19 Things You Might Not Have Known About Albert Einstein

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1999, Albert Einstein was awarded Time's Person of the Century. The father of special and general relativity, Einstein's theories introduced concepts that would help make dozens of modern technologies possible. "I have no special talents," Einstein was quoted saying. "I am only passionately curious." Here are some facts about the physicist who gave us crazy hair and E=MC^2.

1. When Albert Einstein was born, his misshapen head terrified the room.

A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
A portrait of a young Albert Einstein with his sister.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On March 14, 1879, baby Einstein emerged with a "swollen, misshapen head and a grossly overweight body," according to Denis Brian's book, Einstein: A Life. When she got a look at him later, the chunky child terrified Einstein's grandmother, who screamed, "Much too fat! Much too fat!" Thankfully, Albert would eventually grow into his body. (However, he did have trouble developing in other arenas: He supposedly wouldn't start speaking until the age of 2.)

2. As a child, Einstein was the king of throwing temper tantrums.

The young genius had a habit of throwing objects whenever he was displeased; once, a frustrated Einstein even threw a chair at his teacher. The 5-year-old enjoyed bombarding his tutors and family members: His sister Maja, who was often conked in the head by Einstein's fusillades, later quipped, "It takes a sound skull to be the sister of an intellectual."

According to the biography by Alice Calaprice and Trevor Lipscombe, "When he became angry, his whole face turned yellow except for the tip of his nose, which turned white."

3. Einstein did not struggle in school.

The idea that Einstein had trouble in school is a myth. During summers, a pre-teen Einstein would study mathematics and physics for fun, eventually mastering differential and integral calculus by age 15. But that's not to say he was a perfect student. Einstein hated rote learning and refused to study subjects that didn't interest him. So, naturally, when the obstinate number-lover took the entrance exam to the polytechnic school in Zurich, he flunked the language, zoology, and botany sections.

4. Nobody knows Einstein's IQ.

Einstein's IQ was never tested, though that hasn't stopped people from guessing. Lots of websites claim the physicist's IQ was 160, but there's simply no way of verifying that claim. "One fundamental problem with the estimates I've seen is that they tend to conflate intellectual ability with domain-specific achievement," Dean Keith Simonton, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Davis told Biography. For all we know, Einstein's aptitude in arenas outside of physics might have rivaled that of an average Joe.

5. Einstein refreshed his brain by playing the violin.

Einstein violin
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Whenever Einstein needed to relax, he turned to music. He started violin lessons at age 5 and, at around 17, impressed his teachers at cantonal school with his playing during a music exam. Around 1914, when Einstein lived in Berlin, he'd play sonatas with his friend and fellow theoretical physicist, Max Planck. And after he became famous, Einstein would play a handful benefit concerts alongside greats like Fritz Kreisler. "Music helps him when he is thinking about his theories," his second wife, Elsa, said. "He goes to his study, comes back, strikes a few chords on the piano, jots something down, returns to his study." [PDF]

6. Fashion was not Einstein's strong suit.

Einstein hated wearing socks and was immensely proud of the fact that he didn't have to wear them while giving lectures at Oxford in the 1930s. His antipathy apparently stemmed from a childhood realization: "When I was young I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock," Einstein reportedly said. "So I stopped wearing socks." As an adult, he typically wore an undershirt, baggy trousers held by rope, and a pair of (occasionally women's) sandals.

7. Einstein loved sailing (and was absolutely terrible at it).

While an undergraduate in Zurich, Einstein fell in love with sailing—a passion that would persist throughout his life. There was just one problem: He was a horrible sailor. He regularly tipped his boat over and required rescue dozens of times. (His sailboat was named Tinef, Yiddish for "worthless.") In 1935, The New York Times reported on Einstein's sailing misadventures with the punny headline: "Relative Tide and Sand Bars Trap Einstein."

