Saturday, June 6, 2009

WEIRD Facts 1

Weird Fact of the Day (that you probably didn't know)
Want to prove yourself the king of strange trivia when you're down the pub? Every day (well, most days), we'll be regaling you with an odd fact about the world - each one of them guaranteed 100% absolutely probably true, and not just taken from Wikipedia*.

You can find the previous batch of Weird Facts here, here and here.

Wednesday, May 27: The city of Richmond, Virginia is a historic one in the world of beer cans. The very first canned beer was sold there in 1935 (a can of Krueger's Finest Beer), while the 'stay-on tab' ring pull was invented there by Dan Cudzik of Reynolds Metals in 1975.

Tuesday, May 26: The equals sign was invented by a Welshman - physician and mathematician Robert Recorde, who created the = sign in 1557, on the grounds that writing 'is equal to' repeatedly was 'tedious'. He chose two parallel lines because 'noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle'.

Thursday, May 21: The first lighter was invented before the first friction-based match. The lighter, known as 'Döbereiner's lamp', was created by German chemist Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner in 1823 - three years before English chemist John Walker invented the friction match.

Wednesday, May 20: The small town of Codell in Kansas was hit by a deadly tornado on May 20th, 1918. Not especially remarkable - except it had also been hit by tornados at around the same time in the evening, on the same day, in 1917 and 1916 as well.

Monday, May 18: It is reputed that when John Hetherington, the inventor of the top hat, first wore his creation in London, it caused a riot in which a child's arm was broken. He was prosecuted for his hat crime, on the grounds that the design was 'calculated to frighten timid people'.

Friday, May 15: The microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii has an interesting effect when it infects rats and mice - it makes become unafraid of cats. This is pretty helpful to the Toxoplasma, which can only sexually reproduce if its host is eaten by a cat.

Thursday, May 14: When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911, one of the people arrested on suspicion of its theft was Pablo Picasso. He'd been implicated by his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire; both men were questioned, and eventually released.

Tuesday, May 12: The 'Sinner's Bible' is a version of the Bible printed in 1631 which, thanks to a typesetting error in the Ten Commandments, said 'Thou shalt commit adultery' instead of 'Thous shalt not commit adultery.' The printers were fined £300, and almost all the copies were destroyed.

Monday, May 11: In 1809, a rise in ticket prices at the newly rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre caused such outrage among theatre-goers that it sparked an ongoing series of riots - the 'Old Price Riots' - which lasted for almost three months.

Friday, May 08: Prompted by Atlanta's 1886 prohibition of alcohol, chemist John S. Pemberton decided to market a non-alcoholic version of his popular medicinal wine, which also included kola nut and coca leaves. As a result, on May 8 that year, the first Coca-Cola in the world was sold.

Thursday, May 07: The oldest condoms ever discovered by archaeologists date back to the 1640s. They were found in a former toilet in Dudley Castle in the West Midlands. They are thought to have been made from fish bladders or animal intestines.

Wednesday, May 06: King Charles VI of France, also known as Charles the Mad, suffered from the delusion he was made of glass. He even had protective iron bars sewn into his clothes to prevent him from shattering if he fell.

Tuesday, May 05: In 1988, Tiáo, a bad-tempered chimpanzee at Rio de Janeiro Zoo, who had a habit of flinging excrement at visitors, was nominated by a satirical magazine to stand in Rio's Mayoral election. He got over 400,000 votes, coming third out of twelve candidates.

Friday, May 01: On May 1st 1978, the first spam email was written by a man named Gary Thuerk. Sent out two days later to around 600 unwilling recipients, it advertised open houses on America's west coast for computer company Digital Equipment Corp. And so a phenomenon was born.

Thursday, April 30: While everybody's worried about a global pandemic, here's something to take your mind off those fears: since 1945, it's thought that at least 50 nuclear weapons have been lost around the world, and were never recovered.

Wednesday, April 29: The largest raindrops ever recorded were almost 1cm in diameter, spotted by scientists over Brazil and the Marshall Islands in 2004. Normally, raindrops over 5mm in diameter break apart - it's thought the 1cm drops may have been formed around large soot particles.

Tuesday, April 28: The legendary baseball player Babe Ruth was reputed to have an innovative method of keeping cool during games - he was said to place an iced cabbage leaf on his head, hidden under his cap.

Related Articles

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* wikipedia
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Monday, April 27: Everybody has unique tongue print. Attempts to use it as a method of biometric identification, however, have been hampered on the grounds that it's a bit messy. But researchers are still working on developing tongue scanners...

Friday, April 24: Contagious yawning - the irresistible urge to yawn when you see someone else do it - isn't confined to humans. Studies of chimpanzees and stumptail macaques suggests that they do it too - in fact, they can be prompted to yawn just by seeing a video of another animal yawning.

Thursday, April 23: In 1869, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Ward Hunt turned up in parliament to deliver the budget, only discover that he'd left his speech at home - thus starting the tradition of Chancellors holding up their red box for everyone to see before leaving.

Wednesday, April 22: The slow loris might be an incredibly cute animal, but it's also poisonous - in an incredibly convoluted way. It secretes a toxin from glands in its elbows, which it must then lick off, coating its teeth in the toxin before biting its target.

Tuesday, April 21: The largest jellyfish ever discovered (a lion's mane jellyfish washed up in Massachusetts Bay in 1965) had a body 7 1/2 ft in diameter, and tentacles a staggering 120ft in length. That's longer than the largest blue whale ever found.

Monday, April 20: Before the invention of modern toothpaste, from Roman times up to as recently as the 18th century, there is evidence that people used to whiten their teeth using urine. Sometimes their own, but mostly other people's.

Friday, April 17: The Schmidt Sting Pain Index is a scientific scale measuring how badly insect stings hurt entomologist Justin Schmidt. It ranges from sweat bees at 1.0 ('Light, ephemeral, almost fruity') to over 4.0 for the bullet ant ('Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.')

Thursday, April 16: On April 16, 1943, Swiss chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman got a tiny amount of a substance he was working with on his skin. He was forced to go home, feeling dizzy and restless, before seeing 'extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.' He'd just accidentally discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD.

Wednesday, April 15: The Vatican has a cash machine that has instructions in Latin - thought to be the only one in the world to use the language. 'INSERTIO SCIDULAM QUAESO UT FACILUNDAM COGNOSCAS RATIONEM' is how it asks for your card, in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, April 14: The phrase 'steal my thunder' comes from dramatist John Dennis, who in 1704 was very proud to have invented a new method for producing thunder sound effects in plays. He was less happy when his play was shut down, and a new production of Macbeth nicked his sound effect technique.

Thursday, April 09: The rings of Saturn fascinated and puzzled skygazers for many centuries. In the late 17th century, theologian Leo Attalius published 'De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba' - his theory that the rings were actually the circumcised foreskin of Jesus Christ, ascended to heaven.

Wednesday, April 08: The 17th century English free-market economist Nicholas Barbon may have pioneered both fire insurance and the modern fire brigade, but he's probably best known for the magnificently unwieldy full name that his father, Praise-God Barbon, gave him: Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon. (He normally just went by Nicholas.)

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