Weekly Wrap Volume 102

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

larry-catThe Life of Larry the Cat- Cheif Mouser to tbe Cabinet Office of the UK

A while ago we shared the story of F.D.C. Willard, an ordinary housecat who through a confluence of mistakes and errors, ended up being listed as the co-author of a widely cited science paper on low temperature physics. Today we’re telling a similar story about an equally impressive Tabby called Larry who is, believe it or not, an official employee of the UK government- appointed by none other than British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Officially Larry’s full title is “Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” and his duties mainly involve keeping the famed residence of the Prime Minister – 10 Downing Street – free of pests such as mice and rats. Larry is one of only a handful of cats in British history…(more)

George_ForemanHulk Hogan, George Foreman, and  Lean Mean Fat Reducing Machine

One of the most lucrative endorsements ever signed by any sportsman was not for some shoe, line of clothing, or athletic gear- but for a cooking item- The George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine. In fact, the deal is generally thought to have made the former boxing great drastically more money than he ever made fighting in the ring. (And, if you’re curious, see: Why Boxing Rings are Called Rings When They are Square) According to the grill’s inventor, Michael Boehm, the inspiration for the grill’s unique design came when he was walking around a department store in the late 1980s and he noticed that not a single grill for sale cooked meat on both sides. Boehm, a lifelong inventor…(more)

lady godivaWho was the Tom in “Peeping Tom”?

The term “peeping Tom” is used to describe a person who derives some sort of enjoyment – usually sexual – from secretly watching people during their most intimate moments. But who exactly is this “Tom” fellow and why does everyone seem to think he likes secretly watching naked people? The phrase “peeping Tom” first appeared in the accounts for the English city of Coventry in 1773. Specifically, the accounts note that the city had recently purchased a wig and paint for an oak effigy of “Peeping Tom”, using money from the town’s coffers. So who was this effigy of? No real person. “Peeping Tom” is an iconic part of a legend surrounding a real person from the 11th Century…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • All clownfish are born male. If the female of a group dies, the dominant male will then begin to gain weight and will become the female of the group. After he becomes a she, she selects a breeding partner from the available males, which is almost always the largest male available.
  • German Chocolate Cake isn’t German and had nothing to do with the country. It owes its name to American Sam German, who developed a type of dark baking chocolate for the American Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852. Over a century later, a woman by the name of George Clay got her recipe for a cake using “German’s Chocolate” published in the Dallas Morning Star on June 3, 1957, under the name “German’s Chocolate Cake.” General Foods, who now owned the German’s Chocolate brand, heavily promoted this recipe. It became a national hit, but not as “German’s Chocolate Cake,” as it was originally listed. Instead, it soon was called “German Chocolate Cake,” helping give rise to the myth that it was invented in Germany.
  • At 12 years old, Simon Cowell hijacked a bus. He stated about the specific event, “We had these pea guns, and I was living in England in a place called Radlett and I wanted to go to Watford, which was ten miles away. So I got on this bus – and as a joke- it was a joke- I put the gun to the driver’s head and I said ‘take me to Watford.’ And I remember thinking ‘God, he’s really playing the part here because we’re not stopping.” Of course, the police were waiting for him at his destination. Little came of it after the police realized they were dealing with kids with toy guns. However, Cowell said, “My mum and dad came in and my mum was actually worse than the police…she was furious with me.”
  • The last time England’s national football team won a major international tournament, we hadn’t land on the moon yet. England won the World Cup back in 1966.
  • In 2011, a 17 year old Chinese man, Xiao Zheng, made headlines when he purchased an iPad and an iPhone. Why was this newsworthy? In order to be able to afford it, he sold one of his kidneys for 20,000 yuan or just a bit over £1,900 or about $3000. As he said, “I wanted to buy an iPad2, but I didn’t have the money. When I surfed the internet, I found an advert posted online by an agent saying they were able to buy a kidney.” This kid’s a problem solver… 😉
  • The Ancient Greeks commonly exercised naked. This is actually where the modern words “gymnasium” and “gymnastics” come from; γυμνός (gymnos) in Greek means “naked.”
  • As of November 2013, the Washington Post Database of U.S. Service-Member Casualties reports that the number of American soldiers dying in war is 1,343,812. On the other hand, the number of American citizens who died in automobile accidents between 1899 and 2012 is 3,572,812, once again showing that the most dangerous thing the vast majority of people do, despite rarely thinking anything of it, is get in a car.

