in the 1990s that there was "a well-known account" of a stranded Inuit man crafting a knife from his own, frozen excrement that was sharp enough to kill and butcher a dog. [...] A team of researchers in a laboratory that reverse-engineers ancient tools was intrigued by the story and decided to put it to the test. In the name of science, the lab's co-directors generated the experiments' raw materials and then crafted their own frozen poop knives, describing the process — and the disappointing outcome — in a new study (Science Direct).

Before conducting any experiments, Eren; co-author Michelle Bebber, also an anthropologist at Kent State; and their lab colleagues needed raw material for shaping the knives. Eren therefore adopted an eight-day "arctic diet" that was high in protein and fatty acids. His menu included lots of beef, turkey and salmon, with isolated helpings of applesauce, mac and cheese, and butternut squash risotto, according to the study.

By the fourth day, he was producing samples that were suitably "arctic" and usable in the experiments. The researchers froze the specimens to temperatures of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 50 degrees Celsius), sharpening the poop blades with metal files and keeping them chilled with dry ice until they were ready to be tested on refrigerated pig hide.

"I was surprised at how hard human feces could get when frozen," Eren said. "I started to think, 'Oh my gosh, this might actually work!'"

But in the end, the poop knives simply didn't make the cut.

"Like a crayon, it just left brown streaks on the meat — no slices at all," he said.
posted by not_the_water (71 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bookmarking for the poop jokes in advance. Don't crap out on me, MeFi.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:07 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


I bet the person who made this Jell-O knife could do something impressive here.
posted by cardioid at 12:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


I'm impressed that they had the presence of mind to simulate an 'arctic diet.'

As a stabbing weapon it might be sufficient, but as a cutting tool, no surprises. It probably make more sense to shatter a bone like a femur and use that as a cutter.
posted by porpoise at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: By the fourth day, he was producing samples that were suitably "arctic"

Metafilter: Like a crayon, it just left brown streaks on the meat
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


This is a shit knife, people
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:14 PM on September 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


so much depends
upon

a frozen pig
carcass

glazed with brown
streaks

beside the
poop knife
posted by Mayor West at 12:14 PM on September 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


I’m suspecting a sock puppet for Johnny Poopflower.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:16 PM on September 16, 2019 [9 favorites]


....I have no idea how I have come to a point that I am able to ask this question, but -

Are we sure that the story is about cutting meat with a poop knife? Because the urban-legend I've heard is that he used the poop knife to dig himself out of being buried in the snow following a blizzard (he was caught outside, flipped a dogsled over and sheltered beneath it, but was buried and dug his way out with the fecal blade).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:18 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


Is this an Ig Nobel nominee?
posted by Melismata at 12:25 PM on September 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


The version of the story I heard had him opening up a food stand which utilized frozen poop cutlery and plateware and used small poop coins for currency.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:26 PM on September 16, 2019 [18 favorites]


Are we sure that the story is about cutting meat with a poop knife?

Two different stories. The study also mentions a Danish arctic explorer who used his own frozen poo to free himself after getting trapped in snow.
posted by not_the_water at 12:26 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I imagine this got submitted to Mythbusters once or twice.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:27 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Never bring a poop knife to a poop gun fight.
posted by chavenet at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2019 [26 favorites]


I guess not all experiential history can be as successful as making bread with ancient Egyptian yeast.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:29 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Turns out they're only good for cutting cheese.
posted by biogeo at 12:31 PM on September 16, 2019 [24 favorites]


And to think it's going to be a whole year before these folks will be able to get their inevitable Ig Nobel Prize.
posted by tclark at 12:31 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing I never understood about this story is the sled made from a dog's rib cage. Am I missing something fundamental about sleds that would make that more useful than a dog?
posted by eotvos at 12:33 PM on September 16, 2019


It’s like that Roald Dahl frozen leg of lamb story.

Only, with poop.
posted by dr_dank at 12:34 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


I am commenting solely because I wanted an excuse to type the words "poop knife."
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:35 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


To be fair, a frozen poop knife cuts better than a room temperature poop knife.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:39 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Of my favorite science news stories this week, this one is number two.
posted by biogeo at 12:39 PM on September 16, 2019 [26 favorites]


That's certainly one of the more interesting Materials and Methods sections.
posted by sjswitzer at 12:41 PM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


I guess that's why this guy hasn't tried this?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:44 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I just like saying: Zwilling Twinette.
posted by clavdivs at 12:46 PM on September 16, 2019


haha! i had a friend in a punk band called shit knife(based on this legend)
posted by danjo at 12:48 PM on September 16, 2019


*Orson Welles voice* This is a lot of shit, you know that.
posted by SansPoint at 12:55 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have used
the crayon
that was in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for arts and crafts time

Forgive me
it was enormous
so stinky
and so cold
posted by sugar and confetti at 1:00 PM on September 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


Poop knife means something else on Reddit: a knife used to cut poop, rather than a knife made out of poop.

