33 Obscure Facts That Will Make You Come Off as a Total Genius
Get ready to crush it at your next cocktail party.
You don’t need a sky-high IQ and holier-than-thou intellect to come across as a genius. Just the right bit of information dropped at the right moment will make you look like a font of fascinating insights, with troves of delightful, unexpected knowledge available right at your fingertips.
Some advice: It’s especially effective if you can back up any snippet of surprising trivia with a “Just Google it” challenge—only to be proven correct. Here, you’ll find 33 such facts that will make you come off as an incomparably brilliant person.
Your Head Ages Faster Than Your Feet
Remember your Einstein: he showed that time moves differently depending on how close you are to a gravitational field. The more gravity acts on an object, the slower time passes for that object. Astonishingly, this holds true for your feet—which are closer to the Earth’s gravitational field—in comparison with your head. The difference is incredibly slight, but a 79-year-old person who has spent a life walking upright will have a head that’s about 90 billionths of a second older than their feet. If you want your face to stay young, you’d better learn to walk on your hands!
Most People Live North of the Equator
Since Europe, Asia, North America, and much of Africa lie in the northern hemisphere, you might already have the notion that more of the Earth’s population resides on its upper half. However, the difference is more extreme than you might think. A full 9 out of every 10 human beings lives north of the Equator. Part of the reason is that 67 percent of the world’s landmass is in the northern hemisphere, and people do tend to live on land.
If You Act Fast, You Can “Replant” a Lost Tooth
If you get a permanent tooth knocked out, don’t put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy, because there’s a chance it can be reattached. Instead, pick the tooth up by the crown, not the root, and rinse it gently with plain water. If possible, reposition the tooth in your mouth and go see a dentist immediately. If you can’t fit it back into place, keep it moist with milk—not water or a damp cloth—and go see a dentist immediately. With proper care, the tooth might reattach itself to your jawbone over the next few weeks.
The CEO of IHOP Used to Wait Tables There
At 16, Julia Stewart got a job as a waitress at IHOP. She continued working her way through college, but instead of getting an MBA after that, she decided to focus on real-world training. She moved over to Taco Bell’s management track, and the restaurants she managed grew so dramatically in sales that she eventually became company president of Applebee’s. What she really wanted was to be CEO, but when Applebee’s passed her over, she took the CEO position at IHOP. However, she got her revenge: in 2007, IHOP bought Applebee’s for $2.1 billion.
People Have Died from Laughing Too Hard
Sure, it sounds like something out of a Monty Python sketch, but a few people really have laughed themselves to death. In nearly every case, though, the unfortunate person had an underlying heart condition. For example, in 1975, British man Alex Mitchell sat down to watch his favorite comedy show (The Goodies, if you’re curious )and laughed hard for 25 solid minutes until dying suddenly of cardiac arrest. Years later, after his granddaughter experienced heart trouble, it was determined that Mitchell had a rare genetic condition that meant that his heart could skip beats if exposed to too much stress—including hard laughter.
A U.S. Army Sergeant Saved His Company with Laughter
Laughter has saved lives, too. The magnificently-named Sgt. Leonard A. Funk was stationed in Belgium during WWII. When Germans got into his company’s camp and one shoved a gun in Sgt. Funk’s stomach, he was so surprised that he broke out into giggles and couldn’t stop. Though the Germans were angry at first, the laughter was so infectious that it distracted them enough for Funk to draw his gun and fire at their leader. His soldiers retook the camp and Sgt. Funk was eventually awarded a Medal of Honor.
Dragonflies Are the Deadliest Predators on Earth
Wolves, bears, lions, sharks, tigers… dragonflies? Believe it or not, the award for the most efficient and deadliest hunter on the planet goes to the humble dragonfly. This honor stems from their 95 percent hunt-to-kill ratio. Even a great white shark only catches its prey about 50 percent of the time, and an African lion manages a comparatively meager 25 percent. The dragonfly brain’s human-like capacity for selective attention makes them extremely deadly killing machines. With numbers like that, more sports teams ought to consider the dragonfly as a mascot!
