Weekly Wrap Volume 96

This is a weekly wrap of our popular Daily Knowledge Newsletter. You can get that newsletter for free here.

yuri-gagarinThe Traditions of Going to Space

Although you’d expect people tasked with going to space to be a fairly rational lot, astronauts and cosmonauts are noted as being an exceptionally superstitious group, many of whom conform to a number of seemingly arbitrary and often unusual rituals before each flight. While there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for most, if not all, of these traditions and customs, usually dating back to the early days of the space race, many of them can seem quite peculiar without context. For example, every time the workers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (usually abbreviated to JPL) launch a probe or satellite, they will eat peanuts…(more)

mad-hatterWhy are Crazy People Called Mad as a Hatter?

Although the phrase “mad as a hatter” is, and will likely long be, associated with Charles Dodgson’s (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll’s) 1865 novel, Alice in Wonderland, contrary to popular belief, Carroll neither coined the phrase nor did he use it in his works. (The Hatter is referred to as “mad”, along with his little tea party, but he is never explicitly called “Mad Hatter” in Carroll’s works nor is the phrase “mad as a hatter” used.) So where did the phrase “mad as a hatter” actually come from? The first documented instance of the phrase can be found in the 1829 short story, Noctes Ambrocianæ, published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine:..(more)

bibleWhy are Bibles Printed with the Text in Two Columns Instead of One?

The practice of using two columns with compact texts dates back to at least the fifteenth century, which in turn was just a continuation of an older tradition of narrow columns in horizontally opened scrolls. Both the Gutenberg Bible and the original King James Version (see: How the King James Bible Came About) used two columns, and many Bibles are still printed this way today. But why? In part, this is simply tradition, as mentioned first being borrowed from the scrolls which the Biblical text was copied from. Today, many people have come to expect Bibles to have two columns and can’t imagine one with any other layout. But there’s a little more to this formatting choice than just tradition. The decision of how to format a book depends highly on how…(more)

boxing-ringWhy are Boxing Rings Called Rings When they are Square?

The earliest known instances of fist fighting as a type of sport date back to around 4000 – 3000 BC, but these historical fights don’t resemble the boxing we know today. They seem to have leaned more toward the “anything goes” method of unarmed fighting. The modern form of more regimented bouts didn’t begin until the early 18th century. At this time, boxing matches had no mandated boxing ring, no gloves, no referee, and no scantily clad women announcing the next round. Spectators tended to crowd around the fighters in a roughly circular ring, which may or may not have been drawn out on the ground before the match. In 1713, Sir Thomas Parkyns described a typical match as including eye-gouging, choking…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Bubble Wrap was originally invented in 1957, but not to be used as a packaging material, but rather for use as wallpaper. Needless to say, it didn’t sell well, nor did their next idea to use it as greenhouse insulation. Finally, in 1959 its creators got the idea that it could be used to protect the IBM 1401 during shipments. That one worked out and the rest is history.
  • Play-Doh was originally used as a wallpaper cleaner, with the compound debuting 22 years before Play-Doh hit the shelves, in a last ditch effort to save a dying company, the Cincinnati based soap company, Kutol. (Wallpaper cleaner wasn’t really used much anymore as people transitioned away from coal heat.) The woman who suggested the idea to use the compound as a toy in 1954, Kay Zufall, also suggested the name (the company originally wanted to call it “Kutol’s Rainbow Modeling Compound,” before Kay assured them that was a horrible name and suggested Play-Doh instead). In the end, Kay was given no credit in the patent nor any financial compensation for saving the company.
  • Pamela Anderson was in the spotlight quite literally from day one of her life, being named Canada’s “Centennial Baby,” supposedly the first baby born on July 1, 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday.
  • Next time you decide you’d like to just stay in bed all day and call in sick from work, simply tell your boss you’re suffering from clinomania- the excessive desire to stay in bed.
  • While you’ll hear a lot in the media today that Major League Baseball games are too long with not enough action, in fact, the average MLB game is around 2 hours and 57 minutes, while the average NFL game is about 3 hours and 11 minutes, with only about 11 minutes of actual game play during an NFL game. Of course, the NFL has a much more highly controlled pace of game than baseball, with teams like the Boston Red Sox being notorious for bringing the pace of their baseball games to a screeching halt at times.
  • The sporting wave (known as the Mexican wave in many regions) was popularized at the University of Washington during Huskies games starting in 1981. This spread to Seattle Seahawks games, as well as the University of Michigan games. From the University of Michigan, it spread to the Detroit Tigers games in 1984, the year they won the World Series, which helped spread it nationally. It went international thanks to the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, which is why in many regions it’s known as the “Mexican Wave.” All that said, contrary to popular belief, it was not invented at the University of Washington, but rather debuted during an Oakland Athletics / New York Yankees playoff game on October 15, 1981, led by professional cheerleader, “Krazy” George Henderson. About two weeks later, it was borrowed by Robb Weller and Dave Hunter who led the wave at a Huskies football game on October 31, 1981.
  • While Arnold Schwarzenegger is best known for his acting and his work while Governor of California, he was actually remarkably successful even before any of that. Before he was thirty, he’d already served in the army, won numerous body building competitions, while simultaneously going to business school and working at a health club. Once he immigrated to America, he continued to compete in bodybuilding competitions while also starting a bricklaying business, which he then used the profits from to start a mail-order business selling fitness related products like workout instructional materials. He then used the profits from that and his winnings in body building competitions to start a real estate investing business, ultimately making him a millionaire in his 20s, long before his breakthrough role at the age of 35 in the 1982 Conan the Barbarian.


