Weird Facts


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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.

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'.

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.')

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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'.)

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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).

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.)

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.'

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.

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.
(taken from somewhere else)
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.

Them Sybarins know how to prioritize.