8. Fatherhood gave Einstein his iconic crazy hair.

As a young man, Einstein sported a well-maintained head of dark hair—that is, until his son Hans was born in 1904. Like many new parents, Einstein discovered that having a new mouth to feed changed everything: The patent clerk was so busy trying to support his family that he stopped combing his hair and visiting the barber. Slowly, an iconic look was born.

Einstein would spurn barbers for the rest of his life. His second wife, Elsa, would cut his mop whenever it became disheveled.

9. Einstein had a habit of mindlessly gorging on food.

When Einstein was a patent clerk, he formed a book club with two friends and called it the "Olympia Academy." The trio usually dined on sausages, Gruyere cheese, fruit, and tea. But on Einstein's birthday, his friends brought expensive caviar as a surprise. Einstein, who had a knack for mindlessly eating when talking about something he was passionate about, began stuffing his face while discussing Galileo's principle of inertia—totally unaware of what he was eating. He later offered this excuse: "Well if you offer gourmet foods to peasants like me, you know they won't appreciate it."

10. Einstein had a bawdy sense of humor.

Einstein enjoyed the occasional dirty joke. When he accepted his first job as a professor, he said, "[N]ow I too am an official member of the guild of whores." And when a member of his book club gave him a nameplate that said "Albert, Knight of the Backside," Einstein proudly kept it tacked on his apartment door. Later in life, he'd tell jokes to his pet parrot, Bibo. (Einstein believed the bird was depressed and needed a laugh.)

11. Einstein loved the famous tongue photo.

Einstein lounging
Three Lions, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

On his 72nd birthday, Einstein was leaving an event held in his honor. As he was getting into his car, photographers asked him to smile for the camera. Einstein, however, was sick and tired of grinning for a photograph—he'd be doing it all evening—so he popped his tongue out instead. Einstein liked the photo so much that he put it on his greeting cards.

12. Einstein was an inventor.

Having spent seven years working in the Swiss Patent Office, Einstein was naturally curious about inventing and would secure approximately 50 patents during his lifetime. He enjoyed tinkering with electronics and would eventually patent a self-adjusting camera, a refrigerator that could last 100 years, and even a blouse.

13. When it came to love, Einstein was no genius.

Einstein, who married twice, had multiple extramarital affairs—including one dalliance with a possible Russian spy. His first marriage with Mileva Marić (a physicist he met at the Swiss Polytechnic School) soured after the birth of their third child. As their marriage crumbled, Einstein imposed a list of brusque—if not cruel—demands which included: "You will obey the following points in your relations with me: 1. You will not expect intimacy from me … 2. You will stop talking to me if I request it." Unsurprisingly, they divorced. Later, Einstein married his cousin, Elsa Löwenthal.

14. A letter Einstein signed helped spark the Manhattan Project.

Einstein was not part of the Manhattan Project, but he was instrumental in getting it started. In the late 1930s, German scientists discovered nuclear fission of uranium, a major step toward the development of the atomic bomb. Much of the world's uranium was held in the Congo—then a colony of Belgium—so two Hungarian-American physicists named Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner decided to get Einstein to write a letter to his friend, the Queen of Belgium. Einstein suggested a letter to a Belgian minister instead, but an encounter with an economist who knew President Roosevelt resulted in a change in direction and a letter that prompted America to start its own experiments.

15. Einstein loved answering fanmail from children.

Einstein received countless letters from the public, but he always tried to answer mail sent by children. (In one letter, a young girl complained about her troubles with math. The professor supposedly wrote back, "Do not worry about your difficulty in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.") Einstein's many correspondences with children—filled with charm and encouragement—are compiled in a book by Alice Calaprice called Dear Professor Einstein.

16. Einstein turned down the presidency of Israel.

E=MC2
The world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise gives Einstein a shout-out as it launches the first nuclear-powered circumnavigation of the world in 1964.
Keystone, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

After the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, died in 1952, the Prime Minister asked Einstein to step into the (mostly ceremonial) role. The physicist declined, writing: "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions."

