Frederik's Friday Fact

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Friday 15 Mar 2019: Sunsets on Mars are blue
Sunsets on the "red planet" Mars are blue.
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Friday 25 Jan 2019: Auto-brewery syndrome
Auto-brewery syndrome or gut fermentation syndrome is a rare condition in which an individual's body turns sugary and starchy foods (i.e. carbohydrates) into alcohol, thereby (slightly) intoxicating the person.
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Friday 21 Dec 2018: Elvis has left the building
Elvis Presley never performed encores at performances.
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Friday 19 Oct 2018: US President may not drive ever again
Current and former presidents and vice presidents of the USA are not allowed to drive cars on the open road. It is said that the last president to drive a car on a public road after leaving office is Lyndon B. Johnson.
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Friday 05 Oct 2018: Most tractor-dense country
Slovenia is the most tractor-dense country in the world with 57.4 tractors per 1000 inhabitants.
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Friday 10 Aug 2018: Hell freezing over every winter
Next to Trondheim Airport in Norway, there is a village called Hell and it freezes over every winter.
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Friday 13 Jul 2018: Bats as librarians in Coimbra
The Baroque Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra houses a colony of bats, which at night keep away insects away from valuable manuscripts.
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Friday 22 Jun 2018: Lion carcass on Lyle's Golden Syrup
Since 1885, Lyle's Golden Syrup has had the image of a rotting carcass of a lion with a swarm of bees on its packaging. The logo with the words "Out of the strong came forth sweetness" is a reference to the biblical story in chapter 14 of the Book of Judges.
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Friday 01 Jun 2018: Camelopard = giraffe
Until the late 19th century, giraffes were also known in English as camelopards.
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Friday 27 Apr 2018: Dalmatians have spots in their mouth
Dalmatian dogs, known for the spots on their body, also have spots inside of their mouth.
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Friday 13 Apr 2018: Happy Hour is illegal in Massachusetts
Having times when drinks are sold at a discount, i.e. Happy Hour, is illegal in Massachusetts and a number of other states of the USA.
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Friday 16 Mar 2018: safari = journey in Swahili
In Swahili, the word safari means journey.
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Friday 02 Mar 2018: Fort Blunder
In 1816, the United States of America built a fort on Lake Champlain to protect itself from invasion by Canada. Due to a surveying error, it was built more than half a mile North of the Canadian border. The fort was abandoned and later became known as "Fort Blunder".
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Friday 23 Feb 2018: Only 144,000 Christians going to heaven
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the number of Christians going to heaven is limited to exactly 144,000. Currently, the number of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses is reported to be over 8 million.
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Friday 16 Feb 2018: Eiffel Tower to be demolished in 1909
The Eiffel Tower originally only had a permit for 20 years and was planned to be pulled down in 1909. When the permit expired, the City of Paris decided to keep it after all, because the French military and government found it very useful for radio communications.
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Friday 26 Jan 2018: Drinking coffee: a capital offence
Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century outlawed the drinking of coffee and decreed it to be punishable by death.
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Friday 12 Jan 2018: Hewlett-Packard or Packard-Hewlett
Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, the founders of Hewlett-Packard, flipped a coin to decide which of them would come first in the company name when they established their company in 1939.
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Friday 15 Dec 2017: The House of Lords rifle range
There is a shooting range in the basement of the House of Lords in London.
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Friday 24 Nov 2017: Beer not an alcoholic drink in Russia
Until the end of 2012, drinks in Russia with less than 10% alcohol (e.g. beer) were classified as a foodstuff, not an alcoholic drink.
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Friday 10 Nov 2017: Nostalgia no longer a disease
In the past, the Royal College of Physicians in the UK classified nostalgia as a disease. It was removed from its Nomenclature of Diseases in 1899.
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Friday 27 Oct 2017: First human remains outside Solar System
The remains of the man who discovered Pluto in 1930 will be the first human remains to be sent outside the Solar System. Ashes of astronomer Clyde Tombaugh were placed on board NASA's space probe New Horizons, which will eventually leave the Solar System after having passed and observed Pluto in 2015.
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Friday 20 Oct 2017: British passports were in French
Between 1772 and 1858 British passports were written in French.
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Friday 13 Oct 2017: International Day for Disaster Reduction
The 13th of October is International Day for Disaster Reduction, as proclaimed by a United Nations resolution in 2009.
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Friday 29 Sep 2017: ZIP code = Zone Improvement Plan code
The acronym ZIP in the US Postal Service's system for postal codes (ZIP Codes) stands for Zone Improvement Plan.
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Friday 22 Sep 2017: Skype was initially called Skyper
The creators of the instant messaging and chat software Skype first wanted to call it "Skyper", which was short for "Sky peer-to-peer”. When all relevant domain names turned out to be taken already, they dropped the "r" as domain names for Skype were still available.
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Friday 08 Sep 2017: Plant named for Bruce Forsyth's ancestor
The plant genus Forsythia was named after an ancestor of British entertainer Bruce Forsyth: William Forsyth (1737–1804), who was a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society.
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Friday 01 Sep 2017: Poronkusema
A poronkusema is a traditional Finnish Sami unit of distance (approximately 7.5 km): the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to stop to urinate.
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Friday 18 Aug 2017: Ashes moulded into memorial Frisbees
The "father" of the modern-day Frisbee and founder of the International Frisbee Association and the Professional Disc Golf Association, Edward "Steady Ed" Headrick, had his ashes moulded into memorial flying discs (i.e. Frisbees) and given to family and close friends.
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Friday 11 Aug 2017: The planet Vulcan
19th-Century French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier, who earlier helped the discovery of the planet Neptune, also predicted the existence of a planet between Mercury and the Sun, which he named Vulcan. The anomalies in Mercury's orbit which he saw as proof, were later explained by Einstein's theory of general relativity.
