Weekly Wrap Volume 140

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

typhusThe Polish Schindlers

You’ve probably heard of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard—about two men who pulled off a similar miracle in Poland.  Dr. Eugene Lazowski was a young Red Cross physician living in the village of Rozwadow during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II. Life in Poland under German occupation was a time of unimaginable suffering and horror. By the time the Soviet Union’s Red Army finally drove the Germans out in 1945, one fifth of the entire Polish population had been murdered, including 3 million of Poland’s 3.4 million Jews, and 3 million Polish Gentiles. Millions more Poles were arrested and put to work…(more)

batteryWhy Does Storing a Car Battery on a Concrete Floor Drain It?

Contrary to very popular belief (even touted by many a mechanic), today’s car batteries with their hard plastic shells will not discharge or otherwise be damaged when placed on a concrete floor. (The other way around isn’t always true, with an already damaged battery leaking battery acid on a concrete floor potentially causing some damage to said concrete. And if you’re curious, see: The Difference Between Concrete and Cement) But don’t take our word for it. To quote Interstate Batteries, “The type of plastic (polypropylene) used in battery cases is a great electrical insulator. Also, tremendous technological improvements…(more)

duty-freeDuty Free

Providing shoppers with a chance to buy and transport goods across international boundaries without paying local and national taxes, duty-free shops are found in airports and other ports and stations around the world. A creation of the 20th century, duty-free shops mark a sharp departure from more than 2,000 years of nations generating revenue by taxing the trade in commodities and other goods. The practice of imposing such taxes traces its origins to at least the ancient Greeks and Romans where duties were levied on a wide variety of imports and exports. As leaders through the ages…(more)


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Bonus Quick Facts

  • Certain types of horned lizards are also able to squirt a directed stream of their own blood from the corners of their eyes at predators as much as 5 feet away. They accomplish this squirting action via severely restricting blood flow away from their heads, with the resulting increase in blood pressure in their heads bursting certain vessels near their eyes where the blood squirts from. What purpose does diminishing their own blood supply while giving the predator a taste serve? Well, it turns out to certain animals, such as cats and dogs, horned lizard blood tastes awful due to certain compounds present in their blood.
  • “Thesaurus” derives from the Latin “thesaurus,” meaning “treasury, a hoard,” or more figuratively, “repository.”
  • The Friendship Paradox mentioned in Quick Fact 841 has many other implications as well, and has also inspired research in other areas. For instance, Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard and Dr. James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, inspired by the Friendship Paradox, decided to do a study, Social Network Sensors for Early Detection of Contagious Outbreaks, where they contacted 319 random Harvard students and asked them to name some friends. This resulted in many friends listing the same friends and a very nice friendship tree at Harvard. They then found the more central nodes on that tree (the most popular students, that they named the “friends” group) tended to get sick from the Flu about 2 weeks before the average of the members of the other group that they called the “random student group.” Further, this “friends group,” also on average, got sick a full 46 days before the Flu epidemic peak. In both cases, monitoring individuals in this “friends” group provides an extremely early warning sign of some potential sickness making the rounds, presumably applying not just to the Flu, but more serious things as well, like Ebola.
  • 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.
  • 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… 😉

Other Interesting Stuff

unicorn-340x249Did Unicorns Ever Exist?

On November 30, 2012, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s government “news” agency, reported that scientists had “reconfirmed” the existence and location of the final resting place of the unicorn ridden by King Dongmyeong, the founding father of Goguryeo of an ancient Korean kingdom. The unicorn’s grave was located under a rock near the North Korea capital of Pyongyang with an engraving that read “Unicorn’s Lair.” Like many supposed news reports that comes out of North Korea these days, this reported evidence that a mythical creature like the unicorn once existed was mostly ignored and laughed at by…(more)

dr-suess-Ted_Geisel-e1306251187544Dr. Seuss Wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” on a Bet He Couldn’t Write a Book With Less Than 50 Words

Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” on a bet that he couldn’t write a book with fifty or fewer distinct words. The bet was made in 1960 with Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of Random House, and was for $50 (about $382 today). Despite Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodore Geisel, winning the bet by producing one of his most popular works Green Eggs and Ham using exactly 50 unique words, Cerf never paid up. Green Eggs and Ham went on to be Geisel’s best selling work, so he made out on it anyways. Geisel’s first successful children’s book…(more)

yuri-gagarin-340x255Peanuts, Peeing on the Side of a Bus, and Planting Trees – The Traditions of Going Into 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)

quicksand-340x453How to Survive Being Trapped by Quicksand

First, don’t panic! Panicking in quicksand is pretty much one of the few ways to turn this slightly dangerous situation into deadly. Second, if you are wearing something heavy attached to yourself like a backpack, unstrap it immediately if you feel it pushing you down. Outside of having something attached to yourself that is heavy relative to its volume vs. the mass of the quicksand per unit volume, it turns out that it is impossible to sink in quicksand. If you were simply to stand completely still, the lowest you are likely to sink is to around your waste. Thrashing around however, has been shown to cause the sediment and water to separate somewhat. This will cause you to sink deeper and deeper the more you thrash, to the point where you’re almost completely submersed; then your thrashing, due to some suctioning…(more)

stanley-cup-340x226Who is Stanley and Why is There a Cup Named After Him?

The oldest championship trophy in professional sports in North America, the Stanley Cup’s rich history is only matched by that of it’s namesake. Lord Stanley of Preston, Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley was born into one of England’s richest families in 1841 and could trace his ancestry back to William the Conqueror. He attended Eton College and in 1858, became a member of the Grenadier Guards. By the time he retired seven years later, he had attained the rank of Captain…(more)

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