Weird Fact of the Day (that you probably didn't know)


Weird Fact of the Day (that you probably didn't know)

Want to prove yourself the king of strange trivia when you're down the pub? Every day (well, most days), we'll be regaling you with an odd fact about the world - each one of them guaranteed 100% absolutely probably true, and not just taken from Wikipedia*.
You can also look through our archive of previous Weird Facts:

Friday, November 27: Most Muppets are left-handed. The reason for this is that most puppeteers are right-handed and operate the Muppet’s head with their favoured hand, leaving the left one to control the arms. Muppets operated by more than one puppeteer, such as the Swedish Chef, are immune to this effect.
Wednesday, November 25: The Battle of Karánsebes in 1788, between the armies of the Austrian and Ottoman empires, ended in a rout of the Austrians - without the Ottomans even turning up. An Austrian scouting party started drinking schnapps, and got into a fight with some other soldiers over the booze, and in the confusion the entire Austrian army ended up either fighting with itself or running away.
Sark: harder to invade than you'd think
Monday, November 23: In 1991, the tiny Channel Island of Sark was invaded. The invader was an unemployed French nuclear physicist called André Gardes, who announced his intention to stage a coup in posters he put up round the island the previous day. His plot was foiled when the island's only policeman complimented him on his gun, then jumped him while he was changing the magazine.
Friday, November 20: In 1958, an anti-corruption candidate was put forward for council elections in the Brazilian city of São Paulo. What was unusual about the candidate was that she was a five-year-old rhinoceros called Cacareco; even more unusually, Cacareco gained 100,000 votes - more than any other party. Unsurprisingly, officials refused to accept the result, and Cacareco never took office.
Thursday, November 19: Sir Isaac Newton is widely credited as being a pioneer (if not necessarily the original inventor) of the cat flap, having cut a hole in his study door so that his cat would stop disturbing him while he was working. When his cat had kittens, he cut a smaller hole for them. Genius.
Monday, November 16: The notorious French bank robber, Michel Vaujour, is best-known for his elaborate escape schemes - including holding up an entire courtroom using the old 'gun carved from a bar of soap' trick in 1979, and in 1986 getting his wife to spend months learning how to fly a helicopter, renting one, and picking him up from the prison roof.
Friday, November 13: Light doesn’t always travel at ‘the speed of light’. It only goes at that speed (299,792,458 metres per second) when travelling through a vacuum; when it passes through matter, it slows down. The slowest light has ever been recorded moving at is a 38mph, while passing through an ultracold gas of sodium atoms.
Wednesday, November 11: In 2002, businessman Mac Bosco Chawinga was attacked by a crocodile after he went for a swim in Malawi’s Nkhata Bay. As it dragged him into the lake, he retaliated by biting it hard on the nose - and it let him go. He suffered severe wounds to his arms and legs, but survived.
Monday, November 09: American Corey Taylor faked his own death in 2007 – even going to the extent of forging a death certificate... just so he could get out of his mobile phone contract early without paying a £105 fee. Sadly for the enterprising Mr Taylor, the phone company caught on and forced him to pay up.
Friday, November 06: Want people to be more trustworthy? Then put them in an environment which smells clean. Given an amount of money and told to divide it equally, people in rooms recently sprayed with citrus-scented cleaner kept much less of the cash for themselves, a recent experiment suggested .
Wednesday, November 04: Google's first computer storage – used for testing their algorithms – was a machine cobbled together from ten 4Gb hard drives by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1996. It was housed in a case made out of Duplo bricks – complete with Duplo characters sitting on top.
Monday, November 02: Not many humans have ever been exposed to a vacuum and lived. But a worker at the Johnson Space Center in Houston did just that in 1965 when his space suit was accidentally depressurised in a vacuum chamber. The last thing he remembered before passing out was feeling the moisture on his tongue starting to boil.
Friday, October 30: During his life, Austrian Hans Steininger was renowned for having the world longest beard. Unfortunately, the four and a half feet of facial hair proved to be his downfall. Trying to run away from a fire in 1567, he forgot to roll his beard up, tripped over it, and broke his neck.
Wednesday, October 28: Michael F. Farley was an Irish immigrant to America who rose to the position of being a congressman for New York, but he's probably best known for his manner of death in 1921. He died as a result of shaving - because his shaving brush was infected with anthrax.
Monday, October 26: Scientific research has shown that when bees are given cocaine, they start dancing more energetically than before, become prone to exaggerating when communicating with other bees, and often just lie to their hive-mates when telling them about food sources (using the bee communication method of 'waggle-dancing'). They also suffered withdrawal symptoms when the researchers took their drugs away.
Thursday, October 22: In January 1863, in the middle of the American Civil War, some Confederate troops started a snowball fight, following heavy snowfall in Virginia's Rappahannock Valley. Things escalated, and by the end over 9,000 soldiers were involved in the battle. Snowballing was subsequently banned among the troops, after rocks were included in some of the snowballs, causing severe injuries.
Tuesday, October 20: The classic bleak ending of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove - in which nuclear bombs explode to the strains of Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again' - was originally supposed to be preceded by a massive custard pie fight between the Russians and Americans. The scene was filmed (some pictures here), but was cut because the actors were obviously having too much fun.