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Friday 28 Jul 2017: Santa Fe, NM's full name
The full name of Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico, is "La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís" (The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi)
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Friday 21 Jul 2017: West Side Story was East Side Story
The musical West Side Story was titled East Side Story in early drafts.
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Friday 14 Jul 2017: Anthrax from cheap shaving brushes
During World War I, there was a large increase of cases of anthrax (miltvuur in Dutch) in the USA and UK. Initially it was thought this was caused by "diabolical tactics of the enemy," but it turned out that low-cost shaving brushes made of horse hair rather than badger hair were the source of the outbreak.
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Friday 30 Jun 2017: ISO standard for a cup of tea
There is an ISO standard for preparing a cup of tea: ISO 3103. The standard was originally drawn up by the British Standards Institution in 1980 as BS 6008:1980.
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Friday 16 Jun 2017: The Shavian alphabet for English
The Shavian alphabet was developed in the 1950s specifically for English such that each of the 40 letters only ever represents one sound, and each sound can only be written by one letter. It was named after Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, who in his will, allotted a percentage of his estate (including royalties from his works) to be used for the design and spread of this new alphabet.
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Friday 09 Jun 2017: Estimate π by dropping a needle
One can estimate the value of π (pi) by dropping needles on a floor made of parallel strips of wood and determining the probability of the needle crossing one of the lines between the strips. This follows from the mathematical problem Buffon's Needle, first stated in 1777 by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.
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Friday 12 May 2017: Yoda was initially called Buffy
In George Lucas's early outline of the Star Wars film "The Empire Strikes Back", the character Yoda was named Buffy. In the first version of the screenplay it was changed to Minch Yoda, later shortened to Yoda.
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Friday 05 May 2017: The medical term for a hangover
The (relatively recent) medical term for a hangover is "veisalgia"; from "kveis", an Old Norse term for "uneasiness after debauchery" and "algia", Greek for "pain". It was coined in 2000 in an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
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Friday 21 Apr 2017: An orchestra playing vegetables
The Vegetable Orchestra, based in Vienna, performs on instruments entirely made of fresh vegetables. So far, they have released 3 albums.
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Friday 14 Apr 2017: No alcohol on Good Friday in Ireland
It is illegal in Ireland to sell alcohol on Good Friday. There are however some exemptions for attending certain events, visiting a licensed theatre, or travelling by rail, air or ferry.
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Friday 07 Apr 2017: University Boat Race Stones
The start and finish of the course on the River Thames for the University Boat Race are permanently marked by stone markers on the southern bank: the University Boat Race Stones.
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Friday 31 Mar 2017: Mortgage = death pledge
The word mortgage comes from the Old French for "death (or dead) pledge". In modern French a mortgage is called "une hypothèque".
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Friday 24 Mar 2017: Station built around a 700-year-old tree
Kayashima Station in the suburbs of Osaka in Japan was built around a camphor tree which is believed to be at least 700 years old.
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Friday 17 Mar 2017: Banana Equivalent Dose of radiation
The ionising radiation exposure from consuming a banana is approximately 1% of the average daily exposure to radiation. It is the basis for an (educational) unit of radiation: the Banana Equivalent Dose, roughly equal to 0.1 microSievert.
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Friday 03 Mar 2017: Christian States
Currently, there are 13 countries which have Christianity as their official religion and/or have a state church: Costa Rica, Denmark, England, Greece, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vatican City and Zambia.
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Friday 24 Feb 2017: Oscar winners cannot sell their Oscar
Academy Award winners have to agree that they or their heirs will not sell the Oscar statuette before offering it for sale to the Academy first for $1. If winners do not agree, they will not get the statuette.
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Friday 10 Feb 2017: Origin of the word scuba
The term scuba (as in scuba diving) was first coined in 1952 by U.S. Army Medical Corps Major Christian Lambertsen as an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
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Friday 27 Jan 2017: Braille based on military communication
Louis Braille based his reading system for the blind on the "night writing" code that was developed by French army captain Charles Barbier for sending military messages that could be read at night, without light.
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Friday 20 Jan 2017: Bike front brake: left or right?
In the UK and Australia the front brake lever on a bike is usually on the right, whereas in the USA and most other European countries it is the other way round. In the USA and Australia it is even legally regulated.
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Friday 13 Jan 2017: Darth Vader breathing sound trademarked
The breathing sound of Darth Vader from the Star Wars films has been trademarked. It is registered with the USPTO under serial number 77419252 as "the sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator".
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Friday 09 Dec 2016: Inventor of the word vitamin
The term vitamin was invented by Polish biochemist Kazimierz Funk in 1912.
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Friday 02 Dec 2016: Amendment ratification took 202 years
The most recent Amendment to the US Constitution (the 27th Amendment) took 202 years to be ratified. It was one of the first amendments to be proposed in 1789, along with those that make up the Bill of Rights, but it initially did not get enough support. It eventually came into force in 1992 after being largely forgotten.
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Friday 11 Nov 2016: US Inauguration Day used to be 4 March
In 1933 F.D. Roosevelt was the last president of the USA to be inaugurated on 4 March. In that year, the 20th amendment to the US constitution moved Inauguration day to 20 January (or 21 January if the 20th is a Sunday).
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Friday 28 Oct 2016: Hearing aids produced by 3D printing
Nowadays, most hearing aids are produced by 3D printing.
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Friday 21 Oct 2016: Country with longest land border
China is the country with the longest land border with other countries: over 22,000 km in total.
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Friday 30 Sep 2016: Fifty-Six, Arkansas
When the founders of the community of Fifty-Six in Arkansas had the original name rejected around 100 years ago, they named it after the school district number instead.
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Friday 23 Sep 2016: Criminal wine labels in the USA
It is a federal crime in the USA to sell wine with a label that is disapproving or critical of a competitor's wine.
