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Archive for the ‘Edutainment’ Category

Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The working title of Margaret Mitchell’s novel “Gone With the Wind” was “Ba! Ba! Black Sheep.”

● When Homo sapiens appeared about 100,000 years ago, the species was noted for a smaller body and a larger brain. But even then, Neanderthal brains were larger than ours.

● In 5 BC, Rome became the world’s first city to reach a population of one million. The second city to reach that milestone was London — but not until 1800 AD.

● The majestic lion statues in front of the main branch of the New York Public Library are named Patience and Fortitude. They were carved from pink Tennessee marble and erected in 1911.

● At the US Constitutional Convention in 1787, the delegates thought it would be inappropriate to count a slave as a whole person when determining a state’s population. In their wisdom, they decided that a slave would count as 3/5 of a free citizen.

● The ionosphere, so named for the abundance of ionized atoms and free electrons within it, begins about 30 miles up and extends to the edge of space (roughly 60 miles above the planet’s surface). Radio waves bounce off the ionosphere, which is what makes radio communications possible.

● The body of an adult human contains about 100,000 miles of blood vessels.

● The tragic Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh (poverty, depression, suicide) created almost 900 oil paintings, but sold only a few. The only one known by name was “Red Vineyard at Arles,” which was purchased by the sister of one of Van Gogh’s friends.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● According to the US government, the average dollar bill remains in circulation for 6.6 years.

● Despite its name, the Spanish Flu of 1918 had no connection to Spain. During World War I, Spain remained neutral and did not observe a media blackout. Thus, it reported freely on the pandemic, which led most of the world to associate Spain with the flu.

● The heart of an adult blue whale weighs 400 pounds.

● The only species of penguin found north of the equator is the Galápagos penguin of, you guessed it, the Galápagos Islands. In this case, however, “north” is a stretch; the islands literally straddle the equator.

● Cornell University in Ithica, New York, offers a degree in Enology and Viticulture, which is the study of wine and wine-making and the science of grape-growing.

● The flags of 29 countries feature the colors red, white, and blue.

● A desert is an ecosystem that receives less than 10 inches of precipitation annually. About 20 percent of the earth’s surface is classified as desert.

● Apple trees are native to Asia, and they were not found in North America until early European colonists brought them here. Soon, apple pie became a symbol of American culture, as opposed to native cultures and later immigrants, who cooked apples in other ways. Hence the expression “as American as apple pie.”

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Toyota Corporation was founded in 1937 by Japanese inventor Sakichi Toyoda to manufacture automatic looms to weave cloth.

● The smallest bones in the human body are the malleus, incus, and stapes bones located in the middle ear. They carry external sounds to your brain.

● The people of Turkey drink the most tea annually, consuming about seven pounds of tea leaves per person. Ireland is in second place with about five pounds per person.

● A cria (Spanish for baby) is a young llama, alpaca, vicuña, or guanaco, all of which are Latin American relatives of the camel. Llamas and alpacas are domesticated, whereas vicuñas and guanacos are wild, but are protected as endangered species.

● Wayne Allwine, a sound effects specialist for Disney Studios, was the voice of Mickey Mouse for 32 years — from 1977 until his death in 2009. In 1991, he married co-worker Russi Taylor, the voice of Minnie Mouse.

● Sweden has not been involved in a war since 1814.

● English is the native language of 350 million people. English is the second language of two billion people.

● The first know automobile accident occurred in 1891 in Ohio City, Ohio, when John William Lambert lost control of his vehicle and hit a hitching post. Lambert was driving a Lambert, a gasoline-powered, three-wheeled vehicle of his own design. He went on to hold over 600 automotive patents, but the Lambert brand couldn’t keep up with Ford et al and fizzled.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Russia is massive, extending across eight time zones and bordering 14 other countries. But its economy is puny — roughly equivalent to the combined GDPs of Belgium and the Netherlands.

● The average automobile contains 30,000 parts, counting bolts and screws.

● The main ingredients of the spread Nutella are sugar, cocoa, and hazelnuts. A medium-size jar of Nutella (26 oz.) contains about 97 hazelnuts. Annually, 25 percent of the world’s hazelnut crop is used to manufacture Nutella.

● Europa, the fourth-largest of Jupiter’s 80 known moons, is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon. Its surface is believed to be largely a crust of ice. Beneath it, scientists now think, is a liquid ocean that holds more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

● The first sharks evolved about 400 million years ago, which makes them 50 million years older than the earliest known trees.

● In the card game of whist, and in the game of bridge that evolved from it, a yarborough is a hand of 13 cards with none higher than a nine. The term is named for the 2nd Earl of Yarborough (1809-1897), who regularly bet 1000-1 against being dealt such a hand. He usually won; the probability of being dealt a yarborough is 1 in 1,828.

● The rubber band was invented in 1845 by Stephen Perry of the rubber manufacturer Messers Perry and Co., London.

