Weekly Wrap Volume 136

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

fish-and-beerCan Fish Get Thirsty and Why Can’t Freshwater Fish Live in Saltwater and Vice Versa?

For fish, or at least teleost fish (which make up about 96% of all fish), the desire to drink is an urge that originates from the hindbrain, whereas in land-based animals it originates in the forebrain. It is generally thought from this that a fish has no real ability to consciously feel thirst as we or many other land-animals would understand it; for them, it’s just a natural reflex. So the short answer to whether fish ever get thirsty is thought to be “no”, at least not on a conscious level. However, fish do need to take in water, but, as with land animals, too much water can kill, a particular problem when one is surrounded by it! Unsurprisingly…(more)

red-letter-dayWhy Special Days are Called “Red Letter Days”

While it’s commonly stated that the practice of marking important dates in red didn’t begin until the Middle Ages, in fact, in ancient Rome red ink was sometimes used on calendars to identify significant dates, as well as occasionally used on important text in documents, with the underlying reason in both cases seemingly being the same as today- to make the text stand out, in the case of the calendar marking a noteworthy day. Through the years this practice continued, and in particular with medieval scribes who used…(more)

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Bonus Quick Facts

  • According to the USDA, Super Bowl Sunday is the “second highest day of food consumption in the United States, after Thanksgiving.”
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Super Bowl is not “watched by over a billion people per year.” This idea stems from the fact that when the myth started, if you added up the populations of all the countries where the Super Bowl was broadcast to, you’d get a total of about one billion people in those countries having access to the broadcast. But how many people actually watch the Super Bowl? In recent years, that amount has been around 110 million people, with an estimated 98% of those viewers being from North America, mostly from the United States.
  • Yelling “Hike” in football was the brainchild of John Heisman. Prior to its introduction, the quarterback commonly signaled the center to give him the ball by simply scratching the center’s leg. During the 1890-1891 season, Heisman was playing for the University of Pennsylvania when a leg scratch from an opposing player caused the hike to occur early. To fix the problem, Heisman introduced using a word to start the snap, “Hike,” which already meant to lift up and also had the added benefit of being a short, sharp sound. The “Hut” portion was introduced later and became common by the 1950s. Linguists trace its origins back to military cadence, particularly of World War II, when drill sergeants would holler “Atten-hut!”
  • The “//” forward slashes in any web address serve no real purpose according to Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web. He only put them in because, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” He wanted a way to separate the part the web server needed to know about, for instance “www.todayifoundout.com”, from the other stuff which is more service oriented. Basically, he didn’t want to have to worry about knowing what service the particular website was using at a particular link when creating a link in a web page. “//” seemed natural, as it would to anyone who’s used Unix based systems. In retrospect though, this was not at all necessary, so the “//” are essentially pointless.
  • 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.
  • Despite sharing their genes, identical twins do not have identical fingerprints, even at birth. Why? Fingerprints are not entirely a genetic characteristic. They are partially determined by the interaction of an individual’s genes and the intrauterine environment (differing hormonal levels, nutrition, blood pressure, position in the womb and the growth rate of the fingers at the end of the first trimester, among other things). Thus, minor differences in fingerprints arise from these random local events during fetal development, though the genes do determine the general characteristics of the patterns of fingerprints. So, in the end, while identical twins will have somewhat similar fingerprints, enough of these differing local events occur that the resulting fingerprints of each child will have very marked differences.

Other Interesting Stuff

groundhogHow Groundhog Day Got Started

Like so many holiday traditions, the origins and progression of Groundhog Day to what we think of it today as are a bit murky. However, we’ll try to shed some light on the subject, starting with the day of the year. Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd because it is approximately halfway between the winter solstice (Northern hemisphere), when the Sun is at its southernmost point in the sky, and the March/vernal equinox, when the Sun is in the same plane as the Earth’s equator, making day and night approximately equal length. Much like that there was a…(more)

football-and-nachosThe Origin of Nachos and how Footall Helped Popularize Them Surprisingly Recently

Americans eat a lot on Super Bowl Sunday, according to one 2015 study consuming triple the amount of their daily allowance of calories per serving during the Super Bowl. In fact, it’s the second largest food consumption day of the year in the country (behind Thanksgiving). Of the many millions of pounds of snacks eaten in honor of America’s (still) favorite sport, 8.2 million pounds of that are tortilla chips, generally served with such things as cheese, beans, and avocados. Not just commonly served today during football games, the legend of nachos has a football-centric history that doesn’t date all that far back, similar to another Super Bowl party staple, Buffalo Wings, that only became popular a little under three decades ago. This all brings us to…(more)

eric-the-eel-e1355993365725The Olympic Swimmer Who Had Never Been in a Pool Until a Few Months Before Competing in the Olympics

The man was Eric Moussambani Malonga, later nicknamed “Eric the Eel”. Moussambani is from Equatorial Guinea in Africa and only managed to get into the Olympics at all because of a wildcard drawing system put in place by the International Olympic Committee, designed to try to encourage developing countries to participate in various Olympic events. Thanks to this drawing, Equatorial Guinea decided to send a swim team to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. They put out an advertisement on the radio a few months before the Games to try to get people to come and tryout for the country’s new national swim team which would be going to the Olympics. Those who wished to tryout were to show up…(more)

paper-bag-340x508Why People Breathe Into a Paperbag When Hyperventilating

It’s all about pH balance. No, not the skin pH that keeps some deodorants “strong enough for a man but pH balanced for a woman”- rather the pH within the body. The human body has two main mechanisms for controlling pH, one involves the kidneys, the other involves breathing. When our body is working, or not, it requires a specific amount of oxygen to maintain that level of work. When the body receives more oxygen than it needs, the result can be what’s known as respiratory alkalosis (high pH). One of the most common causes is hyperventilating. The point of breathing into a bag is to “re-breathe” your exhaled carbon dioxide (CO2) in the hopes of bringing your body back to a normal pH level. The “potential of hydrogen”, or “power of hydrogen” depending on what historian you read, (pH) is a measurement of the amount…(more)

The_First_Presidential_Mansion-340x221Before the White House

First Presidential Address: 3 Cherry Street, New York City – Moving In: New York served as the nation’s capital from 1789 to 1790. One week before George Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, he moved into an elegant three-story brick mansion on Cherry Street, on the east side of Manhattan, that Congress rented for him at a cost of $845 per year. Washington lived there with his wife, Martha; her two grandchildren, Nelly and George Washington (“Washy”) Parke Custis; and more than 20 paid servants, indentured servants, presidential staffers, and slaves. Moving On: As large as it was, the mansion soon proved too small for Washington’s needs—some secretaries had to sleep three to a room, and the dining room could accommodate no more than 14 people at…(more)


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