Mental Floss has covered a lot of ground in its 20 years, and produced so many incredible stories that it would be impossible to mention them all—but we still decided to try. Here are a few of favorites from Mental Floss staffers past and present, and don’t forget to tell us your favorite Mental Floss story on social media using the tag #MentalFloss20.

Masterpieces

The masterpieces were [about] things we felt had to be essential knowledge, but also felt so dry for the most part. [We tried to] take a story like American Gothic and make people look at it completely differently: That Grant Wood was addicted to sugar and put spoonfuls of sugar on his lettuce, even, to eat. And he spent so much time in the dentist chair staring at his dentist's face that the dentist became the model for the farmer in this picture. The way you could talk about a masterpiece and get someone to actually want to buy that album or listen to that song, or see that art piece after, was just something I felt like, in some ways, was the most overlooked and most successful thing in the publication. —Mangesh Hattikudur, co-founder

Other Masterpieces We Love:

Moby-Dick (May 2014)

The Twilight Zone (November 2014)

Big Questions

“We did so many great stories over the years, but I would always get excited when we would do our Big Questions issues. I always loved that we had the ability to say, ‘We actually want to title this one the biggest questions in the history of the universe’—it's so stupid when we're answering questions like what makes a number two pencil so special? I love those kinds of things, cause they're just fun to know and fun to talk about.” —Will Pearson, co-founder

A Few of Our Favorite Big Questions:

What Causes Old Book Smell? (July 2012)

What Happens When Food Goes Down the Wrong Pipe? (October 2020)

Did Blowing Into Nintendo Cartridges Really Help? (September 2012)

Why Do Your Dog’s Feet Smell Like Popcorn? (July 2010)

Is it Illegal to Shoot Bigfoot? (October 2016)

Why Are Public Toilet Seats U-Shaped? (June 2015)

Why Does My Shower Curtain Liner Attack Me? (January 2018)

How Cereal Transformed American Culture // Sept 2008

This is the piece that most often pops into my head when asked what kind of stories Mental Floss publishes. If you’re not hooked early by a line like, “Christian fundamentalists believed that constipation was God’s punishment for eating meat,” well, then, I can’t help you. It goes on to chart the fascinating evolution of a business from soul-saving tonic to the evil sugar siren of TV advertising. (Which, now that I think about it, feels like the most American thing ever.) —Neely Harris Lohmann // editor-in-chief, mental_floss magazine, 2001-2011

Meet America’s Greatest Obituary Writer // 2016

I loved this Margaret Eby profile of the Atlanta obituary writer Kay Powell, who “wrote poetic, funny, revelatory obituaries for the following: a moonshiner, the 'King of Gypsies,' a lobotomy patient, a Tuskegee Airman, a lawyer famous for her cedar-smoked salmon, and a planet ('Pluto, the least of the major celestial bodies, never asked to be a planet,' the obit opened).” —Jessanne Collins // editor and editor-in-chief, mental_floss magazine, 2011-2016

The Quest to Break America’s Most Mysterious Code—And Find $60 Million in Buried Treasure // June 2018

You could basically write an entire list of incredible features Lucas Reilly has written for Mental Floss, but this piece on the Beale Cipher ranks up there as one of my favorites—not just because it’s deeply researched and incredibly well-written, but because we often get mail from readers who claim to have cracked the code. They haven’t, but the emails always bring me joy. —Erin McCarthy // editor-in-chief, MentalFloss.com

Daniel Radcliffe on Space Travel, Russian Literature, and Napoleon // October 2014

Dale May

This story was a joint venture between the print magazine and website: a story in the magazine and an extended feature on the website with more photography. I hired Dale May, whom I've worked with before, to helm the shoot. We had a finite amount of time since Daniel was due to appear on a talk show directly afterward. He was such a lovely, funny, and charming person to work with during the shoot. From the moment he walked in and introduced himself as Dan, he set the tone for a relaxed and fun atmosphere. He even used his phone to play music for us. —Lucy Quintanilla // Associate Art Director, mental_floss magazine; Art Director, MentalFloss.com, 2014 to 2018

I’m seconding this one. Not only is Daniel the nicest person you’ll ever meet, he’s a wealth of interesting information and will totally stump you with a trivia question. This shoot was the so fun; we had a bunch of props to work with, and I remember yelling out random things to get him to crack up. (Sorry for dissing the Giants, Dan.) —EMC

