135 Amazing Facts for People Who Like Amazing Facts

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Store these away for future trivia nights.

1. Mister Rogers always mentioned out loud that he was feeding his fish because a young blind viewer once asked him to do so. She wanted to know the fish were OK.

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2. Boring, Oregon and Dull, Scotland have been sister cities since 2012. In 2017, they added Bland Shire, Australia to their "League of Extraordinary Communities."

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3. Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt once sneaked out of a White House event, commandeered an airplane, and went on a joyride to Baltimore.

Amelia Earhart
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4. If you have the feeling you’ve experienced an event before in real life, call it déjà vu. If you feel like you’ve previously experienced an event in a dream instead, there’s a different term for it: déjà rêvé.

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5. During Prohibition, moonshiners would wear "cow shoes." The fancy footwear left hoofprints instead of footprints, helping distillers and smugglers evade police.

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6. Since founding the Imagination Library in 1995, Dolly Parton has donated 100 million books to children.

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7. The 100 folds in a chef's toque are said to represent 100 ways to cook an egg.

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8. In curling, good sportsmanship and politeness are essential. Congratulating opponents and abstaining from trash talk are part of what's known as the "Spirit of Curling."

Throwing curling stone across the ice.
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9. In 1974, the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis published a paper titled "The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of 'Writer's Block.'" It contained a total of zero words.

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10. Guinness estimates that 93,000 liters of beer are lost in facial hair each year in the UK alone.

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11. George Washington served an eggnog-like drink to visitors at Mount Vernon. His recipe included rye whiskey, rum, and sherry.

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12. Some cats are allergic to humans.

13. Queen Elizabeth II is a trained mechanic.

Queen Elizabeth II
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14. Volvo gave away the 1962 patent for their revolutionary three-point seat belt for free, in order to save lives.

Volvo logo
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15. Tsundoku is the act of acquiring books and not reading them.

16. Ravens in captivity can learn to talk better than parrots.

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17. Bela Lugosi was buried in full Dracula costume—cape and all.

18. Central Park's lampposts contain a set of four numbers that can help you navigate. The first two tell you the nearest street, and the next two tell you whether you're closer to the east or west side of the park (even numbers signal east, odd signals west).

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19. A teacher wrote of a young Roald Dahl on his school report card: "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended."

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20. You can still visit Blockbuster stores in Alaska and Oregon.

21. Blood donors in Sweden receive a thank you text when their blood is used.

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22. Kea parrots warble together when they're in a good mood, making them the first known non-mammal species to communicate with infectious laughter.

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23. Long before rap battles, there was "flyting": the exchange of witty, insulting verses. The verbal throwdowns were popular in England and Scotland from the 5th to 16th centuries.

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24. Melbourne gave some of its trees email addresses so residents could report problems. Instead, the trees received love letters.

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25. An estimated 1 million dogs in the U.S. have been named primary beneficiary in their owners' wills.

Captain dog
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26. At Petrified Forest National Park, visitors sometimes break the rules (and the law) by taking rocks home with them. According to rangers, they often end up returning the stolen goods in the mail—along with an apology note.

Petrified Forest National Park
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27. The Russians showed up 12 days late to the 1908 Olympics in London because they were using the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.

Olympic Rings
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28. Maya Angelou was the first black female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.

Maya Angelou
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29. In Japan, letting a sumo wrestler make your baby cry is considered good luck.

Sumo wrestlers making babies cry (for luck!)
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30. J.K. Simmons has been the voice of the Yellow Peanut M&M since the late 1990s.

J.K. Simmons
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31. Count von Count's love of numbers isn't just a quirky character trait—in traditional vampire folklore, the bloodsuckers have arithmomania, a compulsion to count.

Count von Count
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32. In Great Britain and Japan, black cats are perceived as auspicious. In the English Midlands, new brides are given black cats to bless their marriage, and the Japanese believe that black cats are good luck—particularly for single women.

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33. Portland was named by a coin flip. Had the coin landed the other way, the city would be Boston, Oregon.

