Do you ever see something and ask yourself, “What is this thing?”
Well, if you do, you should probably head over to r/whatisthisthing, because it’s a subreddit where people can write in to take their best guess or apply their specific knowledge to these questions.
It isn’t going to solve the big mysteries of life, but it might help you figure out what the world’s weird little widgets actually are.
1. Four globes.
Reddit | Quizatrix
This was found in the small east African nation of Djibouti. It’s a reproduction of an astrolabe, an old type of navigational aid used by sailors in centuries past.
2. Rolling object on a triangular track.
Reddit | DoughyBoi
This fun little tool is a teaching aid. By rolling the object along the track, teachers can help students understand stuff like conservation of energy and conversion of gravitational potential to kinetic potential.
3. Copper pot with weird rotating lid.
Reddit | 1fifty8point3
This looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. Turns out it’s a burner for a chafing dish. The copper interior is filled with alcohol and set alight, which keeps the food above it warm.
4. Almost impaled by this metal object.
Reddit | KrustyKrab_P1zza
After a close call on the highway, someone wanted to know what this is. It looks like it came loose from an advertisement flag, the type with long vertically-oriented fabric.
5. Strange clock found in restaurant.
Reddit | Cryptoporticus
If you’ve worked in a kitchen you probably already know this, but this specialized clock, with repeating numbers, is for timing when to discard prepared food items.
6.Triangular tool in Egyptian museum.
Reddit | Curious-Cat-2020
This A-shaped device is actually a type of level. The dangling weight, and the plumb line it’s attached to, will fall exactly in the middle when the tool is level.
7. $20 bill with ‘U.N security seal’ stamp.
Reddit | thematthat
This is a real bill, but the stamp is part of a scam. A fraudster will show or give away the bill, saying there’s plenty more where that came from — so long as they’re able to remove the ink.
8. This thing on a power line.
Reddit | KawiNinja
This is known as a “snowshoe.” In short, it’s a slack loop for fiber optic cable. It makes it easier for technicians to splice off new lines in the future, without disassembling the rest of the cable.
9. It belonged to an Air Force pilot.
Reddit | jupiter_sunstone
Believe it or not, this is a type of analog computer. Pilots can use these little devices to calculate anything from speed to distance to time.
They’ve mostly been phased out as actual computers have taken over.
10. Old metal machinery.
Reddit | JamesChatz
This thing, found in the U.K., is a wrought iron well winch from about 1865. They were used to draw water from deep wells.
Apparently, this one was made by Tasker & Co., for whatever that’s worth.
11. Big metal glowing box.
Reddit | Chrispy990
This turned up at a metal stamping facility. It appears to be an MIR industrial robot. Big warehouse companies like Amazon use these things to move materials around autonomously.
12. Strange house full of materials.
Reddit | smokesletsgo420
Found on a disc golf course, this birdhouse-looking thing is, in fact, a bughouse.
Bees and bugs can use these materials to build stuff, or just hunker down directly inside the house.
13. Stamped metal disc.
Reddit | JrbWheaton
Surveyors use these markers to indicate things like property lines and latitude or longitude. The U.S. has a database of these things, which can be looked up for more information on what the numbers mean.
14. Wooden musical instrument thing.
Reddit | Broghtworst
This is an example of a tongue drum — a truly massive, coffee table-sized example. The mallets will produce different notes when they strike different areas of the surface.
15. Interlocking metal plates.
Reddit | ObjectImpermanance
In the days before 3D printing, this is how we molded stuff. These two plates fit together, then a material is poured inside to create a three-dimensional object.
16. Found in a bag of chips.
Reddit | scary2020
This foreign object is designed to emulate, well, foreign objects. They’re put into the production line, along with the chips. If they’re all recovered, things are working properly.
If they aren’t all recovered, they’ll probably wind up on r/whatisthisthing.
17. Slanted base of highway sign.
Reddit | rrsafety
This little design choice is an elegant and simple way to improve highway safety. They’re installed at a slant in a direction facing traffic so the sign will break off and go over, rather than through, the vehicle that hit it.
18. Some kind of early computer?
Reddit | ziftzift
This dates back to the mid ’80s and is an early (possibly the first) example of a video telephone. That explains why it has a number pad, but no keyboard or other form of input.
19. A strange bathroom addition.
Reddit | jingjangjones
Found in a bathroom in Germany, apparently this is called a Speibecken. They’re special sinks of sorts for people to throw up in! Rather courteous.
20. A punk memorial?
Reddit | BonBon666
My first thought was that the spikes were to keep birds from perching, but an important detail is that this post is on Jezinac Beach in Croatia. That translates to Sea Urchin beach, so it’s a sea urchin! Not sure what the wreath is for, though.
21. Secret code.
Reddit | lalesswatch
This user found this book that belonged to her aunt. In a sort of half answer, it was revealed to be a Masonic book written in code. So we know what the book is, but not what it says. Better than nothing!
22. Harsh sea sponge.
Reddit | Sudo_Nymn
What looks like a shriveled up tumbleweed is actually a pufferfish skeleton! I guess I never considered their spines to be a form of bone or cartilage.
23. Open for…what?
Reddit | shinyflips
Three of these were found in the general area, and after it was identified as a post indicator valve, a firefighter dropped in to say it’s one specifically created for fire suppression.
24. A loving gift.
Reddit | yogolomogolo
This was given to the user by an ex-partner. On a base level, it’s a replica of a medieval seal. With even more detail, it’s a monogram (motif made with letters) using CC, which happen to be the user’s initials!
25. Frosted tip.
Reddit | human_on_a_computer
This pointed cylinder/cone glass shape was found to be a light diffuser/cover, likely to be used on a ship or in a marine setting.
26. Merry Christmas! Here’s a…thing.
Reddit | kviselus
Though it looks like a futuristic hammer, when you take the top off it becomes a bottle opener!
27. Natural art.
Reddit | dragonnyxx
I thought this was an extreme termite mound at first glance, but it’s an art piece by artist Thomas Sayre called Terroir.
28. Came in a bag from China.
Reddit | JudiasGoldberg
The original submitter got a bag of six of these things. Apparently, they’re known as roses of Jericho, a type of desert-dwelling plant with impressive longevity.
29. Sea monster.
Reddit | oasdv
A strange-looking creature with an equally disturbing name, this is the Ptilosarcus gurneyi, or “fleshy sea pen,” as underwater it more resembles a quill!
30. Metal lump.
Reddit | mgdplayz
If you’ve ever soldered something, you probably knew exactly what this is. It’s just a little hunk of solder. Since most modern solder is free of lead, it’s likely harmless.