40 Facts That Will Make You Feel Instantly Smarter
Dropping this knowledge will boost your confidence.
“I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once remarked. “I am only passionately curious.” And here’s the thing: You should be, too.
After all, tons of experts say that maintaining a healthy dose of curiosity about the world around you will help sharpen your mind, make you happier, strengthen your relationships, and even improve your productivity.
So, if you want to set yourself on a path to reaping those benefits—and, in the process, arm yourself with all sorts of fascinating facts and trivia that will make you feel like a total genius and boost your confidence—read the 40 facts we’ve compiled right here. They’re fun, they’re interesting, and they’re guaranteed to fan the flames of your curiosity.
There Are More Card Combinations Than There Are Atoms on Earth
Maybe don’t blame your bad luck at the poker table on your gambling abilities; there are more ways to arrange a deck of cards than there are total atoms on the earth!
If a card deck is shuffled properly, there’s a pretty high change that it comes out in an arrangement that has never existed before, because a deck of 52 cards has an astronomical large number of permutations. (Put simply: It’s a 69-digit number that begins with 80.)
That Dimple In Your Wine Bottle Serves a Purpose
Also referred to as a “kick-up” or a “punt,” the dimple in the bottom of the wine bottle is a remnant from the past, when the bottles were made of handblown glass. If the glassblower didn’t push the seam of the bottom of the wine bottle up, it would not stand up straight (because there would be a lump).
Also, here’s a handy tip for burgeoning oenophiles: many experts say that if you’re shopping for affordable wines today, a deeper punt means it’s a nicer, tastier bottle of wine. So always be sure to run your hand underneath it before purchasing.
Polar Bears Run Faster Than Professional Football Players
Polar bears can run at 25 mph, jump over six feet in the air, and are nearly undetectable by infrared cameras due to transparent fur. (For reference, known that the fastest NFL player in 2018 was a running back who ran just over 22mph.) But don’t let this terrifying set of skills scare you. Polars, unlike most other bears, are not territorial or confrontational—unless provoked.
You Can Never Recall a Single Memory All By Itself
When you’re trying to recall a single memory, such as a smell or the look on a person’s face, that memory can’t be recalled in isolation. That was among the findings by a team of neuroscientists at the University College London, who found that when we try to remember one detail (for example, the color of shoes a friend was wearing last week), we bring with it a slew of other details (such as the place where we saw said friend wearing the shoes, their other clothing, et cetera.).
According to the researchers, this is because the brain’s hippocampus packages memories together and stores them, as if in some Amazon warehouse. And when we retrieve one memory, it brings along a whole range of other components.
Hotter Temperatures Are Turning Mummies into Black Goo
No, this isn’t some kind of ancient curse. Mummies preserved for more 7,000 years in Peru have been turning to black goo thanks to a major increase in humidity.
When Harvard scientists tested why, they discovered it’s because the microbes in the skin activate in high humidity, which is something that the people in ancient Peru never had to worry about, because of the dry desert atmosphere. However, recent changes in climate have brought fog to the region, thereby increasing the moisture in the air, thereby melting mummified human remains. Ew.
Alcohol Makes Your Body Think It’s Being Burned
Ethanol (alcohol) activates the vanilloid receptor-1 (VR1 for short), which is what your body activates at high temperatures (107 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, usually) to let you know that you’re getting burned. Alcohol lowers the temperature at which your VR1 receptors activate, so instead of alerting you when your temperature rises above 107 degrees, it does so when it hits 93 degrees. In other words, your receptors are telling you that your normal body temperature (98.6 degrees) feels like burning. It’s also why open wounds sting when you pour alcohol over them—and it’s why you get a burning in your throat when you pound a particularly potent shot. Break out the chasers, everyone!
People With Fatal Hypothermia Think They’re Overheating
This “paradoxical undressing” occurs in nearly half of all hypothermal deaths. It hasn’t been fully studied because it would be pretty unethical to do so, but there are two theories at this point:
- The nerves in blood vessel walls are paralyzed due to the cold, which leads to vasodilation (where blood flows more freely to the surface of the skin) giving the illusion of warmth.
- The vasoconstriction experienced in the first stage of hypothermia actually paralyzes the vasomotor center—which is what controls the sensations of body temperature in the whole body
It gets even weirder after that. Once undressed, the person will attempt to burrow into very small spaces. Finding bodies in states like this is why hypothermia deaths are commonly misconstrued as acts of violence. Yikes.