Portland, Oregon
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34. During World War I, a Canadian soldier made a black bear his pet and named her Winnipeg. “Winnie” was later a resident of the London Zoological Gardens where she was an adored attraction, especially to a boy named Christopher Robin, son of author A.A. Milne. The boy even named his teddy bear after her.

Christopher Robin Milne
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35. Sleep literally cleans your brain. During slumber, more cerebrospinal fluid flushes through the brain to wash away harmful proteins and toxins that build up during the day.

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36. Neil Armstrong's astronaut application arrived a week past the deadline. A friend slipped the tardy form in with the others.

37. Due to the restaurant's reputation for staying open in extreme weather, the so-called “Waffle House Index” is informally used by FEMA to gauge storm severity.

Waffle House
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38. The first sales pitch for the Nerf ball was “Nerf: You can’t hurt babies or old people!”

Nerf
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39. The manchineel tree is nicknamed the "Tree of Death" for good reason: Touching it can leave chemical burns on your skin, its fruit is toxic, and its bark—when burned—can cause blindness.

Manchineel Tree, Mustique
Jason English/Mustique

40. If drivers adhere to the 45 mph speed limit on a stretch of Route 66 in New Mexico, the road's rumble strips will play a rendition of "America the Beautiful."

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41. Russian cosmonauts used to pack a shotgun in case they landed in Siberia and had to fend off bears.

Siberia
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42. Space has a distinct smell: a bouquet of diesel fumes, gunpowder, and barbecue. The aroma is mostly produced by dying stars.

Space
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43. Before settling on the Seven Dwarfs we know today, Disney considered Chesty, Tubby, Burpy, Deafy, Hickey, Wheezy, and Awful.

Seven Dwarfs
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44. The annual number of worldwide shark bites is 10 times less than the number of people bitten by other people in New York.

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45. In 1997 a Louisville woman left actor Charles Bronson all of her money in a handwritten will—a total of about $300,000. She'd never met him; she was just a fan.

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46. Carly Simon's dad is the Simon of Simon and Schuster. He co-founded the company.

Carly Simon
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47. Ben & Jerry learned how to make ice cream by taking a $5 correspondence course offered by Penn State. (They decided to split one course.)

Ben & Jerry
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48. After an online vote in 2011, Toyota announced that the official plural of Prius was Prii.

Prii
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49. At the 1905 wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt gave away the bride.

Teddy Roosevelt
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50. Tootsie Rolls were added to soldiers' rations in World War II for their durability in all weather conditions.

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51. When Canada's Northwest Territories considered renaming itself in the 1990s, one name that gained support was "Bob."

Skyline, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
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52. After OutKast sang "Shake it like a Polaroid picture," Polaroid released a statement: "Shaking or waving can actually damage the image."

Polaroid
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53. Marie Curie remains the only person to earn Nobel prizes in two different sciences.

Marie Curie
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54. The Starry Night depicts Vincent van Gogh's view from the Saint-Paul de Mausole asylum.

Starry Night
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55. The ampersand symbol is formed from the letters in et—the Latin word for "and."

Ampersand
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56. Army ants that misinterpret the scent trails left by other ants will sometimes break from the crowd and march in circles. If enough ants join, they can form massive "death spirals."

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57. A solar eclipse helped end a six-year war in 585 BCE. When the sky suddenly darkened during a battle between the Lydians and the Medes in modern Turkey, soldiers took it as a sign to cease fighting.

Solar Eclipse 2017
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58. Wendy's founder Dave Thomas dropped out of high school but earned his GED in 1993. His GED class voted him Most Likely to Succeed.

Dave Thomas
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59. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826—exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence
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60. Dogs are capable of understanding up to 250 words and gestures. The average dog is as intelligent as a two-year-old child.

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61. Bubbles keep your bath water warmer longer.

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62. Scientists have found evidence of take-out restaurants in the remains of Pompeii.

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63. Fried chicken was brought to America by Scottish immigrants.

Fried chicken
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64. Peter Durand patented the tin can in 1810. Ezra Warner patented a can opener in 1858. In between, people used chisels and hammers.

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65. There are 71 streets in Atlanta with "Peachtree" in their name.

Peachtree Street
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66. Goats have rectangular pupils.

