While researching our upcoming cover story on "The Future," I came across an astrophysicist with the most fantastic name in human history: Fritz Zwicky.
As early as 1933, [he] was arguing that the universe must have some form of "dark matter"—stuff that emits almost no electromagnetic radiation (such as light or x-rays) and can't be picked up by telescopes. In other words, invisible objects. But it wasn't until decades later that astrophysicists realized how much of the... READ ON
You've got just enough time to work up an entry for the Blogger SAT Challenge, which ends today at noon:
The New York Times recently published sample top-scoring essays from the new written component of the SAT test in order to show the type of work that was likely to score highly. Several bloggers, as well as the Times itself, have noted that the writing isn't exactly compelling. ... Chad laid down the gantlet threw down the gauntlet:
Somebody ought to get a bunch of bloggers together, and give them... READ ON
Oh, what troubled times we live in: our public officials can't pronounce "nuclear" and don't know what the Internet is, our youths confuse their senators with members of Bon Jovi, our celebrities are... well... you get the point. So this week, and from now on, we're making it our mission to reduce idiocy -- and we need your help!
To win this week's prize (a fabulous tool for cutting down on ignorance if ever there was one), send us the most egregious example of idiocy you've heard lately -- the biggest,... READ ON
Astronauts on the space shuttle Atlantis, due to come home tomorrow, have apparently spotted an alien flying saucer unidentified flying object:
NASA engineers are checking into a baffling sight of a mystery object below the shuttle that mission control spotted at about 2:45 a.m EDT Tuesday with a video camera in the shuttle's cargo bay. The object, which circled the Earth in the same orbit as the shuttle and is of undetermined size, probably came out of the shuttle's cargo bay because some jets had just... READ ON
If you've never been to Martha's Vineyard -- which, until this past weekend, I hadn't -- you might assume it's purely a sort of prep heaven, a land of Cape Codders and lobster-embroidered socks. Which it is, and I have the socks to prove it. Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn that the Vineyard, and specifically the town of Aquinnah on its southwest corner, is also known for three more unexpected attractions: the Wampanoag Native American tribe, a spectacular stretch of clay cliffs, and naked people.... READ ON
Three of the images below are Picasso sketches. Three were made under a U.S. government program testing the effects of LSD. if you can tell which are which you're doing better than we... READ ON
First it was the kangaroos, now it's the elephants that are joining the sexual revolution:
Elephants in the Indian state of West Bengal are to undergo a birth control scheme due to a lack of funds for their upkeep, the state government says. Of West Bengal's 400 elephants, nearly 70 are tame and in service to private owners or the state forest department. ... The Bengal Forest department spends more than 60m rupees (nearly $130,000) annually on the upkeep of the elephants in its service. ... Veterinary... READ ON
Maybe you've heard, but this week's contest is a bigger deal than usual: Over at Worth 1000, we're looking for a Photoshop artiste to design our upcoming magazine cover on "The Future." The winner gets 500 bucks and, if he's up to it, the satisfaction of seeing his design on newsstands all over the country. In that spirit, I thought I'd offer up our week in review magazine-cover style -- with the kind of sensationalist headlines that only a checkout-counter denizen could love.
GANGSTA SEX SECRET: GIVE... READ ON
I've never heard an Elvis cover I liked better than the original... until now. Meet Dr. Jukka Ammondt, who sings the sweet songs of the King in Latin and Sumerian. The oeuvre includes "It's Now Or Never / Nunc hic aut numquam," "Can't Help Falling in Love / Non adamare non possum," and "Teddy Bear / Ursus Taddeus." Apparently, this isn't as much of a mismatch as it might seem:
Elvis would have fitted just fine in the Sumerian society, for love songs and intoxicating music were important parts of the... READ ON
No, it's not a giant shell looming over the horizon. According to NASA, it's a time-lapse picture of the stars, and you can make one yourself pretty easily:
"Fix your camera to a tripod, lock the shutter open, and you can make an image of star trails - graceful concentric arcs traced by the stars as planet Earth rotates on its axis. Of course, the length of the star trails will depend on the exposure time. While exposures lasting just five minutes produce a significant arc, in about 12 hours a given... READ ON
I'm not sure whether I trust this Daily Mail article, given what happened with the last one we linked to, but...
A goldfish on show at a museum has undergone cosmetic surgery after visitors said it looked ugly.
