The Realist

Uncommon Knowledge for Modern Times

Why Do We Trick-or-Treat?

By Brandi Broxson
Photos by Danny Kim
Styling by Blake Ramsey


Because candy is an excellent bribe for warding off mischief. The longer story: In the mid-19th century, Irish immigrants to North America brought with them the Gaelic celebration of All Hallows' Eve, replete with trick playing and fortune telling. Lisa Morton, the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, says that, back then, the pranks were mild: "Shop signs were switched, gates disassembled, and flour-filled socks were flung at those wearing black coats." But over time the mischief evolved into straight-up vandalism, and people often awoke on November 1 to broken windows or even blazing fires. At the height of the Great Depression, some cities considered banning the holiday. But a few, like Chicago, had a better idea—to busy the idle hands of potential troublemakers with festivities and encourage homeowners to do the same. Because money was scarce, families often held "house-to-house parties," which kept the children moving door to door for a different entertainment or treat. Ring a bell?


Halloween Decorating Hacks

By Brandi Broxson
Photos by Danny Kim
Styling by Blake Ramsey
This party treat doubles as decor. Place a fake bug in one half of a plastic ornament, then fill with colored candy. Fill the other half, close, and secure with clear tape. Add a sprig of black ribbon and display in a bowl so goblins can grab and go.
Spin up a sinister surface with a Wite-Out pen and a round vinyl tablecloth. (The fleece-backed variety works best.) Start by drawing a large X at the center of the cloth, taking the lines all the way to the edges. Add 4 to 6 rays from the center point. Then, starting at the center, connect each line with an inverted arc, until you reach the table's edge.
Drop a flameless votive in a short jam jar and fit a latex glove over the opening. Then lift the edge of the glove and blow air inside to inflate the hand. Splatter red acrylic paint onto the fingers and brush around the wrist for a severed effect. Let stand on a saucer to dry before displaying.
Soak 2 cups bow-tie pasta in a freezer bag with 1 cup rubbing alcohol, then add about 20 drops of black food coloring. Close the bag and shake gently. Wear gloves to remove the "bats" and dry for a few hours. Cut a length of yarn and hot-glue two bats together with the string in between; repeat.

Halloween new uses for old things, go to


The Four Seasons Family

When dressing up this Halloween, why not join (natural) forces? These clever costumes are made from everyday items and a few craft supplies.

By Brandi Broxson
Photos by Kate Lacey
Illustrations by Brown Bird Design


  • Fake flowers
  • Foliage
  • Fabric butterflies
  • Craft birds
  • Green dress
  • Headband

Green leggings or stockings and green flats.

1. Glue the fake flowers, foliage, fabric butterflies, and craft birds onto the bodice of the green dress.

2. Secure a large flower and leaves onto the headband.



  • Statue of Liberty foam crown
  • Yellow foam
  • Blue T-shirt
  • Cotton balls
  • Blue sweatpants
  • Felt in three shades of blue
  • Sand-colored hand towel

Blue flip-flops and yellow sunglasses.

1. Using the Statue of Liberty crown as a template, trace the crown spires onto a thin sheet of yellow foam. Cut out the shape; attach it to the Liberty crown with glue.

2. Repeat the tracing for the shirt-collar sun. Glue it to the T-shirt, along with cotton balls for clouds.

3. Cut a sailboat shape out of yellow foam for the sweatpants. Glue it below the pocket of the pants.

4. Cut wave shapes from the blue felt. Attach 3 pieces to each upper thigh of the sweatpants with glue.

5. Cut the hand towel in half. Glue a half onto each shin below the waves.

6. Glue torn cotton balls on the area where the felt meets the washcloth to resemble sea foam.


  • Blue square tablecloth
  • Strip of elastic
  • Cotton balls
  • Blue long-sleeve leotard
  • Fake white fur fabric
  • Headband
  • Plastic snowflakes

White stockings and blue or white shoes.

    1. Cut the tablecloth in half. Trim one piece to size using child's measurements for a skirt.

    2. Cut a strip of elastic equal to the width of the skirt. Cuff the tablecloth and glue the edge down, creating a hole (like the top of a curtain). Thread the elastic through for a gathered effect and tie in a bow at the back.

    3. Glue cotton balls to the skirt and to the arms and body of the leotard.

    4. Attach strips of fake fur to the leotard wrists and to the bottom of the skirt with glue.

    5. Cut more of the fake fur into a rectangle and tuck it into the neck opening of the leotard to create a collar. Secure with glue.

    6. Glue a strip of tablecloth fabric around a headband, then attach cotton balls and snowflakes to make the crown.


  • Fake fall foliage
  • Brown coat
  • Twigs

A brown button-down and khakis.

1. Layer the fake fall foliage onto a tweed or brown coat with glue. Stuff the pockets with twigs.



Pile it on! In this elegant fabric, everyday, easy-to-wear silhouettes feel a little more luxurious.