Other Interesting Stuff:

Hochdruckpumpe V-3That time the Nazis nearly completed a super-canon capable of hitting London from France

WW2 saw the nations of the world investing massive amounts of manpower and money into the development of better ways to extinguish life in hopes of turning the tide of the war in their respective favors, sometimes including coming up with outlandish contraptions like (surprisingly effective) bat bombs and pigeon guided missiles, anti-tank dogs, flying jeeps and tanks, suicide torpedoes, super ships made of ice, and even balloon bombs randomly sent out with the hope they might land somewhere thousands of miles away on enemy soil. Today we’ll be looking at another notable WWII weapon, the V-3 cannon- a piece of artillery capable of hitting a target more than 100 miles (165 km) away, shooting its projectiles at around 3,400 mph (5500 km/h)! Technically defined as a “supergun”…(more)

strikeWhy are strikebreakers called scabs?

Striving to win safer working conditions, shorter hours and better pay, over the past few hundred years laborers have periodically joined together in work stoppages, called strikes. Only effective when the work needed by the “boss” (be it a single business, a whole industry or an entire nation) doesn’t get done; if replacement workers do the strikers’ jobs, the strike usually fails. As you can imagine, those replacement workers are not, and historically have not, been very popular. Derived from the Old English sceabb and the Old Norse skabb(both meaning “scab, itch”), the word “scab” had become an insult by the late 1500s, having adopted a secondary definition that meant…(more)

facesThe People Who Can’t “See” Faces

The condition is known as “prosopagnosia” / “facial agnosia”, or in less medical terms: “face blindness”. (“Prosopagnosia” actually literally means: “face ignorance”.  “prosopon” = “face”, “agnosia” = “not knowing” or “ignorance”). Once thought to be incredibly rare, with only 100 or so documented cases up until the last decade or so, it’s now thought that around 1 in every 50 people suffers from this condition; though for most, they just have a really hard time recognizing people by their faces. For instance, in one study, a person with this condition was shown a picture of Elvis Presley and thought it was Brooke Shields. For some, the condition is so severe that they can’t even recognize…(more)

seagullsSeagulls will not blow up if they eat Alka-Seltzer

Seagulls, or gulls depending on how much you dislike syllables, are considered a pest to many, a minor, avoidable annoyance to many more and the harbingers of death OH GOD LOOK AT THEIR COLD DEAD EYES! to my neighbour who doesn’t get out much.  Over the years, there has been a persistent and rather macabre urban myth circulating that gulls will explode if they’re fed Alka-Seltzer. Sadly, we’re here to inform you that this isn’t true. Though the myth has many subtle variations depending on where exactly you’re reading it, it basically reads as follows. If you feed a hungry gull an Alka-Seltzer tablet or a similar product (gulls aren’t really that discerning when it comes to their choice of indigestion relief if we’re honest), upon hitting the bird’s stomach, the tablet will work its magic and cause the gull to violently explode…(more)

peanutsGood Grief: The Peanuts Story

To say that Peanuts is the most famous daily comic strip in the history of the art form is an understatement. Like Superman and Mickey Mouse, Peanuts transcended its medium and became woven into the fabric of society. Readers of all ages found something to connect with—Charlie Brown’s perseverance in the face of one disappointment after another, Snoopy’s cool, Lucy’s crabbiness, or Linus’s innocent wisdom. The sheer numbersPeanuts generated are still unmatched, nearly two decades after the strip came to an end: From 1950 to 1999, Charles Schulz wrote and drew 18,250 daily Peanuts strips. They appeared in 2,600 newspapers…(more)

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