Goat eyes
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67. The bend in a flamingo's leg isn't a knee—it's an ankle.

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68. In 1946, Boston owner Walter Brown chose the nickname Celtics over Whirlwinds, Olympians, and Unicorns.

Kyrie Irving
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69. After It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown aired, Charles Schulz was overwhelmed with candy shipments sent from kids who were concerned for Charlie, who got rocks instead of treats in his Halloween sack.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy
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70. One of the world's largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons—a U.S. Navy base near Seattle—is partially defended by trained dolphins.

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71. It's illegal for supermarkets in France to waste food. Supermarkets must either compost it or donate unsold or nearly expired goods to charity.

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72. Fredric Baur invented the Pringles can. When he passed away in 2008, his ashes were buried in one.

Pringles
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73. A new baby can cost new parents 750 hours of sleep in the first year.

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74. In 1965, a Senate subcommittee predicted that by 2000, Americans would only be working 20 hours a week with seven weeks vacation.

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75. For one day in 1998, Topeka, Kansas, renamed itself "ToPikachu" to mark Pokemon's U.S. debut.

Pikachu
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76. Truman Capote said he was the only person who'd met John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Sirhan Sirhan.

Truman Capote
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77. Susan B. Anthony was fined $100 for voting in the 1872 election. She never paid the fine.

Susan B. Anthony
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78. Canned pumpkin isn't actually pumpkin. Even purees that advertise as "100 percent pumpkin" are actually made of a range of different winter squashes.

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79. When Gene Wilder accepted the role of Willy Wonka, he had one condition: In his first appearance, Wilder wanted Wonka to limp toward the crowd with a cane in hand before falling into a perfect somersault and jumping back up. The reason? “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”

Willy Wonka
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80. Dr. Seuss said he expected to spend "a week or so" writing The Cat in the Hat. It actually took a year and a half.

Dr. Seuss / Hollywood Walk of Fame
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81. The Reese in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is Harry Burnett Reese, a former Hershey employee who created his famous candy in the 1920s.

Reese's
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82. The plural of cul-de-sac is culs-de-sac.

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83. Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt was allergic to moon dust.

Harrison Schmitt
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84. At the Gettysburg reunion in 1913, two men purchased a hatchet, walked to the site where their regiments had fought, and buried it.

Gettysburg at 50
Library of Congress

85. "Bloodcurdling" isn't just an expression: Research shows that watching horror movies can increase a certain clotting protein in our bloodstreams.

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86. An episode of Peppa Pig was pulled from Australian television for teaching children not to fear spiders.

Peppa Pig
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87. A group of pugs is called a grumble.

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88. Before he wrote Goosebumps, R.L. Stine wrote the jokes for Bazooka Joe wrappers.

R.L. Stine
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89. In 1998, the U.S. Army tried developing a telepathic ray gun "where words could be transmitted to be heard like the spoken word, except that it could only be heard within a person’s head."

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90. In 1967, the Nigerian Civil War ground to a halt for two days because both sides wanted to watch Pelé play in an exhibition soccer match.

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91. Winston Churchill's mother was born in Brooklyn.

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92. Jim Cummings is the voice of Winnie the Pooh. He calls sick kids in hospitals and chats with them in character.

Jim Cummings
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93. Before Google launched Gmail, "G-Mail" was the name of a free email service offered by Garfield's website.

Garfield looming
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94. Before the Nazis invaded Paris, H.A. and Margret Rey fled on bicycles. They were carrying the manuscript for Curious George.

Curious George
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95. In colonial America, lobster wasn't exactly a delicacy. It was so cheap and plentiful it was often served to prisoners.

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96. Crayola means "oily chalk." The name combines craie (French for "chalk") and ola (short for "oleaginous," or "oily").

Oily chalk
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97. Truman Show Delusion is a mental condition marked by a patient's belief that he or she is the star of an imaginary reality show.

Truman Show
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98. Cookie Monster is not changing his name. In a 2012 episode he said, "We've got to stop this Veggie Monster rumor before me reputation ruined."

Cookie Monster and Elmo
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99. Google's founders were willing to sell to Excite for under $1 million in 1999—but Excite turned them down.