By Rebecca Daly
Photos by Philip Friedman
Soft Styling by Chanel Kennebrew
With a figure-flattering full skirt, slight stretch, and a sophisticated shade of mauve, this piece is destined to be a fall favorite. $130,
An otherwise edgy bracelet takes on a softer vibe when covered in plum-colored velvet. INC International Concepts, $30,
Tuck this sleeveless blouse into a pencil skirt, or pair it with denim for two different, equally chic looks. $330,
These snug-fitting necklaces look best peeking out from the open collar of a crisp button-down shirt. $19 and $29 each,
Romantic, refined, and roomy enough for your phone, keys, lipstick, and wallet. $29, charming
A lustrous sheen and satin tuxedo stripes put this pair of pants firmly in the "fancy" category. $89,
Done in plush gray, this menswear-inspired style feels decidedly feminine. $75,


Why Do We Like to Be Scared?

Margee Kerr, Ph.D., a sociologist and the author of Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, explains what we get out of haunted houses, spooky movies, and things that go bump in the night.

By Yolanda Wikiel
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
Yolanda Wikiel

So what's your general theory?

Margee KerrScaring ourselves is a way of hijacking our threat response and experiencing heightened emotion. Think of a child popping out from behind a door to frighten her mom. Tapping into the startle response is an easy way to feel a thrill. Whenever we mess with our body's equilibrium (like on a roller coaster), it brings that same sort of excitement.

But it's not fun for everyone, right?

No. Research has found that there are big influences in childhood development and exposure that may affect some people's experience of stress and joy. If, for example, your first experience watching a horror flick was traumatic, you may not enjoy it later on in life. But the studies also found that there are genetic differences. People with certain dopamine genetic expressions tend to be more thrill-seeking.

Is there a difference between fear of real danger and the fear we experience in, say, a theme-park haunted house?

The physical reaction is the same: Endorphins release to block pain signals, and noradrenaline flows to kick up the metabolism so that we can turn any available sugar into energy. The heart rate increases. It's what's going on in our heads that's different. As soon as we recognize that we're safe or in a controlled space, we can interpret the fear as enjoyable rather than threatening.

You've done work with several haunted attractions.

I consult with the designers on how to apply the science of fear. For instance, I'll suggest putting an auditory scare after a bright light to mix up the types of startles so that they tap different senses. And I have a research lab at some of the attractions, where I set up willing participants with monitoring devices to measure brain activity and heart rate. They take surveys to report their moods before and after.

What have you discovered?

Our data shows that, for people who choose to do scary types of activities, anxiety and stress go down and mood goes up afterward.

Why is that?

The theory is that when we go into threat-response mode, we don't have as much rational or ruminating thought, because our bodies are very much grounded in physical experience.

And thinking less can be relaxing.

Yes, and these folks seem to use thrills and chills to get to that point of a blank mind.

Does that mind-set last?

What we're studying now is the potential that these scary experiences reset the bar on stress tolerance. You may go through a haunted house and come out thinking that the things you were worrying about before—say, confronting your boss—aren't as scary.

So should we push ourselves to watch a horror flick?

Not unless you want to. The choice is key. If you know that you don't like to be scared, you probably won't get the positive benefits from it.

What about kids?

It depends on the kid. I cringe when I see parents pushing a child through a haunted house. If the child doesn't yet have the cognitive ability to take on other people's perspectives, he can't understand that a fake-scary place is fake. I wouldn't recommend taking a kid under seven to a haunted house or a scary movie.

What are you afraid of?

I used to have nightmares of driving off a bridge, and recently when there was construction on a bridge where I was driving, it brought back all those fears.

Parting advice?

Never tell a child that she shouldn't be scared of something that seems scary. Fear is natural, and it's critical to be able to trust your threat response.


Eight bold women give tips on how to be courageous at

Drugstore Cheat Sheet

The best beauty products in the aisles, handpicked by a pro.

Photos by James Wojcik
Prop Styling by Linden Elstran



Choi, born in Korea and now based in New York City, is the founder of four eponymous natural hand and foot spas and is the creator of the 5-Free nail-polish collection, which is free of harsh chemicals.

"I use only non-acetone remover at all of my spas because it's gentler on skin and nails. This one is a classic that's been my go-to since I got started."
TO BUY: $3 at drugstores.
"Tweezerman makes professional-grade tools at a fair price. Use this between salon visits to maintain your manicure."
TO BUY: $26,
"Leaving some of the cuticle keeps nails healthy. This softens the skin so you can easily push it back."
TO BUY: $6 at drugstores.
"Metal files are easy to wash with soap and water between uses, unlike foam or emery."
TO BUY: $3 at drugstores.
"A supplement with biotin, zinc, and iron, like this one, is especially great for people with brittle or thin nails."
TO BUY: $19 for 150, at drugstores.
"Striping brushes are the best for creating designs. The black, white, and silver in this kit are good neutrals, plus you can reuse the brushes with other colors."
TO BUY: $7 at drugstores.

The Staple


They’re a trusty companion for tomato soup and tummy aches. But these squares can be wilder than that. Crush them up and they’re (better than) bread crumbs. Cover them in chocolate and almonds and you’ve got a salty-sweet, nearly criminal dessert.