Espresso Isn’t Technically Coffee
We usually think of espresso simply as concentrated coffee, but it’s more complex than that. To officially be “espresso,” the drink must be made in a particular way—produced by pressurizing near-boiling water through finely ground coffee beans packed into cakes. If the drink is made any other way (in a stovetop pot or fancy pour-over method), it’s coffee. Even if it were to taste exactly like a shot of espresso, you can’t call it that unless it’s made through the pressurized method. In other words, espresso isn’t coffee.
You Exhale Fat When You Lose It
Breathe in, breathe out. While a few deep breaths don’t burn too many calories, this is how most burned-off fat exits our body. You may have thought it was through sweat, urine, or some other excretion, but the truth is, as we exercise or go about our day, most of the fat (84 percent according to some researchers) is converted into carbon dioxide and leaves our body through our lungs. The remaining 16 percent of the fat is converted to water, which leave through urine or sweat.
Bruises Change Color Because They’re Losing Oxygen
A bruise is caused by bleeding under the skin; tiny capillaries (blood vessels) are crushed, which expel blood that’s trapped under the skin. Initially, the bruise will just look red because the blood is still oxygen-rich. Within one to two days, the blood begins to lose its oxygen, turning purple.
Then, after three or more days, bruises will start to turn green, yellow, or grey thanks to compounds called biliverdin and bilirubin that break down the hemoglobin to absorb the “good stuff” (such as iron) for the body to use. The rest of the waste is eventually purged from or absorbed by the body.
Women Have Adam’s Apples
The Adam’s Apple is the thyroid cartilage that surrounds the larynx. Contrary to popular belief, both women and men have it. It’s just more prominent in males because the larynx (voice box) is far larger in men (hence the deeper voices).
Family Members Share a Smell
The natural smells of any two family members are similar, which is why the average person doesn’t find family members attractive. Research out of the University of Utah even showed that subjects are more averse to family members’ scents than to strangers’ scents. Basically, this is Mother Nature’s way of decreasing genetic mutations caused by inbreeding.
Archaeologists Have Tracked Lewis and Clark by Their Bodily Waste
Every school kid has heard of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Throughout the early 19th century, the explorers trekked across the U.S. from the East Coast to the Pacific Ocean. But while the explorers kept diligent journals, modern historians and archaeologists had for years struggled to piece together the precise locations their expedition encamped—information that would help future generations understand this historically crucial journey.
Then researchers came upon an idea for tracking their exact movements: analyzing toilet mercury.
As it happens, mercury-laced laxatives were a popular solution for treating constipation during the Lewis and Clark era, and traces of mercury can be detected centuries after they are deposited. So by testing old latrine sites along the route for mercury, researchers could determine which ones were, ahem, patronized by the famous adventurers, and which were the work of later (less laxative-happy) visitors. Altogether, some 600 sites have been connected back to the famed pair.
Dry Cleaning Isn’t Technically “Dry”
Your dry-cleaned garments are thrown into a giant front-loading washers with a liquid detergent. Yes, your clothes are completely immersed with a liquid solvent; it’s only called “dry” because there’s no water in it. Dry cleaning was originally discovered by someone who accidentally spilled petroleum all over his clothes—only to find out that it removed stains he couldn’t previously get out! Because petroleum is harmful to the environment with the amount of dry cleaning the world does, new solvents have been created over time.
Brain-Eating Monsters Exist
Naegleria fowleri is a free-living excavate form of protist typically found in warm bodies of fresh water. The amoeba in the water is entered through the nose, then travels from the nose to the brain where it destroys the brain tissue, invading the nervous system and consuming the brain. It has only been found in warm freshwater: lakes, rivers, and hot springs. Yeah… We’ll stick to the ocean for swimming.
Sound Travels Four Times Faster in Water Than in Air
Sound is a wave of alternating compression and expansion, so the speed of it depends on how fast it bounces back from each compression; the less compressible the medium it’s traveling through, the faster it bounces back. Water is about 800 times more dense than air, so there are way more particles for waves to bounce off. Thus, sound is faster in water.
However, the density has the opposite effect on physical bodies (such as, say, a bullet). Physical matter encounters drag when in the water due to its density, as laid out by the drag equation, in the seminal An Introduction to Fluid Dynamics. It’s been proven that jumping into the water and swimming within three to eight feet of its surface will literally save you from catching a bullet (all those movies and crime shows you see people jumping into the harbor on the run have a scientific basis after all!).
Red-Eye in Photos is a Reflection of Your Blood
When the flash of a camera goes off, the eye isn’t prepared for the sudden influx of light, and the pupil doesn’t have time to restrict. You’re likely using flash in dark lighting, so your eyes have dilated to adjust to the dark room. When the flash goes off and the photo is taken, your eyes are still dilated, so the light reflect off of the red blood vessels of the choroid, which is the layer of connective tissue in the back of the eye that nourished the retina.