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Friday 09 Sep 2016: Pope Francis was a nightclub bouncer
In his student days, Pope Francis worked as a bouncer at a night club in Buenos Aires.
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Friday 02 Sep 2016: Toblerone is named after its creator
The triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate Toblerone was created in 1908 by Theodor Tobler, naming it after himself and the Italian word for nougat, torrone.
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Friday 26 Aug 2016: Borodin was a chemist and hobby composer
The Russian composer Alexander Borodin's main career was that of an organic chemist; composing was more a hobby and a way to relax.
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Friday 19 Aug 2016: Statue in Rio consecrated after 75 years
Although the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro officially opened on 12 October 1931, it was only formally declared a Catholic sanctuary 75 years later, meaning it could host religious ceremonies such as weddings and baptisms.
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Friday 12 Aug 2016: Rio de Janeiro once capital of Portugal
Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Portugal from 1808 until 1821, when the Portuguese royal court went into exile there during the Napoleonic wars.
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Friday 05 Aug 2016: Illegal to die in 3 French towns
It is illegal to die in the French towns of Le Lavandou, Cugnaux and Sarpourenx. In 2007, the mayor of Le Lavandou outlawed death after a court denied planning permission for the extension of the cemetery. The other towns followed suit for similar reasons.
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Friday 22 Jul 2016: Nintendo ran a "love hotel"
Before making video games and consoles, the company Nintendo started out as a playing cards manufacturer and at some point in time also ran a "love hotel" where one could rent rooms by the hour.
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Friday 15 Jul 2016: Octane numbers different in N. America
Most countries in the world use the Research Octane Number (RON) as a standard measure of the performance of petrol in engines. In the USA and Canada, the Anti-Knock Index (AKI or R+M/2) is used, which is typically 4 to 6 numbers lower for the same type of fuel.
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Friday 24 Jun 2016: The earth loses 3 kg/s
The main mechanism of mass loss from the earth is by atmospheric escape: about 3 kg of hydrogen and 50 g of helium are lost to outer space every second.
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Friday 17 Jun 2016: Number to call a random Swede
To celebrate the official abolition of censorship 250 years ago, Sweden's Tourist Association has set up a phone number you can call to talk to a random Swede (who has signed up for this project): +46 771 793 336, also known as the Swedish Number.
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Friday 10 Jun 2016: Crepuscular is a collateral adjective
The adjective connected with twilight is crepuscular. It is an example of a collateral adjective: an adjective that is identified with a particular noun in meaning, but that is not derived from that noun.
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Friday 03 Jun 2016: Bluetooth named after Danish King
The Bluetooth wireless technology standard was named after the medieval King of Denmark and Norway, Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson. The Bluetooth logo is a combination of two Nordic runes of his initials.
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Friday 27 May 2016: The largest empire
The largest empire by percentage of the world population is the Achaemenid Empire or First Persian Empire, encompassing around 44% of the world's population in 480 BC.
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Friday 20 May 2016: Wasabi is usually horseradish made green
Most of the green paste served and sold in the West as wasabi is not made from the Japanese plant, but rather a mixture of horseradish, mustard and green food colouring.
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Friday 13 May 2016: Happy numbers (555th fact)
The number 13 is a happy number. A number is a happy number if the iterative process of replacing the number by the sum of the squares of its digits ends with 1. Therefore, 555 is an unhappy (or sad) number, but 556 is a happy number.
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Friday 06 May 2016: Inventor of the word dinosaur
The term dinosaur was coined by British palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen in the 1840s, meaning terrible, powerful or wondrous lizard.
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Friday 29 Apr 2016: No living person on currency in the USA
In the USA, by an 1866 Act of Congress, it is forbidden to have a portrait of a living person on any US currency. This act was driven in large part by the action of Spencer M. Clark, Superintendent of the National Currency Bureau, who put his own portrait on a new 5-cent note a few years before.
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Friday 15 Apr 2016: Feet contain 25% of all bones in a body
In an human adult, the feet contain about a quarter of the number bones in the entire body.
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Friday 08 Apr 2016: A town called Okay, OK
In the American state of Oklahoma, there is a town called Okay (i.e. Okay, OK).
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Friday 01 Apr 2016: Googling for 241543903
If one searches for 241543903 on Google, one will find a lot of pictures of people putting their head in a freezer or fridge. This meme was started and encouraged by artist David Horvitz in 2009.
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Friday 25 Mar 2016: Pilish writing style
Pilish is the style of writing in which the lengths of successive words represent the digits of the number π (pi). E.g. "How I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!"
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Friday 18 Mar 2016: Irish pubs closed on St. Patrick's day
Up until the 1970s, Irish law prohibited pubs opening on St. Patrick's Day.
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Friday 11 Mar 2016: Giraffes have long tongues
An adult giraffe's tongue is around 45 cm long.
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Friday 04 Mar 2016: Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
Larry, the current resident cat of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at 10 Downing Street, holds the official title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
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Friday 26 Feb 2016: A very infrequent newspaper
La Bougie du Sapeur is a French newspaper which is published every 29th of February. Started in 1980, this means its 10th edition is published this year.
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Friday 19 Feb 2016: Liechtenstein twice the size of Manhatta
Liechtenstein is roughly twice the size of Manhattan.
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Friday 12 Feb 2016: Chinese law for visiting parents
In 2013, China introduced a law that obliges children to visit their parents and care about their spiritual needs.
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Friday 05 Feb 2016: The largest country without rivers
Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world without (permanent) rivers.
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Friday 29 Jan 2016: The only US president who never married
James Buchanan, the 15th President of the U.S.A., was the only U.S. president who never married.
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Friday 22 Jan 2016: Truffle oil not made from truffles
Most commercially available truffle oil is not made from truffles, but rather by adding 2,4-dithiapentane and other flavouring compounds to olive oil.