Most Koreans Don’t Need Deodorant
It might surprise you to learn that body odor actually has a genetic component, and the people who lack the gene for stinky sweat don’t have to worry about armpit odors. While only 2 percent of Europeans lack this gene, nearly all Koreans have genetics that mean they don’t need deodorant. While Korean people still perspire, of course, the molecular composition of their sweat isn’t appealing to the skin bacteria that makes sweat smell bad. Some foreign travelers to Seoul have even reported difficulty in finding any deodorant in regular stores.
Stephen Hawking Refused to Change His Voice
Even people who know little about science might immediately recognize British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s distinct, computerized voice. Though he was British, the only digital simulation available when he lost his voice in 1985 had a stilted, vaguely American accent. Of course, voice replication technology has improved immensely since then—just think of Siri—but despite this, and despite the fact that Queen Elizabeth herself once chastised Hawking for his accent, he opined that the voice had worked so well for him that there was no need to change it. He kept it until he passed away earlier this year.
There Are More Heart Attacks on Monday Than Any Other Day
While it sounds like a morbid joke, a recent Australian study showed that patients were least likely to report a heart attack over the weekend and most likely to report one on Monday. The risk increases on Monday by about 20 percent for men and 15 percent of women. Before you go quitting your job, the study also noted that nearly a quarter of people who reported on a Monday actually had their first heart attack symptoms at least 24 hours earlier… but didn’t want to give up their free time to go to the hospital.
A Wagging Tail Doesn’t Always Equal a Happy Dog
When it comes to canine behavior, we tend to associate a wagging tail with a friendly disposition, but that’s not always the case. Experts have compared tail wags to a human smile—sure, it’s often welcoming, but it can mask anxiety and even aggression. A vertical tail with a small, high-speed wag often means the dog feels threatened, so it’s best to step back. However, a broad wag at a medium height usually indicates a relaxed, happy pup ready to have its ears scratched.
Four out of Five Dollar Bills Contain Trace Amounts of Cocaine
This sounds like a massive exaggeration, but multiple studies have found it to be true—between 50 and 80 percent of paper currency in the United States has enough cocaine to show up in a lab test. Of course, this amount is an average of 16 micrograms, or 16 one-millionths of the weight of a paper clip. It’s also extremely unlikely that all this money has been used to snort the drug. Instead, it’s a testament to how far very fine powders can spread—one bill can contaminate an entire machine, which can contaminate everything that passes through it.
Over 40 Percent of Us Would Confess to Crimes We Didn’t Commit
On nearly every procedural TV show, a suspect’s confession is treated as airtight evidence that the cops have the right person in custody. However, an Iowa State study showed that, even under mild pressure, participants would sign a confession stating that they’d cheated on an earlier assignment whether they actually did or not. Shockingly, 43 percent of students who had not cheated agreed to sign the confession. Their stress levels skyrocketed the longer they held out, and many signed just to get away from that stress. Imagine the stress of a 24-hour-long police interrogation, and confessions no longer seem quite so straightforward.
The 10th President Still Has Living Grandchildren
Despite dying in 1862, John Tyler—who served as President from 1841 to 1845—has two grandsons that are still alive today. This is possible because Tyler remarried a younger woman after his first wife’s death, and two of her sons by Tyler had children with younger women near the end of their lives, too. As a result, John Tyler had been dead for 60 years when his grandsons Lyon Tyler, Jr., and Harrison Tyler were born (in 1924 and 1928, respectively), but they are still just two generations removed from a pre-Civil War president.
Saddam Hussein Wrote a Best-Selling Romance Novel
Zabibah and the King, a lurid tale of romance between a commoner and a monarch, was published anonymously in 2000 in Iraq. It quickly became a bestseller, selling over a million copies in the country, and the story was even made into a television series and a musical. The true author—or, at least, the person directing the ghostwriters—was none other than Saddam Hussain himself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the “romance” at the heart of the story is intended to be an allegory wherein Zabibah represents Iraq and the United States is her abusive husband.
Ancient Romans Invented a Five-Meat Turducken
Have you heard of a turducken? Also known as a three bird roast, it’s a holiday dish where a turkey is stuffed with a duck that is in turn stuffed with a chicken. While it might seem a bit excessive, it has nothing on a particular meal that the rich in ancient Rome used to eat. To make it, the chef would stuff a deboned chicken into a duck, the duck into a goose, the goose into a pig, the pig into a cow, and then cook the whole thing. A cowpigooducken? Sounds… not bad, actually!
