Smiles are everywhere


POSTED: Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One of the keys to success is learning to read human expressions, looking for the subtle displays of emotion that can allow us to gauge what others are thinking and feeling, even if their speech or actions aim to deflect or mislead.

The human face is such a recognizable form that facial recognition software on digital cameras can easily zoom in on features, allowing us to focus in on expressions and freeze them in time.

So it's no wonder that we see human faces in ordinary, everyday objects. We're all aware of the “;man in the moon”; staring down at us, and every so often, we'll learn of a piece of toast or stone bearing images of religious figures or famous faces.

We asked readers to capture their own smiley faces on camera, but not the human kind. We recently requested entries for our “;Smiley Face Contest”; and found those faces turning up in an abundance of places—from tasty treats and night skies to soap bubbles and even bird poop. Nature apparently wants us to be happy because numerous entries included rocks with interesting faces. Other shots included a tree and walkway.

We received a good response, so while we initially promised three winners, we ended up choosing five to receive a T-shirt featuring their images: Jamie Yoshida for a sweet potato tempura smiley face, John D. Dutze for a locker hinge smiley, Colette Shichida for a face found in ice cream, David E. Johnson for calling attention to the smiley face on the bottom of his computer mouse, and Neal Toyama for a curbside smiley face.

MOST OF OUR winners claimed that even before our Spontaneous Smiley story appeared, they noticed smiley faces in ordinary objects like clouds, food, water marks and stains.

Yoshida was overjoyed when she found the face on her mother's sweet potato tempura. “;I've put it on my Facebook page and it's on my computer so that I can laugh. My mom's cooking really makes me happy,”; she said.

Dutze normally finds faces when he's not intentionally looking for them.

“;I saw the face on the locker when I noticed the bright rivets looked like eyes and then the rest of the face came into view. I thought the mouth looked like the face was showing its teeth or wearing braces. My initial thought was that the face was watching me,”; Dutze said. “;When I heard about your contest, I became more aware of my surroundings as I looked for faces. It's a lot harder to find them when you are purposely looking for them. I have seen faces in other things like in the wrinkles of a sheet on a bed or in groups of bubbles while doing dishes.”;

Shichida's ice cream photo was taken in July 2005. “;I'm glad I kept the photos. My sister actually found the cool smile and made me take several pictures before the ice cream melted or the kids got at it,”; she said. “;After she found it, we were talking about that lady who sold that piece of toast with the Virgin Mary's image on eBay in November of 2004.

“;In June of 2005, some people claimed Michael Jackson's face showed up on their toast during verdicts of his case,”; she added. “;Through the years, we've seen faces in all kinds of objects. We used to find quite a few Mickey Mouse heads,”; she added.

Toyama only began looking for smiley faces after reading the story on Ruth Kaiser's Spontaneous Smiley Web site. His photo was taken at the Jack in the Box in Stadium Mall. “;The steppingstones looked like eyes,”; he said. “;Now I look at plants and try to see faces on the leaves.”;

Johnson found his “;computer mouse”; smiley face while doing routine computer maintenance. “;I occasionally clean the pads on the underside of the mouse, and that smiley jumped right out at me,”; he said. “;I had noticed animal shapes in clouds, but really started noticing smileys thanks to your article and visiting Ruth Kaiser's Spontaneous Smiley Web site. I am amazed at all the smiley faces other people have found. They're literally everywhere. I found about six more in my back yard the other day—what fun.”;