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Friday 15 Jan 2016: Bowie's eyes were the same colour
Contrary to popular belief, David Bowie did not have eyes of different colour. He suffered from anisocoria due to a childhood injury, which made one pupil permanently enlarged.
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Friday 08 Jan 2016: What makes EV olive oil green
Quite often the green colour of Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from leaves pressed along with the olives rather than just from the olives themselves.
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Friday 01 Jan 2016: The Glasgow Effect
Compared to equally deprived areas in Liverpool and Manchester, residents from Glasgow have a significantly lower life expectancy. This is known as the Glasgow Effect.
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Friday 25 Dec 2015: Immaculate Conception
Although commonly thought to apply to Jesus Christ, the concept of Immaculate Conception (i.e. conceived free from stain or original sin) applies to Mary herself.
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Friday 18 Dec 2015: Most doughnuts consumed per capita
The country where the most doughnuts are consumed per capita is Canada.
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Friday 04 Dec 2015: The sunniest state in the USA
Despite its nickname "The Sunshine State", Florida is not the sunniest state in the USA, it is Arizona.
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Friday 27 Nov 2015: First country to issue number plates
The first country to issue number plates (or licence plates) for vehicles was France in 1893, followed by Germany in 1896 and the Netherlands in 1898.
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Friday 20 Nov 2015: Portland, OR or Boston, OR
The two owners of the land who founded Portland, Oregon, decided on the name for the town by flipping a coin. The other option was Boston.
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Friday 13 Nov 2015: Chupa Chups logo designed by Dalí
The logo for the Chupa Chups lollipop was designed by the artist Salvador Dalí in 1969.
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Friday 06 Nov 2015: IKEA's product names
IKEA's product names are based on a system of Nordic names and words: e.g. beds have Norwegian place names, garden furniture is named after Swedish islands, chairs and desks have men's names, and fabrics and curtains have women's names.
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Friday 30 Oct 2015: A village called Hungry Wolf
In the Dutch province of Groningen there is a village called Hongerige Wolf, which literally means Hungry Wolf.
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Friday 23 Oct 2015: Chickens black inside and outside
Chickens of the Indonesian Ayam Cemani breed are completely black, including their feathers, comb, skin, muscles, bones and most of their organs.
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Friday 16 Oct 2015: Anti alcohol drug from rubber industry
The drug disulfiram (sold as Antabuse), which is used in the treatment of chronic alcoholism, was discovered in the 1930s when workers in the rubber industry, who were exposed to a similar chemical, became ill after drinking alcohol.
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Friday 09 Oct 2015: Punjab = land of the five rivers
The name of the region Punjab in India and Pakistan means "Land of Five Rivers" referring to the five rivers flowing through it: the Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi and Sutlej.
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Friday 02 Oct 2015: Chinese visa are expensive for Americans
U.S. citizens have a special position when it comes to tourist visa for China: they have to pay $140, whereas other nationalities only pay $30.
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Friday 25 Sep 2015: Less time spent in pugatory via Twitter
In 2013, Catholics received a papal indulgence, which reduces time to be spent in purgatory, by following the Pope live on Twitter during the World Youth Day.
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Friday 18 Sep 2015: Father in law of Europe
King Christian IX of Denmark was given the nickname "Father in law of Europe", because his children sat on the thrones of Denmark, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Greece. Among his grandsons were Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, King Constantine I of Greece, King George V of the United Kingdom, King Christian X of Denmark and King Haakon VII of Norway.
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Friday 04 Sep 2015: Miss Chiquita
The Chiquita Banana mascot, Miss Chiquita, was originally depicted as an animated banana; it wasn't until 1987 that it was changed into a woman with a fruit hat.
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Friday 28 Aug 2015: The Lima Syndrome
The opposite of the Stockholm Syndrome (when hostages develop sympathy for their captors) is called the Lima Syndrome: when captors develop positive feelings for their hostages.
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Friday 21 Aug 2015: Funny names for Australian waypoints
In absence of radar, aeroplanes often navigate along waypoints which are identified by a five-letter codes. When flying from Australia to New Zealand, one route is along the aptly named consecutive waypoints WALTZ, INGMA and TILDA.
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Friday 14 Aug 2015: The Saudi Arabia of maple syrup
Quebec is nicknamed the Saudi Arabia of maple syrup, as it produces the majority of the world's supply.
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Friday 07 Aug 2015: Vatican City is more than 50% garden
More than half the area of the Vatican City State is covered by the Vatican Gardens.
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Friday 31 Jul 2015: Gymnophobia = fear of nudity
Gymnophobia is the fear of being naked (so not the fear of going to the gym).
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Friday 24 Jul 2015: Overbrook, Pa changed to Mars
In 1882, the town of Overbrook, Pennsylvania, changed its name to Mars, because the railway line being built already had a stop called Overbrook elsewhere.
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Friday 17 Jul 2015: Π Approximation Day
Next Wednesday (22 July) is Pi Approximation Day, which is celebrated because of the common approximation from Greek antiquity of 22/7 for the mathematical constant π (or pi).
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Friday 10 Jul 2015: First TV satellite still in orbit
The Telstar 1 satellite, which relayed the world's first transatlantic television signal on 12 July 1962, still orbits the earth, although it is no longer functioning.
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Friday 03 Jul 2015: Getting money from the Greek government
In 1850 the British Royal Navy blocked the Greek port of Piraeus for 8 weeks until the Greek government paid compensation for an attack on the home of a British-Portuguese diplomat. This episode has become known as the Don Pacifico affair.
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Friday 26 Jun 2015: Richter Scale is no longer used
Although press reports usually (incorrectly) mention the Richter Scale for magnitudes of earthquakes, nowadays seismologists mostly use the Moment Magnitude Scale, which has a different definition, but comparable numbers.