Bat Boy Lives! An Oral History of Weekly World News // August 2020

If you asked one of my colleagues to describe my cultural aesthetic, they'd likely pinpoint a rarified space right at the point where lowbrow meets highbrow. And after reading Jake Rossen's wonderfully in-depth oral history—a story long in the making, which likely began with a late-night email from me that just said "Remember Bat Boy?"—I realize that Weekly World News played a major role in shaping that. For years, I begged my mother to buy me a subscription to this grocery store checkout staple, but she always refused ... something about not being able to look our mailman in the eyes ever again. But to learn about the inner-workings of the publication, and the distinguished pedigree of the creative geniuses behind it, I now feel much better that my elementary school ambition was to one day serve as its editor. See, Mom! —Jennifer M. Wood // Managing Editor, MentalFloss.com

A Walk on the Far Side: The Life and Times of Gary Larson // November/December 2006

I’m not sure what’s more memorable for me about this article on the legendary The Far Side cartoonist: the priceless fun fact that Jane Goodall was a huge fan of his and invited him on safari (nerd friends forever!), or how hard I laughed at the photo Kelly Ferguson submitted for the issue’s contributors page, featuring her decked out as a Far Side character, complete with beehive hairdo and cat-eye glasses. Either way, it perfectly illustrates that sweet spot we always strove to hit: taking something familiar and making it feel completely new. (Also, fittingly, the article appeared in the Nov-Dec 2006 issue, celebrating the mag’s 5th anniversary. We couldn’t believe we’d made it that far!)

Fun fact: I stumbled on an article recently announcing that Larson, after 25 years in retirement, published three new cartoons this summer. After a year in which humans have been stuck inside, rendered small by the forces of the natural world, all those amoeba jokes take on new meaning. —NHL

The Optimal Time to Dunk an Oreo, According to Science // March 2018

How long should you dunk that cookie? Science has the answer.Aryo Hadi via Getty Images Plus

To me, this is one of the great Mental Floss stories. Not only does Lucas tell you what the optimal time to dunk an Oreo is, but he breaks it down into three levels of complexity with nuanced information using Washburn's Equation, citing research studies, and explaining water activity in baked goods. The story is nerdy, smart, engaging, and deals in facts—it takes a simple idea and explains to you how it's not so simple. —LQ

An American Boat Sailed to Vietnam During the War. Then It Disappeared. // October 2016

In 2016, I was helping prepare the last issue of mental_floss magazine. It was spring, and we still hadn't decided on a feature story yet. But then I got this pitch from Nicole Pasulka about a man who tried to sail around the world—despite having no sailing experience. And that was just the hook! Pasulka's gumshoe reporting unspooled a fantastic tale involving Quakers, atomic bombs, and a healthy dollop of mystery. We co-produced the story, which would become one of the longest feature stories ever published in the magazine, with Atlas Obscura. —Lucas Reilly // Senior Editor, mental_floss magazine and MentalFloss.com, 2013 to 2019

When A Founding Father Performed His Own Penis Surgery (And Then Died) // December 2020

Gouverneur Morris is one of the more underappreciated and unknown Founding Fathers, but you’ll certainly never forget his name again after reading this piece by Ellen Gutoskey. —EMC

How Charles Dickens Fueled the World of Spontaneous Combustion Truthers // December 2014

Of the epic pre-Twitter lit-world beefs, my favorite has to be the time the critic George Lewes took Charles Dickens to task for the egregious liberties he took in his depiction of human spontaneous combustion in Bleak House, as told by Sam Kean. —JC

12 Ice Cream Secrets From Ben & Jerry's // March 2014

I scream, you scream, we all scream for facts about Ben & Jerry's ice cream!MmeEmil via Getty Images Plus

I’m not big on self-promotion, so wouldn’t normally include one of my own stories in a list like this. But I’ll make an exception in this case, for this story I originally wrote for mental_floss magazine. Specifically for the fact that it allowed me to spend an entire day in the Ben & Jerry’s kitchen in Vermont and attempt to concoct a new flavor (since we were in Vermont, we did a maple cinnamon kind of thing). If you’ve ever eaten their Cinnamon Bun ice cream, you will know how delicious the mini cinnamon bun bits are—and understand why I probably consumed a dozen pints’ worth of them, straight from the fridge. —JMW

