Oftentimes, life simply doesn’t make sense. We can’t promise that these 42 fascinating facts will fix all that cosmic confusion, but dang it, we’ll try our best!
Insane But True Facts
42. Old Man River
Mark Twain’s name is, in fact, a pun. Before he was the author of works such as Huckleberry Finn, he was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Eventually, he began writing under the name Mark Twain, which is a riverboat term that measures two fathoms (12 feet) in depth: mark (measure) + twain (two).
41. Goody One Origin
“Good Two-Shoes” is a neologism developed in 1765, and describes an excessive do-gooder. However, the original children’s tale from which it comes, Goody-Two Shoes by John Newbery, is at heart a Cinderella story, which tells of Margery Meanwell, who humbly makes her way through life with only one shoe. A rich man rewards her with another pair, instilling the earning of wealth as a sign of virtue.
40. Opportunities Caine and Go
Michael Caine was unable to physically accept his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Hannah and Her Sisters because he was contractually obligated to complete Jaws: The Revenge. When asked about the critically panned sequel for which he gave up his Oscar, Caine said, “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”
39. A Salty Gesture
Before a match, sumo wrestlers will throw salt in the ring in order to purify the arena; the “dohyo” is considered a sacred space.
38. The Original Baby Driver
The youngest legal age to drive in the United States is 14 years and 6 months old, if you live in South Dakota.
37. Rain on My Parade
Why is it “bad luck” to open umbrellas indoors? One explanation is rooted in the days where umbrellas were mostly about protecting you from the sun. It’s said that to open one of these babies indoors was to insult the Sun God.
36. Time to Change
France is the country with the most time zones—12 to be exact!
35. A Few Checks Short of a Full Board
Alexander Pichushkin is known as the “Chessboard Killer” because of his goal to murder 64 people—the same number as the number of squares on a chessboard. Authorities found a chessboard in the Russian serial killer’s apartment with dates written on 61 of the 64 squares. To date, Pichushkin has only been tried for 49 murders.
34. Presidential Cousins
Although President Franklin D. Roosevelt shares the same name as President Theodore Roosevelt, this is not a George H.W. and George W. Bush situation. They were not father and son, but fifth cousins. However, FDR’s wife was the niece to the older Theodore Roosevelt.
33. Tone Down the Brown
Beer is in brown (or green) bottles because the glass is designed to reduce spoilage from ultraviolet rays.
32. Don’t tell Google (Or Jughead)
The world’s first search engine as actually named Archie. It was created in 1990 at McGill University by Alan Emtage. The name was a play on the word “archive,” which Archie was engineered to sift through.
31. Tots, Not Tongue-Tied
The average six-year-old has an expressive vocabulary of 2,600 words (that means words that they say) and a receptive vocabulary of 20,000-24,000 words (which means words that they can understand).
30. Nine Lives, But Even Greater Memory Space
In general, cats have a sharper memory than dogs. However, their memory is more complicated; cats are also more selective in what they remember, i.e. what is useful to them. In contrast, canines possess a short-term memory of five minutes, a far cry from felines’ 16-hour long memory.
29. Not the One From Sesame Street
The $1,000 US bill exists, and it features President Grover Cleveland on its obverse. On the reverse, the words “One Thousand Dollars.” These rare bills were printed as a small-size Federal Reserve Note batch.
28. Introducing iLamp Mini
Surprisingly, the cigarette lighter was invented before the match! In 1823, a German chemist by the name of Johan Wolfgang Döbereiner invented “Döbereiner’s Lamp,” which was a (highly dangerous) cartridge filled with hydrogen and triggered by a platinum catalyst. Three years later, in 1826, John Walker invented the actual match.
27. Now That’s a Low-Carb Diet
Some adult crane flies do not actually eat at all, as certain breeds only mate and then die. Their eating is done in the phase of their lives where they’re better known as “larva” or “leatherjacket slugs.”
26. A Slice of Royal Origin Story
The archetypal Italian pizza originated from a baker in Naples named Raffaele Esposito. In 1889, Esposito developed this saucy pie from mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes; these ingredients formed the color of the Italian flag in honor of the visiting King Umberto and Queen Margherita.
25. One Step at a Time
If we maintain that the average human takes about 7,500 steps a day and the average life expectancy is 80 years, you’ll have walked about 216,262,500 in your lifetime and 110,000 miles.
24. In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry
Contrary to popular belief, you can, in fact, cry in space. Astronaut Ron Parise confirms that gravity makes it difficult for tears to fall, but they don’t need gravity to form. Grab your space helmet and tissues!
23. So Ugly, Yet So Much Love to Give!
Earthworms have five pairs of (basically) hearts, making for a total of 10 “aortic arches,” which function like the human heart vessel.
22. Koekjes Monster
The word “cookie” is derived from the Dutch word “koekjes,” which itself comes from the Dutch word “koek” for “cake.” As a word, “cookie” was introduced to the English vocabulary in the early 18th century, reflecting early America’s strong roots in Dutch imperialism.
21. The Tree of Life
The largest living single stem tree on earth is General Sherman—a giant sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California, USA.
20. A Peace of Quiet
The Pacific Ocean got its name in the 16th century by explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Seeking a western route to the Spice Islands, Magellan’s small fleet entered an unfamiliar ocean in November, 1520. He called this ocean body “pacific” for the water’s unusual calmness.
19. No(d) Means No
Watch your head! In some countries, shaking your head up and down in an affirmative gesture (aka nodding) can mean the opposite! In places such a Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania, the single nod of a head up (not down) indicates, “No.”
18. Runny Nose, Big Sweat
Why is a dog’s nose always wet? It’s because they don’t have sweat glands like we humans do! Instead, canines secrete sweat from the pads of their feet and their noses, hence your schnauzer’s perpetually moist schnoz.
17. Baby Coming Through (Eventually)
The animal with the shortest known gestation period is the Virginian opossum, who gives birth after just 12 days of pregnancy. The animal with the longest gestation period is the Indian elephant, who gives birth after 22 months.
16. Make America Normal Again
Warren G. Harding, a US Presidential Candidate from 1920, is generally credited with entering the word “normalcy” into the English zeitgeist. Although the word has been in the dictionaries since 1857, it was Harding’s campaign promise to restore life back to pre-World War I conditions (a “Return to Normalcy”) that popularized the concept in the minds of English-speaking people.
15. 4ever Rich?
Based on a comparison study of tax records conducted by two Italian economists, the richest families of Florence in 1427 were still the richest families of Florence in 2011. Although they admit their methodology is problematic (they tracked surnames, which can change over time), the enduring relationship between family name and wealth suggests…issues with the way we conduct income equality.
14. Can’t Hold a Batman Down
With the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale became the first actor to don the cap and cowl of Batman more than twice. It wasn’t that huge a feat—the Batman films have been notoriously unstable when it comes to casting. Michael Keaton is the only other actor to play Bruce Wayne on screen more than once!
13. Hold in Those Sneezes Without Fear
The idea that humans can’t grow back their brain cells (and that holding in sneezes kills them) simply isn’t true. Neurons will grow and change well beyond your first years of development, and well into adulthood.
12. Imagine the Birthday Candles!
According to a data journalist with NPR, the most common birthday for Americans aged 14 to 40 is September 16. Of course, the most least common birthday is February 29th (which only comes every 4 years, because time is an illusion). The second least common birthday is December 25th, followed by January 1st.
11. The First Baby
The first and only child to be born in the White House is Esther Cleveland, the daughter of then-President Grover Cleveland, in 1893. The baby’s origin story is also… interesting: Esther’s mother, Frances Folsom, was 27 at time of her birth; Esther’s father was twice as old. Frances was the daughter of Cleveland’s business partner, and he became her legal guardian upon her father’s death—when Frances was just 11 years old! People had believed Cleveland would marry Frances’s widowed mother, but it was the daughter that
10. Brevity (and Gambling) is the Soul of Wit
Bennett Cerf (the founder of Random House Publishing) bet Theo Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) that Geisel could not write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words. Seuss took him up to task, and the result is his magnum opus, Green Eggs and Ham. No only did Geisel win the bet, the book has gone on to sell more than 200 million copies worldwide.
9. “TBA-Marks the Spot” Didn’t Have the Same Ring to It
What does the “X” in “X-ray” really stand for? When a German physicist, Wilhelm Rontgen, discovered a new form of radiation in 1895, he didn’t know what it was yet. As a placeholder, Rontgen called it “X-radiation”—and the name stuck, just like good radiation should!
8. Spontaneous Combustion: Forestry Edition
Trees get stressed too—a phenomena called “exploding trees” occurs when extremities such as cold, lightning, or fire put too much stress into a tree’s trunk. Cold weather can freeze the tree’s saps, expanding the bark, and then splitting the tree in a gunshot-like burst!
7. Liver? I Can’t Live Without Her!
The liver is the only human organ that is capable of naturally regenerating. You can still regenerate a whole liver from as little of 25% of the natural tissue left.
6. Old Jaws
Sharks have been swimming the oceans for approximately 450 million years. The oldest shark fossils were found in Colorado, and are dated to about 455 million years ago in the Ordovician period. The oldest shark teeth we have are about 400 million years old.
5. Ladies Swear Too
Thus far, only one woman in US history has sworn in a US president. Sarah T. Hughes is the only woman to have administered the presidential oath of office. She swore Lyndon B. Johnson into duty on Air Force One. This ceremony was rushed and done in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
4. Bring Home That Pork Belly
In the 16th century, “bacon” was used to describe all porks in general. Only in the 17th century did bacon begin to refer exclusively to salted or smoked pork belly we’ve come to enjoy into modernity. In Yorkshire and Tamworth, pigs were bred specifically to become bacon.
3. Take Your Time, Eyeballs
On average, it takes 30 to 45 minutes for your eye rods to fully adapt to the nighttime darkness.
2. Drop That Pump!
New Jersey and Oregon are the only US states that ban self-service gas. The intent of these laws is to minimize the risk of deadly accidents by restricting gas pumping to the professionals.
1. Low-Key Nut
Unlike walnuts or almonds, peanuts grow underground. This fact distinguishes the peanut from such “tree nuts” and puts them firmly in the “drupe” botanical family.