Our 35 Most Popular Stories of 2017

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From unsolved mysteries to feline flatulence, our readers' thirst for knowledge is wide and varied—and the same goes for our editors and writers. Need proof? Look no further than our 35 most popular stories of 2017. In case you weren't obsessively refreshing Mental Floss all year, here's what you missed:

1. Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed as Richard Bachman

For eight years, Stephen King's pseudonym went undiscovered. Then a bookstore clerk took a walk to the Library of Congress.

2. The True Identity of Jack the Ripper May Have Just Been Confirmed

Nearly 130 years after the infamous serial killer's gruesome murders cast a shadow over London, researchers believe they’ve uncovered the identity of their perpetrator.

3. The Hidden Room Behind Mount Rushmore

In the 14 years he spent planning the monument, artist Gutzon Borglum harbored a deep concern: that his creation would one day be shrouded in mystery. So he created the Hall of Records.

4. The Polish Doctors Who Used Science to Outwit the Nazis

The fake typhus epidemic staged by Eugene Lazowski and Stasiek Matulewicz during World War II saved thousands of lives.

5. 10 Things We Learned About Kim Jong-Un From His Classmates

The great agitator has always been known for being slightly temperamental. His love of the films of Jackie Chan was also well known.

6. Exhumation Confirms Gravesite of World's Fair Killer H.H. Holmes

For years, rumors have persisted that serial killer H.H. Holmes escaped the noose and got away with murder. But forensics told the real story.

7. Take a Look: An Oral History of Reading Rainbow

For 23 seasons, the LeVar Burton-hosted show taught generations of kids to love the written word. Here's how they did it.

8. Karen Wetterhahn, the Chemist Whose Poisoning Death Changed Safety Standards

She followed the safety protocol, but the mother of two was dead within a year.

9. 7 TV Characters Killed Off Out of Spite

Death is never easy. That’s especially true in television, where the demise of popular characters can alienate audiences and send a series into a tailspin.

10. When Did the Do Not Call List Stop Working?

There was once a time when picking up a call from an unfamiliar number didn’t guarantee you’d be talking to a robot. Then, at the turn of the decade, something changed. So what happened?

11. The Quiet Strength of Julia, the First Muppet with Autism

In April, Sesame Street viewers got their first glimpse of Julia, the first new Muppet cast member on the series in nearly a decade, who represented a significant milestone for the legendary show.

12. Opening Your Car Door Like the Dutch Do Can Save Cyclists' Lives

To prevent dooring accidents in the Netherlands, people rely on a simple practice that’s been dubbed the “Dutch Reach."

13. The Mysterious 19th Century ‘Princess' Who Fooled a Town

One day in 1817, a woman named "Princess Caraboo" appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

14. The Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of

Clair Patterson determined the age of the Earth—and then he saved it.

15. I, Darwin: An Oral History of the IKEA Monkey

The Japanese snow macaque managed to unlock a car door and stun bystanders at a Canadian IKEA. Things only got weirder from there.

16. 10 Award-Winning Optical Illusions and Brain Puzzles

Yes, your mind really is playing tricks on you. Learn how and why.

17. The Murderer Who Helped Make the Oxford English Dictionary

The OED’s most prolific contributor was a sex-addicted murderer who lived in an insane asylum.

18. Do Cats Fart?

Certain philosophical questions can invade even the most disciplined of minds. This is one of them.

19. Hollywood's Brief Love Affair With Young Einstein Star Yahoo Serious

The Australia-born "star" made just three films before vanishing from the public eye.

20. Researchers Discover New Species of Giant Spider

Tiny, dainty spiders no bigger than a Tic-Tac probably won’t send your blood pressure rising. But the 4-inch-long, red-fanged Sierra Cacachilas wandering spider is another story.

21. An (Almost) Comprehensive History of Rat Kings

A ball of furry fury, a rat king occurs when the tails of rodents become twisted, wrapped, and warped into a knot so impossible that not even the world's most loyal Boy Scout could untangle it.

22. Why People Walked Differently in Medieval Times

A whole lot about medieval life would feel foreign to us now. No indoor plumbing, no toilet paper, and a whole lot of blood letting. But you might not expect that you’d have to walk differently, too.

23. There's a Wire Above Manhattan That You've Probably Never Noticed

It's hard to imagine that anything literally hanging from utility poles across Manhattan could be considered "hidden," but throughout the borough, about 18 miles of translucent wire stretches around the skyline, and most people have likely never noticed.

24. An Ex-Google Engineer Just Reinvented the Measuring Cup

Recognizing a problem most people didn’t even know they had, former Google and Facebook software engineer Joshua Redstone has made a bold claim for his recent Kickstarter venture: He’s developed a better measuring cup.

25. Solved: A Jane Doe From Unsolved Mysteries Is Identified

For 27 years, investigators at California's Orange County Sheriff’s Department's Coroner Division would periodically pull out a case file that kept nagging at them. In 2017, their dogged pursuit of the victim's identity has finally paid off.

26. The Man Who Built a 40-Foot Spite Fence Around His Neighbor’s Home

When Nicholas Yung wouldn't sell his land to railroad baron Charles Crocker, Crocker built a 40-foot fence around his house and blotted out the sun.

27. Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

28. Candy Crush: The Bizarre History of Those '90s Mentos Commercials

The series of slightly disturbing ads annoyed some, but paid off for the "Freshmaker" candy company.

29. How Eclipse Chasers Are Putting a Small Kentucky Town on the Map

The most anticipated eclipse in American history arrived in the summer of 2017. At the heart of it was Hopkinsville, which anticipated 100,000 visitors.

30. The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time

How do you narrow down the entire history of science fiction cinema into a list of only the 10 best movies? We're here to help.

31. What's the Purpose of the Diamond on the Front of Backpacks?

It's called a pig snout. And it's there for a reason.

32. The Men Who Volunteered to Be Poisoned by the Government

In 1902, 12 men agreed to take low doses of poison in order to test their efficacy as food preservatives. No one died. Basically.

33. What Did the Mob Think of The Godfather?

Before filming began, men with ties to organized crime made it clear that Paramount would need to meet certain demands—or else.

34. How 7 Wild Game of Thrones Fan Theories Panned Out in Season 7

The hit HBO series tied up a handful of loose ends in particularly satisfying fashion, but left just as many unanswered questions.

35. Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping?

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.)

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.