I suppose you could make a knife out of poop and then use it to cut poop. That would seem fitting.
posted by snowmentality at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


And to think of all the shitty papers I've seen get rejected...
posted by caution live frogs at 1:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's too bad the knife crapped out of them crapped out on them, otherwise this might have been cutting edge science.
posted by nubs at 1:18 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


For anyone who doesn't know already: there is a rich tradition in Inuit culture of long tales, and you never really know if anthropologists are into the vibe or fooled by the story. Actually, you never really know, period, and this is part of the beauty of it.
I once designed an exhibition of Inuit artifacts, and in the process, we agreed that it would be a good idea to represent another thing of legend: the salmon sled. This was a dog-sled made of whole salmon and seal inestines. In the anthropologists' and my opinion, it wasn't really relevant wether this ever happened in real life. It was part of Inuit culture regardless. But the museum management vetoed it to our great regret.
posted by mumimor at 1:19 PM on September 16, 2019 [21 favorites]


But were they polished? That's the real question here people. So very much hinges upon this.
posted by jquinby at 1:32 PM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


Yes, mumimor, my first reaction was "did these scientists factor in an Inuit sense of humor?"
posted by Lawn Beaver at 1:33 PM on September 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


Not to threadshit, but there is a plausible explanation for why poop knives don't work. The primary component is ice, and while frozen ice can be quite hard, ice has an unusual property that makes it very poorly suited as a cutting edge. Knives work by taking advantage of the fact that pressure is a force applied over an area, and as the area goes down, the pressure for a given force goes up. So for a very sharp blade, the pressure at the edge can be very high, creating high stresses and mechanical failure in the material being cut. However, unlike most materials, the density of ice is actually lower than the density of liquid water, and when put under pressure it's thermodynamically favorable for it to melt even at low temperatures. So my guess is no matter how sharp you make it, the edge of a poop knife will instantly melt upon first use, immediately blunting it and leaving a brown streak. Maybe at very, very cold temperatures, it would remain solid, but my back of the envelope calculations suggest that the pressure on a knife edge is something in the range of about 100-1000 MPa, and pure ice would need to be below something like -20 °C (probably even colder for poop which should expand the liquid portion of the phase diagram).

Poop knife.
posted by biogeo at 1:43 PM on September 16, 2019 [30 favorites]


Also, if your poop knife is very sharp, you might be able to create high enough pressures to produce some of the more "exotic" ice phases at your cutting edge. So by wielding your knife you might unwittingly make poop-III, poop-V, or even on a very cold day poop-II.
posted by biogeo at 1:51 PM on September 16, 2019 [16 favorites]


The thing I never understood about this story is the sled made from a dog's rib cage. Am I missing something fundamental about sleds that would make that more useful than a dog?
posted by eotvos at 3:33 PM on September 16
[+] [!]


The story is that he harnessed the newly made dog-sled - 'riboggan' - to a second dog. That makes real-world sense to me, albeit in the overall context of this being a very likely prank story (more below). Two dogs + no sled means you're walking and carrying almost everything with you. One dog + one sled means you're at least not having to carry all your tools and supplies.

For anyone who doesn't know already: there is a rich tradition in Inuit culture of long tales, and you never really know if anthropologists are into the vibe or fooled by the story.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 PM on 9/16
[+] [!]

Yes! Emphatically yes. I was born and raised in the western Arctic, in the Innuvialuit region. One of the classic joke-telling methods - at least, one adored by Innuvialuit elders when talking to a white kid - is to tell a story that gets wilder and more outlandish with every sentence, really testing the bounds of incredulity, then pause, poke the listener in the arm, and say with a grin - "I lie."

If you're telling a roarer of a story and the strait-laced anthropologist is eating it up, why not just go with it and keep the truth and fun to yourself?
posted by ZaphodB at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2019 [23 favorites]


"The version of the story I heard had him opening up a food stand which utilized frozen poop cutlery and plateware and used small poop coins for currency."

THERE'S ALWAYS MONEY IN THE POOP STAND MICHAEL!
posted by zerobyproxy at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


So by wielding your knife you might unwittingly make poop-III, poop-V, or even on a very cold day poop-II.

Judging by the daily news, someone has already made poop-IX.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


They should have asked this Japanese Youtuber, who has been making knives from soot, cardboard and what not. I’m sure he could make a kitchen knife from shit, even though I wouldn’t watch it ...
posted by Termite at 1:56 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


But can you use the poop knife to cut cheese?
posted by forforf at 2:25 PM on September 16, 2019


Wordshore has a lot to answer for. Good post!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2019


His menu included lots of beef, turkey and salmon, with isolated helpings of applesauce, mac and cheese, and butternut squash risotto, according to the study.

Well there's your problem. Needed more iron in his diet.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:54 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


So by wielding your knife you might unwittingly make poop-III, poop-V, or even on a very cold day poop-II.