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Friday 19 Jun 2015: Diomede Islands 4 km and 21 h apart
Depending on the time of year, Big Diomede Island is 20 or 21 hours ahead of Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, even though the islands are about 4 km apart.
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Friday 12 Jun 2015: A bouquet of pheasants
The collective noun for group of pheasants is a bouquet.
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Friday 05 Jun 2015: Liquorice wood for cigarettes
The majority of the worldwide liquorice wood (zoethout in Dutch) harvest is not used for food and sweets, but as a flavouring agent in the tobacco industry.
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Friday 29 May 2015: Treaty of Perpetual Peace
In 1502 King James IV of Scotland and King Henry VII of England signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. The treaty was broken in 1513 when Scotland declared war on England.
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Friday 22 May 2015: Cardiac output
On average the total volume of blood of an adult passes through the hart once every minute.
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Friday 15 May 2015: South Korean fan death
There is a widespread belief in South Korea that death can be caused by sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running, also known as fan death.
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Friday 08 May 2015: Visa Restrictions Index
According to the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index of 2014, holders of passports of Finland, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the USA can visit the most countries visa-free (174) and those with an Afghan passport the least (28). Dutch passports rank third with 172 countries.
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Friday 01 May 2015: Darwin was Wedgwood's grandson
Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the famous Wedgwood pottery company, was the grandfather of Charles Darwin.
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Friday 24 Apr 2015: Putin's grandfather was Stalin's cook
Vladimir Putin's grandfather was the cook for Lenin and Stalin.
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Friday 17 Apr 2015: 4/20 = smoking cannabis
In the USA the code number 420 or 4:20 has become associated with smoking cannabis, which is especially celebrated on April 20th. The origin is not certain, but it is mostly attributed to a group of people who regularly met at 4:20 pm in the 1970s to smoke marijuana.
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Friday 10 Apr 2015: The Suez Canal has no locks
Unlike the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal has no locks, because of the relatively small difference in sea level at either end.
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Friday 03 Apr 2015: Judgement Day for the Irish
According to legend, on Judgement Day all nations will be judged by God, except for the Irish who will be judged by Saint Patrick.
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Friday 27 Mar 2015: Silent and listen have the same letters
The words "silent" and "listen" have the same letters.
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Friday 20 Mar 2015: International Day of Happiness
The 20th of March is International Day of Happiness, as proclaimed by a UN resolution on 12 July 2012. The resolution was an initiative of Bhutan.
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Friday 06 Mar 2015: G-spot named after Ernst Gräfenberg
The G-spot was named after the German gynaecologist Ernst Gräfenberg. The term was coined in 1981, long after Gräfenberg's death in 1957.
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Friday 27 Feb 2015: Alcohol as antidote for anti-freeze
One of the antidotes for poisoning with anti-freeze (ethylene glycol) is alcohol (ethanol). This can be administered intravenously, but also in the form of drinking spirits like whisky or gin.
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Friday 20 Feb 2015: -40 °C = -40 °F
The Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature scales correspond at a single temperature: -40 degrees, i.e. -40 °C = -40 °F.
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Friday 13 Feb 2015: Samuel Morse was a portrait painter
Before inventing the single wire telegraph and Morse code in later life, Samuel Morse first had a career as an accomplished portrait painter.
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Friday 06 Feb 2015: Clark, Texas, renamed for sponsor deal
The town of DISH in Texas, USA, was called Clark until 2005, when the town agreed to change its name as part of a commercial agreement with a satellite television company.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Jan 2015: A parliament of owls
The collective noun for group of owls is a parliament.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Jan 2015: National Pie Day
In the USA, National Pie Day is celebrated annually on the 23rd of January. This event, which is sponsored by the American Pie Council, should not be confused with Pi day, which is celebrated on the 14th of March (mostly in the USA).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Jan 2015: French municipalities with 0 inhabitants
Of the 36,681 communes (municipalities) in France, 6 have no inhabitants and one, Rochefourchat, has a single inhabitant. The ones without inhabitants were never repopulated after the Battle of Verdun in 1916.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Jan 2015: The first use of America
The first recorded use of the name America for the continent in the Western Hemisphere is by German cartographers, Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann, in their map of 1507, in honour of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci from Florence.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Jan 2015: Macadamia nuts
The macadamia nut was named after John Macadam, a Scottish-born Australian chemist and politician, by his colleague, botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, in 1857.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Dec 2014: Countries not using the metric system
At this time there are only 3 countries in the world that do not use the metric system as their official system of weights and measures: Burma, Liberia and the USA.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Dec 2014: First Yiddish letter is silent
The first letter of the Yiddish alphabet (shtumer alef) is silent and has no romanised transcription.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Dec 2014: Canadian skills-testing question
In most Canadian contests or sweepstakes, winners have to solve a skills-testing question, usually a simple maths problem, before they can collect their prize. These skills-testing questions were introduced, because in most cases it is illegal in Canada to win money in competitions by chance alone.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Dec 2014: WD-40 = Water Displacement, 40th formula
The famous spray WD-40 was developed in 1953 by the Rocket Chemical Company to repel water and prevent corrosion in the aerospace industry. The name is an abbreviation for "Water Displacement, 40th formula".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Nov 2014: Yale was named after Elihu Yale
Yale University was named after he Welshman Elihu Yale who built his fortune in the spice trade and donated some of it to the newly founded "Collegiate School" in Connecticut.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Nov 2014: A phillumenist collects matchboxes
A phillumenist is a person who collects matchboxes, matchboooks or other match-related items.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Nov 2014: BBC Empire Service
The BBC World Service started as the BBC Empire Service in 1932, it did not get its current name until 1965.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 Oct 2014: Nicotine named after Jean Nicot
Nicotine is named after the Latin name for the tobacco plant, Nicotiana tabacum, which in turn is named after the French ambassador in Portugal, Jean Nicot, who introduced the use of snuff tobacco (as medicine) at French Royal court around 1560.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Oct 2014: Umami in breast milk
Humans usually get their first taste of umami through breast milk: it roughly has the same concentration of glutamate (often referred to as MSG) as the Japanese Ichiban Dashi broth.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Oct 2014: Female majority in parliament
There are currently 2 countries in the world that have 50% or more women in the single or lower house of their national parliament: Rwanda and Andorra.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 Oct 2014: Cervantes could not use his left hand
The famous Spanish writer Cervantes lost the use of his left hand in the battle of Lepanto in 1571. For that reason he is also known as "El Manco de Lepanto", the one-handed man from Lepanto.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Oct 2014: Cleopatra banned from filming in Egypt
The actress Elizabeth Taylor was initially banned from filming in Egypt for the film Cleopatra, because she had converted to Judaism.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Sep 2014: Ehrenpatenschaft
In Germany parents can request the President of Germany to be the honorary godfather of their 7th child, the so-called Ehrenpatenschaft.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Sep 2014: Definition of the second
Since 1967, the second is no longer officially defined as a fraction of a year or a mean solar day. In that year the SI definition of the second was changed to the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Sep 2014: Westward Ho!