17. Einstein was an outspoken advocate for racial justice.

Having abandoned Germany in 1933 to avoid Nazi persecution, Einstein was sensitive of the racial discrimination he saw in the United States. He championed the rights of African Americans and was a member of the NAACP. When the famed black singer Marian Anderson came to perform at Princeton in 1937 and was denied a hotel room, Einstein invited her to stay in his home. He was also pen pals with W.E.B. Du Bois and, when Du Bois became the target of the Red Scare, Einstein effectively saved Du Bois by offering to be his character witness. In a 1946 speech he delivered at Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, he called segregation "a disease of white people," vowing, "I do not intend be quiet about it."

18. Einstein was the inspiration for Yoda.

Yoda's face was partly modeled after Einstein's. According to Star Wars special-effects artist Nick Maley, "A picture of Einstein ended up on the wall behind the Yoda sculptures and the wrinkles around Einstein's eyes somehow got worked into the Yoda design. Over the course of this evolutionary process Yoda slowly changed from a comparatively spritely [sic], tall, skinny, grasshopper kind of character into the old wise spirited gnome that we all know today."

19. Einstein's theories are more relevant than you think.

It's easy to assume that Einstein's theories of relativity are purely theoretical, but they really do affect your everyday life. For instance, the theory of general relativity states that gravity affects time: Time moves by faster for objects in space than objects here on Earth. And that has profound implications for many space-based technologies, especially the accuracy of your GPS. His theories also explain how electromagnets work and are foundational to nuclear technology.

40 Years Later: 20 Facts About the 'Miracle on Ice'

The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
The USA Team celebrates their 4-3 victory over Russia in the semi-final of the Ice Hockey event at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Steve Powell/Getty Images

On February 22, 1980, the Soviet War in Afghanistan was almost two months old, making the Cold War as tense as ever. On that same Friday, a hockey team comprised of American college players defeated a dominant Soviet Union group made up of professional athletes—dubiously designated as students, engineers, or soldiers to maintain their then Olympic-required amateur status—in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Jim McKay, the venerable host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and its respected Olympic telecast anchor, was tasked to put into words what the viewers had just seen; the 59-year-old settled on, “That may be the greatest upset in sports history.” He added that it was the equivalent of an all-star football team of Canadian college boys beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had just won their fourth Super Bowl in six years. Forty years later, that comparison holds up.

1. The U.S. beat the Russians in a surprise upset in a hockey game 20 years earlier.

Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The game was dubbed the Miracle on Ice. The USA went on to win the gold medal
Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980.
Steve Powell /Getty Images

The Americans won the men’s hockey gold in 1960 thanks to a surprising semifinal win over the defending champion Soviet Union. After that, the Soviets dominated and took home the next four gold medals, going 27-1-1 and outscoring their opponents 175-44, making the 1980 victory a much bigger shock.

2. The U.S. head coach was the last player cut from the 1960 team.

Bill Cleary agreed to join team USA only if his brother Bob could play. The Clearys got their wish, and as a result, there was not enough room for Herb Brooks. Brooks would go on to play at the '64 and '68 Olympics, and he later earned a spot on the Olympic team as head coach after leading the University of Minnesota to three national championships in the 1970s.

3. Herb Brooks kept telling his players that one of the Russians looked like Stan Laurel.

Boris Mikhailov #13 of the Soviet Union sits on the boards during Game 1 of the 1972 Summit Series against Canada on September 2, 1972 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Boris Mikhailov
Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images

Insisting that Boris Mikhailov resembled the thin Englishman in the comedy duo Laurel & Hardy was an attempt to get the U.S. players to not take the Soviet Union squad so seriously.

4. The USSR beat the U.S. 10-3 less than two weeks earlier.

In a February 9th exhibition at Madison Square Garden, the Russians expectedly dominated. Combined with the Soviets’ 6-0 victory over a team of NHL All-Stars one year earlier, it looked like a fifth consecutive gold medal was inevitable.

5. The Russian head coach was hospitalized the day before the game.

Viktor Tikhonov had dealt with the flu throughout the Olympics, and was taken to the hospital on February 21st without any of his players knowing. Tikhonov did not believe in antibiotics.