There’s a Pill That Keeps Your Poop From Stinking
Neither the chemical name (bismuth subgallate) nor the brand name (Devrom) do anything to indicate the function of this miracle drug. It deodorizes both feces and flatulence. Before you roll your eyes at the pharmaceutical industry, know that there are actually people out there who benefit from it. Chronic sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, or those that have had gastrointestinal surgeries and ostomy bags, can feel more confident going out into the world without worrying that they’re giving off foul odors.
The World’s Largest Civilization is a Global Ant Colony
Argentine ants are usually very territorial; they’ll frequently act aggressively toward ants from another colony. However, some enterprising entomologist realized that certain ants from all corners of the globe actually managed to get along, as if they were from the same colony. That’s because this global mega-colony stretches across every continent except Antarctica. Human travel and global commerce has not only created the colony; it’s also maintained it by ensuring that ants from different parts of the world “keep in touch” with each other.
Human Hair is as Strong as Steel
A healthy strand of hair can stretch to 1.5 times its original length before breaking, a property shared with other strong substances such as steel. Test conditions matter: if the hair is stretched slowly, it’s more likely to break than if it’s stretched quickly. Additionally, higher levels of humidity allow it to stretch longer before breaking. The upshot of all of this is that a full head of human hair, when gathered together, could lift the combined weight of two adult elephants—about 12 tons!
Broccoli, Lemons, and Corn Are Manmade
Many people today worry about genetically modified food, but most aren’t aware that this is far from a new phenomenon—human beings have been tampering with crops for millennia. In fact, broccoli didn’t exist until the 6th century B.C.E., when ancient farmers selectively bred wild cabbages for the largest and tastiest buds. Lemons, too, are a human-created crossbreed between a sour orange and a citron, first made in northern India or China. Maize, or what we know as corn, was originally domesticated in Mesoamerica and is so genetically different from its wild counterpart as to baffle scientists.
Viagra Was Created by Accident
There’s a phenomenon in the pharmaceutical world called “drug repositioning” that occurs when a drug is used to treat a disease or condition very different from its original purpose. The most famous example of this might be UK92480, a medicine intended to help patients with heart disease by relaxing their blood vessels. The human trials were a failure… until a number of patients began reporting an unusual side effect. It turned out that the drug did increase blood flow, just not to the heart. Pfizer marketed its new creation as Viagra, the first pill to treat erectile dysfunction.
Gravity Could Pull An Object Through the Earth in 42 Minutes
This one’s entirely theoretical, but it’s still fun to think about. Let’s say you could somehow dig a small tunnel right through the middle of the Earth and out the other side. Then you sucked all the air out of that tunnel so it was a perfect vacuum and dropped an object in one side of the tunnel. That object would travel by power of gravity and nothing else, and with no air resistance to slow it down, it would pop out the other side of the tunnel in exactly 42.2 minutes.
There’s a Whistle Language
Centuries before radios and walkie-talkies, the Chinantec people of southern Mexico came up with an ingenious way of communicating over long distances: whistling. Using seven different tones that carry much, much farther than normal speech—up to a kilometer—they can convey essentially everything that their spoken language can, even past and future verb tenses. Unfortunately, as agricultural production in the region has declined, and as young people move to the cities in search of jobs, this whistling language has begun to die out.
Before Alarm Clocks, You’d Pay Someone to Knock on Your Window
The job title of “knocker-upper” isn’t what you might assume. Although alarm clocks were invented in 1757, they were expensive and therefore out of reach for the working classes for a long time. In Britain and Ireland, at least, if you had to get up in order to be at work at a certain time, you’d hire a knocker-upper to bang on your window. These folks, usually elderly men and women, would make the rounds in the morning, using batons on ground-floor windows and bamboo sticks for higher floors. They wouldn’t stop until they were sure each client was awake.
The Fax Machine Was Invented in 1846
No, that’s not a typo—the fax machine came about 30 years before the telephone. Scotsman Alexander Bain patented his “electric printing telegraph,” which was able to reproduce signatures at a distance. The ability to scan an existing 2-D image didn’t come until later, but by 1900, it was possible to transmit a photograph—in this case, a wanted poster—from London to Paris. Though it may be outdated now, the fax machine was actually state-of-the-art technology for many, many decades.