Dark Side: An Oral History of the Star Wars Holiday Special // November 2018

The web certainly isn’t hurting for snarky articles about the ill-conceived Star Wars Holiday Special, but what Jake did here was actually dive into the hows and whys of this car wreck from a galaxy far, far away. And as we see during the course of this oral history, it turns out that making the thing was just as confusing as watching it. My favorite bit is when Pat Proft, one of the writers of the special, revealed that the production crew forgot to provide oxygen for the people wearing the rubber masks during the intergalactic cantina scene, saying “characters were fainting left and right.” —Jay Serafino, Special Projects Editor

Hot Meals and Cold Cases: Solving Crimes at the Detectives’ Lunch Club // 2013

I’m a huge fan of true crime, so I couldn’t read Matthew Shaer’s feature about the Vidocq Society—a group of members of law enforcement who get together over lunch to solve cases long considered cold—fast enough. The piece covers the history of the society, which was founded in 1990; looks at cases that its members’ fresh eyes were able to solve; and perhaps Flossiest of all, tackles misconceptions about forensics that the public might have thanks to shows like CSI. —EMC

Other True Crime Stories We Love:

The Biggest Unsolved Art Heist (2013)

Venus Flytraps in Peril (September 2019)

The Cleveland Torso Murderer (September 2020)

The Perfect Crime May Be Possible in Yellowstone National Park (July 2016)

12 Reasons We Love True Crime, According to Experts (October 2018)

Death at the South Pole: The Mystery of Antarctica's Unsolved Poisoning Case (June 2019)

In 1905, Fingerprints Pointed to the Murder for the First Time (March 2017)

The Attempted Murder at Peanuts Headquarters (March 2016)

5 Pets Who Helped Solve Their Owners' Murders (June 2016)

How Long to Steep Your Tea, According to Science // May 2018

The classic Mental Floss M.O. is to look at a seemingly simple, commonplace concept and dive as far as possible into it. Lucas did it with the Oreo-dunking investigation, and here Michele Debczak examines the very basic action of steeping tea in hot water and asks whether science can reveal its optimal duration. In a story that uses the phrases osmotic diffusion and vascular reactivity, Michele explains the complex reasons for steeping tea for different durations for different purposes. Whether readers need a caffeine fix or simply appreciate a delicately flavored beverage, they will understand how to achieve their goal—with chemistry! —Kat Long, Science Editor

How an Intelligence Officer Used Monopoly to Free POWs // March 2015

If you ever want to hear a bizarre story about history, ask Erin McCarthy. She’s the human version of an encyclopedia when it comes to little-known bits of world history (and don’t even get her started on anything related to Teddy Roosevelt, including how he hated to be called Teddy). But she has a truly impressive ability to make history fascinating by discovering little-known stories that would have made your high school history class a hell of a lot more interesting. This story, about an MI9 intelligence officer who devised a brilliant plan for helping Allied prisoners escape German POW camps during World War II, will have you looking at Park Place a whole new way. —JMW

An Interview with Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson // October 2013

Bill Watterson

The fact that Bill Watterson only said yes because he's from that town in Cleveland where Toby and Melanie are from, so he clearly had been watching the magazine grow and said yes because he had a fondness for it meant a ton to me—but also, the quiet of that cover. There’s no text on it. And he let us use that image and I think that's probably my favorite [cover]. It just felt like an achievement in a different way where it's like, no other magazine could do this—no other magazine could get Bill Waterson to talk and give the art to it. But also, it just felt so right for us—I think that was really special. —MH

Air Jordan III: The Shocking Story of the Greatest Shoe Michael Jordan Never Wanted // August 2015

The Air Jordan piece, which was part of the print edition’s Masterpieces department, encapsulates the best of Mental Floss. Here was something that was superficially very commercial in nature and ubiquitous—a basketball sneaker—with a rich design history and real human drama behind it. I think the piece represents what Mental Floss specializes in, which is taking something often overlooked and putting it under a microscope so that the next time someone sees it, it carries a different connotation. It was true to the idea that there are stories to be found everywhere. Even on feet. —Jake Rossen, Senior Staff Writer

