50 Random Facts That Will Simply Astonish You
Learn the truths that are stranger than any fiction.
Did you know that New York City has its own indigenous species of ant—and it’s called, naturally, the ManhattAnt? Did you also know that history’s most successful pirate wasn’t a bearded, eye patch-wearing man but a woman? And did you know that human beings actually have the power to smell rainfall before it arrives?
If you answered “no” to any of those, congrats! You’re in for a huge treat, because here we’ve compiled 50 totally random and utterly amazing facts that will leave you feeling astonished. So read on, and remember that not one but two golf balls were hit on the moon by a makeshift six iron. And for more great knowledge to help you ace trivia night, here are 100 Facts That Will Make You Say “Wow!”
Charles Darwin’s personal pet tortoise didn’t die until recently.
Okay, technically she wasn’t his pet, but after his tour of the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin brought back a five-year-old tortoise he named Harriet. She outlived her adopter by 124 years, ultimately making it to a whopping 176 years old. Harriet lived out her final years as part of the family of Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin in Australia, until she passed away, in 2006. And for fascinating info straight from the animal kingdom, don’t miss the 50 Most Amazing Animal Facts.
Your bones can multiply density—times eight.
While most are familiar with osteoporosis, which leads to brittle bones, you may be less familiar with the gene mutation LRP5. Those with the mutation have bones that are many times denser—up to eight, in extreme cases—than the average person’s, with cases of afflicted individuals walking away from car accidents and other impact injuries with no fractures or broken bones. And to unlock more knowledge about the human genome, learn the 20 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About Your Body.
A U.S. Park Ranger once got hit by lightning seven times.
That would be Roy Cleveland Sullivan, a park ranger at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, who between 1942 and 1977 was struck by lightning on seven different occasions, earning him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records and the nickname “Human Lighting Rod.” He survived all of them, and lived to the age of 71.
The city of Boring has a sister city called Dull.
The Oregon city of Boring, named after founder William H. Boring, has claimed the village of Dull, in Perthshire, Scotland, as its sister city, with Oregon’s governor naming August 9th to be the official Boring and Dull Day throughout the state. And for more amazing trivia, check out the 40 Random Obscure Facts That Will Make Everyone Think You’re a Genius.
Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were invented by a janitor.
Richard Montañez, working at the Frito-Lay plant in Southern California, pitched the idea of adding chili powder to regular Cheetos to the company’s CEO. Top brass liked the idea and, since its success, Montañez has risen up the company ranks and now serves as an executive for PepsiCo.
American Airlines saved a boatload by removing a single olive from meals.
Three decades ago, American Airlines’ executives, looking to save money, removed the single olive that was included in every first-class meal, saving the airline an estimated, as reported by Jet Set on Bravo, $40,000 per year—in 1980s dollars.
The most requested funeral song in England is by Monty Python.
A survey of funeral directors by Co-operative Funeralcare found that the most requested song to play at funerals in the United Kingdom is “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python from their irreverent comedy classic Life of Brian. It beat out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Beauty and the Beast was written to help girls accept arranged marriages.
The original version of “Beauty and the Beast” was a 1740 story by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (in which the beast was a hideous combination of an elephant and fish), which, according to children’s literature academic Maria Tatar, was written in order to encourage girls to accept arranged marriages, “for an alliance that required effacing their own desires and submitting to the will of a monster.” And for some romance advice from a bygone era that’s, you know, actually applicable, check out the 40 Old-Fashioned Relationship Tips That Still Apply Today.
There’s a bridge exclusively for squirrels.
To provide safe passage to squirrels attempting to cross the N44 motorway, Netherlands officials built a rodent-only bridge. While it may have been a kind-hearted gesture, it might not have been the most economically sensible one: costing £120,000, over a two-year span the bridge was used by just five squirrels. “In 2014 three squirrels, and in 2015 two squirrels, were spotted on the bridge,” the government said in a statement.
Starbucks flopped Down Under.
While the green siren logo may be ubiquitous throughout the U.S., Starbucks did not have as much success in Australia. After opening dozens of locations throughout the continent beginning in 2000, low demand led it to close 70 percent of its locations, leaving just 23 cafes throughout the country, as reported by CNBC.