6. The night before, the starting U.S. goalie and one of the Russian players enjoyed an arcade game together.

Jim Craig and Sergei Makarov played Centipede at Lake Placid's Olympic Village video arcade against one another. The two communicated with “nods and laughs.”

7. It was one of Al Michaels’s first times announcing a hockey game.

Al Michaels speaks at media day for Super Bowl XL at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on January 31, 2006
Al Michaels
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Even though he had never called a hockey game before, Michaels got the play-by-play assignment for the 1972 gold medal hockey game on NBC because nobody else wanted to do it. In 1980, doing that one broadcast made him the undisputed hockey veteran at ABC, as well as the only one who knew what offside and icing were.

8. Al Michaels memorized the Russian names by playing table hockey.

He played against his broadcast partner and former NHL goalie Ken Dryden in their hotel room, announcing their contests and naming his little men after the players on whichever team the U.S. was about to face.

9. Ken Dryden had the busiest February 21st of all.

Dryden, who served as color commentator for the game, would later be teased by his children for not coming up with one of the most memorable sports calls of all time like Michaels, but it’s possible that he was a little bit tired. On Thursday afternoon, while Viktor Tikhonov was in a hospital bed, Dryden went up to Toronto to take the Canadian Bar Exam (which he would pass). That night, as the most famous game of Centipede of all time was taking place, he was back in Lake Placid, having dinner with Herb Brooks, answering a slew of questions Brooks had about the Russians. Dryden was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and to Canadian Parliament in 2004.

10. The game was shown on tape delay in the United States.

ABC tried desperately to have the opening face-off moved from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time, and agreed to pay the International Ice Hockey Federation $125,000 to make it happen (even though they considered it extortion). The IIHF, however, couldn’t get the Soviet Union to agree to the time change despite offering them $12,500, because they did not want the game moved from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. Moscow time. Since all of this happened in 1980, the outcome was not known by most Americans when they watched the recorded broadcast that started in primetime. McKay on air was upfront about the game not being live, and said the network received mail from viewers writing that they did not want the ending to be spoiled.

11. Parts of the game were cut out of the original broadcast.

The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team competes against the Soviet Union hockey team during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

ABC had scheduled footage for both the hockey game and men’s slalom from 8:30 to 11, with 8 to 8:30 devoted to the animated special The Pink Panther in: Olym-Pinks. To make room, minutes of the game were dropped.

12. Jamie Farr was the only celebrity in attendance.

Farr played Klinger on M*A*S*H, which was in its eighth season. The 7700 seat Lake Placid Olympic Center was sold out, and tickets with a face value of $67.20 were allegedly scalped for as much as $600.

13. It wasn’t the gold medal game.

The Americans and Soviets advanced to the “medal round” with Finland and Sweden. A win earned a country 2 points, a tie 1 point. Going into the big match, the U.S. had tied Sweden, and the USSR beat Finland. After the U.S. shocked the world, the Russians took out their frustrations on Sweden two days later and beat them 9-2, so if the U.S. lost to Finland in their next and final game, the Soviet Union would have won the Gold again, with 4 points to the Americans’ 3.

14. The starting Soviet goaltender was taken out of the game after the first period—and it shook up the team.

It looked like the USSR was going to finish the first period up 2-1, but a last second score by Mark Johnson gave the U.S. a lot of momentum. This upset Viktor Tikhonov so much that he benched Vladislav Tretiak and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin, who, after shutting out the Americans in the second period, would allow two goals in the third. The move shocked the Russians at the time—defenseman Sergei Starikov said, “It felt like a big hole had been put in our team.” Tikhonov himself looked back on it and admitted, “It was my worst mistake, my biggest regret."

15. Al Michaels did not rehearse his famous question.

The word “miraculous” was swimming in his mind as the final seconds ticked away, which led to him asking if we believed in miracles. Hours later, after working the Finland/Sweden game that transpired while most of the country watched the game whose nickname he was mostly responsible for on delay, he had forgotten what he said.