Man Opens Can of Beans, Finds Just One Bean // September 2019

As long as I live, this short-and-sweet news post will be one of my all-time favorite stories. Maybe it's partly for sentimental reasons. The story itself was simple and, frankly, rather stupid, as the story title tells you: A man opened a can of beans and discovered just a single bean in the can. While that might not seem like a headline-making tale to every editor, the visual image of what this must have looked like made it must-share news for us. Ellen was still a relative newcomer to Team Mental Floss when she wrote this, and I may or may not have sent her a message before she got started to let her know that her future as a staff writer was resting on this story. (Call it some light hazing.) She did not disappoint, as evidenced by the opening line alone: "In Heinz-sight, Steve Smith should’ve ordered take-out for his Tuesday night dinner." —JMW

What is Mercury Retrograde, And Why Do We Blame Things On It? // 2018

The view from Earth as Mercury transited the Sun in 2006.ESA/NASA/SOHO

This story is the perfect example of something we do really well: Take a common thing and try to explain it for our readers. Mental Floss doesn’t put any stock in astrology, but with everyone and their mother blaming things on Mercury Retrograde, we wanted to know: just what is it exactly, and how did people come to pin disasters on it? Michele interviewed an expert to get to the bottom of it, and the result is fascinating. —EMC

How a Single Mom Created a Plastic Food Storage Empire // June 2017

Jen Doll’s profile of the woman who took Tupperware™ from an underwhelming food storage solution to a lifestyle (and was awarded a gold-dyed palomino horse for her efforts) is fascinating in its own accord, and even more so for the way it foreshadows the era of multilevel marketing schemes. —JC

Kumail Nanjiani on Comedy, Video Games, and Slaying Dragons // March/April 2015

Kumail Nanjiani has the kind of career we admire most: one that’s a testament to studying hard, sticking with it, and carefully regulating your recreational time.JUCO

Before Kumail Nanjiani was a Marvel Superhero in The Eternals, he was a mental_floss cover star. I think the story gets across just how smart, funny, and cool Kumail is in real life. He gushes over his love of video games and his early career as a stand-up comic with genuine enthusiasm. I designed the feature, which had superb original photography by Juco—Julia Galdo and Cody Cloud's collaborative work. While watching Kumail in Silicon Valley, you knew great things were ahead for him. A few years later, he and his wife Emily V. Gordon received a Best Original Screenplay nomination for The Big Sick. —LQ

The Polish Doctors Who Used Science to Outwit the Nazis // August 2017

The Nazis were huge germaphobes. So during World War II, a Polish doctor named Eugene Lazowski created a fake typhus epidemic in his hometown to keep them away. I've been fascinated by Lazowski's story for years, but every time I tried researching it, I came away empty-handed. That is, until I learned that Lazowski had written a book—the only English copy of which was hiding in a special archive in Chicago. I flew to the Windy City, pored over the string-bound book, and interviewed Lazowski's grandson. What I discovered was a remarkable tale of bravery and ingenuity. —LR

Other Long Reads We Love:

The Most Important Scientist You've Never Heard Of (May 2017)

The Canadian Village Where Sasquatches Are Said to Roam (April 2018)

Bessie Coleman, the Black Cherokee Woman Pilot Who Made Aviation History (September 2019)

The Science Behind Why We Love to be Scared (October 2017)

The Conspiracy Theory That Has Plagued a New York City Statue for More Than a Century (September 2019)

Anthony Daniels Finally Explains the Mystery of That Obscene C-3PO Trading Card // September 2019

The origins of a NSFW Star Wars trading card used to be one of pop culture's great mysteries. To solve it, Jake spoke with actor Anthony Daniels—C-3PO himself. I love the way this feature blends impressive reporting with an absurd subject matter. It's a great example of something Mental Floss does best. — Michele Debczak, Senior Staff Writer

The History of the Trapper Keeper // September 2013

Cinzia Reale-Castello (Trapper Keepers) // Lucy Quintanilla (Illustration)

As a Trapper Keeper-obsessed kid, it thrilled me to be able to write this story, which had previously not been told in full anywhere except a marketing text book. I interviewed several people at Mead, of course, but the piece didn't fully come together until I spoke with inventor E. Bryant Crutchfield, who I found by searching Facebook and sending him a random message. We're still friends! —EMC