Monday, October 19: Armenian petroleum magnate Nubar Gulbenkian launched a $10million lawsuit against his own father in 1939, after his father's company - for which he worked unpaid - refused to allow him $4.50 for a meal of chicken. After the case was settled, with legal costs of $84,000, he described it as 'surely the most expensive chicken in history'.
Friday, October 16: The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in the US was devoted to the strangest quack instruments used in medicine. They include phrenology machines, a 'breast enlarger pump' from 1976 and the McGregor Rejuvenator, which pounds the patient with magnetic fields in a bid to reverse the ageing process.
Thursday, October 15: The dog who played Toto in The Wizard of Oz was paid more than twice the amount that the actors who played the Munchkins were. Terry, a female Cairns Terrier, got $125 per week, while the short-statured actors playing the Munchkins only got $50 a week.
A cat: not a fan of the katzenklavier
Wednesday, October 14: The 'Streisand Effect' is the name given to amusingly backfiring attempts to censor information - which attract so much notoriety that many more people become aware of the information than otherwise would. It's named after Barbra Streisand's efforts to suppress a picture of her house - which lead to hundreds of thousands of people looking at the offending photo online.
Tuesday, October 13: Barbed wire, as we know it today, was invented in 1874 by an American farmer named Joseph Glidden, after his wife complained about livestock escaping. He started work on his idea using hairpins he stole from his wife, before moving on to producing the barbs using an old coffee mill.
Monday, October 12: 'Unsinkable Sam' was a ship's cat in both the German and British navies during World War II. Even though all three ships he sailed on (the German Bismarck, then the British Cossack and Ark Royal) were sunk within the space of six months in 1941, Sam survived each time - although he never went to sea again.
Friday, October 09: In 1900, a 19-year-old called Max Hirschberg joined the gold rush by travelling around 1,200 miles across Alaska - on his bicycle. He suffered snow-blindness and exposure, nearly drowned, lost all money, and eventually had to use his coat as a sail to power the bike for the final stage of his journey after his chain broke.
Wednesday, October 07: In 1993, a police officer in San Francisco called Bob Geary was the subject of a local referendum on whether he should be allowed to carry a ventriloquist's dummy called Brendan O'Smarty with him while on foot patrol. He won by a narrow margin, and continued patrolling with the puppet.
Tuesday, October 06: On average the amount people can hold their breath is around one minute. Smashing that time to achieve an astounding 21 minutes 29 seconds was Hungarian escape artist David Merlini, who achieved a world record on April 26 2009 for holding his breath underwater at the starting line of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix.
Monday, October 05: The world's oldest goldfish (in captivity, at least) lived to the age of 43. Tish, as he was called, was won at a funfair in Doncaster in 1956. He died in 1999, and was buried in a yoghurt pot at the bottom of his owner's garden.
Friday, October 02: In the 18th century, the Humane Society installed smoke enema kits at various points along the river Thames, so that drowning victims could be revived by having tobacco smoke blown up their rectum - a popular, if not terribly effective, method of resuscitation at the time.
Wednesday, September 30: When celebrated American feminist sculptor Adelaide Johnson got married in 1896, she chose some rather unusual bridesmaids - they were the busts she herself had sculpted of women's rights leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. It's one way to guarantee your bridesmaids don't steal your thunder…
Buffalo: buffalo buffalo
Monday, September 28: The ancient Greek wrestler Milo of Croton - a six-times champion at the ancient Olympic Games - was said to have a diet that included 20lb of meat, 20lb of bread, and 18 pints of wine every day.
Friday, September 25: The North Atlantic right whale is believed to have the largest testicles of any mammal. The male's testes account for around 1% of its total bodyweight, and each of them can weight up to 525kg. That's roughly the weight of a medium-sized racehorse.
Wednesday, September 23: The author H.G. Wells and actor/director Orson Welles - forever linked by Welles' notoriously frightening 1938 radio adaptation of Wells' novel The War Of The Worlds - didn't meet until two years later, in 1940, when Wells came to America to address the United States Brewers' Association.
Tuesday, September 22: Prussian king Frederick the Great is said by many biographers to have enjoyed drinking coffee made with champagne instead of water, and, occasionally, flavoured with mustard. (Anybody who fancies trying this recipe out, please drop us a line and let us know how it tastes...)
Monday, September 21: In 1510, priests in Autun, France, brought legal proceedings against the town's rats because they were eating the barley crop. However, the rats' lawyer, Bartholomew Chassenee, successfully argued that not all the rats could have recieved the legal summons, and furthermore couldn't appear in court because they might be eaten by cats. The case was dropped.
Friday, September 18: In honour of the fact that tomorrow is International Talk Like A Pirate Day: Henry Morgan, one of the most notorious privateers of the Golden Age of Piracy, was so offended by a book that described him as bloodthirsty pirate - and, much worse, a former servant - that he brought a libel suit against the publishers. He successfully settled out of court.