The fish, which lives in a pond at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, went under the knife to remove an unsightly cyst from its eye. Although the growth was harmless, some visitors had expressed concern about the creature's appearance and it was removed as a precaution, along with one... READ ON
I warned you: If you gave me good advice about where to go in Washington, I'd take it. Tucker Steele tipped me off to the spy museum, which turned out to be the best museum ever -- where else can you crawl around in a ventilation shaft, pretending to be a Bond girl (or Bruce Willis, I guess) and eavesdropping on the other visitors? I was so entertained that I practically had to be pried out of the museum by security guards -- apparently, I hadn't yet mastered the art of sneaking into places I didn't belong... READ ON
Seeing as how the whole "diplomatic talks about Borat" thing turned out to be false...
The reports were strongly denied by Roman Vassilenko, the Press Secretary at the Kazakhstan Embassy. "The meetings have nothing to do with Cohen," he told ABC News.
... how much are we betting that Sacha Baron Cohen planted... READ ON
The gangsta molls of Pereira, Colombia, have apparently decided to stage a real-life version of Lysistrata, the play by Aristophanes in which the women of Sparta, Boeotia, and Corinth withhold sex in order to end the Peloponnesian... READ ON
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: there's a museum out there for everyone. Behold the Original Condiment Packet Museum (do you think there's a competing unoriginal... READ ON
Yesterday I noticed that we had seven readers in a city I'd never heard of -- Torrimpietra, Italy. Best I can tell from some Googling, it looks a little like this picture (and if that's the case, Torrimpietran readers, you've got a new best friend who wants to come stay with you). But I really can't seem to find all that much more information, except for this bittersweet story of a local Nazi resister who was recently considered for sainthood:
As a young police officer, Salvatore D'Acquisto was assigned... READ ON
I tend to be a skeptic about, oh, everything, so this morning, when I noticed a ridiculous-sounding theory about diet soda on my bottle of Fruitwater (clearly a party with a vested interest), I had to check it out:
"Yes, they have no calories but the artificial sweeteners may trick our bodies into craving more sweets. Know someone who says they're addicted to diet... (you fill in the blank)?"
I do know someone who says that -- me. I drink six Diet Cokes a day, and right now I'm also drinking my... READ ON
Don't blame us for the retina-searing picture of Borat in a thong at this link -- but if you click it you'll get one heck of an amusing story:
US President George Bush is to host White House talks on British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen, 35, creator of Ali G, has infuriated the Kazakhstan government with his portrayal of Borat, a bumbling Kazakh TV presenter. ...
President [Nursultan] Nazarbayev has confirmed his government will buy "educational" TV spots and print advertisements about the "real... READ ON
It's too bad little Hisahito has already been named, because I just found a moniker that I think would have suited him perfectly:
"Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced... READ ON
It turns out that dirty deeds really are -- people who feel like they've done something unethical feel the need to bathe more often, according to new research in Science:
Liljenquist and her colleague Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto in Canada first asked undergraduate student volunteers to focus on ethical or unethical deeds from their past. The volunteers were more likely to interpret the word fragments "W _ _ H" as "wash" and "S _ _ P" as "soap" if they had been thinking of an unethical deed,... READ ON
What do Star Trek, the Monkees, pediatrics, being upside down, and D-Day have in common?
Among other things, they're all in this clip from CNN featuring our fearless leader,... READ ON
The six-day-old Japanese heir to the throne -- who, we're sad to say, we can't show here because he's being hidden away from photographers, Suri-Cruise style -- is no longer nameless. His parents (at left) have decided to call him Hisahito, or "serene one," reports the Times of London. Apparently, choosing a moniker is not nearly as simple as buying a baby-name book if you happen to be the parent of a future Chrysanthemum emperor:
Ordinary Japanese couples find it hard enough to choose a name for a baby... READ ON
The king of Tonga, whose name is in the headline of this post (you don't think I'm actually typing that again, do you?) recently passed on. He was identified in this great Telegraph obit as "the world's only Methodist sovereign and for many years, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world's heaviest" -- check out the awesome evidence at left -- but we at mental_floss remember him for another record of sorts: he was responsible for "history's most minor act of colonialism." From our How-To... READ ON
While working on our upcoming cover story on "The Future" (more about that later today from Mangesh), I ran across the Transition, which was the closest thing I'd ever seen to a flying car. The closest, at least, until I found this on the... READ ON
Check your local library -- 500 of them around the world are hosting talks about freedom and democracy... READ ON
Our research editor, Sandy Wood, reads the newspaper with a red pen -- even the USA Today sports section, apparently, because in the course of his after-the-fact checking this weekend, he found a doozy of a mistake:
"Like many of you, I take part in a 'friendly' fantasy football league each week, so I made sure to pick up last Friday's USA Today, which included a 22-page preview of the NFL season - and noticed something very, very wrong.