There's a Wire Above Manhattan That You've Probably Never Noticed // January 2017

Jay Serafino's story about 18 miles of translucent wire that stretches around the Manhattan skyline is just the kind of story that turned me into a Mental Floss reader years before I officially joined the team here. It's one of those little known facts that is fascinating to read about, and the random piece of knowledge you can drop on someone at a cocktail party. "So you know about the eruv up there, right?" You'll immediately seem at least 10 times more intelligent to whomever you're talking to. —JMW

7 People Killed by Musical Instruments // October 2020

I’ve edited a lot of lists during my time at Mental Floss, and this one by Keith Johnston is one of my favorites. It’s informative and a little weird, which is, in my opinion, the best kind of story. —EMC

A Few More Of Our Favorite Lists:

50 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using (November 2018)

14 True Crime Songs About Murder and Mayhem (February 2020)

17 Signs That You'd Qualify as a Witch in 1692 (October 2015)

10 of the Worst Jobs of the Victorian Era (August 2017)

7 Tips From the 1950s For Keeping Your Man (August 2013)

42 Old English Insults (February 2015)

17 Curious Nicknames of Famous Authors (February 2020)

The Key to Robert E. Lee's Puzzling Death Might Be Hidden in a Photo of His Earlobe // January 2018

This short but dense story looks at a case of posthumous diagnosis based on a photograph hidden for decades in a library. Writer Evan Lubofsky described how a history buff, who was also a physician, noticed that a photo Robert E. Lee showed his earlobe creased in an unusual way. He knew such creases could indicate heart disease—suggesting Lee’s cause of death, which even today remains unconfirmed. You really could not have a Flossier premise if you tried. —KL

Beethoven: How the World's First Rock Star Changed Music Forever // December 2016

The art for the Beethoven piece was entertaining to create. We didn't want to use a standard image, so we commissioned an illustration from Byron Eggenschwiler—whom we worked with on many occasions. I remember spitballing ideas with the team about different ways to represent the concept. I don't know who said it, but we wanted him to feel like a rock star. Talking it through, you think of iconic videos like Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" or images of musicians at Warped Tour crowd-surfing. This idea plus stage diving stuck with us, along with Beethoven in the ornate theater. To top it off, the horn in his ear is a nod to his era, while the lost shoe is a reminder of how crazy a mosh pit can be. —LQ

11 Secrets of Astronauts // September 2020

Google the phrase facts about astronauts and you'll get close to 6 million results in a matter of seconds. Dig into a few of those stories and you'll learn the etymology of the word astronaut, how one becomes an astronaut, and how many people watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon on their televisions back in 1969. What you won't find are statements like "Taking a dump was not easy," but that's exactly what astronaut Garrett Reisman told Michele when she inquired about what it's like to poop in space. Yet further proof that Mental Floss dares to ask the questions that everyone's curious about, but few people could bring themselves to utter out loud. —JMW

How Did Saloons in the Old West Lock Their Doors at Night? // April 2016

You could really take any “how” or “why” article to make the same point, but asking how saloons in the Old West locked their swinging doors is a perfect question. It’s superficially silly until you think about it for a few seconds, at which point you begin to sincerely wonder how saloons approached security. It evolves from being ridiculous to interesting quickly. I think people appreciate getting an answer to a question they probably would never have thought to ask. —JR

Alone in the Dark: An Oral History of MTV’s Fear // October 2018

I pretty much forced Jake to write this Oral History about Fear, a show I loved and was scared of in equal measure (and the thing that, I think, started my love of ghost hunting shows). Like every Mental Floss story, it’s chock-full of delightful details and memorable behind-the-scenes stories you can keep in the back of your mind should you ever find yourself in a conversation about the show. (Who knew that some of the camera rigs that Fear contestants wore originated with the 2000 film Requiem for a Dream?! Mental Floss readers, that’s who.) —EMC

Other Oral Histories We Love:

Traumatic License: An Oral History of Action Park (May 2018)

Trash For Cash: An Oral History of the Garbage Pail Kids (March 2016)

Out of This World: An Oral History of ALF (September 2016)

Sex and Death in the Afternoon: An Oral History of the American Soap Opera (August 2011)

