Celebrating 20 Years of Mental Floss

Damon Amato
Damon Amato / Damon Amato

In May 2001, visitors to bookstores around the U.S. stumbled across an unfamiliar magazine on the newsstand. On the cover was a famous face—scientist Albert Einstein, his tongue sticking out—and above his face were two words: Mental Floss.

Intrigued by cover lines like “Stick Your Tongue Out If You're Smart,” “An Undercover History of Sex,” “Things You Can't Sell on eBay,” and “What's So Great About Alexander?,” many readers decided to bring the magazine home. Of the 8000 issues available, 60 percent were sold—double the usual sell-through rate for new releases. It was a fantastic debut, and the rest, as they say, is history … and also a whole lot of hard work on the part of Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur, who created Mental Floss as students at Duke University and, with the help of a few of their friends, released that first issue the year they graduated.

Mental Floss came about because Will and Mangesh didn’t see anything like it out there—a publication that helped curious people learn the most interesting things about a whole lot of things. “It was such a selfish endeavor,” Mangesh says. “This really was the magazine that we wanted to read. Any time we were fascinated by something, or wanted to learn about something, we just assigned it to someone.”

In creating Mental Floss 20 years ago, Will and Mangesh gave readers a space not just to learn, but to celebrate being smart. It became something that parents and kids could bond over, a resource for students, and a reliable place to find fascinating stories and interesting facts to break the ice at parties. And while Mental Floss has changed plenty over the years, one fundamental thing remains the same: When we find something interesting, we let our curiosity take the lead and write about it.

Hitting 20 years is a milestone worth acknowledging, and we plan to celebrate—a lot. We’re showcasing Mental Floss’s notable firsts, talking about some of our favorite stories from the past 20 years, and covering our history in 20 facts. Plus, on the 20th of every month, we’ll be taking a look back at our favorite developments over the last two decades in areas like science, history, pop culture, and more (you can find all of those stories, and the ones mentioned above, here).

We’re also reviving 11s Day—one of our most beloved editorial initiatives in which we post 11 lists of 11 facts on the 11th of every month—and we just reopened the Mental Floss store. We also have some fun surprises planned on our social media pages as well, which you can find at the hashtag #MentalFloss20 on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.

Whether you're a new reader or a long time fan of the Floss, we want to thank you for visiting the site, sending us mail, and helping us succeed. We wouldn't be here without you. Here's to the next 20 years.

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