Monthly Archive: January 2015

2,208

When The Whole World Hated Chess

Today, chess is one of those games that is reserved for those with the intellectual capacity to be able to handle the complicated nuances of the game. It’s math, it’s memorization, it’s strategy—all things that a lot of people don’t look for in a board game that, in the end, is as much effort as it is fun. That wasn’t always the case, though, and both the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church once condemned chess. In the mid-19th century, Scientific American also issued their official statement on the matter: It was a waste of time, and people would be much better off using their time to go dancing or getting some exercise.

1,419

Would You Trade Your Identity For A Cookie?

We’re often warned that we need to work on keeping our personal information secret. While it might seem pretty obvious that you shouldn’t be just giving out things like your social security number to complete strangers, one experiment shows that that’s just what people will do—as long as they’re offered a tasty, tasty cookie. It’s a surprising amount of people that will be willing to tell strangers just about anything and even to allow their pictures and fingerprints to be taken, as long as you give them a cookie in the end.

1,878

When London’s Deadliest Porter Flooded The Streets

On October 17, 1814, in an incident known as the London Beer Flood, a large vat of beer at a local brewery exploded. Other vats broke in a chain reaction which sent a wave of beer into the surrounding neighborhood, killing eight. The brewery was cleared of any wrongdoing despite claims of negligence and operated for another century.

2,537

The Maritime Safety Law That Killed Hundreds Of People

In the wake of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the US passed the Seamen’s Act which required ships to be fitted with adequate lifeboats. The passenger ship SS Eastland was retrofitted to accommodate the lifeboats, but this added more weight to the already top-heavy vessel. The inevitable disaster that followed ironically killed more passengers on Eastland than on the Titanic, in a catastrophe not out on the open sea, but on an urban river, a mere stone’s throw from the dock.

2,144

The Different Types Of Tears

Tears might be a welcome relief from eye irritants or an unwelcome proof of an emotion we’d rather keep to ourselves. Different types of tears not only serve different purposes, but they’re made up of different substances. Basal tears are constantly keeping our eyes wet and protected, while emotional tears contain high levels of stress hormones that have been found to provide physical relief from pain as well as a decrease in testosterone in men. And reflex tears, which happen in response to some outside irritant, contain antibodies to help keep our delicate eyes healthy.

2,595

No Names Were Ever Changed At Ellis Island

We’ve all heard the stories about names being changed as people passed through Ellis Island. It just isn’t true, though; immigration officers weren’t even responsible for writing down names, only checking them against passenger manifests. Most names were changed either when the manifests were written at the point of departure or by the families themselves when they were naturalized and officially made citizens of their new country.

2,225

The Filipino ‘Stone Age’ Tribe Of Dubious Origins

In 1971, the world was introduced to the Tasaday, a presumably Stone Age tribe of peaceful people living in the wilderness of the Philippines. Later, when the tribe was revisited, it was found they had adapted to modern life extraordinarily well. Many claimed the whole thing was obviously a hoax, while others say that they were a group of people isolated from modern life, and still others claimed that they were the real deal. We’re still not sure.

1,722

The US Government Poisoned Alcohol During Prohibition

In an attempt to stem the tide of illegal alcohol that was being manufactured, sold, and consumed during the middle of the 1920s, the United States’ federal government ordered some pretty drastic steps to be taken. Manufacturers of the various types of industrial alcohol that were often used to distill into drinks were ordered to add deadly chemicals—including mercury, zinc, and gasoline—to their alcohol in the hopes that a good poisoning would discourage people from drinking. It didn’t, and it’s estimated that the move killed up to 10,000 people and made countless others extremely ill.

2,265

No One’s Really Sure What Happened To Van Gogh’s Ear

Everyone knows that van Gogh once took a straight razor to his own ear and lopped off a good part of it. That’s the story that’s been as much a part of pop culture as it has been art history, but a review of contemporary documents suggests that it didn’t happen that way at all. Another theory is that his ear was cut off by his longtime friend and roommate, the French artist Paul Gauguin, whom he was involved in an argument with. Because the two witnesses to the actual event aren’t talking—and never did—we’re left with some pretty interesting speculation.

2,072

‘Moby-Dick’ Was Inspired By Two Real Marauding Whales

Many literature professors consider Herman Melville’s classic tale of whale vs. whalers the first and only American epic. Whatever we may think of Moby-Dick; or The Whale, a story about an albino sperm whale fighting back seems like, well, a fish story. While Melville’s story is fictional, it was inspired by two real whales who took on their human hunters with deadly results.