11 Apps That Will Make You Feel Smarter

Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Encased beneath the delicate surface of your smartphone is what seems like practically all the knowledge in the world, both past and present. This is, in a word, awesome. It’s also, in a different word, overwhelming. Deciding you’d like to take advantage of that unfettered access to learn a thing or two is easy—deciding where to start isn’t quite so straightforward. To jumpstart your quest to pick up some information without making any serious financial or time commitment, we’ve assembled a list of apps that will definitely make you feel smarter, no matter what topic you’re interested in.

1. Today in History

This free app takes the daunting yet admirable goal of “wanting to learn more about history” and breaks it up into daily digestible pieces that cover events, births, deaths, holidays, and more from a variety of time periods and places. You can browse by category—technology, entertainment, science, and sports, to name a few—or you can visit the “events” tab to see a timeline of important events from years past. The stories are paired with engaging images, and you can personalize notifications to occur just once a day or much more often. In addition to helping you fill in the gaps of your historical knowledge, it’s also an often-heartening daily reminder of just how far we’ve come in the world (and great fodder for water-cooler conversation when you have nothing to say about the weather).

Download: iOS

2. TED

In the last several years, TED Talks have become an extremely popular way to learn about topics you may not have thought to seek out on your own. Having said that, you don’t necessarily have time to watch a TED video every time one appears on your Facebook timeline. The TED app is a perfect way to keep track of the latest and greatest TED videos on your own time—you can see what’s trending, get personalized recommendations, download videos for offline viewing, and save videos to your own watch list. There’s even a “Surprise Me!” feature that will offer you a video recommendation outside of your interests.

Download: iOS, Android

3. DailyArt

Even if you can pick a Picasso painting out of a lineup, how deep does your art knowledge really go? DailyArt educates art aficionados and rookies alike by serving them one artwork each day from a collection of more than 2000 pieces, complete with all of its basic information and history, plus some interesting behind-the-scenes details about the artwork and/or artist, too. You can swipe through past days’ entries, explore more than 700 artist biographies and information about more than 500 museums, and even bookmark artworks to your own list of favorites. It’s a low-investment way to foster a passion for art, whether or not you have one to begin with.

Download: iOS, Android

4. Flipboard

In a world where you end up completely behind the times just by neglecting to check a certain app for a few hours, it can feel impossible to stay on top of what’s going on. Flipboard makes it easy by aggregating both news and social media in one streamlined place. You decide which news sources and topics will appear in your feed—from there, all you really need to do is flip through the content, and Flipboard will update your feed based on what you interact with and suggest other topics you might be interested in adding. There’s also an even simpler “Daily Edition” feature, a daily roundup of the top stories from each category.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Lumosity

Lumosity begins with a 10-minute “Fit Test,” a series of three games that evaluate cognitive ability in areas like memory and attention span. It then uses your scores to devise a personalized brain-training program with games guaranteed to improve those scores. While information-based apps help you fill your brain with new knowledge, Lumosity helps you feel like you’re actually expanding your brain’s boundaries in ways that will make daily life easier. For example, if you specify that you’d like to work on losing fewer objects and better remembering people’s names, Lumosity will offer you a game that targets those areas of your brain. And, since you probably have a few minutes to kill every day while waiting for a bus to come or water to boil, why not give your brain a little exercise?

Download: iOS, Android

6. Vocabulary.com

This app—which both TIME and Fast Company called “addictive”—is worth the one-time cost of $3 for its dictionary alone, which includes definitions, helpful notes about how the word is usually used, and example sentences pulled from actual news articles. In addition to the dictionary, the app boasts an algorithm-based system for learning vocabulary where you play games to earn points and collect achievement badges. There are also more than 50,000 word lists that you can choose from, which cover everything from GRE prep to words in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Download: iOS

7. NASA

Between the recent 50th anniversary of the moon landing and the ever-present hope for a Mars landing (not to mention all the space-related movies, both Star Wars and otherwise), NASA is definitely hot right now—and its app is a great way to stay awestruck and in-the-know. In addition to featuring more than 17,000 images, 360-degree videos, launch updates, and breaking news stories, it also includes a tracker for the International Space Station (ISS), and it’ll even send you notifications when the ISS is visible from your location.