The village of Westward Ho! in Devon is the only place name in the British Isles with an exclamation mark. It was named after the novel "Westward Ho!" by Charles Kingsley from 1855.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Aug 2014: Two doubly landlocked countries
There are two doubly landlocked countries in the world: Liechtenstein and Uzbekistan, which are both surrounded by landlocked countries.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Aug 2014: The bus that runs once a year
Bus 23A across the Salisbury Plain to the abandoned village of Imber in the UK only runs once a year. The bus service takes passengers into an area that was evacuated in 1943 and is still used for military training. The next day the Imberbus will operate is this Monday, 25 August 2014.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Aug 2014: First ship to transit the Panama Canal
The SS Ancon was the first ship to officially transit and thereby officially open the Panama Canal 100 years ago on 15 August 1914.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Aug 2014: Where half the world's population lives
Six countries together hold half the world's population: China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Brazil and the USA.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Aug 2014: Gold has its own E-number
Gold has its own E-number: E175.
(For readers in the New World: E-numbers are codes for substances which can be used as food additives in the European Union and Switzerland.)
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Jul 2014: Humpty Dumpty
Even though he is usually portrayed as one, the nursery rhyme does not say that Humpty Dumpty is an egg.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Jul 2014: Only country named after an element
Multiple chemical elements are named after a country, but Argentina is the only country which is named after an element.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Jul 2014: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la Mort
One of the original mottoes of the French Revolution was "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la Mort" (Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood or Death). The "or Death" part was only dropped later, probably because of it being associated too much with Robespierre's Reign of Terror. The remaining words became the national motto of France from the Third Republic at the end of the 19th Century onwards.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Jun 2014: No player named 'van' in Dutch football
In last Monday's football World Cup match, the Dutch team did not have any player on the field with a surname starting with 'van' for the first time since 29 May 1996.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Jun 2014: 1 Kibibyte = 1024 bytes
To avoid earlier confusion, international standards organisations have accepted the unit kibibyte (KiB) to mean 1024 bytes, so that kilobyte (kB) can be exclusively used to mean 1000 bytes. For higher numbers, similar units like mebibyte, gibibyte and tebibyte have been defined.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Jun 2014: Airline charging passengers by weight
The South Pacific airline Samoa Air chargers their passengers not by seat, but by weight. Their slogan is "A kilo is a kilo is a kilo".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Jun 2014: Twinned towns of Dull and Boring
There is a village called Dull in Perthshire, Scotland, which is twinned with Boring, Oregon in the USA. Neither place name was conceived because the places were found to be uninteresting: Dull is thought to be derived from the Gaelic words for meadow or snare. Boring was named after William H. Boring, an early resident of the area.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 May 2014: Wet and dry earwax
In humans there are two types of earwax (or cerumen): wet or dry. The type is genetically determined, much like eye colour. The wet type is dominant and mostly found in Europeans and Africans, while the recessive dry type is mostly found in people of East Asian origin.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 May 2014: Towel Day
Every year on the 25th of May, fans of the author Douglas Adams celebrate Towel Day. On this day, fans carry around a towel as featured in the books A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 May 2014: Coca-Cola hug me vending machine
In 2012 Coca-Cola installed a "Hug Me" vending machine in Singapore, which dispensed a can when somebody hugged the machine.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 May 2014: The FFF measurement system
The FFF measurement system is jokingly based on outdated or impractical units: a furlong as unit of length, a firkin of water as mass unit and a fortnight as a unit of time.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 May 2014: Lamborghini making tractors
When Ferruccio Lamborghini started making expensive sports cars, he had already made his fortune manufacturing tractors.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Apr 2014: Anton-Babinski syndrome
People suffering from the Anton-Babinski syndrome deny their blindness and are convinced that they are able to see.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Apr 2014: Self-disinfecting doorknobs
Copper and brass doorknobs disinfect themselves due to the oligodynamic effect. This effect describes the toxic effect heavy metal ions such as silver and copper have on most micro-organisms, even in relatively low concentrations.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Mar 2014: US presidents serving more than 2 terms
Franklin D. Roosevelt is the only US President who has served more than two terms as president. Until then it was often considered "not done" to serve more than the two terms of George Washington. The 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified in 1951, has set the limit to two terms.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Mar 2014: Eleanor Roosevelt's maiden name
The maiden name of Eleanor Roosevelt, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wife, was Roosevelt: they were fifth cousins, once removed.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Mar 2014: Most southern point in the USA
The southernmost point in the 50 United States of America is Ka Lae, the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Mar 2014: American Express was a mail company
The company American Express, started in the 1850s as a mail express company, long before it expanded into financial services. Two of its founders, Henry Wells and William Fargo, also started another mail express and financial company some time later: Wells, Fargo & Company.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Feb 2014: Niagara falls was shut off in 1969
In 1969 the American part of Niagara falls was "shut off" for several months in an effort to repair faults and clear debris from a landslide. The Canadian part of the famous waterfalls, the Horseshoe Falls, absorbed the extra flow.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Feb 2014: Erdős number
The Erdős number describes a person's distance to the famous Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős measured via co-authorship of mathematical papers. Anyone who has authored a paper with Paul Erdős has an Erdős number of 1, anyone authoring a paper with someone with an Erdős number of 1 has an Erdős number of 2, etc. There are currently 511 people known with an Erdős number of 1.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Feb 2014: Tobacco as an insecticide
