8 Historical Conspiracy Theories

TonyBaggett/iStock via Getty Images
TonyBaggett/iStock via Getty Images

For some, the historical record just won’t do. For centuries, conspiracy theories have attempted to draw back the curtain on important world events, casting into doubt official accounts and accepted wisdom. While the internet has made the discussion and dissemination of conspiracy theories easier, suspicion over everything from Roman rulers to the moon landing has persevered for centuries (and some conspiracy theories have even turned out to be true!). Take a look at eight of history’s lesser-known—but no less fascinating—alternative explanations.

1. Shakespeare didn’t write his own plays.

Many consider William Shakespeare the greatest playwright who ever lived. But to some, he’s simply one of the great pretenders. So little is known about Shakespeare as a person—he was born in Stratford in 1564 as the son of a glove-maker, married a woman named Anne Hathaway, and died in 1616—that examining his life in any detail is all but impossible. Theorists have claimed that Shakespeare didn’t exist at all, and was instead merely a pseudonym for an accomplished (and well-educated) writer. That could have been Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a courtier who visited many of the places depicted in the plays, or possibly Christopher Marlowe. The latter is one of the more elaborate ideas, as it maintains that Marlowe was not murdered in a tavern in 1593 but instead hustled away to France thanks to some well-placed connections. He allegedly then spent the next 20 years writing under the Shakespeare name.

The belief that Shakespeare was not the author of works attributed to him has been voiced by several notable names throughout history, including Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud, and even Mark Twain. Twain once posited that Sir Francis Bacon could easily have been the Bard, and he believed the words "Francisco Bacono" appeared in code in the First Folio.

The belief gained more credence in 2016, when the respected Oxford University Press actually credited Marlowe as co-author of the three Henry VI plays. Among other research, the publishing house cited an analysis of vocabulary between the work and Marlowe's plays.

2. John Wilkes Booth wasn’t killed.

After drawing a weapon and fatally shooting President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth went on the lam. Authorities caught up to him 12 days later, when he was confronted by an Army sergeant and shot while hiding in a barn. He died on the porch of a nearby farmhouse shortly thereafter. Unless, that is, the person in the barn wasn’t Booth at all.

One theory speculates that Booth succeeded in escaping and headed to Texas, changing his name to John St. Helen and living until 1903. The idea was put forth by author Finis L. Bates, who published The Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth in 1907 after claiming St. Helen confessed to him he was Booth and that the assassination was planned by Andrew Jackson to secure the presidency. (The man shot in the barn, Bates said, was a patsy, his death allowing soldiers to collect the bounty on Booth’s head.) Not coincidentally, Bates was able to profit from this speculation by displaying what he claimed was the preserved body of the recently departed Booth, charging admission for the morbid curiosity.

The notion that Booth escaped death has intrigued at least one salient party: Booth’s descendants, who have petitioned to have his grave in Baltimore dug up in order to make a positive identification. No court has yet granted their request.

3. Oliver Cromwell was never exhumed.

There was no peace for Oliver Cromwell (the Lord Protector of England, Ireland, and Scotland in the 1650s) after his death. In 1661, King Charles II of England's parliament ordered Cromwell’s body and two others exhumed so they could be posthumously hanged, a vindictive bit of showboating resulting from the trio having ordered the execution of King Charles I. (Cromwell died of illness in 1658, denying King Charles II the pleasure of striking him down.) Cromwell, Henry Ireton, and John Bradshaw were left to hang and then decapitated, with Cromwell’s head left on a spike for several decades.

But what if they got the wrong corpse? Some believe that Cromwell secretly moved his own planned tomb site in Westminster Abbey to avoid just such a fate, and that whoever was dug up was not Cromwell. In one spectacular flight of fancy that reads more like an E.C. Comics twist, there has been speculation that King Charles II’s men accidentally dug up his executed father instead, and were in the process of having him hanged before realizing their mistake.

