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1. Nothing but Net

In 1997 painter Janet Echelman moved to India on a Fulbright Lectureship—but her paints, which she'd shipped separately, never arrived. One day while walking on the beach, she noticed the massive nets being used by local fishermen; unlike her abstract paintings, "they were able to change and move, and were soft but also incredibly strong," she recalls. She decided to experiment—and, working with the fishermen, produced her first woven sculpture, a jellyfish-like self-portrait she called Wide Hips. Now her enormous, billowing creations hang in cities around the globe, from an airport terminal in San Francisco to a plaza in Porto, Portugal. She chooses her materials—netting, mesh—for fluidity, which contrasts sharply with the urban environments where her pieces live. "In big cities we're surrounded by concrete chasms, by glass and steel," she says. Her sculptures serve "a greater need for softness," providing a shared experience of awe in a hard-edged world.

Echelman's sculpture 1.26 Amsterdam (pictured at left; click here to enlarge the image) captivated passerby from December 2012 to January 2013
—Zoe Donaldson

2. Collective Muscle

At 6:30 A.M. each Wednesday, roughly 400 academics, moms, marathoners, and recovering couch potatoes pour into Harvard Stadium in Boston to run all 37 sections of stairs—1,147 steps total. They're part of the November Project, a massive thrice-weekly group-sweat organized by two former college rowers, Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham, who wanted to stay in shape throughout the winter. What started as friends meeting for simple workouts grew to include friends of friends and strangers, summoned via Facebook and Twitter; to date, more than 2,000 people have participated. But it's not just the newly toned quads (or the price: $0) that keeps everyone coming back. Says Mandaric, "It's the high fives, the vibes, the hugs." (Also in San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin; november-project.com)
—Emma Haak

3. Using bone conduction technology originally developed for military special ops, these headphones transmit vibrations directly from your cheekbones to your inner ear, bypassing the eardrum—and leaving you free to crank up Nicki Minaj without drowning out voices or car horns. ($80; aftershokz.com)

British newspaper editor Alan Rusbridger learned—"over 16 months of snatched private moments"—Chopin's nearly ten-minute-long Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, one of the most difficult piano pieces ever written. Read about Rusbridger's obsession in his inspiring, diary-like new book, Play It Again.

5. That's the Spirit

"At first people tend to think they're either elegant or weird," says Chelsea Briganti, 30, of the edible "glassware" she created with two design school pals. "But in my experience, no one can refuse a bite." Festive, biodegradable Loliware comes in citrusy Bitter Bitters (pairs well with gin cocktails), tangy Salty Lime (great with tequila), and tart Sour Lemon (helps Champagne pop). Made from pectin, a gelling agent derived from fruits, the cups are surprisingly durable, and Briganti hopes they'll help replace disposable plastic—and spark delicious conversations—at parties. ($195 for 48; loliware.com)
—Nicole Frensée

6. Chinese artist Liu Bolin loses himself in his work—literally. In this photo, Hiding in New York No. 7—Made in China, 2012, he had himself painted into a background of toys. Having trouble finding him?

Click to enlarge the image

7. The natural beauty of America, as captured by the U.S. Department of the Interior's glorious Instagram feed (usinterior).

Click to enlarge the image