Why did it flop? According to Gartner research analyst Thomas O’Conner, the brand, “launched too rapidly and didn’t give the Australian consumer an opportunity to really develop an appetite for the Starbucks brand. They also moved into regional areas, into outer suburbs of major cities … it wasn’t an organic growth.” And if you find yourself heading to a stateside shop, well, This Off-the-Menu Starbucks Order is the Most Hardcore Way to Start Your Day.
Coke saved one town from the Depression.
Well, sort of. As the country was reeling from the Great Depression, a local, trusted banker in the town of Quincy, Florida, urged anyone who would listen to invest in Coca-Cola stocks, then selling at $19 per share. Many followed his advice and when the company’s stock boomed as he’d promised, others followed. Soon at least 67 inhabitants (in a town of fewer than 7,000) had become “Coca-Cola millionaires,” making Quincy the richest U.S. town per capita.
David Bowie helped topple the Berlin Wall.
While David Bowie’s trio of albums recorded in Berlin are considered among his best work, it’s not his only legacy he has in that city. In 1987, his performance of “Heroes” in front of the Reichstag as part of the Concert for Berlin, was loud enough and close enough to the wall to be heard in East Berlin (where such music was forbidden). It sparked a police crackdown, and, according to The Guardian, “Many of the eyewitnesses claim that the violent police crackdown on the third night of the concerts … were crucial in changing the mood against the state.”
Blood Banks in Sweden notify donors when blood is used.
Blood donors receive a text message when their blood is “withdrawn.” “We get a lot of visibility in social media and traditional media thanks to the SMS,” Karolina Blom Wilberg, a communications manager at the Stockholm blood service, told Huffington Post. “But above all we believe it makes our donors come back to us, and donate again.”
Astronaut Alan Shepard Hit Two Golf Balls on the Moon’s Surface
On the Apollo 14 space mission in 1971, Alan Shepard became the first and only person to play golf somewhere other than Earth. He attached a six-iron head (which he’d smuggled onboard in a sock) to a piece of rock-collecting equipment and hit two golf balls while on the moon’s surface, hitting his second shot further than 200 yards. And for more wacky trivia about the coolest job on (and off) the planet, learn the 27 Insane Things Astronauts Have to Do.
Roosters have built-in earplugs.
Considering how a rooster’s call can get up to 140 decibels or louder, it might leave one to wonder how the rooster himself keeps from going deaf when that noise is coming right out of its beak. It turns out, the farm fowl have built-in earplugs. Researchers found that when a rooster opens its beak to crow, its external auditory canals close off, preventing sound from coming in and serving as earplugs.
The Netherlands is so safe, it imports criminals to fill jails.
The Netherlands has enjoyed a steady drop in crime since 2004, and has become so safe that it’s closed down one prison after another—19 prisons shut their doors in 2013 alone. To help mitigate the job losses that this has created, the country has taken to importing prisoners from other countries, bringing in 240 prisoners from Norway in 2015.
One journal published a fake paper about Star Trek
To help expose how easily false or flawed research could make its way into supposedly peer-reviewed journals, an anonymous biologist managed to get a paper about one of Star Trek’s most infamously silly elements accepted by four journals and published in the American Research Journal of Biosciences. The biologist explained that he did so, “to expose predatory journals that claim to offer peer-reviewed open-access publications but will publish anything for a fee.”
The world’s largest pyramid isn’t in Egypt.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, is the largest pyramid in the world and—with a base four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza—also happens to be the largest monument ever constructed anywhere. Part of the reason it’s not better known may be that it happens to be buried under a mountain.
One in three divorce filings include the word “Facebook.”
That was the case in 2011, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, though that number has likely risen since. “We’ve had instances where they pull up Facebook in the course of a deposition,” divorce lawyer Marian Rosen told ABC News. “Once it’s out there for the world, it’s very difficult … to erase from the past. There are going to be trails that can be followed.” And for info about riven relationships, see the 20 Secrets Your Divorce Lawyer Won’t Tell You.
We may have already had alien contact.
In 1977, a volunteer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence received a 72-second-long signal from a distant star system, 120 light years from Earth. It was loud and sent from a place that had yet to be visited by mankind, so the guy who received it wrote, “Wow!”next to the original printout of the signal. It continues to be known as the “Wow! Signal.”