Other Interesting Stuff:

comicThe DC Comics Character Who Gained His Power From Cocaine

Comics are littered with weird and obscure heroes and villains with powers that range from the mundane to the ridiculous, but there’s one character that ranks among the most “interesting” ever conceived- Snowflame, a villain with powers that were intrinsically linked to the character taking copious amounts of cocaine. As the character himself explained in the comic, “I am Snowflame, every cell of my being burns with white hot ecstasy. Cocaine is my god! And I am the human instrument of its will!” Snowflame was conceived as a villain by DC writer Steve Englehart for an incredibly short-lived comic series called “The New Guardians”, appearing in just one of the series’ eventual 12 total issues. The New Guardians were a superhero team comprised of some of DC’s more obscure heroes and, according to the first issue, were specifically chosen to be an accurate representation of the various segments of the human race. It was also noted…(more)

Nyos_LakeThe Mystery of One of the Strangest Natural Disasters of the 20th Century

Here’s the story of how scientists unlocked the secrets of the worst natural disaster in the history of the west African nation of Cameroon …and what they’re doing to try and stop it from happening again. THE DISCOVERY: On the morning of August 22, 1986, a man hopped onto his bicycle and began riding from Wum, a village in Cameroon, toward the village of Nyos. On the way he noticed an antelope lying dead next to the road. Why let it go to waste? The man tied the antelope onto his bicycle and continued on. A short distance later he noticed two dead rats, and further on, a dead dog and other dead animals. He wondered if they’d all been killed by a lightning strike—when lightning hits the ground it’s not unusual for animals nearby to be killed by the shock…(more)

handThe Curious Case of Alien Hand Syndrome

Although modern medicine has made tremendous advances in many areas, even mapping the human genome, there remain aspects of human health that continue to elude our full understanding. Alien hand syndrome is one of these puzzles- with its sufferers having one of their hands, usually the non-dominant one, acting as if it has a mind of its own. Many of us have seen people with this condition, albeit on the big screen. In the campy 1935 horror film, Mad Love, deranged surgeon Peter Lorre replaces a pianist’s hands with those of a knife-throwing murderer, and the hands take over. More recently and more well known…(more)

bballThe Origin of Basketball

Surprisingly, unlike most sports whose origins are somewhat obscure, often being the combination of other sports and developed gradually through time, basketball has a very precise and fully known origin (the inventor himself wrote an account of it, published after his death; see the “Sources and Further Reading” below). Even the date of the very first game is known, December 21, 1891. It was all started by Dr. James Naismith, the son of two Scottish immigrants to Canada. By 1891, Dr. Naismith was teaching physical education in Springfield, MA at the YMCA International Training School (which today is Springfield College). While there, he was asked by the director of physical education, Dr. Luther Gulick, to come up with a new game students could play indoors during the winter that would help keep track and field runners in shape and would be relatively safe to play…(more)

rainWhat Causes the Smell After Rain

There are three primary sources of smells that commonly occur after rain. The first, the “clean” smell, in particular after a heavy thunderstorm, is caused by ozone. Ozone (scientifically known as trioxygen due to the fact that it is comprised of three oxygen atoms) is notably pungent and has a very sharp smell that is often described as similar to that of chlorine. Some people can smell ozone before the storm has even arrived. Before a thunderstorm rolls in, lightning can sometimes rip nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the environment to pieces. This can ultimate result in a small amount of ozone forming, which wind then carries down to ground level. Ultraviolet light in the atmosphere is also known to split O2 molecules, with the freed oxygen atoms sometimes joining with oxygen molecules for an ozone party. We’d like to point out that we weren’t using hyperbole…(more)

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