Download: iOS, Android

8. National Geographic’s GeoBee Challenge

The description of National Geographic’s GeoBee app opens with “This is a challenging game, so it's not for beginners...but do keep in mind that the National Geographic GeoBee is meant for kids in grades 4-8. Are you smarter than a 4th grader?” Though you’re probably not entering an elementary school geography bee any time soon (or ever), this app will help you find out how you’d fare as a participant—and, of course, give you the opportunity to improve your knowledge of world geography. After a few rounds of answering multiple choice trivia and locating places on an interactive map, you’ll never again feel lost while reading international news headlines.

Download: iOS, Android

9. Daily Random Facts

With an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars from about 20,000 Apple user reviews, this Monkey Taps app practically needs no other endorsement. By just reading a sentence or two every day, you’ll quickly build an impressive arsenal of the type of grab-bag information that’ll make you everybody’s first choice for their trivia team. The app includes interesting facts about history, science, sports, life hacks, animals, the human body, and more—all you have to do is enable push notifications (or remember to visit the app every day on your own).

Download: iOS, Android

10. TheSkimm

If someone bottled that heavenly feeling of knowing what’s going on in the world and sold it to you for $3 a month, would you buy it? That’s basically what TheSkimm has done. Every weekday morning, the app feeds you need-to-know, nonpartisan news stories that’ll only take you about five minutes to consume. In addition to the daily digest, you can also listen to audio episodes that cover important news, read longer stories that break down complex topics like immigration and Brexit, and even get book, movie, and recipe recommendations. Not only does TheSkimm make you feel like you’re capable of understanding basically everything, it also does a great job of explaining how and why global news is relevant to you.

Download: iOS, Android

11. iNaturalist

When you stop to smell the flowers, the iNaturalist app will tell you what kind of flowers you’re actually smelling. Snap a photo of any plant or animal in your area, and iNaturalist will use crowdsourced image data to identify the species. With more than 400,000 users, there’s a good chance iNaturalist already has enough images of your mystery organism to provide you with the correct answer—but if not, you can also chat with knowledgeable scientists and naturalists within the app who may know the answer themselves. And, of course, it works both ways: Your uploaded images will help other curious observationalists identify flora and fauna in the future, and you can even explore the map to see which species have been logged around you.

Download: iOS, Android

10 Simple Ways to Reduce Food Waste

Learn how to make the most of your grocery haul.
Learn how to make the most of your grocery haul.
GANNAMARTYSHEVA/iStock via Getty Images

With the novel coronavirus majorly disrupting the food service industry, billions of dollars’ worth of food is going to waste as farmers face an overwhelming surplus of perishable items like dairy and fresh vegetables, according to a recent article in The Guardian. Thanks to a scrambled supply chain, nearly half of the food grown in the United States that was previously destined for school cafeterias, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships, and stadiums is going to waste, with farmers being forced to dump fresh milk and plow vegetables back into the dirt. To better preserve your own supplies—and save some serious cash—check out these 10 ways to reduce food waste at home.

1. Store your food properly.

Correctly storing your food will help it stay fresh longer. If your bread typically molds or goes stale before you have the chance to finish the loaf, keep half of it in the bread box and freeze the other half for later. Store potatoes and tomatoes at room temperature. Don’t stash your eggs in the refrigerator door compartment—this will rattle them around, and may lead to a yolky mess. You can find more helpful food storing tips here.