● Polar bears have two layers of fur: a dense undercoat for insulation and a coarse, protective outer coat. Both layers are colorless. The bears appear white because the hairs are transparent, and they reflect all wavelengths of light instead of absorbing some and manifesting color. Polar bear skin is black, which absorbs sunlight for warmth. Mother Nature is a smart cookie.

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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● When King James V of Scotland died in 1542, his daughter Mary Stuart became Queen of Scotland — at the age of six days old.

● Cheese is the world’s most commonly shoplifted food item.

● Every year, scientists discover about 18,000 new species of plants and animals, half of which are insects.

● In 1887, a partial skeleton of the three-horned dinosaur Triceratops was unearthed by geologist George L. Cannon near Denver. Dinosaurs being a bit of a new concept in those days, Cannon thought the bones were those of an especially large and unusual bison. Only after a third and more complete skeleton was found did Cannon see his mistake.

● The National Park System consists of 423 sites, 63 of which are full-blown National Parks.

Bonasa umbellus, the ruffed grouse, is a game bird native to Canada and the eastern US. Umbellus is Latin for umbrella or sunshade, referring to the bird’s showy neck plumage. Bonasa comes from the Latin words bonus (good)and assum (roasted).

● An ant can lift about 50 times its own weight.

● The word orangutan comes from the Malaysian words orang, meaning “person,” and hutan, meaning “forest.” It usually is translated as “man of the forest.”

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The first novel depicting time travel was “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain, 1889.

● Alexander the Great had a favorite horse, Bucephalus, which meant “ox-head” because of a branding mark depicting the head of an ox. Bucephalus died in battle in 326 BC. Alexander buried him with full honors and founded the city of Bucephala in Pakistan as a memorial.

● All nine species of the flowering plant Datura are poisonous if eaten and can cause fever, hallucinations, psychosis, and even death. Datura also is known as thornapple, jimsonweed, devil’s weed, and hell’s bells.

● In October 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened an exhibit featuring works by Henri Matisse, and they managed to hang one of them upside down. It remained that way for 47 days until an observant visitor informed MOMA of the error. To be fair, the work in question, “Le Bateau” (the boat) is a simple paper cutout depicting a sailboat and its reflection, so…

● The Akita dog breed originated in Japan in the 1500s. In the past, Akitas were used to hunt elk, bear, and wild boar and often were the companions of samurai warriors.

● In informal use, a jiffy is a rough measure of time that means “real quick” or “right away.” Technically, however, a jiffy is a precise unit of time: how long it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum. The answer, as determined by chemist Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875-1946) in the early 1900s, is one-trillionth of a second.

● C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy all died on November 22, 1963.

● The KattenKabinet is an art museum in Amsterdam dedicated to works that depicts cats. On display are paintings, sketches, sculptures, etc. by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rembrandt, and others. The museum was founded in 1990 by Bob Meijer in honor of his cat J. P. Morgan.

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Vikings

A few years ago, I got serious about researching the Smith family tree, and I did much better than I expected. I was able to trace us back to a Danish Viking king born circa 760 AD. I stopped tracing there, but may continue at some point.

A Danish Viking 1,200 years ago. Awesome.

The truth is, I knew very little about the Vikings, beyond the fact that they were Scandinavian pirates who terrorized Europe for a time. So, like any red-blooded American, I did my research on the internet and learned some interesting stuff. Which, with luck, is accurate.

Historians mark the Viking Age as from about 790 AD to 1066 AD. Those were the Dark Ages in Europe, and most people lived in small groups — clans and fiefdoms that were subservient to, and more or less under the protection of, local strongmen.

Early on, many of the Norse clans became skilled sailors who ventured out in specialized longships. These highly-maneuverable vessels were equally at home on the open sea and in rivers and bays.

The Norsemen were aggressive and badass by nature, and they soon discovered that the coasts of Europe were dotted with cities and towns that were poorly defended and easy marks for plunder and piracy.

The word “vikingar,” by the way, means “pirates” in the early Scandinavian languages.

Numerous Viking raiding parties took to the sea, led by members of the strongman class. The longship crews primarily were farmers and other ordinary dudes attracted to the pirate life for the adventure and the booty.

History mentions other motivations, such as overpopulation and competition for farmland, but it makes sense that the primary cause was the presence of helpless victims, ripe for plundering.

Further, the Vikings probably made exploratory voyages to size things up before the major raiding began. But the first two known Viking raids of Britain were memorable.

In 789 AD, a group of Danish Vikings landed on the Isle of Portland, off the southern coast of England. They were met by a local official who assumed they were traders and told them they owed a business tax. The Vikings promptly killed him, plundered the island villages, and returned home with their spoils.

In 793 AD, Vikings from Norway raided an abbey on the island of Lindisfarne off the northeast coast of England. They carried away the church treasures, took some of the monks as slaves, and killed the rest.

