15 November 2019


John Hodgman, Author of Medallion Status

Cool Tools Show 200: John Hodgman

Our guest this week is John Hodgman. John is a writer, performer, former PC, once the resident expert on the Daily Show, and now the author of two books of non-fake facts and true stories from his life, Vacationland and Medallion Status. You can find him at Twitter @hodgman and on Instagram @johnhodgman.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Lodge Sportman’s Grill ($85)
I recently was gifted by my wife, Katherine Fletcher, a Lodge Sportsman Grill. It is a big hunk of cast iron. It is what I grew up calling a hibachi, which is a misnomer for a kind of Japanese style grill, but it is a small, self contained, cast iron, charcoal grill. We live on the first floor and we have a little garden area behind our apartment. So, I wanted something that wouldn’t take up too much space, just so that I could occasionally make a steak without setting off the fire alarm in our apartment, and this thing has been so satisfying. I love cooking with cast iron because, while it is not actually a very good conductor of heat, it’s a good retainer of heat. What you’re going to do is you’re going to put it on a table in your backyard. The whole thing gets very hot, so you want to be safe, and you want to keep it on something that won’t burn. Then, there are all these super dense hardwood charcoals that you can get. I don’t like the regular lump briquettes. They’re sort of compressed sawdust. You want to get natural hardwood charcoal. They’re really good, and they get super hot, and even though it’s a small little grill, you can take a big old Tomahawk steak and put two of them on there and have the bones hanging off the side, and it’s great.

Duxtop 1800W Portable Induction Burner ($70)
Someone recommended on a cooking blog getting a portable induction burner to run outside in order to do deep frying outside. The reason for this is, obviously, if you have a portable burner, you can take it outside, plug it in. It’s electric. Induction heat is really good because it can get your oil really hot and hold it at that temperature, really at a very stable 375, 400 degrees, which is what you need for deep frying, because you are searing everything on all sides, and the oil has to be a certain temperature so that the water inside the food that you’re cooking evaporates immediately. That’s the spattering, the sizzling that happens. If it’s too low, the water will not evaporate out properly, and that’s when the food gets soggy and gross. Obviously, when you are deep frying inside, it can smell real bad, and smells linger. Then you’ve got a huge, big pot of hot oil that you have to wait to cool down, but if you have an outdoor space, put this burner out there, and you can deep fry outside, and it’s a lot easier to deal with.

Away Suitcase (starting at $225)
I’m not sure if you’ve caught on to this trend, but they’re a very trendy new brand of sort of carry-on size, hard shell suitcase. I highly recommend them. I thought it was all hype, and I thought, “How are you going to reinvent the wheel of the suitcase?” Of course, one of the reinventions is four wheels instead of two. Super duper maneuverable. The hard shell is very, very flexible, which allows you to pack more than you think you can. The packing technique, I have to credit my friend, Janie Haddad Tompkins, whose house I was staying at, because I had gotten this suitcase thinking, “Well, this seems like a nice suitcase, and I need a new one.” She saw me just throwing clothes into it. She said, “You don’t know the system, do you?” I’m like, “There’s a system?” She said, “Oh yeah. Go online. You’ll see how people are packing so much stuff into this suitcase.” Because one half of the suitcase is designated for all of your hard, loose items, like your toiletries and stuff like that. Then you zipper over a mesh cover so that that stuff doesn’t fly around. The other half of the suitcase is for your clothes, and it has a compression panel. This is what I didn’t realize. This is the game changer, to use a cliché, for me on this one. You put your clothes in this other side, and then you put the soft panel down. Then you clip the soft panel into position, and then you can compress the panel down using these straps. All of a sudden all of this extra air space in your clothing is pushed out, and all of a sudden, you have this neat, compact, super dense, perfectly packed pile of clothes, far more than you think you could fit in. Then you close the suitcase up, and it fits into any overhead bin that you like, and it’s pretty amazing.

Quebec Nordiques Hat ($28) or any other extinct hockey hat
There’s a company called ’47. They make a lot of hats with antique logos on them. I became obsessed with the logo of the Hartford Whalers a few years ago. They had a logo that was designed by a guy named Peter Good. He had never designed a sports identity or logo before and it shows, and he designed it in the ’70s. It’s this really innovative, clean, Milton Glaser style logo that incorporates one of the greatest visual tricks of all time. There is a W for Whalers, and then there is a whale’s tail, a sort of figurative whale’s tail that intersects with it, and between the two of them, it creates out of negative space an H. Like most hockey teams, they’re all underdogs, and many of them failed, and they all go away, and they get lost to time. The Hartford Whalers I contend is the best logo, not merely in extinct hockey, but of all sports, the worst logo in all sports is the Quebec Nordiques, another tragic, failed, extinct hockey team from Quebec. I won’t go into the long, tragic history of the Quebec Nordiques, but their logo is terrible. It’s so ugly. It looks like a mutant elephant, a blood red mutant elephant of some kind. It’s really an example of design that dares you to look at it. Whereas some logos invite you in, like the Hartford Whalers logo, they invite you to look more closely, the Quebec Nordiques logo slams the door in your face, and it’s like you weren’t even knocking at the door. It’s so arrestingly ugly and weird. I’ve discovered that people in the hockey community have a real fondness for extinct hockey teams. Hockey is the underdog of all major league sports, and extinct hockey is the under-est of underdogs. And when you wear a Quebec Nordiques logo through the world, people will find you and want to talk to you about the Quebec Nordiques. For someone who did not grow up with sports, it’s something for me to talk about. I was recently in Boston doing a show, and afterward, I was doing a show with a friend of mine who’s from Quincy, and he grew up with a bunch of kids who played hockey in Quincy. These were the kids in the Boston area who, when I was young, would have bullied and scared me, but now they’re all coming up to me going, “Quebec Nordiques, that’s effing awesome.”