By Heath Goldman
Photos by Danny Kim
Recipes by Paige Grandjean


Dark chocolate bark

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Add a single layer of saltines (about 48). Boil 1 cup each butter and brown sugar for 3 minutes over medium, whisking constantly. Pour over the saltines. Bake at 350°F for 8 minutes. Sprinkle with 12 oz. dark chocolate chips, let melt, then spread. Top with 1 cup chopped, toasted almonds; chill. Break into pieces.

Spicy Parmesan crackers

Combine ¼ cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan, ¾ tsp. paprika, and ¼ tsp. cayenne. Toss with 36 saltines until well coated. Bake on a parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet at 300°F for 10 minutes.

Quick meatballs

Combine 1 lb. ground beef, 2 lightly beaten eggs, ½ cup crushed saltines, ¼ cup grated onion, 2 tsp. chopped garlic, and 1 tsp. salt. Shape into 24 2-in. balls. Heat 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Cook the meatballs, turning often, until cooked through.


Go to for a quick how-to video on making Spicy Parmesan Crackers.


True Crime

For nearly 200 years, we’ve been obsessed with real-life tales of killing and deceit. What paved the way for our current Making a Murderer cravings? Here’s a brief investigation.

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm

Edgar Allan Poe writes The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, a detective story based on the unsolved murder of New Yorker Mary Rogers. The public and the critics are hooked. "It's the first significant attempt to retell an actual crime and take liberties with it," says Michael Arntfield, a criminologist and a professor at Western University, in London, Ontario.


Newspapers receive letters signed "Jack the Ripper" and ignite fear by printing them. (One threatens to "clip the lady's ears off.") Some researchers today believe a journalist penned the notes, but the mystery man inspires a genre now known as "Ripperature."


True Detective Mysteries magazine hits newsstands, feeding an appetite for "fact crime," complete with case reports, investigation techniques, and buxom blonds. During the 1930s and 40s, True Detective reportedly sells 2 million copies a month.


With televisions a fixture in more than half of American homes, the nation is captivated by reports of Sam Sheppard, an Ohio doctor convicted of bludgeoning his pregnant wife to death. The media is blamed for "prejudicial publicity," and Sheppard is acquitted in a retrial in 1966. The case is said to have inspired the 1963 TV show The Fugitive.


Truman Capote meticulously reconstructs the events of the murders of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas, in his book In Cold Blood. The "nonfiction novel" is later named one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time by the Modern Library.


Errol Morris's groundbreaking documentary, The Thin Blue Line, helps overturn the life sentence of Randall Adams, a man convicted of murdering a Texas police officer in 1976.


Court TV debuts in 1991, broadcasting live coverage of actual trials around the clock. In 1994, O.J. Simpson's trial hits the airwaves and becomes "the trial of the century."


A fresh crop of successful series call for justice. The popular Serial podcast leads to a new trial for Adnan Syed. HBO's The Jinx captures and airs a bathroom confession on tape shortly before the arrest of real estate heir Robert Durst, in March 2015.


A series from the creators of Law & Order about the 1989 case of the Menendez brothers is bought by NBC. The conviction of Brendan Dassey, one of the subjects of Netflix's Making a Murderer, is overturned. In season two, the docuseries will follow codefendant Steven Avery and his fight to challenge his conviction. Jury, please take your seats in front of the TV.

Little Helpers

4 ingenious products to make your day easier.

By Brandi Broxson
Photos by Philip Friedman
Soft Styling by Chanel Kennebrew
When attached to the hood of your cat's box, chemical-free odor absorbers banish smells for up to one month. Works on trash cans, too! Catit Magic Blue, $30 for a year's supply,
Get hand-washables high and dry with this suction-cupped helper. Hang socks, scarves, or bras from 10 swivel clips in the shower or elsewhere. Suction drying rack, $25,
Made for women who have had breast surgery and may have difficulty raising their arms, this shirt fastens in front and features a built-in bra. Pauir top, $54, pauir
This app-controlled wonder features USB charging ports, a Bluetooth speaker, and mood lighting. It also wakes you with a Spotify playlist. Beddi, $100,


Is It Really Bad to Use Disposable Diapers?

By Kaitlyn Pirie

Studies have shown problems with both disposables and cloth diapers, says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Although disposables account for tons of waste (in 2013, an estimated 3.6 million tons in the United States, says the Environmental Protection Agency), cloth diapers demand lots of water and energy during cleaning. Biodegradeable disposables aren't necessarily better. Says Hoover, "They still go to a landfill and create methane as they break down." (Methane is about 28 times worse that carbon dioxide in terms of global warming.) Compostable is the magic word in disposables, but only if your community is equipped with composting services capable of handling diapers. If you prefer disposables, buy those labeled "totally chlorine-free" and made with pulp certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. (Seventh Generation fits the bill.) If you opt for cloth, look for organic cotton or hemp, and wash in full loads in an energy-efficient machine at the right temperature, no bleach. Or find a diaper-laundering service that adheres to these eco-conscious practices.