Researchers have since suggested that it’s noise picked up from a passing comet. And for some more unsolvable riddles from the endless night, learn the 21 Mysteries about Space No One Can Explain.
Yes, you can smell rain.
Weather patterns produce distinct smells, and one of these is a lightly pungent scent of ozone that springs from fertilizers and natural sources and can be carried in a thunderstorm’s downdrafts from higher altitudes, alerting those with sensitive noses that the rain is about to fall.
London cabbies have to memorize literally everything.
If you take a taxicab in London, you can expect the driver to know exactly where they are going, since they are required to take a series of tests known as The Knowledge. These require them to study 320 routes and 25,000 streets, not to mention 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest—estimated to take as long as four years to fully complete.
There was a secret Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
In 1988, a bar owner visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, made a surreptitious addition to the honorees, slipping a photo of his dad wearing a baseball uniform into one of the glass cases. It remained there for six years before anyone detected that it did not belong there.
Dolphins have actual names.
Dolphins can easily identify one another thanks to the fact that early in life, they create a unique vocal whistle that allows it to be identified by other dolphins in its pod. A team of researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found that the animals responded when their specific call was played back to them.
Superman helped take down the KKK.
In the 1940s, a 16-episode series of the hugely popular Adventures of Superman radio series incorporated the findings of activist Stetson Kennedy, who had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan but had been unable to get local authorities to use the information he’d found to crack down on them. The creators of the Superman show used the secrets he provided them to help tell the story of “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” exposing the organization to the public and removing much of the mystery that the resurgent organization was enjoying at the time, earning it widespread mockery and condemnation.
A wild dog is the most successful predator.
The apex predator with the highest success rate of kills to attempts is not the lion, cheetah, or wolves, it’s the African wild dog. According to researchers, these lean, big-eared canines are noted for having a kill rate of 85 percent—lions get just 17 to 19 percent—while peregrine falcons get 47 percent of their targets. Another animal with surprisingly high kill rates? Domestic cats, which kill more than 30 percent of their targets.
Medicine bottle foil exists because of poison.
Those foil seals added to the top of medicine bottles that can be so annoying to remove was put in place after a rash of poisonings occurred in 1982, in which seven people in the Chicago area were killed after ingesting Tylenol laced with potassium cyanide.
Tons and tons and tons of countries celebrate their independence from the U.K.
The British Empire grew ridiculously large—before scaling back down. Some 66 countries eventually declared their independence from the empire, meaning that now at least one country is celebrating independence from England 52 days of the year.
LBJ owned a water-surfing car.
Always the joker, Lyndon Johnson would surprise unwitting guests to his ranch by driving down the hill in his Amphicar, claiming the brakes had gone out. Once it hit the lake, their panic would subside when they realized the car had been designed to function on water.
Sears used to sell houses.
Before every city had a Walmart, most Americans got their stuff from mail-order catalogs, and Sears was one the biggest of them all. Among its many, many offerings were so-called “kit houses”—entire homes that would be shipped in on a train that you would assemble yourself using the 75-page instruction book. It was Ikea on steroids.
There’s an encrypted monument outside the CIA.
A sculpture outside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, fittingly includes so-far-uncracked codes. Created by artist Jim Sanborn, the sculpture features four inscriptions, three of which have been cracked, but the forth which no one else has been able to figure out (though in 2010 the artist offered one clue: the letters NYPVTT are an encryption of the word BERLIN).
Manhattan tap water isn’t kosher.
Tiny crustaceans have been detected in the tap water of New York City, and while these creatures pose no health threat to those drinking the water, that technically disqualifies it from being considered kosher.
Timothy Leary busted out.
That may be a dramatic way of putting it. In fact, the psychedelics advocate, serving a sentence for marijuana possession, simply walked away from the minimum security prison in which he’d been placed in September 1970, changing out of his prison uniform at a nearby gas station.
Cold water is just as cleansing as hot water.
When using modern detergent, clothes will be equally clean whether warm or cold water is used. There is one major difference: warm water uses much more energy (about 75 percent of the energy used for a load of laundry comes from warming the water). And for tips on how to do your laundry, learn the 15 Ways You’re Washing Your Clothes Wrong.
Incan people used knots to keep records.