2. Get well-acquainted with your freezer.

Freezer packed with food
Stuffing your freezer means you can also pass time with a quality game of freezer Tetris.
mliu92, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Leftovers, especially meals like soups or stews, are excellent for freezing. But you can freeze individual ingredients, too. Freeze wilted spinach to add to future soups. Frozen berries work well in smoothies, and frozen overripe bananas are perfect for banana bread. Keeping a bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer is a great way to ensure you’ll always have the ingredients for vegetable stock on hand (more on that later). However, there are some foods you should never freeze, and there are certain things you shouldn’t do when defrosting.

3. Learn the best way to freeze different kinds of fruit.

Ripe, fairly unblemished fruit is best for freezing. First, wash the fruit and sort through it for any pieces that are bruised or rotten. Some fruits, like blackberries, raspberries, and plums [PDF], will freeze better with the help of a sugar solution, though cranberries, blueberries, and currants typically do fine on their own. Arrange more delicate berries like strawberries or raspberries in a single layer on a baking sheet (you can also coat them with sugar or a sugar syrup), and then once they’re frozen, put them in a container or a plastic freezer bag. Fruits that tend to brown, like peaches, apple, apricots, and nectarines, can be treated with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which you can purchase in powder form in health food stores and some grocery stores.

4. Follow the “first in, first out” rule.

Much like shelves are stocked in grocery stores, use the “first in, first out” method when stocking your refrigerator. After washing your produce and wiping down all other items, put the newer ingredients in the back of the fridge and move the older items to the front so they’ll get used first. A fridge cam can even help you keep track of what’s about to go bad or expire.

5. Keep your fridge uncluttered.

Woman standing in front of opened fridge pinching her nose
Maintaining an orderly fridge will help you spot spoiling food before it starts to stink.
millann/iStock via Getty Images

Having to rummage around for an item or not being able to see that bottle of cocktail sauce tucked behind the box o’ wine means more food may go bad before it’s used up. Periodically, take a look at the long-term residents of your fridge, like salad dressings and sauces, to see if they’re still good. If possible, keep them all in one spot to make keeping track of them easier. Also, use square containers for leftovers rather than round ones, as the square shape allows for more storage space. Taking stock of everything you have in both the fridge and the pantry before shopping will also help cut down on clutter and double-buying.

6. Understand expiration dates.

Studies have shown that we throw away more than half of the food we keep in our refrigerators. Misunderstanding food labels is one reason behind the waste. “Sell by” is the date used to inform retailers when an item should be sold or removed from inventory. “Best by” is a suggested date that shoppers should use their products by. Neither means the item is unsafe to eat after that particular date. Even “expires by” isn’t set in stone.

7. Use food scraps to make stock.

Using vegetable scraps like stalks, tops, and peels to make a tasty broth is simple. Sauté them in some butter or oil, then add water and let them simmer for a few hours. Simmer beef bones and chicken carcasses along with the veggies (add water and herbs) to make a delectable homemade broth.

8. Plan your meals in advance.

Knowing what you want to eat for just a few dinners or lunches per week can help you figure out which ingredients you can use across meals and help cut down on spontaneous buying. The Kitchn recommends planning on a Friday, shopping on a Saturday, and then using an hour on Sunday for meal prep.

9. Shop strategically.

Grocery shopping list written with pen on paper from a notebook
For now, it's best to write your shopping list on paper you can later dispose of.
Santeri Viinamäki, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Typically, more frequent trips to the grocery store are preferable to buying in bulk when it comes to cutting down on waste, but in these current circumstances, less frequent trips are your safest bet. Therefore, a list is essential—just make sure you're jotting your notes on paper and not touching your phone while shopping. And if there’s any way to order online for delivery or pick-up, keeping an open online shopping cart is the best way to organize and maintain a visual list.

10. Donate items you know you won’t use to your local food bank.

If you have more food on hand than you need, consider donating to a local shelter or food bank. Call ahead and arrange curbside drop off.

6 Products That Can Help Improve Your Home's Air Quality

Guardian Technologies/Homasy/Amazon
Guardian Technologies/Homasy/Amazon

Chances are you’ve spent a lot more time than usual inside lately. And if you’ve noticed that the air in your home has started to feel a little mustier thanks to your constant presence, you might need to do a bit more than just crack a window. From air purifiers designed to filter out germs to all-natural surface cleaners that help you avoid harsh chemicals, we’ve compiled some essential products that will help improve your indoor air quality.