Or the catastrophic Poop-IX.
posted by tclark at 3:04 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Edward Dickinson Tayloe II's Frozen Poop Knife would make a great sockpuppet name.
posted by scruss at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


[a whole bunch of stuff]
posted by ZaphodB at 4:52 PM on September 16


The edit window is long gone and so I'm forced to openly and shamefully admit that I misspelled the name of the Inuit people of the region I'm from. It's 'Inuvialuit' with one 'n'. I make no excuses for this error. I apologize for it and will fall on my poopknife.
posted by ZaphodB at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2019 [6 favorites]


Shit-knives, Randy, shit-knives.
posted by ian1977 at 4:25 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


For more precision, a shit scalpel.
posted by nubs at 4:55 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Add a spring and a hinge and you’ll have a pretty sweet shitblade knife.
posted by dr_dank at 5:10 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


poop lol
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:28 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


A noted Canadian seer, Mr. Bryan Adams, anticipated this:

I took it all for granted
But how was I to know
That you'd be letting go
Now it cuts like a knife
But it feels so right
Yeah, it cuts like a knife
Oh, but it feels so right
There's times I've been mistaken
There's times I thought I'd been misunderstood, ooo yeah
So wait a minute darlin'
Can't you see we did the best we could, ooo we could
Wouldn't be the first time
That things have gone astray
Now you've thrown it all away
Now it cuts like a knife
Yeah but it feels so right
Oh it cuts like a knife
Yeah but it feels so right
Oh it's cut like a knife
But it feels so right, baby
Oh it cuts like a knife, yeah
I took it all for granted
But how was I to know
That you'd be letting go
Now it cuts like a knife
Yeah but it feels so right, mmm
Now it cuts like a knife
Yeah, but it feels so right
Yeah
Oh it cuts like a knife
Oh oh
But it feels so right, baby
Oh yeah
It cuts like a knife
Now give it to me now
Oh yeah, come on boys, awh
Cuts like a knife, yeah yeah yeah
Na, it cuts like a knife now
It feels so right, yeah yeah
It feels so right, baby
Na na yeah, it feels so right
And it cuts like a knife

posted by srboisvert at 6:00 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


A shit shiv, surely
posted by Spock Puppet at 6:05 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


They should have just asked Doug Marcaida whether "it will cut"
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:06 PM on September 16, 2019


I apologize for it and will fall on my poopknife.

I am not sure this error required Saypooku.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:27 PM on September 16, 2019 [4 favorites]


Friends of Homestar Runner will be pleased by the thought that Eren has become a poopsmith.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:41 PM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]


Are their any knives/cutting implements that are softer than the object they are cutting? Even in theory?
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on September 16, 2019


Light sabers?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:19 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: cuts better than a room temperature poop knife.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:48 PM on September 16, 2019


EmpressCallipygos: dug his way out with the fecal blade

Number two! Number two! And poo and poo
    The fecal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and from its head
    A brown streak across its back.

- from Lewis Carroll, Crapperwocky
posted by biogeo at 8:07 PM on September 16, 2019 [11 favorites]


Are their any knives/cutting implements that are softer than the object they are cutting? Even in theory?
Oh, there definitely are.

Replicating that cutter via human excretion is left as an exercise for the reader.
posted by roystgnr at 8:07 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Good on them for trying, but this really sounds like a tall story that got taken seriously by a researcher.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:43 PM on September 16, 2019


I don't see why anyone would joke about that sort of thing.
posted by biogeo at 9:48 PM on September 16, 2019


I call (bull)shit on the original story, and I think the Inuit story tellers were taking the piss on this one, so to speak.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:18 PM on September 16, 2019


This reminds me of the story of the Danish Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen who wrote in his memoirs that he used his own frozen feces to make an knife to free himself from an avalanche. Maybe he is just repeating an Inuit tall tales.
posted by Pantalaimon at 11:06 PM on September 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


Poop-IX is only suitable for making poopix cubes to entertain the kids.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:08 PM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing about the Inuit tall tales is that they are contagious. Within no time at all, anyone who spends a little time with Inuit people begins doing it too. That's why you never know. But the parties are excellent.
posted by mumimor at 5:01 AM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I think we know who's going to be at the Ig Nobels next fall.
posted by ocschwar at 7:38 AM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Finally someone disproved the validity of that Electric Retard comic from the 00s. I always thought it was bullshit.
posted by Spritzu at 8:19 AM on September 17, 2019


Good on them for trying, but this really sounds like a tall story that got taken seriously by a researcher.

My favorite example of this was a report I once found in a library which had some archival responsibility for California state documents. Researchers ca. the late 1960s queried San Quentin inmates about drug language. Entries were so weird and baroque one could only guess that the inmates were having tons of fun making up all kinds of shit. I wanted to steal that document SO BAD.
posted by goofyfoot at 3:27 PM on September 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


The poop knife didn't work, but evidently, according to the article, "tools manufactured from human feces are not unprecedented in the human technological record." It has the account of poop being used as a chisel to dig out from under snow, but I want to know what the other precedents are!
posted by oneironaut at 1:19 AM on September 18, 2019


"However, based on the work of McCall and Pelton (2010), we are skeptical that saliva will increase fecal blade efficacy."

A lot of brand new sentences in that article.
posted by oneironaut at 1:21 AM on September 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is just to say

We have crafted
a knife
from shit in
the icebox

with which
we then tried
cutting
through pigskin

Forgive us
we were gullible
so brown
and no slices
posted by nubs at 8:55 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


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