16. Some of the Soviet players took the loss in stride.

The first Russian Mark Johnson shook hands with after the game had a smile on his face. When Johnson and Eric Strobel ran into Valeri Kharlamov and Boris “Stan Laurel” Milkhailov in a waiting room before taking a urine test, Milkhailov said, “Nice game.”

17. The U.S. team sang "God Bless America" after winning, but didn’t know all the words.

The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York
The United States Hockey team celebrates after they defeated the Soviet Union during a metal round game of the Winter Olympics February 22, 1980 at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The team got tripped up after “land that I love,” hummed through the lines they didn’t know, and picked it up again for the big finish.

18. Players from both countries later played in the NHL.

Thirteen of the 20 members of the U.S. squad went pro, Including defenseman Ken Morrow, who, after winning the gold medal, joined the New York Islanders and won the Stanley Cup in each of his first four seasons. Jim Craig’s arcade buddy Sergei Makarov was one of five players from the 1980 USSR team to join the National Hockey League in the 1988-90 season. Makarov won the Rookie of the Year award at the age of 31, which led to the league enforcing a rule starting the following season that you had to be 26 or younger to win.

19. There was a made-for-TV movie about the game starring Steve Guttenberg.

The 1981 ABC film Miracle on Ice mixed actual game footage with written scenes. Guttenberg portrayed goalie Jim Craig, Karl Malden played Herb Brooks, and Jessica Walter—known by some today as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development—played Herb Brooks’ wife, Patti.

In 2004, Disney released the film Miracle, which starred Kurt Russell as Brooks.

20. The Lake Placid Olympic Center Rink was renamed Herb Brooks Arena in 2005.

Brooks returned to lead the 2002 U.S. men's hockey team to a silver medal. One year later, he passed away after a car accident.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

36 Unusual Units of Measurement

When it comes to measurement, we have a lot of words that mean a bunch of stuff or a bit of something, but many of those terms have actual, specific meanings.

Let's learn about a whole barrel full of them.

1. A barrel changes depending on what's in it.

Many barrels stacked on a dock with the water in the background
Niall MacTaggart/iStock via Getty Images

When you're talking about oil, a barrel is exactly 42 gallons. For beer, a barrel is 31.5 gallons. For dry goods, it's 105 dry quarts. That last one was defined by Congress in 1915.

2. A dash is part of a teaspoon.

Multicolored measuring spoons
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Then there's the dash, as in, "just a dash of salt," which is between 1/16 and 1/8 of a teaspoon.

3. A pinch is part of a dash.

Chef putting pinch of salt on food
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A pinch is half a dash, or 1/16 of a teaspoon.

4. A Smidgen is a real thing.

Black peppercorns in a measuring spoon
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It's a half of a pinch, or 1/32 of a teaspoon.

5. Pats of butter are 1/3 of an ounce.

Pat of butter on corn
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Butter is packaged at 48 pats per pound, which means that each pat is 1/3 of an ounce or 1 tablespoon.

6. A drop is 1/480 of a fluid ounce.

A dropper releases a drop into a brown vial
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Okay, to be more specific, it's .05 milliliters, which you probably already knew if you're a pharmacist.

7. Australians used to measure rain by points.

Flooded street with splashing cars
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We don't measure rain by drops, but in Australia, they used to measure rain by points. A point was .254 milliliters, so you might say, "We got a hundred points of rain last night!," which sounds like a lot, but isn't.

8. The Jiffy is about 10 milliseconds.

Computer circuit board
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The jiffy is a unit of time used in computer engineering that has to do with a computer's clock cycle. It's about 10 milliseconds. It means something even faster in physics, where a jiffy is a unit of measurement for the time it takes for light to travel a distance the size of a nucleus.

9. A Shake is 10 nanoseconds.

Nuclear power plant
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Physicists also have the shake, which is used to measure nuclear reactions. A shake takes 10 nanoseconds, or 10 billionths of a second, so the next time you go somewhere for the weekend, you can tell friends you'll be gone for 17,280,000,000,000 shakes.

