Our 25 Most Popular Stories of 2020

"So that's why I twitch in my sleep!"
"So that's why I twitch in my sleep!" / Photo by Cookie the Pom on Unsplash

At Mental Floss, we like to say that our site is the home for all things curious. Whether it’s diving into the mystery of an unsolved poisoning at the South Pole or having Star Wars icon Anthony Daniels weigh in on the drama surrounding an NSFW C-3PO trading card, our goal is to discover little-known stories and facts (including why fact and factoid aren’t synonyms) and share them with you. And 2020 was no different.

While current events—namely, the COVID-19 pandemic—were a driving force behind some of this year’s most popular stories, the historical precedent of the 1918 pandemic was clearly of interest, too. And with so many people stuck inside for long periods of time, it’s no wonder they all wanted some TV and movie recommendations.

In case you missed any of them last year, here are 25 of 2020’s most popular stories.

1. 12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that enslaved people were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation.

2. The Reason Dogs Put Their Paws on You

Part of the fun of having a pet is trying to decipher their idiosyncratic behaviors. But figuring out why dogs like to rest a paw on a person's leg or shoulder can be a puzzle. Some people believe it signals a dog’s dominance. Others think it’s a sign of affection. What’s the real reason?

3. The 45 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Each month, Netflix adds dozens of new titles to its already gigantic streaming library, sending subscribers scrolling through the options for seemingly hours at a time. So each month, we attempt to help you answer the “what do you want to watch?” question, so that you can get straight to the good stuff.

4. The Cicadas Are Coming! 1.5 Million Cicadas Are Ready to Emerge After Nearly 20 Years Underground

Cicadas are coming.
Cicadas are coming. / Alex Wong/Getty Images

The summer of 2020 was a noisy one in three southern states, as approximately 1.5 million 17-year cicadas (dubbed Brood IX) emerged in North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

5. 8 Surprising Facts About John Candy

We're clearly not the only ones who miss John Candy. The versatile comic actor, who broke out in 1984's Splash and has made generations of movie fans crack up since, was once eyed to star in a Sylvester Stallone movie.

6. The Reason Why Button-Down Shirts Have Loops On the Back

While the loop on the back of a person's shirt can be an excellent way to annoy someone by tugging on it, history tells us it originally had a much more pragmatic function.

7. Less Than One Percent of the Population are ‘Super Recognizers’—Take This Test to Find Out If You’re One of Them

This facial recognition test is your chance to earn the right to claim that you never forget a face.

8. The Teenage Girl Gang That Seduced and Killed Nazis


In the 1940s, sisters Freddie and Truus Oversteegen used their unassuming profile as teenagers to ambush and kill Nazis in the Netherlands.

9. At the Height of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Anti-Mask League of San Francisco Formed to Protest PPE

In January 1919, San Francisco residents received some bad news: The second wave of the 1918 influenza was rolling through the city, and masks were mandatory once again. Not everyone took the directive in stride.

10. Super Spreader: The Strange Story of Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon’s asymptomatic spreading of typhoid fever is a cautionary tale about the importance of washing your hands.

11. The 25 Greatest War Movies of All Time

Benedict Cumberbatch in Sam Mendes's 1917 (2019).
Benedict Cumberbatch in Sam Mendes's 1917 (2019). / © 2019 Universal Pictures and Storyteller Distribution Co. LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Our picks for the best war movies of all time have got everything you want to make a good story: Scope and spectacle, high stakes, dramatic tension, and emotional distress both at home and on the battlefield.

12. How to Wear a Face Mask Without Fogging Up Your Glasses

Face masks are the latest in coronavirus couture, but warm exhaled air can obscure your lenses. Here's how to solve the problem.

13. 9 Classic Board Games You Can Play Online

An energetic round of Monopoly, Catan, or another classic board game is a great way to bond with friends and family—even if you can't crowd around a coffee table together.

14. Here's Why the Coke at McDonald's Is So Good

Mario Tama, iStock via Getty Images

Not every cup of Coke is created equal. If you're a McDonald's customer who suspects that the soda from the fast food chain is superior to versions found elsewhere, you're not imagining things.

15. The Reason Target Has Those Giant Red Concrete Spheres Outside

Target's name is reinforced by its red and white logo—a literal target—which can also be seen painted around the eye of its mascot, a Bull Terrier named Bullseye. And it seems like the giant red concrete spheres in front of the brick-and-mortar stores are just another way for Target to make itself so easily recognizable, but there's more to them than that!

16. Can Farts Spread Disease? 

Diy13/iStock via Getty Images

Back in 2001, a nurse asked Australian science author, educator, and commentator Karl "Dr. Karl" Kruszelnicki if she was contaminating the operating room she worked in by silently farting throughout procedures.

17. Friends Co-Creator Reveals the Two Episodes She Regrets

In 2020, Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman admitted there were two episodes that she wishes were slightly different, and both involve Lisa Kudrow's character, Phoebe.

18. 20 Best Gangster Movies of All Time

Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007).
Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007). / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Making a list of the best gangster movies is tough, because there are lots of movies that overlap with this category without quite hitting the target. So our picks for the best of them are 20 films that serve as proof that crime pays off handsomely onscreen—even if we wouldn’t necessarily want to follow in the characters' footsteps.

19. The Reason Your Local ALDI Grocery Store Doesn’t Have a Phone Number

ALDI’s streamlined layout, reliably low prices, and lack of name-brand products all make grocery shopping feel much less overwhelming and more personal than it often does at other stores. Having said that, you can’t exactly ring up your friendly neighborhood ALDI the way you would with many local grocery stores.

20. The Smart Reason IKEA Mugs Come With a Chip on the Bottom

IKEA might be best known for its array of ready-to-assemble furniture and its wafting scent of Swedish meatballs, but it also sells a steady number of coffee mugs. Most are unremarkable, but some do have one odd feature: a chip on the bottom. Why?

21. The Reason Dogs Twitch in Their Sleep

Tetiana Garkusha/iStock via Getty Images

The sight of a dog batting its tiny paws around while sleeping is irrefutably adorable, and it’s not hard to imagine that your beloved pet is dreaming of swimming, fetching a Frisbee, or bounding around the yard in pursuit of a scampering squirrel. But is that really what's going on?

22. Back to the Future Screenwriter Weighs in on One of the Film’s Most Notorious Plot Holes

Time travel is notoriously tricky to navigate in film, but 1985's Back to the Future seems to do it effortlessly—all while delivering smart jokes, satisfying pay-offs, and fully developed characters. But one potential flaw has been bugging viewers for years: Why do George and Lorraine McFly fail to realize that Calvin Klein and their son Marty are the same person?

23. 6 Expert Tips for Making Money Off Your Beanie Baby Collection

Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Beanie Babies were a hot commodity in the 1990s. Though people spent millions on the pellet-filled toys at their peak, the majority of Beanie Babies sold decades ago aren’t worth much money today. A select few, however, are worth a small fortune—if you know how to sell them.

24. 5 People Who Were Amazingly Productive In Quarantine

William Shakespeare produced some of his best work during a pandemic, but he's not the only one. Here are some other great thinkers and artists who used social distancing to their advantage.

25. When Theodore Roosevelt Refused Geronimo's Plea

Portrait of Geronimo (Guiyatle), Apache
Portrait of Geronimo (Guiyatle), Apache / Frank A. Rinehart, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The Apache leader Geronimo had just one request of President Theodore Roosevelt when they met in 1905—but it was a big one.