12 Steamy Bits of Trivia to Cure Your Brain Freeze

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The Father of Epidemiology Had to Pretend to Be an Idiot


Dr. John Snow believed in germ theory, but knew he was surrounded by colleagues who still believed in humours and miasmas. He suspected that cholera was caused by bacteria — which is true — but was only taken seriously by the medical community by calling it a “poison.”

One Woman, Two Cults


Dorothy Martin started The Seekers in 1953, and amassed a group of followers who believed she was receiving specific instructions from aliens on how to survive the apocalypse, via stream-of-consciousness writing. The world didn’t end when it was supposed to — thanks to their fervent prayer, naturally — so she went to Peru for a while, only to return in the 1960s to start another alien creative writing cult, called the Association of Sananda and Sanat Kumara.

Taste Your Child’s Head to Detect Witchcraft


Seventeenth century medical advice included clocking any changes to the taste of your child — a forehead that began tasting saltier meant the kid had been bewitched. Today, we know that increasingly salty sweat is a symptom of cystic fibrosis.

Blue Whale Voices Are Getting Deeper, and No One Knows Why


Researchers noticed this as they started having to recalibrate their whale call study equipment every year to detect lower and lower vibrations. It may have to do with communicating over human-made noise pollution, changing communication patterns as whale populations recover from the lows of the 1960s, or smaller whales learning to mimic the calls of larger whales for mating purposes.

Kafka Wrote Predictably Weird Love Letters


He once wrote to a woman named Milena: “Last night, I dreamed about you. We kept merging into one another. I was you, you were me. Finally, you somehow caught fire. The fire brigade arrived, and somehow you were saved. But you were different from before, spectral, as though drawn with chalk against the dark.” Cool man, thanks.

The CIA Had a Bug-Sized Drone in the 1970s


The Insectothopter was a tiny airborne surveillance device that looked like a dragonfly and could travel the length of two football fields in a minute. It was never used in the field — so they claim! — because an unexpected breeze could knock it out of whack.

The Chinese Warrior’s Lethal Backscratcher


The Zhua was a clawed metal hand at the end of a long rod that’s primarily meant to tear away an enemy’s shield, but was also pretty well-suited to tearing off chunks of flesh when used like a club. Similar claws are connected by a long chain and used as a more nunchaku-like weapon.

A Man Insured His Hair Collection for $1 Million


John Reznikoff has the world’s largest collection of celebrity hair, including that of Beethoven, Elvis and Abe Lincoln. 

Venezuela’s Perma-Storm


The Catatumbo River may be perfectly situated to feed a permanent lightning storm. Scientists think the surrounding mountains corral the right amount of cold and warm winds, which are then fed by water evaporating from the river, along with some methane from a local oil field for good measure. This atmospheric gumbo causes a lightning storm to break out 260 nights a year, almost always at 7 p.m. local time.

Neckties Are More About Lungs Than Dongs


In their modern corporate usage, it’s speculated that a necktie is a stand-in for male genitalia, a measure of machoness. But they were originally a riff on the scarf — specifically, folks in cold and rainy areas needed a thinner, less obtrusive garment to insulate their chests and keep from injuring their lungs.

Queen Victoria Accused an Ill Woman of Screwing Around on the Job


When the Queen noticed a bulge in the stomach of one of her ladies in waiting, Lady Flora Hastings, she accused the lady of getting it on with a local lord she hated, and demanded she get a pregnancy test. The test revealed she wasn’t pregnant, but the Queen refused to apologize. Then Flora died of liver disease, which causes one’s gut to expand, making Victoria look like a real jerk.

Donkey Kong Once Wielded a Shotgun


Developers of Donkey Kong 64 used a very simple but very realistic shotgun as a placeholder during development. When Shigeru Miyamoto popped by and saw beavers getting sniped, he quickly sketched up a coconut gun that became canon.


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