There’s a Meaner Plant than the Venus Flytrap
Carnivorous, bog-dwelling plants called bladderworts can snap their traps shut in less than a millisecond, 100 times faster than a Venus flytrap. They’re rootless floating plants that have a yellow flower at the top and an insect-digesting bladder sac. They range in size from a few inches to a few feet long.
The Tiny Holes on Padlocks Are to Make Sure They Don’t Get Jammed
The tiny holes in padlocks serve a dual purpose: they allow any moisture that builds up inside to escape, and they allow you to add oil to the inner mechanisms to prevent rust and breakdown. Because padlocks are usually used outdoors, allowing the water to run out keeps the locks from rusting, and in colder climates keeps the lock from being literally frozen shut. If you’re ever having issues opening a padlock (with the legitimate key, of course—no break-ins!), stick some WD40 into the tiny holes and you should be able to open it without a problem.
Stars Are Made of Matter
You might imagine that a star—a giant ball of light and heat—contains zero matter and is made up entirely of energy. Almost! Stars don’t contain matter—gas, liquid, or solid—as we know it. Instead, they’re made up of plasma, a super-heated state of matter that humans can’t handle. (Lightning is also made up of plasma.) And for some major surprises from the great beyond, here are 21 Mysteries About Space No One Can Explain.
You Probably Dream in Color
You’ve probably heard that “we only dream in black and white.” But new research have shown that monochromatic dreams were only the case because of black-and-white screen time. Nowadays, with the amount of time we all spend watching color videos—whether on TV or mobile devices—our brains tend to keep all colors in dreaming. Only about 25 percent of people in one study reported dreaming in black-and-white.
The Supreme Court Houses a Basketball Court
The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is home to a basketball court on its roof (four floors up, to be exact), named, appropriately, the Highest Court in the Land. It’s smaller than a regulation-size court but provides a great sweat therapy session. In recent years, it’s been modified to include a gym and yoga studio.
Your Taste Buds Have an Average Lifespan of 10 Days
Adult taste buds, in general, turn over within eight to 12 days. Taste buds are clusters of polarized sensory cells embedded in the tongue, and there are three types—it’s the ones that are closer to the surface that have a shorter lifespan. That’s why, when you burn your tongue, it doesn’t take too long until you’re able to taste again.
Some Trees are Fire-Resistant
The bark of older Redwood and Sequioa trees builds up over time to protect them from the elements. The bark, which may be up to one foot thick, contains tannin, which provides protection against fire and fungus. Tannin solutions are actually used regularly in contracting wooden buildings to mitigate any potential for fire damage.
Your Pencils Can Be Made into Diamonds
Science may be more glamorous than you think. Graphite can be transformed into diamond by applying a temperature of 3,000 degrees Celsius and pressure of 100,000 atmospheres. Graphite and diamond are two forms of the same chemical element, carbon. And this technique isn’t reserved for jewelry—diamonds are used for a variety of industrial applications, such as cutting tools to electronic devices.
There’s a Rock That Floats
You used the world’s only floating rock on your feet: yes, it’s pumice. Pumice is volcanic rock that is produced when lava erupts from a volcano, and then cools with a lot of small gas bubbles. Because of all the bubbles, it is less dense than water (and great for scrubbing away dead skin). However, if it’s in water for too long, it will eventually become waterlogged and sink.
You’re Not Really Seeing Black in a Pitch-Black Room
What you’re seeing is “igengrau,” which is “dark light,” often referred to as “brain grey.” It’s the completely uniform dark (almost black) gray background that many people report seeing in the absence of light. Some people prefer to call what they see “visual noise” because what they’re seeing is an ever-changing field of tiny white and black dots.
Apologies May Be Way More Effective Than You Thought
A 2008 study of people who experienced medical malpractice revealed that 40 percent of them would not have filed a lawsuit if they had received an explanation and apology. And 90 percent of the patients who did file suit stated that it was because they wanted to prevent it from happening to anyone else.
What’s more, one 2017 study actually showed that hospitals that implemented a program tailored to answer the injured patient’s questions after the surgery and that compensated accordingly ended up reducing their costs greatly—instead of spending upwards of $200,000 per case, the liabilities were only about $75,000. However, despite the narrow scope of these studies (confined to the medical industry), doctor-patient relationships probably are not the only ones that can benefit from a simple apology now and then. Just saying…
There’s a Trick for Discovering a Two-Way Mirror
Walk up to the mirror and place your fingertip or nail against it. If the reflection of your finger directly touches your finger, it’s a two-way mirror; if there’s about 1cm of distance between your finger and the reflection, it’s not.