10. A hogshead was 63 gallons.

Black and white engraving of three men opening a hogshead barrel
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Specifically, 63 gallons of wine. It's a term dating back to at least the 15th century, and it might be a corruption of the term hog's hide, which might make clearer sense for referring to a wine container, but we really don't know how the word came about. The casks are also repurposed to mature whiskey.

11. You can have a double hogshead ...

Port pipe barrels
Konev Timur/iStock via Getty Images

It's called a port pipe, and it holds about 145 gallons.

12. ... or a butt.

Man pouring wine out of a barrel
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A butt holds about 132 gallons, so when someone tells you that they drank a buttload last night, they are either lying or dead.

13. Megadeath is a unit of atomic bomb destruction.

Atomic explosion
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Megade(a)th is not just the third-greatest heavy metal band of all time. It's also a terrifying unit of measurement. It was coined in the '50s as a unit of atom bomb destruction. One megadeath is equal to one million deaths.

14. A micromort measures the probability of death.

Woman holding a cigarette
Terroa/iStock via Getty Images

On the other end of things, we've got the micromort, a unit for measuring the statistical probability of death. One micromort is a one-in-a-million chance of death. So, smoking 1.4 cigarettes, or spending an hour in a coal mine increases your risk of death by precisely one micromort. Going skydiving? Seven micromorts. They're the coolest thing—and also the only cool thing—ever invented by actuaries.

15. manpower is about 1/10th as powerful as horsepower.

Close up of three horse heads looking to the left
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So you've heard of horsepower, but did you know there's also a measurable unit of manpower? It was worked out to somewhere between 1/8 and a 1/10 of a unit of horsepower. Horsepower was based on the fact that the average brewery horse could move something weighing 330 pounds 100 feet in one minute, stop, and repeat for eight hours. And it would take about eight to 10 men to do the same, so your Camaro might have a 300 horsepower engine, but my Chevy Volt has like a 2000 manpower engine.

16. A Darwin is, naturally, a unit of measuring evolution.

Statue of Charles Darwin
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We also measure things using the names of famous people. A Darwin, for instance, is a special ratio for measuring the rate of evolution. Evolution happening at the rate of one Darwin would change something by a factor of about 2.7 over a million years.

17. A Gal measures gravitational acceleration.

Milky Way over a mountain
Dharmapada Behera/iStock via Getty Images

A Galileo or Gal is a unit of measurement used by physicists to talk about gravitational acceleration, but because there's only about a seven Galileo difference between the lowest and highest possible measurements on Earth, calculations are usually done in milli-Galileos.

18. Movements of your computer mouse are measured in Mickeys.

Woman holding computer mouse
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There's another guy you might have heard of who gave his name to a unit of measurement having to do with your computer mouse. The smallest detectable movement of a computer mouse—somewhere around 1/10 of a millimeter—is called a Mickey.

19. A Half-million twitter followers is a wheaton.

Woman smiling at smartphone
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After half a million people followed Wil Wheaton on Twitter, John Kovalic dubbed that number a Wheaton. The beloved actor and brewmaster got to about six Wheatons on the social site before deactivating his account in 2018.

20. The Length of a Beard-SEcond is in dispute.

A redheaded man with a big beard gestures a size with his fingers
AaronAmat iStock via Getty Images

Speaking of great men with facial hair, a beard-second is the average length a man's beard grows in one second, but beard growth experts disagree on what that length actually is. Some say it's 10 nanometers. Some say it's five. Some say, "I can't believe that we're spending our time talking about this."

21. A millihelen is 1/1000th of one helen of troy.

Ships on a blue sea
Haris Krikelis/iStock via Getty Images

Helen of Troy's magnificent mug is said to have launched a thousand ships, but what if there's just one ship that needs help getting out of port? Then, you need a millihelen, the amount of beauty required to launch a single ship.