Also mentioned:

medallion status
Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms ($13, Kindle)
My new book is called Medallion Status, and it’s unlike my resident expert personality where I was this deadpan, weird, tweedy authority saying nonsense fake facts. It’s just true stories from my life as a famous, increasingly minor television personality, and dad, and author. Vacationland, the book that came out right before this one, was based specifically on a one-man imitation stand up comedy show that I did about all kinds of different wildernesses that I wandered through where I did not belong, including the painful beaches of coastal Maine. This one is more about the time that I flew back and forth across the country, over and over and over again, working as the third best friend on a television sitcom, and making my family suffer as I chased the very last vestiges of fame and Diamond Medallion Status on Delta Airlines.

travelers choice
Traveler’s Choice Transparent Suitcase ($200)
I saw a suitcase in the wild that truly activated every aspirational gene in my body. A guy across the airplane from me pulled down his suitcase, and I thought it was an Away suitcase. I think it’s a different brand because Away doesn’t offer this, but it’s very similar in its design, and it’s perfectly transparent. It’s clear plastic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As he pulled it down, I said, “That is a really bold choice.” He said, “Thank you. It helps me to be more mindful when I’m packing.” I was like, “Wow.” That really is something. You’re going to think about how much you really need. I don’t think the world needs to see my underwear, but it is definitely a case that when you are not hiding things away, you’re taking just what you need. I really liked that approach.

Thermapen ($60)
This is a bonus tool. Thermapen is this company that specializes in making all kinds of highly accurate digital thermometers that register all kinds of things, like surface temperature. They’re making stuff for all different kinds of scientific applications, with a sideline in making instant read thermometers for cooking. They’re really tremendous, and they’re really the best. Whatever kind of cooking you’re doing, being able to take the temperature of oil with a candy thermometer or the food that you’re cooking is really important.


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF


15 November 2019


Microplane Professional Extra Coarse Grater

Effortlessly Smooth Cheese Grater that Stays Sharp

This cheese grater ($12) has become essential in my kitchen. It won’t take up extra space and grates better than any others I’ve owned. Cheeses ranging in hardness from Parmesan to mozzarella transform almost effortlessly into shreds perfect for nachos or pizza. Though I have a food processor with a cheese grater attachment that works well, I prefer using the Microplane grater since it’s quick, doesn’t crumble the cheese, and is a breeze to clean up.

While there is just one grating surface, I don’t miss the others that were on the Kitchen-Aid box grater I had before the Microplane grater. I also own the Microplane zester/grater, and find that the two sizes are all I need. Even together, they take up much less space in my kitchen than a box grater.

Made entirely of stainless steel, the grater features 35 extra-sharp cutting blades. Fortunately, it comes with a plastic guard for when it’s not in use. I’ve owned this grater for almost two years, and even with almost daily use, it’s still incredibly sharp.

-- Abbie Stillie 11/15/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

14 November 2019


Book Freak #25: Turning Trials into Triumph

How to Excel at Something

Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with cognitive tools you can use to improve the quality of your life.

In this issue, advice from Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph.

Rule over yourself
“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.“ —Publius Syrus

Focus on tranquility over talent
“When we aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride. Stuff is going to happen that catches us off guard, threatens or scares us. Surprises (unpleasant ones, mostly) are almost guaranteed. The risk of being overwhelmed is always there. In these situations, talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill. We must possess, as Voltaire once explained about the secret to the great military success of the first Duke of Marlborough, that “tranquil courage in the midst of tumult and serenity of soul in danger, which the English call a cool head.”

Consider what you’re not seeing when you worry
“As Gavin de Becker writes in The Gift of Fear, ‘When you worry, ask yourself, What am I choosing to not see right now? What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?’“

Book Freak is one of four newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other three are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, and What’s in my bag?).


14 November 2019


Ra Chand Citrus Press

Squeezes Every Last Drop of Juice From Fruit

Living in Southern California, we have an abundance of citrus nearly year round — lemons, limes, kumquats, grapefruits, and more. I also have a household of beverage enthusiasts, from my kids who love to make lemon-, lime-, etc. -ades, or “kid drinks” as they call them, to my wife and I who are crazy about cocktails, flips, fizzes, and sours. This is why I graduated from my fine, but slow, hand juicer, to the monstrous, restaurant-calibre Ra Chand J210 Bar Juicer. It makes quick, efficient work of juicing tons of citrus. Rather than dread all the labor, I’m now happy to juice enough fruit to make a full pitcher of Ginger Limeonade with my kids to sell in their DIY juice stand.

