During an ill-advised hike through the Yukon in the dead of winter, a man falls through a sheet of ice, soaking his legs in freezing water. Building a fire is now crucial, but he fumbles with the matches due to creeping hypothermia.
LIFEHACK: Doritos make for surprisingly good kindling. They’re fried in oil, which ignites easily. Also, rubbing a 9-volt battery on steel wool creates a short circuit, sending the battery’s currents coursing through the metals and turning the bundle incandescent in seconds.
AS DEMONSTRATED IN: Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”
SITUATION: An orphan forced to toil endlessly in a savage workhouse is constantly hungry and exhausted. After a game of chance with fellow orphans, he asks for more gruel from the wicked beadle Mr. Bumble, who denies the request.
LIFEHACK: Build a “yes” ladder. People are more inclined to agree to favors if they’ve already answered in the affirmative to a series of lower-stakes inquiries. Start by asking Mr. Bumble simple questions like, “Are orphans good at picking oakum?” before moving to the riskier request for more food.
AS DEMONSTRATED BY: Oliver in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist
SITUATION: Beauty and the pursuits of pleasure rule the life of a handsome young man in Victorian England. Even as his narcissism hurts the people he loves, he becomes more self-obsessed and isolated. The ravages of age are magically transferred to a portrait locked in his attic, and he maintains his good looks and youth as his world crumbles around him, sending him into an emotional tailspin.
LIFEHACK: Make your own face scrub with lemon juice, ground-up oatmeal, sugar, kosher salt, honey, and olive oil. An abrasive face scrub removes dead skin from pores where dirt and grease may be hiding. This at-home remedy keeps wrinkles away without costing you your moral center.
AS DEMONSTRATED BY: Dorian in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
SITUATION: A teen hides out with his Greaser friend Johnny in an abandoned church in the country after Johnny stabs and kills a Soc during a fight. The church catches on fire with a group of children inside, and he and Johnny try to rescue them.
LIFEHACK: Make your own fire extinguisher from household items. Pour 12 ounces of white vinegar into a jar. Loosely place a paper towel over the jar. Wrap a rubber band around the jar’s lip, then scoop 2 tablespoons of baking soda into the towel. Replace the lid. In case of fire, shake the jar, then open and pour over the blaze.
AS DEMONSTRATED BY: Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders
SITUATION: The queen's moody son, Hamlet, is feuding with her new husband, Claudius, whom Hamlet suspects of murdering her ex to assume the throne. Claudius hatches a plan to have Hamlet fence with the son of the king’s council, who will use a poison-tipped lance. He also prepares Hamlet a drink spiked with poison, but in the commotion—whoops!—the queen accidentally drinks the concoction. “No, no, the drink, the drink—O my dear Hamlet! The drink, the drink! I am poisoned,” she says. Then she dies.
LIFEHACK: Keep a hair tie or rubber band around your wrist. Slip it around your drink so you know which is yours.
AS DEMONSTRATED BY: Gertrude in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”
SITUATION: A man keeps hearing the thumping heart of his neighbor, which is driving him crazy, literally. (It doesn’t help that he’s dead, and also, that the man murdered him.)
LIFEHACK: A white noise machine can help even the most restless sleeper. By providing a constant level of volume and frequency, it drowns out bothersome abrupt sounds that force your brain to identify something new, which disrupts your sleep. (A fan can provide the same constant hum.) Also, try layering a rubber floor mat underneath a heavy area rug to soundproof your floor—and whatever you have buried under it.
AS DEMONSTRATED IN: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”
SITUATION: When Jane's bratty cousin John attacks her, she fights back, but his pill of a mother catches her and locks her in the red room, where her beloved uncle died. Later, she's sent to a home for orphans.
LIFEHACK: Pick the lock using hairpins. Bend one 60 degrees a centimeter from its end. Insert in lock; apply torque. Straighten other hairpin. Bite off nub; slide that end into keyhole. Maneuver to catch the lock’s barrel. Open the door; beat up cousin.
AS DEMONSTRATED BY: Jane in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre