Knowledge is Power

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Do you ever wonder if useless information is really useless? What if knowing some random fact will get you out of a fix, impress your boss, or lead someone to think you’re the most interesting person in the world? Here are some totally random, useless-seeming facts that might just come in handy some day.


24. Persistent Headaches

Headaches are nothing new. Neither is the use of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Derived from the bark and leaves of willow trees, salicylic acid was used as far back as 2000 BC by the ancient Sumerians to reduce inflammation. Writings from ancient Egypt attest to the use of willow in the treatment of pain, and the “father of medicine,” Hippocrates, recommended a willow bark tea for the reduction of fever.

 

 

23. Dressed for Success

Nowadays it’s mostly ladies who wear leotards, but the knitted garment was actually popularized by a man named Jules Leotard. A Frenchman born in Toulouse, Leotard also invented the flying trapeze, which explains his interest in one-piece exercise wear that would allow for maximum freedom of movement.

22. Onions in the Eye

The eyes of Pharaoh Ramses IV, who died in 1149 BC, were replaced with a couple of small onions during the mummification process. Ancient Egyptians associated the onion with mysticism and though them to possess magic powers.

21. Medicine That Could Make You Sick

In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first live “medical device” for use on humans: maggots. Since the early 1990s, California physician Dr. Ron Sherman has been proving the ability of maggots to clean difficult wounds, prevent bacteria growth, and promote healing. Dr. Robert Kirsner, Director of the University of Miami Cedars Wound Center, reports that he employs maggot therapy in one out of 50 cases. You might not want to bring this up at a dinner party.

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20. Explosive Information

You may know that the first fireworks date back to China’s ancient Han Dynasty, but the original purpose of these displays was not for entertainment, but to ward off evil spirits with the tumultuous noise.

19. Road Rage

Road rage didn’t begin with the invention of the automobile: Road rage actually occurs in the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex. The young Oedipus, while fleeing the city after learning that he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, confronts a group of travelers on the road. An altercation ensues over the right of way, and Oedipus kills most of the travelers—including the man who is actually his biological father. It’s complicated.

18. Hungry Anyone?

Bizarre behavior seems to run in the family. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, father of the current leader Kim Jong-un, proposed to alleviate hunger in his country by breeding giant, dog-sized rabbits. It didn’t work too well: the 12 original breeder bunnies were eaten at the leader’s birthday party in 2007.

17. Cutting Down on Assault

In efforts to reduce the astronomical rate of rape in her country, South African physician Dr. Sonnet Ehlers designed the Rape-axe, a barbed sheath worn internally by women. Described as an “anti-rape female condom” and a modern-day chastity belt, the device was disseminated during the 2010 World Cup soccer games in South Africa. Human Rights Watch has identified South Africa as one of the most rape-prone countries in the world.

16. Eat Your Vegetables!

During World War II, British intelligence spread the rumor that the Royal Air Force pilots enjoyed superior night vision because they ate copious amounts of carrots. The real purpose of the rumor was to keep German intelligence from discovering the Brits’ advanced use of radar. While the vitamin A in carrots is good for eye health, it probably won’t help you detect enemy forces in the dark from an airplane.

15. “There’s a Land I Once Heard Of”

Just about everyone knows the famous song “Over the Rainbow” from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. It was once voted the favorite song of all time in a 2001 poll. In the movie, the song expresses Dorothy’s longing to escape her boring life on the farm. However, the lyricist Yip Harburg was actually reflecting on his own hope for the success of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to lift America from the Great Depression.

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14. Gorgeous Ghosts

Did you ever hear the expression, “That gives me the willies?” Did you ever wonder what the heck “willies” are? It’s likely actually the name for heartbroken ghosts, Wilis, from Slavic folklore. The romantic ballet Giselle features these beautiful zombies prominently. In their long white dresses and wedding veils, the Wilis wander the moonlit forests in search of men to kill. They travel in packs, and their method of killing is to round up the victim and force him to dance until his heart gives out. Creepy, huh?

13. While You Still Have the Willies . . .

Children have always feared the dreaded bogeyman. One theory about the origins of the word will make your hair stand on end. During the Middle Ages, the term “buggy man” was used to describe a particularly grisly line of work. It was the “buggy man’s” job to collect the corpses of the victims of the Black Plague.

12. Extreme Candy

Remember that strangely appealing candy known as NECCO Wafers? Well, NECCO Wafers have been to the ends of the earth and back. It seems they were especially favored by polar explorers, who brought them along on their expeditions. Intrepid explorer Donald MacMillan brought them to the Arctic in 1913. In the 1930s, Admiral Byrd shipped over two and a half tons of NECCO wafers to the South Pole.

11. Button It Up

The first known buttons weren’t actually used to fasten clothing. Dating back 5,000 years, the most ancient buttons, discovered in the Indus Valley in modern-day Pakistan, were made of shell and were used for ornamentation rather than function.

10. Talk about Being Long-winded

Fidel Castro is immortalized in The Guinness Book of World Records for an impressive feat of endurance. The feat was neither athletic nor military, but in 1960 he did manage to talk nonstop for four hours and 29 minutes at the United Nations. Later, in 1986, he exploded that record, speaking for seven hours and 10 minutes at the Communist Party Congress in Havana. I want him for my next filibuster.

9. Don’t forget to . . .

Good dental hygiene was practiced by Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians as far back as 3500 BC. They fashioned brushing tools from twigs, and their toothpaste was made from powders containing burned eggshells, ashes, and ox hooves. The ancient Chinese chewed on aromatic sticks to freshen their breath, and later in the 15th century, they invented the first natural bristle toothbrush, comprised of pig hair and a bamboo handle. Europeans adapted the design, going for a softer approach with horsehair and sometimes feathers.

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8. Torture Treatment

Most people dread the idea of a cold shower—especially first thing in the morning. Research, however, indicates that taking a chilly shower has multiple health benefits. These include boosts to immunity, circulation, and the appearance of skin and hair. A shivery shower can also increase alertness, stimulate weight loss, and ease muscle soreness. Though it might sound counterintuitive, jumping into a cold shower eases stress over the long term and helps relieve symptoms of depression.

7. Just a Castaway

Messages in bottles evoke fairytale stories of fate and love, but the first known message sent in a bottle had far less romantic intentions. Tossed into the Mediterranean by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus in 310 BC, the purpose of the experiment was to study the flow of water currents.

6. Tooth Tales

It’s an time-honored tradition to hide children’s lost teeth under the pillow for the tooth fairy. The origins of this custom, however, involve the Medieval practice of burying children’s teeth in the ground. The idea was that this would (somehow) cause permanent teeth to grow back in the children’s mouths.

5. Sighing for the Wrong Reason

“The Bridge of Sighs,” the name given to the iconic bridge in Venice, suggests mystery and rapturous romance. However, the sighs referred to are anything but romantic. Built in the early 17th century to connect the old and new wings of the Doge of Venice’s prison system, the corridor arching over the Rio di Palazzo was dubbed “The Bridge of Sighs” because doomed prisoners could be heard sighing in anguish as they glimpsed their final view of the outer world before being led down to the dungeon. The name was given to the bridge by the famous poet Lord Byron in the 19th century.

4. Birds and the Bard

From swans and doves to turkeys and sparrows, the works of William Shakespeare contain references to various types of birds. In 1890, an American “bardolator” named Eugene Schieffelin decided to import every kind of bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s works not yet present in the United States.

Included in this group was the starling, and Schieffelin released 100 starlings in New York’s Central Park. The starling adapted well to its new environment, driving some indigenous birds to the edge of extinction. Thanks a lot, Eugene.

3. Clowning Around

As many as one in seven people suffers from “coulrophobia,” the fear of clowns; the prefix “coulro” derives from the ancient Greek word for “one who walks on stilts.” Psychologists offer some explanation for why so many people are not amused by clowns. One reason is that clowns are hidden behind their makeup, which leads to distrust. Others do not quite trust characters who seem to think everything is funny, and many movies have cashed in on the scary side of clowns, which has contributed to the general fear.

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2. What’s Bugging You?

In the United States, the FDA has set standards regarding how many insect parts are allowable in foods. In order for a food to be deemed unsafe, the amount of insect material must reach a Food Defect Action Level. For example, there can be less 225 bug parts in 225 grams of pasta and it’s totally okay.

1.“The higher the hair, the closer to God”

It’s the hairdo sported by some of the world’s most recognizable women, including Brigitte Bardot and Marge Simpson. Yes, it’s the beehive. Invented in 1960 by Chicago beautician Margaret Vinci Heldt at the request of the magazine Modern Beauty Shop, the famous hairstyle was inspired by a black fez embellished with some bumblebee decorations.

 

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