Not long after the introduction of tobacco in Europe in the 16th Century, it was not only used for smoking, but also as an insecticide, often in the form of tobacco water.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Feb 2014: Ringo Starr's real name
Ringo Starr is the only member of The Beatles who is best known under his stage name. His real name is Richard Starkey.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 Jan 2014: Salmonella named after Dr D.E. Salmon
The bacteria salmonella were named after Daniel Elmer Salmon, a veterinary surgeon working for the US Department of Agriculture, by their discoverer Theobald Smith, Dr Salmon's research assistant, in 1885.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Jan 2014: One billion seconds old (444th fact)
You will be one billion (= 10^9) seconds old a little over 8 months after your 31st birthday.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Jan 2014: Dating with relatives in Iceland
Most of the 320,000 or so inhabitants of Iceland are related to each other in some degree. In order to avoid getting romantically involved with a close relative, a smartphone app (ÍslendingaApp) has been developed, based on the Íslendingabók genealogical database, to check how closely you are related to your date.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 Jan 2014: Strange procession at All Souls College
Every 100 years, usually on January 14, there is a procession in All Souls College, Oxford to commemorate the chase after a huge wild duck which flew from a drain during 15th-Century building works. Participants are the college fellows carrying torches and singing the Mallard Song. The last Mallard ceremony was in 2001.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Jan 2014: British soldiers had to grow a moustache
After the Crimean War regulations were introduced for British soldiers obliging them to grow a moustache, because they were not allowed to shave their upper lip. These regulations remained in place until October 1916.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Dec 2013: Dysania
The state of finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning has a name: it's called dysania.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Dec 2013: No Burger Kings near Mattoon, Il.
The Burger King chain is not allowed to open a fast food restaurant within a 20-mile radius of Mattoon, Illinois, due to a pre-existing local restaurant called Burger King of which the owners trademarked the name.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Dec 2013: 20/20 vision
Normal (not: perfect) visual acuity is commonly defined as 20/20 vision, the metric variant is 6/6 vision. If you have 20/40 vision, it means you can read at 20 feet distance what a normal person would be able to read at 40 feet distance.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Dec 2013: Shetlands' nearest IKEA is in Norway
The nearest branch of IKEA to the Shetland Islands is in Bergen, Norway. Contrary to popular belief, the nearest train station to the Shetland Islands is not in Bergen: the ones in Wick and Thurso on the Scottish mainland are slightly closer.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Nov 2013: Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo all mean captial
Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo all mean "capital" in their respective languages. Beijing means "Northern Capital" (to distinguish it from Nanjing, "Southern Capital"), Tokyo means "Eastern capital" and Seoul "capital city".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Nov 2013: Jingle Bells not written for Christmas
The song "Jingle Bells", which we now associate with Christmas, was originally written for a Thanksgiving Day church performance under the title "The One Horse Open Sleigh" by James Lord Pierpont.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Nov 2013: Half as many people in the world in 1968
In 1968, the world population was only around half of what it is today.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Nov 2013: Lip-synch illegal in Turkmenistan
In 2005, President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan made lip-synching to recorded music illegal.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Nov 2013: Origin of the word moron
The term "moron" was introduced around 1910 by American psychologist and eugenicist Henry H. Goddard to identify a person with a mental age of an 8-12 year-old. He derived the term from the Ancient Greek word for "dull".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Oct 2013: United States of the Earth
In 1893 Lucas M. Miller, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Wisconsin, (unsuccessfully) proposed an amendment to the U.S. constitution to rename the country "United States of the Earth"
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Oct 2013: Tycoon = Great Lord
The English word tycoon is derived from the Japanese word taikun, which means Great Lord or Supreme Commander, a title used for the Shogun.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Oct 2013: The last cow to live at the White House
The last cow to live at the White House was Pauline Wayne. She was President William Howard Taft's cow, who freely grazed the White House lawn between 1910 and 1913, providing fresh milk for the President and his family.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Oct 2013: Lethal dose of caffeine
The lethal dose of caffeine in humans is estimated to be 150-200 mg/kg, which corresponds to around 100 cups of coffee.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Sep 2013: Liechtenstein and Haiti sharing flags
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Liechtenstein discovered that it had the same flag as Haiti, so they added a gold crown to it shortly afterwards.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Sep 2013: Tiger Woods's real name
The golfer Eldrick Tont Woods is better known under his nickname "Tiger".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Sep 2013: Scientific name for a rumbling stomach
The scientific name for a rumbling stomach is borborygmus.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Sep 2013: Rudyard Kipling was named after a lake
The author Rudyard Kipling was named after Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, UK, the place where his parents met and had very fond memories of. Rudyard Lake is not a natural lake, but a reservoir built to feed the nearby canals.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Aug 2013: 2520 smallest number divisible by 1 - 10
2520 is the smallest number which is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 without a remainder: it is their least common multiple.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Aug 2013: Vicks Vapor Inhaler and crystal meth
The active ingredient of the US formulation of Vicks Vapor Inhaler and the drug "crystal meth" are mirror images of the same molecule: methamphetamine. The nasal inhaler contains only Levomethamphetamine (also known as R-methamphetamine), whereas the substance for "recreational use" is S-methamphetamine, but often a mixture of the two.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Aug 2013: Eyes closed in a day for blinking