Excite@Home
David McNew/Newsmakers

100. The medical term for ice cream headaches is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.

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101. Although Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he’s the only Kansas Jayhawks basketball coach with a losing record.

Kansas Jayhawks
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102. Wisconsin is the Badger State because the area's lead miners used to spend winters in tunnels burrowed into hills. Like badgers.

Badger
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103. In 1999, the U.S. government paid the Zapruder family $16 million for the film of JFK's assassination.

JFK in Dallas
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104. Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was wrestling champion of his county. He fought in nearly 300 matches and lost only one.

Young Lincoln
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105. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know. But on average, a Licking Machine made at Purdue needed 364.

Tootsie Pops
Mental Floss

106. Barcelona is home to hundreds of playgrounds for seniors. The spaces are meant to promote fitness and combat loneliness in elderly citizens.

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107. In Switzerland, it's illegal to own only one guinea pig.

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108. After leaving office, Ronald Reagan was offered the role of Hill Valley's mayor in Back to the Future III.

President Reagan waves goodbye
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109. Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare side effect of brain trauma. Patients speak their native language in a foreign accent.

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110. Queen Elizabeth II has had over 30 corgis in her lifetime.

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111. Relative to their bodies, Chihuahuas have the biggest brain in the dog world.

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112. The "mystery" flavor of Dum Dums is a combination of the end of one batch of candy and the beginning of another.

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113. A banana is a berry.

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114. In 1971, a Dallas man named Mariano Martinez invented the frozen margarita machine. The 26-year-old was inspired by the Slurpee machine at 7-Eleven.

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115. In 2016, a rogue bloodhound named Ludvine joined a half-marathon in Alabama. She ran the entire 13.1 miles and finished in 7th place.

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116. The Library of Congress regularly receives requests for books that don't exist. The most common is the President's Book of Secrets, from the 2007 movie, National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

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117. In 2014, Tinder made its first match on the continent of Antarctica. Not surprisingly, both parties involved were research scientists.

Antarctica
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118. When times get tough, elephants will comfort each other by stroking loved ones with their trunks and emitting small chirps.

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119. A double rainbow occurs when sunlight is reflected twice inside a raindrop. If you look closely, you can see that the colors of the secondary rainbow appear in reverse order.

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120. There's a Nikola Tesla statue in Palo Alto that provides free Wi-Fi.

Nikola Tesla statue
Mental Floss

121. The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships are held in Finland. One winner (not pictured) said he prepared for the event by "mainly drinking."

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122. In the '50s, Marilyn Monroe promised nightclub owner Charlie Morrison she'd be in the front row every night if he booked Ella Fitzgerald. He agreed, and she was true to her word. "After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again," Fitzgerald said. "She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn't know it."

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123. Frank Sinatra has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for film, one for music, and one for television.

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124. One April day in 1930, the BBC reported, "There is no news." Instead they played piano music.

There is no news
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125. Continental plates drift as fast as fingernails grow.

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126. Elvis Presley's manager sold "I Hate Elvis" badges as a way to make money off of people who weren't buying his merchandise.

I Hate Elvis
Mental Floss

127. LEGO has a temperature-controlled underground vault in Denmark with nearly every set they've ever made.

Lego
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

128. A reindeer's eyes change color through the seasons. They’re gold during the summer and blue in the winter.

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129. An avocado never ripens on the tree, so farmers can use trees as storage and keep avocados fresh for up to seven months.

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130. At the Humane Society of Missouri, kid volunteers comfort anxious shelter dogs by reading to them.

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131. In The Empire Strikes Back, an extra can be seen running with what appears to be an ice cream maker. The character became legendary among fans, and was eventually given a name (Willrow Hood) and a backstory.

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132. Salvador Dali avoided paying restaurant tabs by using checks. He would draw on the back as the waiter watched, knowing no one would ever cash the art.

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133. China owns all of the pandas in the world. They rent them out for about $1 million a year.

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134. In season two of The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross created a monochromatic landscape for a viewer who was worried that his color blindness would prevent him from being able to paint.

Bob Ross
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135. Bones found at Seymour Island indicate that at one time, 37 to 40 million years ago, penguins stood at a formidable 6 feet tall and weighed 250 pounds.