Fireflies Light Up to Flirt
As Marc Branham, an entomology professor at the University of Florida explained to Scientific American, the light itself is a result of so-called “cold light.” Oxygen combines with calcium, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), and the chemical luciferin, and light is produced with minimal energy being lost to heat. Fireflies mainly emit light to attract mates (via certain light patterns) or to defend territory (that’s why when you put them in a jar, they light up, as a defense mechanism).
There’s a Purpose to Those Tiny Pinholes in Airplane Windows
Those holes in airplane window are called “breather” or “bleed” holes. Airplane windows have three panes each, with the breather hole being in the middle to equilibrate between the cabin and the gap between the outside windowpanes—it helps alleviate pressure so that neither the outside nor inside panes crack.
Falling in Your Dream Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does
The sense of falling involved in a dream actually comes from the brain falling asleep too fast and basically assuming it’s dying. There’s a part in your brain that’s essentially responsible for waking you up, and sometimes that wakes up a bit faster, or falls asleep a bit faster, than the rest of your brain. The common dream of being paralyzed is also related to this body-brain disconnect.
Black Holes Aren’t Black
They’re definitely dark, but they’re not black. Black holes are regions that exhibit such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside it; they basically “feed” off particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light, which we call “Hawking Radiation,” after Stephen Hawking, who proposed their existence.
Because black holes are constantly consuming matter, they give off a dark glow. Before his passing, Hawking expanded on the Black Hole theory by positing that instead of black holes existing, they are “apparent horizons,” which only temporarily holds matter and energy prisoner before eventually releasing them, albeit in a more garbled form.
It’s Not the Tip of the Whip That Makes the Cracking Sound
It was believed that the sound a whip makes is a result of the tip breaking the sound barrier because it moves faster than the speed of sound, but a study conducted at the University of Arizona has proven through calculation and experimentation that the crack of a whip comes from its loop traveling along the whip, gaining speed until it reaches the speed of sound and creates the crack. However, this doesn’t make the tip any less ominous; the tip reaches speeds upwards of 30 times the speed of the loop.
Hot Water Freezes Faster than Cold Water
This phenomenon was discovered in the 1960s by a Tanzanian student who observed that a hot ice cream mix freezes faster than a cold mix in cookery classes. (Aristotle had talked about it ages before, but nobody really caught onto it.) Named the Mpemba effect, after the student, this effect still puzzles scientists near and far, as there’s still no definitive reason as to why it occurs (though many agree that it has something to do with bonds).
If You Removed the Empty Space from Atoms, All of Humanity Would Fit into an Apple
An atom is more than 99 percent empty space. Plus, atoms are ridiculously tiny—for an idea of how small, exactly, know that just one strand of your hair is about 1 million atoms thick. This is all to say, if you were to take out all of the empty space in atoms, and then compress all of the atoms so they were physically touching, all of the human beings on the planet would be about the size of an apple.
Sweat Doesn’t Smell
The smell of sweat is caused by the presence of bacteria on your skin that breaks the sweat coming out of your pores down into acids. Deodorants, which are antibacterial and often contain alcohol, work by killing the bacteria on your skin that does this. Antiperspirants, on the other hand, work by forming a gel that temporarily plugs the sweat glands on your skin, blocking them and reducing the amount of sweat that seeps through.
Déjà Vu Is Just Brain-Processing Lag
Though it hasn’t been 100 percent proven, it’s a consensus that déjà vu results when there is a split-second delay in transferring information from one side of the brain to the other, so your brain, overall, gets the information twice, essentially processing the event as having happened before. Think of it like your mind glitching and opening the same web browser twice.
Sound Doesn’t (Really) Travel in Space
In space, there simply are no molecules (well, barely any) for sound to vibrate between. Or, rather, there are molecules—but they’re spread so far apart that a sound’s vibration is unable to reach them. The result is a really low frequency that’s barely discernible. So the famous movie tagline for the sci-fi horror film Alien was right all along: In space, no one can hear you scream.
Coffee Gets Decaffeinated by Going Into a Sauna
There are three main ways to decaffeinate coffee, all which involve moistening the green coffee bean within temperatures between 160 to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. The approaches vary in the solvents they use to pull the caffeine out of the coffee in order to achieve the 10mg or less of caffeine per serving required to be classified as “decaf” (regular coffee has anywhere from 50 to 75mg of caffeine per serving). Next, check out these 30 Random Facts That Will Make You Sound So Interesting.
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