22. A barleycorn is 1/3 of an inch.

Barley on a wooden table
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A few hundred years ago in England, small objects were measured in barleycorns, as in grains of barley. A barleycorn was a third of an inch, which means it's barley there at all.

23. A poppyseed is even smaller.

Poppyseed rolls
belchonock/iStock via Getty Images

If you needed something smaller than that, you could measure by poppyseeds, defined as either 1/4 or 1/5 of a barleycorn. In fact, grain is the basis of our whole system of terms for measuring weight.

24. A pound was 5400 or 6750 grains.

Pound weight
Markus Thoenen/iStock via Getty Images

The Roman forerunner to the pound was the libra, which is why the lb. abbreviation stuck. Medieval England takes credit for using a pound (5400 grains) to measure metals and a mercantile pound (6750 grains) for goods.

25. A Bushel changes depending on the foodstuff.

Bushel of apples
Abbie Velker/iStock via Getty Images

The USDA has assigned individual bushel measurements to different things we grow in the ground. A bushel of corn is 56 pounds, while a bushel of oats is 32 pounds.

26. A Span is 9 inches.

Six different arms outstretched
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A span isn't just a vague term for how long something is, like a bridge or wings or the length of time you can pay attention to something. It originally meant a distance of about 9 inches, or the width of a man's hand with the fingers out.

27. A Hand is now 4 inches.

Man's hands on horse
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Besides the span, we also have the hand, now mostly used for measuring horse height. It's the width of your hand with the fingers closed. But these days, it just means 4 inches no matter how gigantic your hands are.

28. A Finger is the width of your finger.

Pouring a cocktail
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Noah Webster measured the breadth of a finger and nailed it down as 3/4 of an inch, but finger has been used a lot as a unit of measurement. Thus, it's not always clear whether we're talking about the width of the finger, like when your bartender pours you two fingers of booze.

29. A Finger can also be 4.5 inches of cloth.

Fabric rolls
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This unit uses the length of a finger as the basis.

30. A Nail is 1/16 of a yard.

Woman cutting fabric
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A nail of cloth, which is based on the length of your finger from the nail to the second joint, is half a finger, or 2.25 inches. That's also 1/16 of a yard.

So, there you have it. There are about seven barleycorns in a nail, two nails in a finger, four fingers on your hand, and three hands in a foot.

31. A Centipawn measures the value of chess positions.

A hand moves a black pawn forward on a chess board
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And now let us discuss centipawns. Chess computer programs can evaluate the value of a particular piece or position in terms of hundredths of a pawn, or centipawns.

32. A Frigorie is a Calorie's nemesis.

Woman putting food container in the fridge
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You've heard of the boring old calorie, a unit that measures energy that produces heat. A Big Mac, for instance, has 550 of them. But, what about the energy to cool something? That unit of refrigeration is called a frigorie, which fell out of use in the 1970s.

33. An Oxgang is about 15 acres.

Green fields with cows
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Also lost to history is the oxgang, a unit for measuring the area of land approximately equivalent to 15 acres—or the amount of land that a farmer could plow with an ox in one season.

34. An Olf is a unit of odor.

Cat nose
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Luckily, we've still got the melodious olf. Olfs are used for measuring the air quality of indoor spaces, like offices. One olf is basically the amount of odor of one standard person. So, what's a standard person? The olf standard is a person with a skin area of 1.8 square meters, who bathes 0.7 times per day, and is seated comfortably in a comfortable temperature. If the person becomes slightly active, it rises to 5 olfs. A heavy smoker gives off 25 olfs while smoking and six while not.

35. A QuasiHemidemisemiquaver is a unit of brief musical time.

Girl's hands playing piano
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Also known as the 128th note, it lasts for 1/128 of a note. Nice how that works. Beethoven and Bach were fans.

36. You can cut the Quasihemidemisemiquaver in half.

The great news about music is that you can always go smaller: a demisemihemidemisemiquaver is a 256th note, and it's been used in works by Beethoven and Mozart. 

In this episode, John Green explains some offbeat units of measurement. You'll be measuring things by fingers in a jiffy.

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