4. Meriwether Lewis didn’t commit suicide—he was murdered.

Famed explorer Meriwether Lewis met an unfortunate end on October 10, 1809. After stopping to rest at a lodge along the Natchez Trace—a formidable trail between Mississippi and Tennessee—Lewis apparently shot himself. The wounds were fatal, and he was soon buried nearby. There seemed to be motivation for Lewis’s decision to take his own life: While he was celebrated for the journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean with partner William Clark that ended in 1806, the two had not found the Northwest Passage to the Pacific, making Lewis feel as though they had come up short on one of the mission's primary goals. Lewis was also desk-bound, a disappointing outcome for someone who craved adventure. He was known to suffer from depression and even wrote a will before striking out on the Natchez.

But others have argued that the trail was full of bandits, any one of whom could have confronted Lewis and engaged him in a lethal struggle. It was also curious that a trained marksman would need to shoot himself multiple times, as Lewis had, to achieve the desired result. The theory picked up steam in the 1840s, when Lewis’s body was exhumed and examiners made a comment about his injuries looking like the work of an assassin. His descendants have lobbied for another exhumation, which could look for gunpowder traces to see if a weapon was fired at close range or from across a room. Because Lewis's body is on National Park Service land, and the service rarely grants permission for exhumations, the theory remains untested.

5. Nero may have set fire to Rome.

Nero took control of Rome in 54 C.E. at the age of 17. Ten years later, a fire broke out around the Circus Maximus, the chariot stadium. The blaze ravaged the city over nine days, destroying three of its 14 districts and severely damaging seven others. Was it an accident, or did the formidable ruler set fire to his own kingdom? Those who argue the latter point out it was convenient that Nero was safely tucked away in Antium and miles from the fire. With the city partially destroyed, he could erect new buildings more to his liking, including one—the fanciful Domus Aurea—that would have been met with opposition among the social elite under normal circumstances. One of Rome’s historians, Tacitus, even claimed Nero merrily played his fiddle while Rome went up in flames. The fiddle had not yet been invented, but such details have not stopped suspicions that the young ruler was a bit of a firebug.

6. The U.S. developed an invisible warship.

Private citizens may never know the full extent of the weaponry and tools of war that the U.S. government has developed over the decades. One significant leap in technology was thought by some to have occurred in July 1943, when officials at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard took the USS Eldridge and successfully rendered it invisible using electrical field manipulation—or so some believed, anyway. Later, the Eldridge was allegedly teleported to Norfolk, Virginia, with the ship arriving a few seconds before it left. Thus, time travel had also been invented.

These claims originated with a man named Carl Meredith Allen, who said he was a seaman stationed in Virginia who saw the Eldridge appear and disappear in front of his eyes. He sent his eyewitness account to author Morris K. Jessup, author of several books about UFOs. While Jessup never published the claims, they did become the focus of a 1979 book, The Philadelphia Experiment: Project Invisibility. The author, Charles Berlitz, was primed to buy the tale, as he had already explored the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle.

Naval records, however, contradict the claim. The Eldridge was not in commission on the day it was supposedly rendered invisible, and stationed in New York Harbor instead of Philadelphia or Virginia. The theory may stem from attempts by the Navy around that time to make ships undetectable to surface and underwater mines by running electrical currents through them, canceling out their magnetic field. That could technically make ships "invisible" to the mines, although not to the human eye.

7. Queen Elizabeth I was actually a man.

Queen Elizabeth I—who ruled England for 44 years between 1558 and 1603—defeated the Spanish Armada, rejoined what had been a divided country, and encouraged the arts to flourish. What she didn’t do was marry. The Queen refused any and all advances to enter matrimony, a policy that led to her nickname of the Virgin Queen. Her stance led some observers—including Dracula author Bram Stoker—to suspect she may have been a man.

Stoker once visited the town of Bisley in the Cotswolds, where a May Day celebration involved a boy dressing as the May Queen in Elizabethan clothes. Intrigued by the ceremony, Stoker discovered a fantastic tale—that the queen-to-be had visited Bisley in her youth to escape the plague, got sick, and died. Knowing her father, King Henry VIII, had a famous temper, the governess found a boy who resembled her charge and disguised him as Elizabeth when the king, who apparently could not readily identify his own daughter, came to visit. The deception was never discovered, and the unknown boy grew to rule England, disguising his masculine features with wigs, heavy make-up, and neck coverings. While Stoker popularized the story in the early 1900s, it had appeared during Elizabeth’s reign, possibly as a way for male subjects to cope with the idea of having a female ruler.

8. Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper.

To some, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was no demure children’s book author. He could have been notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. That was the theory offered up by author Richard Wallace, who assembled a laundry list of suspicious and potentially incriminating facts about Carroll in his book, Jack the Ripper: Light-Hearted Friend. Wallace believes Carroll—born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1832—experienced traumatic events in boarding school that would plague him for the rest of his life. He also believes Carroll hid secret messages in his books in the form of anagrams that confessed to his involvement. Carroll was also geographically close to the sites of the Ripper murders.

Doubters pointed out that “confessions” could be extracted from Wallace’s own words in the same fashion—including incriminating statements about murder and even that Wallace was the secret author of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

7 Tasty Facts About Tater Tots

bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images

Whether you associate them with your school cafeteria, your childhood home, or your local dive bar, tater tots are ubiquitous. Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the bite-sized pellets rival French fries for the title of most delicious potato product. But they’re more than just a tasty side dish—they’re also an upcycling success story, a casserole ingredient, and one of the few foods that’s more popular frozen than fresh. Here are some more facts about tater tots you should know.

1. The first Tater Tots were made from French fry scraps.

Brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg founded the Oregon Frozen Foods Company, later known as Ore-Ida, in Ontario, Oregon, in 1952. One of their first items was frozen French fries, and after seeing all the potato scraps they had leftover, they came up with an idea. By chopping up the potato parts, seasoning them, and molding them into pellets, they were able to create a new product. With help from a thesaurus, they landed on the name tater tot and debuted their creation in 1954.

2. Tater Tots are the main ingredient in Hotdish casserole.

Hotdish casserole with tater tots.
ALLEKO, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but in certain states, they’re part of the main course. Hotdish follows the long Midwestern tradition of tossing whatever’s in the kitchen into a casserole. It’s made by mixing together ground beef and frozen vegetables and topping it with a layer of tater tots before baking the whole dish in the oven. It’s a hearty match for Midwestern winters, plus, it’s a way to sneak more tots into your diet.

3. The name Tater Tot is trademarked.

If the golden nugget of potato-y goodness you’re eating is not Ore-Ida brand, it’s not really a tater tot. The Grigg brothers trademarked the catchy name shortly after developing the product, and Ore-Ida still holds its trademark on tater tots today. This doesn’t stop people using it as a catch-all term for the generic version of the food. Ore-Ida tried to combat this in 2014 by running an ad campaign warning customers not to “be fooled by Imi-taters.”

4. Tater Tots have different names around the world.

The all-American tater tot has spread around the globe, but it’s usually sold under a different name abroad. Tot-lovers in New Zealand and Australia may refer to them as potato gems, potato royals, potato pom-poms, or hash bites. The food is so popular in New Zealand that Pizza Hut launched a pie with a hash bite crust there in 2016. In Canada, they’re called tasti taters or spud puppies, and they’ve been labeled oven crunchies in the UK.

5. Homemade tater tot recipes may not be worth it.

Tater tots on a plate served with ketchup.
MSPhotographic, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are the ultimate convenience food—unless you try making them from scratch at home. Recipes online involve peeling and grating pounds of potatoes, frying them once, chilling them overnight, and then shaping them into tots and frying them a second time. Without the streamlined method and equipment of a factory, the process can take 12 hours. Even fine restaurants that feature tater tots on their menus often prefer the taste (and convenience) of the frozen stuff.

6. Idaho praised Napoleon Dynamite for featuring Tater Tots.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in Idaho, and one of the ways the 2004 film pays tribute to the state is by prominently featuring the tot. The State of Idaho passed a resolution in 2005 commending the makers of the film, specifically thanking them for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.”