Take a Look: An Oral History of Reading Rainbow (May 2017)

Oral History: In 1985, Snuffleupagus Stumped Sesame Street (November 2015)

An (Almost) Comprehensive History of Rat Kings // October 2017

Rat kings—a group of rats whose tails have become intertwined—raise a lot of questions. Lucas successfully answers them in this riveting feature. After providing a likely explanation for the phenomena, he lists dozens of credible sightings dating back to the 16th century. You may not think you need an exhaustive history of rat kings in your life, but trust me: you do. —MD

This was one of my weirder ideas (and I feel like that’s saying something). I first heard about rat kings on 30 Rock, where they served as a throwaway joke. Later, I came upon a photo of one in a book at the library in Paris’s Le Centre Pompidou. After a “squirrel king” incident in 2017, I thought: We should do a story on rat kings! I took the idea to Lucas, who used his formidable research chops to go all in. The story was a huge hit with our readers—it’s good to know they’re as weird as I am! —EMC

A Racehorse Ransom: The Horsenapping of Shergar // December 2019

This story blends two of my big interests: horses and history. Shergar’s fall from champion stud to crime victim isn’t a simple case of mere foul (horse) play. There’s police blunders, suspicious characters, and even suspected IRA influence. The only thing missing from this story is a happy ending. — Kerry Wolfe, Staff Editor

Blubber Boom: Reliving the Disastrous Tale of Oregon's Exploding Whale—50 Years Later // June 2020

Oregon came up with a combustible solution for their dead whale problem. Haliep/iStock via Getty Images (Whale) // revenaif/iStock via Getty Images (Explosion)

The headline for this piece offers no clues about the circumstances of Oregon’s exploding whale of 1970, which no doubt set off a flurry of rapid-fire theories in the mind of any curious person. For me, those were “It must have been an unexplained scientific phenomenon,” followed by “No, definitely a prank.” I was wrong—city officials decided dynamite would be the best way to rid the beach of a poor (and very putrid) dead whale. Reader, it was not. Jake steers you through this story with just enough humor to let you know that he knows how hilariously misguided the well-meaning townspeople behind the disaster truly were. — Ellen Gutoskey, Staff Writer

The 1925 Cave Rescue That Captivated a Nation // July 2018

Lucas’s story gripped me from beginning to end. It has all the elements of a classic survival tale—a hardy adventurer, an unexpected accident, and a rescue effort that battles against time and the elements, all set in one of Kentucky’s most famous cave systems. Floyd Collins was the best local caver around, but when he became trapped underground, his talent worked against him: No one seemed skilled enough to pull him out. Lucas goes deep into the mind of Collins and the celebrity-hungry townspeople who piggybacked on his plight. —KL

How Pantone Comes Up With New Colors For Its Authoritative Guide // July 2017

For me, this is a perfect example of what Mental Floss is all about. It’s a deep look into a subject that, on the surface, seems pretty esoteric—or mundane, frankly—but it’s brought to life through Shaunacy Ferro’s use of rich details and painstaking research. The process behind each new color from Pantone is so meticulous and precise, yet the piece never labors because of it. The focus is instead on the awe of the operation and the talent required to pull it off, all of which is conveyed vividly in the writing. —JS

30 Years Later: The Great Milli Vanilli Hoax // October 2019

Though I'll forever claim to be 28 years old (seems like a respectable-but-still-young-enough age to be), the truth is that I am just a couple years older than that—and am constantly amazed when I make a random pop culture reference that gets me a lot of blank stares. So, unofficially, I've taken it upon myself to educate the Millennials, pre-Millennials, and whatever other names they're going by of the world (though mostly in our office) about the most iconic moments of the 1980s and 1990s. Obviously, the Milli Vanilli hoax is at the top of that list. And Ken Partridge, as always, wrote a fantastic primer on this story that shocked the world in those kinder, gentler times. —JMW

A Few of Our Favorite Music Stories:

The Long History Behind “Cotton Eye Joe” (July 2016)

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Gospel Singer Who Became the Grandmother of Rock 'n Roll (March 2016)

Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" (August 2019)

The Story Behind America's Most Famous Protest Song (July 2019)

Benjamin Franklin and History's Most Dangerous Musical Instrument (October 2018)