5 Pairs of Extremely Similar Things That You Better Not Mix Up
There are, arguably, too many things in the world. Even if you make it your life’s work to know what everything is, it’s an impossible goal. On one hand, I guess it’s nice that you’re never going to outrun wonder, that even the most well-read have a good chance of finding a weird tool or cool rock that they have to turn to Reddit to identify. (Spud wrench and sea glass, respectively.)
But on the other, the overbearing variety of the world can also cause problems. Sometimes you might be seeing something that you’re 100 percent sure you’ve identified, and turned out to be plumb wrong. In the worst cases, this can be a devastating mistake, either socially, by looking like an idiot, but sometimes medically, in terms of you not being in grave danger.
Here are five pairs of things that look similar that you really, really want to get right…
Eastern Coral Snake/Scarlet Kingsnake
If something in nature is frequently enough confused, and with sour enough results, that it earns its own trademark mnemonic device? That’s a pretty good sign that intuition isn’t going to cut it. If you spend a fair amount of time traipsing about in short pants anywhere near these fellas’ natural habitat, it’s probably a poem worth learning by heart.
That rhyme, of course, being the famous “Red touches yellow, kill a fellow; red touches black, friend to Jack.” It’s brief, fun and just creative enough to make it kind of hard to remember in an actual emergency. The snake in question is the highly venomous eastern coral snake, and their very similar looking counterpart, the scarlet Kingsnake. The more dangerous of the two is filled tip to tail with a neurotoxin that can shut down your diaphragm, and without being able to breathe, your survival chances are slim. So learn that rhyme that’s mostly reliable! Or better yet, you know, maybe just don’t fuck around with snakes?
For whatever reason, I guess because people are convinced that screens are now the source of all evil and blue light is basically eye cyanide, hobbies that emphasize a return to nature are getting big. One of those is foraging, which is a way for people with desk jobs to spend their weekends kneeling in wet dirt and eating weeds and pretending they’re some sort of druid. Specifically, mushroom foraging seems to be among the top ways to get in touch with nature via your intestinal tract. The thing is, it’s not a hobby with a particularly friendly learning curve.
Proper identification of mushrooms is not easy. Couple that with the fact that there are an abundance of mushrooms filled with nature’s top poisons, and my personal recommendation would be not to stake your life on squinting at a free phone app. One particularly unpleasant common mix-up is that of delicious morel mushrooms with the straightforwardly named “false morels.” This actually covers multiple species of mushroom that look like the delicious variant, but instead contain monomethyl hydrazine, which can cause the three Ds: dizziness, diarrhea and death. So maybe don’t risk everybody at a dinner party’s health with a bag of dirt and probably correctly identified mushrooms.
Baking Powder/Baking Soda
For an unseasoned baker, the pantry you filled with recommended staples from a YouTube video can stay confusing even after purchase. Two famously confused cupboard-dwellers are baking soda and baking powder. It should be so obvious! Baking powder is a white powder used in baking, and baking soda is a white powder used in baking, but different! The two’s use in baking are similar, but still divergent enough to completely fuck up your banana bread. It doesn’t take long to find a laundry list of laments over the mix-up on Quora or Reddit.
Inedible birthday cakes, though a bummer, aren’t exactly on the level of risk held by the rest of this list, and that’s because it’s not the worst situation you can confuse the two in. That honor belongs to their use in extinguishing kitchen fires. When the blaze in question is a grease fire, meaning that under no circumstances should you reach for fire’s usual enemy of “water,” it turns out that baking soda is an excellent thing to grab. A good dusting will help extinguish your unintentional flambé. Baking powder, on the other hand, explodes.
Regular bodega customers are probably familiar with Fabuloso. Its eye-catching branding and delightful colors are lovely enough to activate pleasure centers in your brain. So much so, that your brain might whisper an unsure suggestion that Fabuloso may be tasty and good to drink. This is not recommended, based on the fact that Fabuloso is not a soda or a sports drink, but a multipurpose cleaner.
You might scoff and say you’d have to be an idiot to ever accidentally drink something that belongs under the sink, but I can tell you from personal experience, even knowing it’s poison, it still looks delicious on a hot day. In big grocery stores, you’d probably get the hint noticing it stocked next to the Windex, but in smaller stores where it might not be that far from the Gatorade? Enough people have made the mistake that warnings have had to be issued, and eventually, the entire labeling was changed to make it more obviously for cleaning and not quaffing.
Your Kid at Chuck E. Cheese
Look, there’s a lot of blonde kids in the ball pit, and I can’t see anything because I’ve eaten enough cut-rate cheese pizza that I can barely see through a dairy haze. How was I supposed to notice that this one had a different Spider-Man T-shirt on? I haven’t slept more than two hours in five years.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.