7. The birthplace of the Tater Tot is hosting a Tater Tot festival.

Nearly 70 years after tater tots were invented there, Ontario, Oregon, is honoring its patron potato product by dedicating an entire festival to it in August 2020. The Tater Tot Festival will feature games, food vendors, and a Ferris wheel, plus special events like a tater tot-eating contest and a tater tot-themed play. The fair will end with the crowning of the tater tot festival king and queen.

17 Animated Facts About BoJack Horseman

Netflix
Netflix

BoJack Horseman, which is getting ready to debut its final episodes on Netflix at the end of January, surprised viewers and critics with its gradual dive into the depression of an anthropomorphic horse that used to be the star of a banal, early 1990s, TGIF-type sitcom. On the series, the town of Hollywoo is made up of both humans and talking animals full of hopes, dreams, and regrets.

Will Arnett stars as the voice of the titular equine who, at the beginning of season 3, is faced with the consequences of getting what he wants: legitimate acting recognition for playing the lead in a movie about his hero, Secretariat. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays BoJack's human roommate, Todd; Amy Sedaris stars as BoJack's agent, Princess Carolyn; and Alison Brie portrays BoJack's ghostwriter, Diane Nguyen.

1. BoJack Horseman’s creator and production designer have been friends since high school.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 01: Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the after party for Netflix's "Tuca & Bertie" Tribeca Film Festival Premiere at American Cut Tribeca on May 01, 2019
Lisa Hanawalt and Raphael Bob-Waksberg attend the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Netflix

BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and production designer/producer Lisa Hanawalt met in a high school theater class, coming up with ideas for TV shows. Even while still in high school, Bob-Waksberg had anthropomorphism on the brain. It was there that he wrote a play about a boy with udders who just wanted to fit in. While the two were in college, they teamed up to make a web comic titled Tip Me Over, Pour Me Out.

Years later, while Hanawalt was becoming a regular James Beard Award finalist for her illustration collections of characters with animal heads on human bodies, Bob-Waksberg was living like his future creation Todd: In a small bedroom "that was more of a closet" in a big beautiful Hollywood Hills house formerly owned by Johnny Depp. It gave him the idea of coming up with a character "who had every success he could have wanted and still couldn't find a way to be happy," someone who felt "simultaneously on top of the world and so isolated and alone."

Since the two had always wanted to collaborate on a television project, Bob-Waksberg proposed combining his feeling of isolation with Hanawalt's drawings.

2. Some BoJack Horseman characters are modeled on Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Lisa Hanawalt’s former classmates.

One day Bob-Waksberg asked Hanawalt, “Oh, do you remember that girl who was in our English class senior year of high school? Draw her, but as a dolphin.” Sextina Aquafina, singer of "My C*itoris is Gynormous," was born.

3. None of BoJack Horseman’s characters have tails.

A still from 'BoJack Horseman'
Netflix

Despite the fact that about half of the characters in the BoJack Horseman universe are animals, none of them have tails. That’s a decision production designer and co-producer Hanawalt made early on. "I’ve drawn a couple animal people with tails in my personal work, but it makes more sense to draw them without, and I’m not sure why,” she told Business Insider in 2015.

The only minor exception is in the season 2 episode “Escape From L.A.,” which features a scorpion—with its trademark stinger—as a prom DJ.

“So he’s got this big tail thing, but I rationalize it by saying it’s coming out of his upper back,” Hanawalt told Business Insider.

4. Michael Eisner signed off on BoJack Horseman.

Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner's Tornante Company agreed to produce the BoJack concept and sold it to Netflix. After a nervous and inexperienced Bob-Waksberg pitched the show to Eisner himself, Eisner expressed reluctance about putting another series satirizing show business on the air. Once Bob-Waksberg talked about why it was still interesting to him, Eisner agreed to just let him do it his way.

5. BoJack himself was fairly easy to come up with.

Bob-Waksberg doesn't remember where he got the name of his protagonist. "BoJack just sounded like a horse name to me," he said. "I don't know where I heard it or how I came up with it."

Hanawalt claimed that BoJack Horseman was one of the easiest characters to design, quickly picturing the sweater, the shoes, and his grumpy expression as soon as Bob-Waksberg described him to her.