In 2005, there were bad teams. Horrible teams. Four of them,... READ ON
Probably the most authentic, and quite possibly the most moving, September 11th material on the... READ ON
When we saw the first entry in our "create a new holiday" contest, we were tempted to award it first prize then and there:
"I hereby propose a holiday honoring one thing we all have in common, and something that, without which, we would not be here. The placenta. So let's have a happy Afterbirthday! The traditional celebratory decoration calls for water balloons."
Here's the thing, though -- the more we got to thinking about our first Afterbirthday Party, the more we were plagued by visions of... READ ON
Blogging will continue as normal today, but we'll be linking to a number of respectful memorials and essays across the web. Let's start with 2,996: one blogger and one tribute for every... READ ON
Behold, the answers to our football... READ ON
With the football season fully starting up this weekend, our brilliant research editor Sandy Wood has devised the ultimate test for proving that you (a) love the game and (b) actually know something about it. Without Googling, tell us which NFL team bears each of the following stripes on its... READ ON
Yes, it's yet another Baby Toupee post!
We're told that, now that the meme has rocketed around the Internet, the Baby Toupee website (which we think we were the first blog to feature) is being inundated with hits. We're, um, wigging out about this, especially because the genius who came up with BT is one of our readers! (Hi Graham!)
The toupees themselves will be ready to ship in a month or so, but if you just can't wait to see what your baby will look like with a lush Samuel L. Jackson-style mane,... READ ON
I've heard of doctors making after-the-fact diagnoses on historical figures like Alexander the Great (there's more about that in our upcoming project, Med School in a Box), but this is just ridiculous:
"The British seaside's most angry man, the notorious Mr. Punch, may have trouble controlling his temper due to a medical condition affecting his growth, a researcher has claimed. David Bryson, teaching fellow at Derby University, thinks Mr. Punch - famed for beating wife Judy with a stick - is so... READ ON
No, that's not the star of the upcoming "Snakes on a Plane 2: Head to Head" -- it's a creature that was really creeping out a reader named Susan, who was curious:
There is a two-headed animal exhibit opening soon in St. Louis. How often are two-headed animals born/hatched? What are their chances for survival in the wild?
Let's take this apart:
1. There doesn't seem to be a body that keeps track of these things (or, astonishingly, even a single website devoted to two-headed animals -- can someone... READ ON
One of our readers (okay, it was my friend Lisa) noticed a mention of "National Hangover Day" in our new-holiday contest -- a day of bleary-eyed and queasy celebration on which "V8 will be vastly discounted." Lisa wanted to know why V8 juice and other tomato products seem to cure hangovers -- and, as an ardent subscriber to that theory, I did too! It seems the theory hasn't been fully tested by science, but there are several reasons a big glass of the red stuff might help on a rough morning:
1. A lot of... READ ON
CNN published two stories today about small towns in Maine -- one a travel story about a "New England classic" village, the other a horrific story of a quadruple murder at a bed & breakfast. Which story do you think this opening sentence goes with?
No one strays into Castine. It's not on the way to anyplace, and it contains only a handful of shops. But in this almost-too-perfect New England town... [a] church bell tolls in the distance.
Here are both stories, if you want to check your guess. My husband... READ ON
Half an hour left... unless you're in, say, Fiji (in which case there's 8.5 hours to go), Samoa (7.5), or Reykjavik (you missed it by 3.5), all of which we know thanks to this handy tool for the impatient office worker.
Also, is it Friday yet?
via... READ ON
I'm headed to D.C. this coming weekend with some friends, and although our itinerary is already full of Important Monuments and Museums, we're also hoping to see some more unexpected stuff -- the kind of bizarre semi-secret destinations that might turn up in an Armchair Field Trip, like the world's largest thermometer or Bubblegum Alley. Any ideas? (Keep in mind you'll probably have to read about them next... READ ON
I've gotten back some strange foreign coins at the cash register before, but I've never been quite so lucky as Lynn Moore of Sumter, S.C., who found this one in her handful of change at a Bi-Lo. The uneven edges and heavy weight apparently mean it's an ancient Hebrew coin that predates modern mints. One thing's for sure, says Moore: "It's definitely not a penny."
