9 Ways to Celebrate Independence Day Like a POTUS

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Fireworks. Barbecues. Trips to the ER. Sick of doing the same old thing every Fourth of July? Abandon the routine and celebrate like our presidents do. Here's how.

1. Purchase a Broom

Though George Washington refused an official salary for his tenure as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, he did ask for his daily expenses to be reimbursed—which is why we have a meticulous account of what he purchased on July 4, 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. In case you can't decipher the spidery script, Washington purchased mutton, veal, "a roasting peice of Beef," cabbage, beets, potatoes, lobster and … a broom.

2. Push up some daisies

Not one, not two, but three presidents have commemorated the Fourth of July by kicking the bucket.

John Adams passed away on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. His last words, it's said, were, "Thomas Jefferson survives." Adams was unaware that Jefferson had died just hours before.

Both men had America on their minds in their final moments. Among Jefferson's final words: "I have done for my country, and for all mankind, all that I could do, and I now resign my soul, without fear, to my God,—my daughter to my country."

In addition to mentioning Jefferson, Adams also said, "Independence survives."

Five years later, James Monroe succumbed to heart failure and tuberculosis on July 4, 1831.

3. Drink double rations of rum

General George Washington inspects his troops
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To celebrate Independence Day in 1778, then-General George Washington issued his army double allowances of rum. Does this guy know how to party, or what?

4. Recover from an assassination attempt (or try to)

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel when John Hinckley, Jr., fired six shots. None of them directly hit Reagan; his near-fatal injury was sustained when a bullet ricocheted off of his waiting limousine. By July 4, the President was doing well enough to host a picnic for a few thousand people (see main picture above) on the South Lawn of the White House.

Reagan isn't the only president to be in assassination recovery on July 4. James Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881. Sadly, his recovery didn't go as well as Reagan's. He lingered all summer, and though many attempts were made to save his life (some that did more harm than good), he died on September 19.

5. Celebrate the birth of your child

President Barack Obama hugs his daughter Malia Obama at the Fourth of July White House party on July 4, 2016. Maila celebrated her 18th birthday during the party, which featured guests including singers Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar.
President Barack Obama hugs his daughter Malia Obama at the Fourth of July White House party on July 4, 2016. Maila celebrated her 18th birthday during the party, which featured guests including singers Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar.
Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images

In 1998, Barack Obama was surely at the University of Chicago Medical Center celebrating the birth that day of his first child, Malia.

6. Go on vacation

After serving in their official capacities by giving speeches and attending the White House picnic, many presidents use the Fourth of July to kick off a vacation. Ulysses S. Grant set the precedent back in the late 19th century by retreating to the Jersey Shore for some R and R.

7. Eat some rancid cherries

Following Independence Day celebrations at the Washington Monument in 1850, Zachary Taylor did what a lot of us probably do later in the night on July 4: He raided the fridge. Chowing down on cherries and iced milk, Taylor became immediately ill afterward, and died on July 9. Rumors of poisoning immediately flew around, but analysis of his remains in 1991 showed no evidence of assassination by arsenic. Taylor's physicians chalked up his unexpected demise to cholera.

8. Blow out some candles

Calvin Coolidge is, thus far, the only U.S. President to be born on July 4.

9. Light a few firecrackers

Not even the Commander in Chief can resist being a pyromaniac on the Fourth of July. But, as you might expect, their fireworks are a little more impressive than yours. In 1947, Harry Truman gleefully accepted a massive firecracker with his initials on it.

The Best Place to Park at the Mall, According to Science

Diy13/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Diy13/iStock via Getty Images Plus

It’s Black Friday, and you are entering the battlefield: a mall parking lot. You’re determined to nail that doorbuster deal, and quantities are limited. The field is already full of other combatants. You must find the perfect parking spot.

Do you grab the first one you see, or drive as close to the mall as you can and hover? Or, do you choose a tactic that lies somewhere between?

Parking at the mall has long frustrated drivers and taxed the minds of traffic engineers—but after working on the problem for three years, physicists Sidney Redner of the Santa Fe Institute and Paul Krapivsky of Boston University have gotten closer to a winning strategy. “There are lots of studies of parking lots, but it’s just that they’re so complicated, you don’t get any insight into what’s actually happening,” Redner tells Mental Floss.

Redner and Krapivsky, whose work employs statistical physics to make sense of large systems, simplified the messy dynamics of a parking lot by modeling it with a one-dimensional grid of cells, each representing a parking space. They tested three simple, yet realistic, parking strategies using basic probability theory. Their model tested the following strategies to see which one resulted in least time spent walking and driving in the parking lot:

Meek Strategy: Meek drivers park in the first open space they see, however distant it is from the mall. As a result, they often spend the most time walking to and from the mall.

Prudent Strategy: Prudent drivers look for the first open spot but then keep driving toward the mall. They continue to drive until they see a parked car and then park in the best open spot between that first open spot and that first parked car. There may be a block of open spaces between the first open space and the first parked car. From that block of open spaces, they choose the one closest to the mall.

Optimistic Strategy: Optimistic drivers drive as close to the mall as possible and look for a parking space close to the entrance. If they see one, they grab it. If there are none, they backtrack and choose the first open space they see. Optimistic drivers probably spend the most time driving and the least time walking. In the worst-case scenario, they end up parking back where a meek driver would have parked.

Naturally cautious drivers are more likely to default to the meek mode, while aggressive drivers often use the optimistic strategy, well, aggressively. And most drivers have tried something like the prudent method.

So, which is your best bet in a crowded mall parking lot this holiday season?

In the experiments, the prudent strategy fared best, followed closely by the optimistic strategy. The meek strategy finished a distant third (“It’s hard to comprehend just how bad it is,” says Krapivsky, a self-described meek driver).

And even better: The more crowded the lot, the better the prudent strategy works, he adds.

One clear takeaway from the study is that meek drivers may want to ramp up their parking skills before going to the mall. “You don't want to park on the very outskirts of the lot, like a mile away from the stores. You want to go to the first place there’s an open spot and park somewhere in that first open area,” Redner says. They published their findings in the Journal of Statistical Mechanics [PDF].

The researchers say this is the best of the strategies they tested, but it has its limitations. It does not take into consideration competition among a sea of drivers all looking for parking spaces at the same time, and it doesn’t include (perhaps optimistically) the psychological aspects of operating a vehicle. “We are not rational when we are driving,” Krapivsky tells Mental Floss.

The researchers’ one-dimensional grid model also assumed that there would be one car at a time entering the lot through one entrance, unlike messier lots in the real world, where many cars enter from a multitude of entrances.

The optimal parking strategy, one that would best all others every time, has yet to be found. In their research, though, Redner and Krapivsky are homing in on one that integrates the more complicated aspects of parking.

For now, science says prudence is a virtue in the parking lot. And while the meek might inherit the Earth, they certainly won’t find the best parking space at the mall.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Antoninapotapenko/iStock via Getty Images
Antoninapotapenko/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25 and ends on January 5. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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