6. BoJack Horseman's human characters were the hardest to create.

For Hanawalt, Diane and Todd were the hardest characters to create. "Humans are generally much trickier to draw because we’re so used to looking at and analyzing human faces," she said. "The slightest tweak makes a huge difference in how we perceive that character. Todd went through dozens of variations before we got him right, and then we changed him even more."

7. Todd Chavez is one of the first openly asexual characters on television.

Aaron Paul as Todd in 'BoJack Horseman'
Aaron Paul voices Todd Chavez in BoJack Horseman.
Netflix

Todd Chavez is one of very few television characters to use the word asexual to refer to himself, a development some critics have described as revolutionary. Other television characters who openly identify as asexual include Brad, a background character in Faking It; Valentina “Voodoo” Dunacci in Sirens; Lord Varys on Game of Thrones; and Florence, a minor character in Netflix’s Sex Education.

8. Lisa Hanawalt takes inspiration from real-life fashion to design clothing for BoJack Horseman’s characters.

“I’ll often reference celebrities,” Hanawalt told Racked in 2017 of how she comes up with character's outfits. “Like Jessica Biel, who’s actually on the show—she has the best street style, so I look at what she wears a lot. There was this leather army green one-sleeved mini dress she wore that I definitely put on a character. And I recently drew a dress that Constance Wu wore to the Critics’ Choice Awards; I love her.”

Once, Hanawalt even put Princess Carolyn in the mint green Gucci dress Katy Perry wore to the 2013 Grammy Awards. To draw the characters who work at the fictional Manatee Fair, she turned to Prada for inspiration.

“That was crazy fun to draw, and I liked that they’re the opposite of model body types,” she told Racked. “It was fun to take runway fashions and put them on manatees!”

9. Yes, that was really Sir Paul McCartney's voice you heard on BoJack Horseman.

Not every celebrity agrees to do a voice on the show—after a writer on the show "poured his heart out" to Cameron Crowe, Crowe was still too busy to voice the raven named Cameron Crowe. In season 1, the show still managed to snag J.K. Simmons to play the tortoise Lennie Turtletaub and Naomi Watts to portray herself. More celebrities followed; an unnamed guest actor told Bob-Waksberg, "Well, I guess if Naomi Watts is willing to make a fool of herself like this, I can too."

For the season 2 episode "After the Party," the show managed to get the former Beatle after some "tenacity" from the casting director Linda Lamontagne. McCartney recorded his lines in New York, with Bob-Waksberg instructing him from the studio in Los Angeles. The BoJack creator didn't know McCartney was going to do it until five minutes beforehand, when an executive producer called his cell while he was waiting to pick up a smoothie.

If he didn't do the voice, Kevin Bigley would have done an impression of Michael Bublé to end the installment.

10. Margo Martindale didn't know BoJack Horseman involved animals until after a table read.

Margo Martindale's The Millers co-star Will Arnett insisted that Martindale had to appear on his animated show. After she said she didn't want to do a cartoon, Arnett explained, "You have to do it—the part is Character Actress Margo Martindale." The day after her first BoJack table read, Martindale approached Arnett on The Millers set to tell him how much fun she had had, and how Mr. Peanutbutter oddly has a lot of doglike qualities.

Unfortunately, after Martindale was sent to jail on BoJack Horseman, her husband discovered that someone updated her real-life Wikipedia page to read that she spent the last year in prison for armed robbery. “This is what your cartoon’s done for me,” Martindale told Arnett.

11. Some actors do double or triple voice duty on BoJack Horseman.

Arnett voices both BoJack and his father, Butterscotch Horseman. Alison Brie portrays Diane Nguyen, "Vincent Adultman," and Joelle Clarke. Even Bob-Waksberg gets into the voice acting as tree frog assistant-turned-agent Charley Witherspoon.

12. BoJack Horseman’s writers love giving Amy Sedaris complicated tongue twisters.

Amy Sedaris’s character Princess Carolyn is often saddled with complex tongue twisters because the actress “hates them,” according to a Yahoo! interview with Bob-Waksberg. “She’s so annoyed,” he said “There’s a fun friction that comes out of her saying these words. Where you can almost get the sense that she doesn’t want to, but she has to, which gives it a fun charge.”