Reportedly, the raid on the abbey gave rise to an Anglo-Saxon prayer: Free us from the fury of the Northmen, Lord.

Over the next couple of centuries, what began as hit-and-run raids evolved into conquests and colonization. Norsemen spread across Britain, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Normandy, Iceland, Greenland, and along the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea.

Briefly, Vikings settled in Newfoundland and thus were the first Europeans to reach North America.

Not all of their intended victims were helpless. At various times, the Franks on the mainland, the Frisians on the North Sea, and some Anglo-Saxon tribes in the British Isles were able to repel the Viking raiders. In such cases, the Vikings simply raided elsewhere.

But the world was changing. Most of Scandinavia converted to Christianity, and clans across Europe were merging and evolving into nations. With fewer helpless victims around, the Viking threat subsided.

In effect, the Viking Age slowly sputtered out over several centuries. But many experts define its end as the historic year of 1066 AD.

In early 1066, the Anglo-Saxon King Harold repelled an invasion of England by a Viking force from Norway.

But Harold had little time to celebrate. Within months, the forces of the Duke of Normandy, AKA William the Conqueror, defeated Harold’s army at the Battle of Hastings, ushering in the Norman conquest of England.

Ironically, William the Conqueror was of Viking descent.


A badass Viking longship.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Mormon Lake in northern Arizona has a surface area of 12 square miles, but averages only about 10 feet deep. During dry seasons, the lake sometimes disappears entirely.

● Caesar salad was invented in Mexico.

● Mike Ditka played pro football as a tight end for the Bears, Eagles, and Cowboys from 1961 to 1972, then coached until 1999. He won Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach, and head coach.

● The Ford Mustang is named after the P-51 Mustang, the leading propeller-driven fighter-bomber in WWII. The Mustang also was the main fighter at the beginning of the Korean War, but jets such as the F-86 soon succeeded it.

● Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands choose not to observe Daylight Saving Time. Mostly due to their locations, they say they have enough daylight as it is.

● A dragonfly eats about 300 mosquitoes a day.

● The elements of the periodic table are organized by atomic number, which is the number of protons in the nucleus.

● The Roman emperor Caligula, son of the Roman general Germanicus, was born Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus. As a child, he was given the nickname Caligula, which means “little soldier’s boot,” by his father’s troops.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● Leonardo da Vinci invented scissors.

● Originally, John Hughes planned to release his 1985 film The Breakfast Club as The Lunch Bunch.

● The growling, gurgling, rumbling sound your stomach makes due to gas and fluid moving around is called borborygmus (pronounced bor-borIG-mus).

● Edwin Aldrin, Sr., father of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, was an eyewitness to the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. 63 years later, as a NASA consultant, he watched on live TV as his son walked on the moon. Bonus fact: the maiden name of Buzz Aldrin’s mother was Marion Moon.

● 25 cities in seven countries are named Rome. 35 more are named Roma.

● The Trump administration twice tried to give Dolly Parton a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and twice she declined. She said Biden approached her recently, too, but she probably would decline because accepting it now would seem political.

● In Alabama, it is illegal to dress as a priest or nun.

● Most caterpillars have 12 eyes, six on each side of the head. The eyes are simple structures thought to be only vaguely light-sensitive. When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or moth, it develops compound eyes capable of seeing details (such as pollen) in the ultra-violet spectrum.

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

● The Roman emperor Caligula (reigned 37-41 AD) announced that he intended to appoint his horse Incitatus to the position of Roman Consul. However, he was assassinated before making the appointment official. Historians say Caligula was implying that a horse could perform the duties of a politician.

● In 1986, Wimbledon began using yellow tennis balls instead of white because yellow is more visible to TV viewers.

● Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet high, is the world’s tallest mountain, but there’s a catch. Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which is only 20,702 feet tall, sits atop a bulge in the earth’s crust and sticks out about 7,000 feet further into space than Everest.

● American Gothic, the famous 1930 painting by Grant Wood, depicts a farmer and his daughter standing in front of a house with a large Gothic-style window. The model for the daughter was Wood’s sister Nan, the model for the farmer was Dr. Byron McKeeby, Wood’s dentist, and the house is a real place Wood spotted in Eldon, Iowa — and which is open to the public today.

● The first crime for which Billy the Kid was arrested and jailed was stealing clothes from a laundry. He escaped jail by climbing up a chimney.

● In 1964, in Gene Roddenberry’s first treatment of the original Star Trek TV series, the story took place aboard the starship S.S. Yorktown commanded by Captain Robert April. By the time the show premiered in 1966, Roddenberry had changed the name of the starship to the Enterprise, and Robert April became Captain Christopher Pike, the predecessor to James T. Kirk.

● Pumpkins are grown on every continent except Antarctica.

● The official national animal of Scotland is the unicorn. Scotland has long considered unicorns to be symbols of power and purity, and they first appeared on royal coats of arms in the 1500s.

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