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Brainiac

A very pretty tiny house

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog

This house designed by students at Green Mountain College offers 70 square feet of living space and can be towed behind a 4-cylinder car.

Green Mountain College

This house designed by students at Green Mountain College offers 70 square feet of living space and can be towed behind a 4-cylinder car.

How small a space can a person inhabit comfortably? Tiny houses have become a popular form

The house is towed by a car.

The house is towed by a car.

of architectural experimentation lately—and even amid this creativity, a new design out of Green Mountain College in Vermont stands out: a curvaceous, incandescent module far grander than its 70 square feet of living space would suggest. The house was built by students under the direction of environmental studies professor Lucas Brown, and it’s loaded with off-the-grid features—solar panel electricity, a system that feeds rainwater into the kitchen and the toilet, and a compost device for human waste. The house is designed to be towed on a trailer behind a 4-cylinder car and is billed as the dwelling of the new American Dream—a tidy, cultivated space for eco-conscious, rootless millennials who understand very well they’ll never be able to buy into their parents’ old neighborhoods.

The value of Oscar

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For movie fans, the annual unveiling of Oscar nominees is a fun opportunity to assess a year’s worth of moviegoing. For movie studios, it’s something else entirely: a high-stakes announcement that could make or break the financial fortunes of a film.

How much is riding on the Oscars? A new study by a pair of UCLA sociologists, Gabriel Rossman and Oliver Schilke, finds that when studios create films deliberately tailored to the Academy’s tastes, they’re essentially making a stark financial bet—if the movie attracts nominations, they win, and if gets snubbed, they lose.

This is because, absent Oscar nominations, audiences don’t particularly like the kinds of films that vie for Academy Awards. The authors note that Oscar contenders are a genre unto themselves: usually released in December, typically on serious topics like war, history, or politics. And audiences don’t typically flock to such heavy films. The paper, which will be published next month in the American Sociological Review, examines 25 years of box office data and finds that while the average family or sci-fi movie released in the spring sold $32 million in tickets, Oscar-like movies bring in much less than that.

That is, until Oscar nominations are announced. Rossman and Schilke created a formula, which ranked films according to how strongly they qualified as “Oscar bait” (biopics about long-dead monarchs, for example, ranked very high). They compared similar films with very high Oscar appeal, and found that the movies’ fortunes differed greatly depending on how many nominations they received: Movies with zero nominations averaged $24 million in box office receipts; movies with one nomination averaged $40 million; and movies with five nominations shot up to $90 million in ticket sales.

In recent years, it’s become good sport to mock the way studios chase Oscar glory (think of the 2006 comedy “For Your Consideration”). The new paper makes clear, though, that Academy Award nominations count for a lot more than vanity: They have a huge effect on whether “quality” movies make money at all.

The Union George?

On Sept. 14, Scotland will hold a national referendum about whether to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. If independence is approved, it would raise a host of questions—everything from what currency the new country would use to who would qualify for Scottish citizenship—and it could also trigger a redesign of the iconic Union Jack. English and Scottish colors came together on the British flag 400 years ago, when England and Scotland merged, and the red (English) cross of St. George was combined with the blue and white (Scottish) cross of St. Andrew. If Scotland splits, however, it might take its colors with it, and a UK organization called the Flag Institute recently solicited ideas for a redesigned British flag. Some proposals called for swapping Scottish colors for the red dragon and green bar of the flag of Wales; others kept the basic idea of the Union Jack while moving the design in a more modern, geometric direction.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.
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