The writing team is fond of creating characters specifically for the purpose of inserting them into increasingly ridiculous word avalanches. In season 4, Amy Sedaris had several lines revolving around the fictional actress Courtney Portnoy, who portrayed “the formerly portly consort in The Seaport Resort” and “the thorny horticulturist in One Sordid Fortnight with a Short-Skirted Sorceress.”

“I enjoy doing it, and I enjoy making Amy do it,” Bob-Waksberg told Yahoo! “I think she secretly enjoys it too, even though she complains.”

13. BoJack Horseman’s running Zoe or Zelda gag was based off of a Tia and Tamera observation.

"The Zoe/Zelda thing in season one came from a Tia and Tamera observation I've had for a while," Bob-Waksberg admitted. Back in 2010, he wrote on his Tumblr that he was a Tia, despite his many Tamera qualities, and later that he was a Zoe with some very Zelda qualities.

14. Some of BoJack Horseman’s jokes take entire seasons to build.

While the mulch joke was a variation of a joke Bob-Waksberg knew for years, and the movie-star speech Rutabaga Rabbitowitz gives Princess Carolyn is something he had told to heartbroken friends before, the Marisa Tomei sneezing picture took the entire first season to come together in the writers room.

"In season 1, we were working on some episode and we knew there was some story on BoJack sneezing on Marisa Tomei that we had set up, and elsewhere, we had set up that there was a sneezing picture that BoJack hates, but everyone uses when they talk about BoJack," he explained. "It wasn’t until episode 11 that we realized, 'What if the sneezing picture is the picture of him sneezing on Marisa Tomei?' We went back to episode 2 and changed the picture and had a flashback in episode 11."

Some story arcs were invented in the writers room, like the paparazzi birds, Todd's rock opera, and the progression of Mr. Peanutbutter and Diane's relationship. Going to Boston, the Herb Kazzaz storyline, the drug trip episode, and BoJack cornering Diane at Ghostwritercon were all Bob-Waksberg's initial pitch to Netflix.

15. One BoJack Horseman episode was based off of an unused Curb Your Enthusiasm script.

"Let's Find Out" was based off of a Curb Your Enthusiasm spec script by BoJack writer Peter Knight. In his script, Larry David appears on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with Ron Howard. When Ron Howard admits he doesn't know who Larry David is, David pretends to not know who Howard is and deliberately blows the game. In "Let's Find Out," BoJack goes on the Mr. Peanutbutter-hosted Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! and fumes over the fact that Daniel Radcliffe doesn't know who he is. In the end, BoJack pretends to not know who Radcliffe is, losing the game.

Radcliffe was a fan of BoJack Horseman, so he was written in as the celebrity on the game show. "I’ve seen every version of a Harry Potter joke and you guys wrote my favorite," Radcliffe told Bob-Waksberg.

16. BoJack Horseman’s creator doesn’t actually hate honeydew.

Bojack Horseman is very vocal about his hatred of honeydew, which the show refers to as the Jared Leto of fruits (“It is literally the worst part of everything it’s in,” one character explains). But Bob-Waksberg doesn’t actually mind it.

“I think good honeydew’s all right,” he told Yahoo! in 2017. “I hope this doesn’t destroy my credibility. I live in constant fear that people connect to the show because it’s such a sensitive and accurate portrayal of honeydew haters, and it’s going to come out that I myself am not a honeydew hater, and they’re going to tear me down.”

17. Raphael Bob-Waksberg thinks BoJack Horseman still has a few seasons left in it.

In an interview with Vulture, Bob-Waksberg was asked whether he was surprised when Netflix announced that season 6 would be BoJack Horseman's last; his answer was somewhere between yes and no."I thought we’d go a couple more years," he said. "But you know, it’s a business. They’ve got to do what’s right for them, and six years is a very healthy run for a TV show. Frankly, I’m amazed we got this far. So I can’t complain. I think if we premiered on any other network, or even on Netflix on any other time than when we did, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten the second season."

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