Samsung Used to Sell Noodles and Fish
Accounting for 20 percent of all products exported from South Korea today, technology giant Samsung has surprisingly humble origins. In 1938, Lee Byung-Chull founded a local grocery trading company that dealt in local produce, dried fish, and noodles. Its logo was composed of three stars—or “samsun” in Korean. Within ten years, the company had grown enough to move to Seoul. The business diversified over the years, but got heavily into technology after the Korean War. Nowadays, Samsung is involved not only in consumer electronics, but construction, financial and medical services, and even shipbuilding, as well.
The Rockies’ Mascot is Based on a Real Triceratops
The Colorado Rockies are Denver’s mile-high baseball team, so of course their mascot is a… purple triceratops named Dinger? Well, there’s a fun story behind this character—and it makes a whole lot of sense. During construction for the Rockies’ stadium, Coors Field, workers found a number of real dinosaur bones as they dug the foundation. The largest of these was a 7-foot-long rib bone from a triceratops. Team management, however, released the news that they had found a “dinosaur egg.” During the Rockies’ first home game of the season, the huge egg was toted onto the field and Dinger “hatched” out of it.
You Won’t Void a Warranty by Removing that Sticker
Odds are you own at least one electronic device that came with a label placed over a seam, proclaiming WARRANTY VOID IF REMOVED. As threatening as this sounds, it’s actually illegal for companies to refuse to honor a warranty because the customer took the product to a third party for repair or did it themselves. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 ensures that your warranty is valid even if the warranty itself says you aren’t allowed to open or repair it. Companies can only get away with it because most customers don’t know their rights.
Blockbuster Passed Up the Opportunity to Buy Netflix
Founded by a disgruntled Blockbuster customer named Reed Hastings in 1997, Netflix originally hooked customers by offering DVD-by-mail rentals with no late fees. Three years later, Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster for a piddling $50 million—and Blockbuster passed. Instead, it made a deal to open its own streaming service in a partnership with… Enron. By 2003, Netflix was posting record profits while Blockbuster reported record losses. Now worth $20 billion and accounting for one-third of all internet traffic, Netflix really did shut Blockbuster down.
Nearly One-Quarter of the World’s Fresh Water is in a Single Lake
Lake Baikal in Siberia is big, bigger than all the Great Lakes combined. It’s so big, in fact, that it contains around 22 to 23 percent of all the fresh water in the world. Only 3 percent of the water on Earth is fresh, anyway, and less than 0.01% of that tiny fraction can be found on the surface of the planet as lakes, rivers, or swamps; most of the rest is sealed up in groundwater or glaciers. So Lake Baikal, as massive as it is, only contains about 0.0069% of the total water on Earth.
Part of a Kit Kat is Made from Other Kit Kats
If you got some Kit Kats in your Halloween candy this year, unwrap one and take a bite. Now look at the exposed wafers—there’s a soft, crumbly substance filling in the small gaps between them. This substance is not quite chocolate and not quite wafer, because it’s a combination of both. Imperfect Kit Kats—for example, bars with bubbles or off-center wafers—aren’t wasted; they’re ground up and used as the filler for future Kit Kats.
Redheads Are More Sensitive to Pain
Redheads have a lot to put up with—pale skin, freckles, and that false rumor that they’re going extinct. Add “heightened pain sensitivity” to that list. This effect isn’t just found in humans, but in lab animals like rats, as well. As it turns out, the MC1R gene that codes for red hair may also code for an increase in a pain-related hormone. As a result, redheads undergoing surgery need more anesthesia than people with other hair colors. Now that you know, be extra kind to your redheaded friend with a headache!
Before Gatorade, Marathon Runners Drank Booze
Today we know that alcohol consumption promotes dehydration—that’s part of what makes a hangover so nasty. However, before we really understood hydration, runners in marathons fueled themselves with brandy, whiskey, or whatever other booze was available. Handlers would come up alongside them—first in bikes, then in cars—and hand them shots like it was Saturday night and the bar was about to close. The 1924 Paris Marathon even had wine stations along the route. Yes, water was always available, but it was considered an “unmanly” drink for an athlete.
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