Thursday, September 17: The Boston Massacre of 1770 - which left five people dead and sparked a series of rebellions that culminated in the American Revolution - was sparked by an argument over whether a British soldier had paid his wig-maker's bill. (He had, in fact, but by the time anybody found that out, it was too late.)
Tuesday, September 15: Walt Disney was once told by his doctor that he was too stressed, and should find some way of relaxing. So he took up golf. Unfortunately, he became so obsessed with perfecting the game that he ended up getting up at 4.30am to play a round, making him more stressed than ever.
Monday, September 14: Sir Francis Galton - the polymathic scientist and, regrettably, eugenicist - spent a good deal of time trying to create a 'beauty map' of Britain, by surreptitiously making notes on his travels of whether the women he saw were 'attractive, indifferent, or repellent.' London ranked the prettiest; Aberdeen was the ugliest.
Friday, September 11: Humans have discovered or invented over 50 million different chemicals in history - that's according to the American Chemical Society's database of unique chemicals, which passed the 50 million threshold on Monday. Over the past year, a new substance has been uncovered or created every 2.6 seconds.
Barbra Streisand: has an effect
Wednesday, September 09: 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo' is an entirely grammatically correct sentence - as 'buffalo' can mean the large bovine, the city in New York state, or a verb meaning 'to bully'. It was first created by linguist William J. Rapaport - from the University of, naturally, Buffalo.
Tuesday, September 08: The myth that lemmings regularly hurl themselves off cliffs (they don't) was widely popularised by the makers of the Oscar-winning Disney documentary White Wilderness, who - lacking any real-life lemming suicides to film - decided to push a load of lemmings off a cliff into a river instead.
Thursday, September 04: Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest (which were popular across America when Chaplin first became famous in 1915) in a San Francisco theatre. He lost - not even making it as far as the final round.
Wednesday, September 03: The period between September 3 and September 13 1752 was the least eventful in British history - because those days never actually happened. As the British Empire moved from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, it was necessary to skip 11 days; as a result, Wednesday 2 was followed directly by Thursday 14.
Tuesday, September 02: When he was eight, Mozart was tested by a member of the Royal Society to establish (among other things) whether he was in fact a child, as opposed to a dwarf. The tester, Daines Barrington, was eventually convinced when Mozart, in the middle of playing a piece, was distracted by a cat that ran through the room.
Thursday, August 27: The most published printed product in the world each year is currently thought to be… the IKEA catalogue. 198 million of the tasteful Swedish furniture bibles were printed in the financial year 2008, easily surpassing estimates of the number of actual Bibles printed each year.
Wednesday, August 26: The current world record holder for the largest collection of belly button fluff is Mr Graham Barker of Perth, Australia. He has been collecting his navel lint for over 25 years, since January 1984, in a series of jars. He estimates he collects just over 3 milligrams a day.
Monday, August 24: The holder of the world record for being the longest serving bartender is 95-year-old Angelo Cammarata, who has been serving the drinks at Cammarata's Café in Pittsburgh for over 76 years - since the moment prohibition ended in 1933. He's now finally retiring, after the bar was sold.
Friday, August 21: The first international cricket match in history was played between those noted cricketing powerhouses, Canada and the USA. It happened in New York's Bloomingdale Park in September 1844, and is widely regarded as the first ever international sporting match of any kind. (Canada won by 23 runs.)
Wednesday, August 19: In addition to being the father of modern computing and helping win WWII for the Allies, genius mathematician Alan Turing had a personal best time for the marathon of 2 hours 46 minutes, and would sometimes run 40-plus miles from Bletchley Park into London for meetings.
Friday, August 14: The idea for a laptop was first developed in the late '60s – Alan Kay of Xerox then wrote about coming up with a 'personal, portable information manipulator' in a 1972 paper, calling it the 'Dynabook'. The first commercially available portable computer was the IBM 5100. The first flip laptop appeared in 1982 and was the GRiD Compass 1100, which was used by NASA scientists and cost $8,150.
Wednesday, August 12: In the famous bicycle sequence from the 1969 film, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, set to the sounds of Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head by Burt Bacharach, actor Paul Newman did almost all his own stunts because the stuntman was unable to stay on the bike. However, one stunt – where Butch crashes into a fence – was performed by the film's cinematographer, Conrad L Hall, who won an Oscar for the movie. He went on to win two more Oscars, for American Beauty and Road To Perdition, which also starred Newman.
Wine: your route to Olympic glory
Friday, August 07: The katzenklavier, or cat piano, was a 'musical instrument' designed by 17th century German polymath Athanasius Kircher. It consisted of a row of cats in cages, arranged by voice tone, which were 'played' using a keyboard that jabbed nails into their tails – making them yelp. Harsh.
Wednesday, August 05: The Greek stoic philosopher Chrysippus of Soli is said to have died after laughing too hard at his donkey, who was drunk, trying and failing to eat some figs. Given that it was his fault the donkey was drunk (he'd given it wine) he really only has himself to blame.
Monday, August 03: The slowest-flying birds in the world are the American and Eurasian woodcocks, which both impressively manage to avoid falling out of the sky while flying at only 5mph during their elaborate courtship routines.