Actually, another thing's for sure: It's definitely not a West African Kissi penny either, as you'll already know if you've read "10 Coins... READ ON
If you read our post on NASA's Mars simulation on Devon Island and felt the urge to follow (space)suit, you're in luck. The Mars Society, led by rocket scientist Robert Zubrin, is launching a four-month sim of its own next May, and it's looking for volunteers.
Six of the crew members will have to stay "in sim" for the duration - meaning that they'll follow the same procedures that a crew on true Mars would have to contend with. They'll have to wear bulky "spacesuit simulators" to venture outside the... READ ON
Clearly, she is wearing a Baby... READ ON
Labor Day has passed, which can only mean one thing for department stores -- it's time to start planning the Hannuramakwanzmas (or, if you prefer, Chrismukkah) holiday displays. (You think we're kidding? Remember, Harrod's was practically celebrating Christmas in July.) Of course, here at mental_floss, we've had holidays on the brain for the last two months; our new issue features 10 Religious Holidays Not Yet Exploited by Hallmark. After the jump, you'll find one of my personal favorites, but before that,... READ ON
Proof that no one will ever be able to replace Steve Irwin: This poor guy apparently tried and found the croc rather, shall we say, disarming.
(And, since David feels we need a warning: If you can't tell from the abundance of bad puns, this video has a really, really unhappy... READ ON
Judging from your entries in our "coin a new word" contest, last week you had two things on the brain: politics and Pluto. Quite a few of the entries were either partisan (right and left alike) or planetary, such as:
Plutonic relationship: A romantic relationship that has recently been downsized to "just friends."
Venus envy: Jealously of another celestial body's recognition as a planet. ("Pluto, recently having been downgraded, was suffering from a serious case of Venus envy when Neptune came... READ ON
Here at mental_floss, we're still reeling from the news that Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin was killed yesterday. He, like us, thought that education could be joyous and goofy -- in fact, when this New York Times multiple-choice quiz asked readers his name (it's question 6), it offered our very own Will Pearson as one of the wrong answers. Rather than send Will down to Australia to continue Steve's legacy, we thought we'd offer up some facts about Steve's favorite animal as a tribute:
There are only... READ ON
So, if you're reading this, you're probably at your desk, and that makes me sad, because it's Labor Day! You should be outside enjoying the last days of summer or, at the very least, not laboring!
Alas, there's not much I can do about that, but let me try to cheer you up by telling you about all the wonderful things you'll find in the brand-spanking-new issue of mental_floss (and if you don't have your copy, you must run out and get one).
It's our annual 10 issue, so inside, you'll find:
10... READ ON
All week long you've been sending us great new neologisms (is that redundant?) for our coin-a-new-word contest. For today's Week in Review, I'm doing the... READ ON
Part of me feels like using a computer to generate complex origami patterns is cheating.
For hundreds of years, origami's most complex patterns topped out at 20 steps. These days patterns requiring more than 100 steps are common. Some of that competitive acceleration is due to Lang, who transformed the art by writing a computer program that can generate the blueprint for ultracomplex origami sculptures.
The other part of me wants to look at the results all day... READ ON
We know, we know. It's been a week since Pluto was demoted, and it's time to come back to Earth and get on with our lives. But before we resign ourselves to accepting that from now on, Pluto will be a planet only in our hearts (and on our t-shirts), we'd like to second Joan Bushwell's point that by the astronomers' logic, Pluto is also not a dog:
Having recently realized that Pluto has a number of characteristics not ordinarily found in Canis lupus familiaris, the members of the panel -- after much heated... READ ON
I'm not suggesting that anyone actually break into Boston's Museum of Science to obtain these things for me -- you'd just get tracked down and I'd have to give them back -- but nonetheless, I have a birthday coming up, and if someone wanted to send me replicas of these wonderful gewgaws I spotted last weekend, I wouldn't send them... READ ON
Reed Hastings was inspired to start Netflix after a $40 late fee on a VHS copy of Apollo 13.