1. Vacuums with HEPA filters


Shark/Homasy/Amazon

Carpets and rugs are bound to absorb pollutants like dust and dirt that can keep the air in your home a little less than fresh and agitate your allergies. Research suggests that a vacuum equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter helps reduce surface contamination, and for the best results, the universal rule of thumb is to run a vacuum over the floors at least once a week. We recommend this upright vacuum from Shark ($170), which includes a lift-away feature so you can clean harder-to-reach locations. If you need a duster to complement your Shark, go with the Swiffer ($13); it's a simple design that can easily get around corners and fit under furniture, where colonies of dust tend to hang out.

If you're looking for a more hands-off approach to cleaning, Homasy's line of robot vacuums can be programmed to clean your floors right from a remote. The 1500PA ($166) model has a 4.4-star Amazon rating, features four cleaning modes (auto, wall, small-room, and suction cleaning), and sports a HEPA filter.

2. air purifiers

Guardian Technologies air purifier.
Guardian Technologies/Amazon

According to Good Housekeeping, you should look for an air purifier that’s verified by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and uses the aforementioned HEPA-certified filters, which can catch about 99.97 percent of the smallest particles that cause allergies and other issues (be wary of brands selling "near-HEPA" products, though). For the best results, just make sure to replace the filter every three months.

This air purifier from Guardian Technologies ($97) has a built-in UV light that helps kill germs and a true HEPA filter that works to reduce odors. The company also offers a smart model ($148) that can be scheduled to go on and off through an app and is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.

3. humidifiers

A humidifier from Honeywell.
Honeywell/Amazon

Being stuck at home as the temperatures rise inevitably means your air conditioner will soon be working overtime. To combat the dry air that accompanies AC units, think about picking up a humidifier to add some much-needed moisture to your home. The Honeywell HCM-350 Germ-Free Cool Mist Humidifier ($64) comes with plenty of acclaim and is the perfect size for the bedroom or living room. It runs quietly, only needs a gallon of water, and can help bring some life to your home's stagnant, dry air. If you're not looking to make as big of an investment, there are personal humidifiers ($20) that can simply be dropped into a cup of water.

4. An air-quality monitor

Awair air-quality monitor on Amazon.
Awair/Amazon

Keep on top of your indoor air quality by purchasing a monitor that tracks humidity, temperature, and the presence of particulate matter. This monitor from Awair ($69) plugs into an outlet and sends you real-time updates through a connected app. You can even plug another device into it—like a humidifier—and the monitor will automatically turn it on if air quality dips at all.

5. All-natural cleaning products

Puracy all-natural cleaners.
Puracy/Amazon

Many cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which drastically impact indoor air quality and may produce negative health effects. Switch to all-natural cleaning products to avoid potentially toxic byproducts, especially when dealing with rooms that have poor ventilation. We recommend this plant-based, all-purpose spray from Puracy ($12), along with the company's line of carpet shampoo ($15) or the full-on cleaning set ($40) of all their major products.

6. Replacement air filters

Filtrete air filters on Amazon.
Filtrete/Amazon

Your home’s air filters will be most effective provided they’re cleaned or replaced on a regular schedule. Depending on where you live, how often you use your HVAC system, and the type of filter you use, you should aim to replace your filters every two to three months, according to The Spruce. However, you can change them every month to six weeks if you have issues like allergies and asthma.

This air filter from Filtrete ($32) contains an activated carbon layer designed to trap odors and particulate matter and is built to last for three months. The benefits of charcoal as an odor eater don't have to come at a high cost, either. You can grab some tiny air-purifying charcoal bags ($20) to throw into a car or shoe closet to help filter those unpleasant smells that you're probably tired of dealing with.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

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