The Ra Chand is dead simple. No motors or fragile plastic parts to break — in fact it only has six parts, made of cast aluminum, plus a wire return spring and a few bolts. The mechanical advantage it provides is tremendous. With its long lever and offset pivots, even my six-year-old daughter can use it to easily squeeze a half-lemon dry. The Ra Chand is big enough for me to juice a medium grapefruit — when I have a larger-sized one to contend with I quarter it (and secretly wish I had the even-larger model, the J500).

The straining cone (which looks like a half beehive) allows juice and the occasional small seed through, but very little pulp. This is also due to the fact that pressing (rather than twisting like a motorized juicer) bursts the cells of the fruit, but doesn’t shred the membranes.

If I have one complaint it is that the juicer can be tipped forward easily until you get the hang of pulling the lever down, not down-and-toward-yourself. I’ve gotten used to this, but I do hold onto the base when my kids use it to avoid a mess.

In all, the Ra Chand is hands-down the best citrus juicer I’ve used. I appreciate its size, speed, power, ruggedness, and simplicity. I imagine it’ll be in our family for many years, hopefully providing juice for generations.

-- John Edgar Park 11/14/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)

13 November 2019


What’s in my bag? — Catherine Andrews

What's in my bag? issue #23

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

Catherine Andrews is a writer and personal development strategist living in Washington, D.C. She helps folks access and improve their emotional intelligence, get past impostor syndrome, and bring their full selves to the workplace — and all of life. She’s also the author of the popular Sunday Soother newsletter, where she writes personal and humorous essays about trying (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) to live a more meaningful and intentional life. You can find her on Instagram @catherineandrews.

PURITO Centella Green Level SPF50+ Sun Cream ($15)
I am incredibly vain, and for me, being incredibly vain means, as I near 40, obsessing about the state of my skin. And obsessing about the state of my skin means obsessing about my sunscreen. I have acne-prone, easily irritated skin and this soothing sunscreen is SPF 50+, affordable ($15!) and acts as a lovely moisturizer and primer for my makeup. I’m always reapplying.

Weleda Hand Cream ($12)
Weleda makes some of the best moisturizers out there, in my opinion, and I love this hand cream — it goes on pretty thick and creamy, but ends up feeling lightweight and soft. I hate an extra-greasy hand cream, so I appreciate that this one doesn’t leave me feeling like I’ve just dipped my hands in a vat of Crisco.

Herb Pharm Passionflower Extract ($11)
I’d been on anti-anxiety meds for several years and, for a variety of reasons, transitioned off them earlier this spring — at the same time I was developing an interest in homeopathic and natural solutions. This passionflower extract is great for those moments of anxiety or panic I still occasionally get. Do I look strange popping it out by an airplane gate and tipping my head back to take in the liquid via the glass dropper? Yes. Am I soothed afterwards? Also yes.

Boar Bristle Hair Brush for Men & Women ($16)
I have fine, easily ruffled hair and I am obsessed with brushing it constantly to make it look smooth so I can feel semi put-together, rather than I’ve just rolled around on a subway grate. I use this brush like 6 times a day. I heard somewhere it was a dupe for that famous Mason-Pearson brush, which is something I will never be able to confirm, because not even I am crazy enough to spend over $200 on a hairbrush. But this one is fantastic.

About the bag
The bag is Madewell’s Transport Tote  ($168), which my little sister gave me for Christmas one year when she was working there. I can’t say it’s super functional — it literally has no pockets or compartments — but you can’t beat it for the style. I get compliments on it all the time.

-- Catherine Andrews 11/13/19

13 November 2019


High Density Foam Rollers

Post Workout Massage Tool

I didn’t know I had knots in my calves, but I did. I spend a lot of time at the computer, and I play some video games, which means that I tense my calves involuntarily and and they get knotted.

When I started working out about a year ago, I hired a trainer. The end of each training session included a massage treatment with a foam roller. That’s when I learned that I had knots, because the roller made my calves feel better.

Its nice if you have someone else to “roll you out,” but you can also put the roller between your calves and the floor and roll yourself back and forth, using your body weight to apply pressure. You can also use it on your back and arms.

It’s also improved the “restless leg syndrome” for two people I know.

I have the 36 inch version, which is bulky. I think the 18 inch version would do just as well.

-- Carl Mixon 11/13/19

(Here's a video that shows how to use a foam roller. - MF

This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)



img 12/9/11

The Wondermill

Countertop flour mill

img 01/26/10

Toto Eco Drake

Low-cost, low-flow toilet

img 12/8/06

Blurb * Lulu

Personal bookprinting

img 06/23/03

Diagrammatic Chart of World History

5,000 years of history in one square meter

img 12/3/15


Satisfying audio books

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 200: John Hodgman

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 199: Jesse Genet

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 198: Gareth Branwyn

Picks and shownotes

13 November 2019


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is claudia {at} cool-tools.org.