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20 Surprising Facts About Pulp Fiction

Miramax
Miramax

On October 14, 1994, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was released in theaters in America and a new Hollywood auteur was born. In addition to teaching Americans what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is called in Europe, the film reignited the career of John Travolta (who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work) and showed audiences a different side of Bruce Willis. In honor of the film's anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Pulp Fiction.

1. THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN SOUTH KOREA, JAPAN, AND EVEN SLOVAKIA BEFORE IT ARRIVED IN AMERICA.

Tarantino’s film first played the Cannes Film Festival in May 1994. It was shown at other festivals around the world, from Munich to Locarno, before hitting American shores on September 23, 1994, at the New York Film Festival. The film was released in South Korea, Japan, and Slovakia before it officially opened in the U.S. on October 14, 1994. The feature rolled out across Asia and Europe throughout 1994 and 1995.

2. HONEY BUNNY WAS NAMED AFTER AN ACTUAL RABBIT.

Honey Bunny belonged to Linda Chen, who typed up Tarantino's handwritten script for Pulp Fiction. In lieu of payment, she asked Tarantino to watch her rabbit when she went on location; Tarantino wouldn't do it, and when the rabbit later died, he named Amanda Plummer's character after Chen's pet.

3. YOU CAN WATCH THE FILM CHRONOLOGICALLY ... KIND OF.

The narrative structure of the film plays out of sequence, but it’s easy enough to break it down into seven distinct sections (a prologue, an epilogue, two preludes, and three large segments) that can then be re-ordered into a chronological narrative (Hint: The first prelude, to the “Gold Watch” section, plays first. If that doesn’t help, here’s an infographic).

4. THE FILM CONTAINS 265 “F WORDS.”

Even that hefty number isn’t Tarantino’s highest (1992’s Reservoir Dogs used it 269 times). Still, the film was the big “f word” winner of 1994, as no other film released that year even came close to that amount of profanity.

5. VINCENT VEGA’S 1964 CHEVELLE MALIBU WAS STOLEN AFTER THE SHOOT.

John Travolta’s character in the film had a sweet ride—which, in real life, belonged to Tarantino—and it was such a hot rod that it was stolen soon after the film’s release. It wasn’t found for nearly two decades, when two cops happened on a pair of kids stripping an older car. After running the Vehicle Identification Number, they found it shared the number with a car in Oakland, which turned out to be Tarantino’s car.

6. THE MOVIE COST ONLY $8.5 MILLION TO MAKE.

Five million went to the actors’ salaries. It made that all back in its first week at the U.S. box office (the film pulled in $9.3 million the first weekend of release).

7. THE FILM WAS THE THIRD BIGGEST R-RATED EARNER OF 1994.

The film lost out on the title to True Lies ($146.2 million) and Speed ($121.2 million). The film’s earnings were strong enough to place it in the overall top 10 for the year, though 1994 was dominated by Forrest Gump, which made $329.6 million that year.

8. EVEN THOUGH THE FILM MADE OVER $100 MILLION, IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO GET THERE.

Even though Tarantino’s film ended up being a tremendous hit—especially considering that slim budget—it took some time to get there. The film was in release for 178 days before it finally pulled in 100 million domestic dollars. A little comparison? It took Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 only two days.

9. VINCENT VEGA WAS WRITTEN FOR MICHAEL MADSEN ...

Tarantino specifically wrote a number of roles in the film for chosen actors (including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer), but nothing compared to his dedication to having Michael Madsen play Vince. Madsen, who knew of Tarantino’s plans and said he wanted to do the part, dropped out two weeks before the script was finished to star in Wyatt Earp.

10. ... WHICH COULD HAVE MADE HIM MR. BLONDE’S TWIN.

Tarantino has a long tradition of connecting characters in his various films—basically, the filmmaker is working with a number of sprawling family trees, and it’s always a treat to see how characters intersect—which would have made Madsen’s casting of Vince come with a surprising twist: it might have made him Mr. Blonde’s (Madsen’s character from Reservoir Dogs) twin, as it’s long been known that Vince and Blonde are brothers.

