Monthly Archive: March 2014

9,440

When German Prisoners Staged Their Own ‘Great Escape’

Bridgend, in Wales, was home to a POW camp for housing German POWs (prisoners of war) from late 1944–1948. The authorities weren’t worried about an escape as the war was almost over, but some inmates were fanatical Nazis who would have liked nothing more to get back to Germany. On March 10, 1945, 66 prisoners escaped from a tunnel, much like in the classic Steve McQueen flick, The Great Escape. All were recaptured, with the last group being found near Swansea, Wales.

2,395

When Humans Compulsively Set Themselves On Fire

In 1978 an Australian woman named Lynette Phillips set herself on fire in Geneva. She was protesting the Indian government outlawing her religious sect. Over the next 12 months, 82 people set themselves on fire in the UK, compared to the yearly average of 23. The acts weren’t intended as a protest: People were simply copying. The epidemic lasted about a year. This isn’t an isolated thing. When a man burned himself to death in France in 2013, there were two further attempts at self-immolation within a week. Some people can be simply inspired to burn to death.

8,131

Benjamin Franklin Never Campaigned For The Turkey

One of the long-standing myths revolving around the national symbols of the United States is that Benjamin Franklin campaigned to have not the eagle representing the country, but the turkey. According to the Franklin Institute and the United States Diplomacy Center, it’s absolutely untrue. Franklin did write a letter to his daughter commenting on the turkey-like appearance of the eagle that was drawn, but there was no official movement.

3,413

Mary Magdalene Was Never A Prostitute

Our image of Mary Magdalene has long been that of the fallen woman, contrite, repentant of her ways, looking to Christ for guidance and forgiveness. It’s absolutely false, a careful creation of a church that chose certain Gospels to read and others to ignore, combining stories and weaving a carefully formed tapestry that buried the truth of one of the strongest female characters in early literature. The biblical Mary Magdalene was never a prostitute and was in fact one of the most revered of apostles: a revelation that would have forced the church to change its thinking dramatically.

2,851

Human Brains Have Nearly Unlimited Storage

When we learn new facts, we aren’t forced to “delete” old ones. That’s because our brains don’t work like hard drives or bookshelves. In fact, the memory space in our ol’ noggins is so large, that we can’t possibly hope to fill it within our lifetimes. It’s effectively unlimited. The brain is also not as broad a storage unit as a hard drive, as it has different ways of storing memories that help prioritize what’s important and what isn’t (and is unable to delete things at will).

8,370

How Spiders Stay Unstuck In Their Webs

We’ve long thought that spiders excrete some sort of oily substance that negates the sticky effects of their webs, allowing them to walk across the silken strands. That’s only part of the answer to the question of why they don’t stick to their own webs, though. Spiders can spin both sticky and non-sticky web strands, and they also have complicated, bristle-like structures on their feet that help keep them from sticking even if they do accidentally walk on the sticky parts.

3,321

When Thomas Jefferson Rewrote The Entire Bible

Thomas Jefferson struggled to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of modern-day science. He thought that the Bible was highly embellished and full of downright silly, trivial stories, so he cut and pasted his own. The final 84-page version of his Bible included moral teachings, and left out the mysteries, the miracles, and the divine.

2,756

The Oldest Solar Observatory In The Americas

Running along a ridge in Peru are 13 towers whose purpose has long baffled researchers. Now, it’s been discovered that when viewed from designated observation points, the towers mark the positions of the rising and setting sun throughout the year, making the ruins the oldest known solar observatory in the Americas, as well as one of the oldest structures credited to an ancient sun cult.

314

You’re Probably Using The Word ‘Fume’ Incorrectly

We commonly use the word “fume” as a catch-all to describe any airborne contaminant we might breathe into our bodies. Although that is a popularly accepted definition, technically, a fume is a complex mixture of very fine particulate created by the heating of a solid (usually a metal) above its boiling point. So unless you’re a welder, when you say “I was choking on fumes”, you were probably coughing because of some other form of airborne pollutant.

7,358

The Strange Explanation For The Flying Dutchman

Sailors have long reported seeing the Flying Dutchman and other ghost ships haunting the world’s seas. Far from being a ghost ship, the actual explanation is thought to be a very complicated sort of mirage that only occurs during very specific conditions and can produce some breathtakingly real images. A fata morgana occurs when there are multiple layers of air currents at different temperatures which magnify images and refract light, seeming to create ships, mountain ranges, and entire cities on the horizon.