Instead of handwritten notes, Incan people used knots tied on pendants and cords to do their accounting. Called quipu, the types of knots and their location relative to the top of the cord would modify the meaning of the apparatus. About 600 examples of quipu have been discovered so far.
Subway footlongs aren’t a foot long.
When confronted about this fact, the sandwich chain explained that, “With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.”
Bottled water expiration dates are for the bottle, not the water.
After a while, the plastic will start leaching into the liquid.
Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t sit on the Iron Throne.
When Queen Elizabeth paid a royal visit to the set of Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland, she refused to sit on the Iron Throne for legal reasons. As David Benioff told Esquire, “Apparently the Queen of England is not allowed to sit on a foreign throne…This is an esoteric rule we didn’t know about until that moment.”
A hiker found and returned an ancient wallet.
Halfway up a glacier in the Andes, hiker Ricardo Peña found a wallet. It turned out it belonged to a Uruguayan rugby player who had been in a 1972 crash of flight 571 in which all but 16 passengers died. As it turned out, the wallet belonged to one of the survivors. Peña tracked him down and returned the wallet, more than three decades after its loss.
South Koreans are 4cm taller than North Koreans.
A researcher from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul has found that North Koreans on average are four centimeters shorter than those in South Korea, pointing to malnourishment, economic stagnation, and lack of immigration as reasons for the stunted stature.
Animal shelters are slammed on July 5th.
It makes sense: so many pets run away out of fear of fireworks.
There’s a Manhattan-specific ant.
On Broadway medians between 63rd and 76th streets, biologists discovered a new species of ant. They named it ManhattAnt, naturally.
The world’s most successful pirate was a woman.
The 19th century Chinese pirate Ching Shih, a former prostitute and widow of fearsome pirate Cheng I, became a hugely successful pirate in her own right, succeeding her husband and eventually commanding more than 1,800 pirate ships and 80,000 men (the secrets she’d learned about her powerful clients at the brothel also came in handy).
There may be treasure in Virginia.
A set of coded texts known as the Beale Ciphers (as they were originally acquired by a prospector named Thomas Jefferson Beale in the early 1800s) are said to reveal the location of a massive treasure: approximately $43 million in gold, silver, and jewels. Of the three texts, one has been cracked, revealing that the treasure is in Bedford County, Virginia. Where exactly it is within that county remains unknown.
A sea lion once saved a man.
Attempting to klll himself by jumping of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a man named Kevin Hines survived but broke his back. While it seemed he would be not long for this world, a sea lion came to the rescue, swimming beneath him and keeping him afloat until the coast guard arrived.
Rich Russians hire fake ambulances.
While “ambulance chaser” might be a slur in the United States, Russians take their selfish use of emergency vehicles to a whole other level by hiring “ambulance taxis”—luxuriously appointed ambulances they hire for $200 an hour that will blast their sirens to speed the passenger through traffic.
Milk wagons gave us roadway lines.
Considered “the most important single traffic safety device,” the painting of lines down the center of roads was devised by a man named Edward Hines in 1911 when he saw the dotted drippings from a leaking milk wagon and struck on the concept.
Pandas fake pregnancy for better care.
A Chinese panda named Ai Hin was believed to be pregnant (showing signs like an increased appetite and less movement) and zookeepers ensured she was well taken care of with extra food, a single room with air conditioning, and more. But then they realized she was not pregnant at all. Researchers believe it may have been a deliberate faking of the pregnancy in order to get the better treatment and treats.
Businesses once didn’t see the value of diaper stations.
Though diaper-changing stations are a common sight in restaurants and Starbucks, that was not always the case. When the founder of Koala changing tables first tried selling them to businesses, he was met with total disinterest. But thanks to a marketing push depicting a woman changing a diaper on the gross bathroom floor, he started changing minds. “We had to make them feel guilty,” Jeff Hilgger, the company’s founder, told Fortune. This tactic worked, and soon McDonald’s, Target, and other major chains were asking to have them installed.
Beloved children’s book author Roald Dahl was a spy.
Though best known as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, the author put in time as a spy for the British Security Coordination gathering intelligence during World War II. One of his specialties was using his charm to seduce society ladies, possibly for intelligence gathering, possibly for his own leisure.
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