Quiz: Take a Museum Wander to Get a Nonfiction Recommendation

National Geographic Books.

Acclaimed science reporter Erika Engelhaupt investigates the gross, strange, and morbid absurdities of our bodies and our universe. From the research biologist who stung himself with every conceivable insect to the world's most murderous mammals, this entertaining book explores oft-ignored but alluring facets of biology, anatomy, space exploration, nature, and more. Featuring interviews with leading researchers in the field and a large dose of wit, this provocative book reveals the most intriguing real-world applications of science in all their glory.

I’ve written before about how wandering through museums is one of the things I have been missing during COVID times. I miss wandering through the wide halls and having the shared experience of looking at some great work of art or piece of history. But there’s another very specific experience that I’ve been missing lately: turning away from one of those wide, white halls, into darker corners, and finding some of the truly weird artifacts in my favorite museums, or the stranger art, or just the funny little curiosities that you might stumble upon. The Picture of Dorian Grey tucked away in the American wing at the Art Institute or the lions of Tsavo in the basement of the Field Museum. 

The lions of Tsavo have always given me that thrilling/sad feeling that I think all good curiosities inspire. They’re amazing to look at, but at the same time, they’re a bit moth-eaten. They’re smaller than you would think. (They were lion-skin rugs for many years, so the skins had to be cut down quite a bit to hide the wear and tear when they were taxidermied.) Their story is complicated and I don’t like to think about the people who died in their claws, but it does seem like the story should be remembered. 

Well, then I got to thinking about some of the other weird items that I might find in a good museum wander, and how I might replicate that experience. And so, here is a quiz to help you stumble upon some truly strange curiosities — and then, since you can’t read a placard to learn more about them, and because this is a book website, I’ll give you a nonfiction recommendation to learn more about that curiosity. 

The curiosities in this quiz range from the living to the dead, the real to the faked, and the very, very old to the quite new. They’re human-made or found in the natural world. Some of them are a bit weird, but hopefully all of them will inspire you to do a little bit of extra exploring from the comfort of your home through the pages of a book. 

The quiz is designed to feel like a good long wander through a museum: you’ll decide how to explore (find a map? Take a tour?) and choose which direction to go. Unfortunately, I could not provide any overpriced coffee, nor a museum shop full of the most expensive teapots and silk scarves you’ve ever seen, but hopefully this quiz will fill a bit of a hole in your life.