11. IT INSPIRED TOP GEAR’S STIG.

The mysterious, anonymous Stig was inspired by the mysterious, anonymous Gimp. The Gimp was even the original name for the Stig, until they couldn’t find a racing driver willing to use that name.

12. BUTCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOT YOUNGER.

Tarantino wrote the part as a young boxer, with Matt Dillon specifically in mind for the role, but when the actor took too much time considering the part, it was tweaked slightly to accommodate Bruce Willis (who was a little ticked that he wasn’t asked to play Vincent).

13. TARANTINO LOVES VINTAGE BOARD GAMES, AND IT SHOWS.

The filmmaker is an avid board game collector, which is why the film features Operation and The Game of Life. Tarantino convinced Travolta to come on board with an all-day Welcome Back, Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever board game marathon.

14. VINCENT’S PREFERRED READING MATERIAL IS REAL.

Vince loves reading pulp fiction books during his, ahem, private time, including Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, a real pulp fiction novel based on O’Donnell’s '60s comic strip. Tarantino has long expressed interest in bringing that tale to the big screen, including giving his official license to the 2003 film (Quentin Tarantino Presents) My Name is Modesty.

15. DESPITE TARANTINO’S LOVE FOR UMA THURMAN, SHE WASN’T HIS FIRST PICK.

Other possible Mias? Isabella Rossellini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Meg Ryan, Alfre Woodard, Halle Berry, Daryl Hannah, Rosanna Arquette, Joan Cusack, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Tarantino’s original favorite was supposedly Pfeiffer.

16. THE ORIGINAL POSTER CAN FETCH YOU SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS.

The first poster had Thurman smoking from a box of Lucky Strike cigarettes—but Miramax hadn’t licensed usage rights from Lucky Strikes, who threatened to sue. Rather than fight it, Miramax had the posters returned. Those that survived can now command big money.

17. JULES MAY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FOR SAMUEL L. JACKSON, BUT HE ALMOST LOST THE PART.

Tarantino very much had Jackson in mind for the role of Jules, but when he auditioned Paul Calderon, he was so struck by the performance that he very nearly hired him. Jackson, desperate to get “his” role back, flew to Los Angeles and auditioned for Tarantino again.

18. CAPTAIN KOONS MIGHT HAVE A FAMOUS RELATIVE.

Well, famous in the Tarantino universe, anyway: It’s widely believed that Christopher Walken’s Captain Koons is a descendent of Django Unchained character Crazy Craig Koons, who is only mentioned by name in a Wanted poster.

19. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED PARTS OF THE FILM.

When Tarantino is on screen as Jimmie, someone else had to be behind the camera—and that someone was Robert Rodriguez. The pair later teamed up for a number of other projects, including From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.

20. TRAVOLTA DIDN’T REALLY INJECT THURMAN IN THAT SCENE.

The infamous scene in which Mia is stabbed with a very necessary adrenaline shot was stressful enough, so Tarantino took off some of the pressure: the needle was inserted, and then Travolta pulled it out. The scene was reversed in post-production so it looks as if Vincent Vega really is plunging that syringe into her. Movie magic!

Additional Sources: Short List; Box Office Mojo (1, 2)

This article originally ran in 2015.

Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. THE FUTURE OF ANIMATED PEANUTS SPECIALS DEPENDED ON IT.  


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Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS changed their mind and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.   

2. THE VOICE OF VIOLET PUKED AFTER EVERY RECORDING SESSION.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME LUCY SNATCHED THE FOOTBALL FROM CHARLIE BROWN.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. IT’S SECRETLY ABOUT SANTA.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. THE MUSIC COMPOSER WAS FOUND NAKED BY COPS.


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The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.  

6. A LISP ALMOST RUINED THE SHOW.

Kathy Steinberg was only four years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.  

7. KIDS SENT CHARLIE BROWN CANDY FOR YEARS.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. THE ORIGINAL AIRINGS WERE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out. 

9. CBS GOT A LITTLE SALTY ABOUT LOSING THE RIGHTS.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety

10. SOME SCHOLARS THOUGHT THE GREAT PUMPKIN WAS REAL.


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A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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