Sunday, June 7, 2009

WEIRD Facts 2

Tuesday, April 07: The first ever recorded sale of a friction match took place on this day in 1827 - invented by British chemist John Walker, they originally sold under the catchy name of 'Sulphurata Hyper-Oxygenata Frict.' (This was quickly shortened to the more manageable 'Friction Lights'.)

Monday, April 06: People are asked to say 'cheese' when having their photo taken because it turns the mouth up, making them smile. In the 19th century, the fashion was for stern, tight-mouthed expressions instead - one studio made people say 'prunes' to achieve the desired effect.

Friday, April 03: In the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919, a huge tank of molasses burst on a warm day, sending a 15ft high wave of sweetener through the neighbourhood at an estimated 35mph. The molasses flood killed 21 people and injured around 150.

Thursday, April 02: Ernest Vincent Wright's 1939 novel 'Gadsby: Champion of Youth' is notable for not using the letter 'e' once in its 50,000+ words. This, in turn inspired other novels that did the same thing - most notably, George Perec's 'La Disparition'.

Wednesday, April 01: The first commercial product ever bought with a barcode was a ten-pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum, at a store in Ohio, on June 26th 1974. The historic packet of gum now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, March 31: A U.S. Park Ranger called Roy C. Sullivan holds the record for being hit by lightning the most times - surviving an impressive seven strikes between 1942 and 1977. Which makes him either very lucky or very unlucky.

Monday, March 30: The Torino Scale measures how likely an asteroid is to destroy the Earth - it runs from the comforting 1 ('no unusual level of danger') to the less-cheerful 10 ('may threaten the future of civilization as we know it'.) Fortunately, nothing's ever ranked more than a 4... so far.

Wednesday, March 25: Newsreel wars! In the 1930s, when Pathé won the rights to film a cricket test match at the Oval, rivals Movietone put up large mirrors to reflect the sunlight into their cameras, and tried to distract the players with a hot-air balloon.

Hedy Lamarr

Tuesday, March 24: Film actress Hedy Lamarr, who starred in many Hollywood films in the 1940s, was far more than just a glamorous face - she also helped invent a communications system that led to much of today's wireless technology. (This fact is part of our contribution to Ada Lovelace Day - see here for more details.)

Monday, March 23: Tzar Paul I of Russia, who was assassinated on March 23 1801 by being stabbed, strangled and trampled to death, had a profound aversion to English-style hats, and banned 'round hats' during his reign - a law aggressively enforced by the police.

Friday, March 20: From the crazy scientist files: Russian biologist Ilya Ivanov spent most of the 1920s trying to breed a human-ape hybrid. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't successful (and was eventually arrested after he fell out of favour in Stalin's Russia).

Wednesday, March 18: If you've ever wondered what the term for the little dot above lower case 'i's and 'j's is: it's called a tittle. (Technically, a tittle is any small printed mark.)

St Patrick's Day

Tuesday, March 17: While St. Patrick's Day is often associated with copious drinking, until the 1970s pubs in Ireland were actually closed on March 17. (Also, if you're wearing green today, you might like to know that traditionally St. Patrick was associated with a dark blue colour.)

Monday, March 16: The Haskell Free Library and Opera House holds the unusual distinction of having its stage in a different country to the audience - it straddles the USA/Canada border, so the singers are performing in Quebec to an audience sitting in Vermont.

Friday, March 13: In the early 1800s medical student Stubbins Ffirth attempted prove (wrongly) that yellow fever wasn't contagious, by sitting in a 'vomit sauna' filled with fumes from the sick of yellow fever sufferers. Amazingly, this was least disgusting vomit-related experiment he performed.

Thursday, March 12: The path that led scientist Joseph Priestly to discover oxygen was started when he moved next door to a brewery, became fascinated by the bubbles rising in the beer vats, and asked the brewers if he could do some experiments with it.

Wednesday, March 11: George de Mestral, the Swiss electrical engineer who invented Velcro (after being inspired by burrs sticking to his clothes while out hunting) spent ten years labouring on the idea before he had a working product.

Tuesday, March 10: The ancient Greek colonial city of Sybaris had their plumbing priorities in the right place. They are said to have had pipelines that brought wine from the countryside vineyards directly into the city and their homes.

Thursday, March 5: The crow's nest of a ship is so called because, in the early days of seafaring, crows were kept atop the mast as a navigational tool in case of bad weather - the sea-hating birds would always head straight for land.

Wednesday, March 4: In 'The Descent Of Man', Charles Darwin described monkeys with hangovers after drinking beer left out by trappers: 'On the following morning they were very cross and dismal; they held their aching heads with both hands, and wore a most pitiable expression.'

Tuesday, March 3: If you took all the approximately 60,000 miles of blood vessels out of a human body and laid them end-to-end, they would stretch around the world twice. And you would probably be arrested.

Monday, March 2: Napoleon Bonaparte's wedding night ran into some trouble when, as he and his wife Josephine tried to consummate their marriage, Josephine's dog bit him hard on the leg. Apparently the animal was unhappy at having a new person sharing the bed.

* Okay, some of them might be from Wikipedia. But we'll make sure there's a citation.

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