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This holiday season, table the coffee-table tomes and ponder the powers of mock and droll. From curious anecdotes to far-out-and-funky facts, these four irreverent reads offer plenty of yuk for your buck.

From research probing the blissful state of ignorance to a study proving toast does indeed fall more often with the buttered side down, author Marc Abrahams offers amusing anecdotes to make readers cackle and chortle, and perhaps even scratch their heads and think. Flare your nostrils over the awarding of the Ig Nobel Biology Prize to the inventor of airtight underwear complete with a replaceable charcoal filter to remove bad-smelling gases before they escape.

One hopes the demonstration for that one was at least ahem brief. As editor and cofounder of the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, Abrahams is clearly up to this brain-straining task. You know that saying, "You had to be there? By turns "grizzly" "What It Feels Like to Be Attacked by a Bear" , devilish "What It Feels Like to Undergo an Exorcism" , and debauched "What It Feels Like to Participate in an Orgy" , this slim volume of the vicarious renders the heights and depths of human experience, bringing readers up close and personal with a plethora of precarious states.

Ever wonder how to detect counterfeit bills, make snowshoes from tree branches and strings, or put together a radio from scratch? From changing milk into plastic to constructing a compass without a magnet, this celebration of fascinating gadgets and gizmos is the perfect marriage of techno-geek and tongue-in-cheek. Everyone well, almost everyone knows that the chance of getting struck by lightning is , to 1, but what are the odds of achieving sainthood or dating a supermodel?

Harvard Law School graduate and finance expert Gregory Baer indulges his frivolous side in this breakdown of bona fide chances, from getting away with murder about 2 to 1 odds to garnering a Rhodes Scholarship 37, to 1. Sneaky Uses for Everyday Things.


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