All the blinking in one day on average adds up to having your eyes closed for a little over half an hour.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Aug 2013: Doomsday
For any given year, the last day of February, 4/4, 6/6, 8/8, 10/10 and 12/12 will fall on the same day of the week, the doomsday. The day is named after the Doomsday Algorithm (or Doomsday Rule) devised by British mathematician John Conway. The doomsday for 2014 is Friday.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Aug 2013: The philtrum
The groove extending from the nose in the middle of your upper lip is called the philtrum.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Jul 2013: Can't swim = can't graduate
Students at number of universities in the USA, such as Cornell, Columbia and MIT, are required to pass a swim test, without which they cannot graduate.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Jul 2013: River reversing direction
The flow of the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia changes direction twice a year. In the dry season the river flows into the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, but in the wet season, water from the Mekong is forced upstream, which fills the Tonle Sap Lake.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Jul 2013: Royal Fish
In the United Kingdom, sturgeons, whales, dolphins and porpoises are Royal Fish and when brought or washed ashore become the personal property of the monarch of the United Kingdom.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Jun 2013: Origin of paparazzi
The term paparazzi, denoting a certain type of photographer, originates from the 1960 film "La dolce vita" by Federico Fellini.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Jun 2013: Accra = army of ants
The name of Ghana's capital, Accra, is derived from the local word for "(army of) ants", presumably because of the numerous anthills in the area.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Jun 2013: Number of vertebrae in a giraffe's neck
Giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their neck as humans: 7, just like most mammals.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 May 2013: Married = poison in Scandinavia
In most Scandinavian languages the word "gift" means both "married" and "poison".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 May 2013: Manhattanenge
Twice a year, the Streets of Manhattan align with the setting sun to create a phenomenon which has been dubbed Manhattanenge. The next occurrence is next Tuesday, 28 May 2013.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 May 2013: The Birthday Problem
In a group of 23 randomly chosen persons, there is a 0.5 probability (i.e. 50%) that 2 will share the same birthday. In a similar group of 57 that probability is 0.99 (i.e. 99%). This phenomenon is generally known as the "Birthday Problem".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 May 2013: Same man invented leaded petrol and CFCs
The American chemist and engineer Thomas Midgley was a key figure in the development of two compounds with large negative environmental effects: (tetra-ethyl)lead as an additive to petrol as well as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 May 2013: John o'Groats = Jan de Groot
The Scottish town of John o'Groats was named after a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who was given the franchise of running a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney by King James IV in 1496.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Apr 2013: Northernmost point of Great Britain
Contrary to popular belief, the northernmost point on the island of Great Britain is not John o'Groats, but Dunnet Head, which lies a bit more to the West in Scotland.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Apr 2013: World Book Day
Since 1995, UNESCO celebrates 23 April as World Book Day. The organisation chose this date because supposedly two famous authors, Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare both died on the same date, 23 April 1616. In reality they died 11 days apart: Cervantes died on 22 April 1616 and was buried on the 23rd (on the Gregorian calendar) and Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616 on the Julian calendar which was still used in England at the time.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Apr 2013: Hypocrite originally meant actor
The word hypocrite originally just meant "(stage) actor" or "pretender" before it received its current negative connotation.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Apr 2013: The brain has no pain receptors
Brain tissue itself is not sensitive to pain, because it has no pain receptors. Headaches and pains in the head are instead caused by disturbances of pain sensitive-structures around the brain (skull, blood vessels, etc.).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Mar 2013: US National debt was paid off once
President Andrew Jackson paid off the the entire US national debt in January 1835. The accomplishment was short-lived, because of a severe economic depression which started a little over a year later.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Mar 2013: The Bible forbids tattoos
In Leviticus 19:28, the Bible forbids tattoos.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Mar 2013: Gorilla = Tribe of hairy women
The word "Gorilla" is derived from the Greek "Gorillai" meaning "Tribe of hairy women". The name Gorilla was given to the species of primate in the 19th Century, deriving from a description given by a Carthaginian navigator visiting the West African coast around 500 B.C.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Mar 2013: Svastika = Sanskrit for "lucky charm"
The name of the swastika symbol comes from the Sanskrit word svastika, meaning "(that which is associated with) well-being" or "lucky charm".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Feb 2013: Pteronophobia
Pteronophobia is the (irrational) fear of feathers or being tickled by feathers.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Feb 2013: Number of atoms in the human body
An average adult human body contains in the order of 10^27 atoms (i.e. around 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Feb 2013: Sheep to human ratio in New Zealand
In New Zealand, for every human, there are 7 sheep, which is much less than in the 1980s, when sheep outnumbered humans by a factor of 22 to 1.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Feb 2013: US Presidents who died while in office
Thus far, 8 presidents of the USA have died while in office. Of those eight, 4 were assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy) and 4 died of natural causes (W.H. Harrison, Taylor, Harding and F.D. Roosevelt).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Jan 2013: Bergamot oil is made from an orange
Bergamot oil, which is used to flavour Earl Grey tea, is an essence extracted from the skin of the Bergamot orange, a citrus fruit which is mainly grown in the Province of Reggio Calabria in the South of Italy.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Jan 2013: Orang-utan = man of the forest
The name Orang-utan of the ape native to Indonesia and Malaysia is derived from the Malay for "man (orang) of the forest (hutan)".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Jan 2013: Browning of food with heat
The browning and flavouring of many types of food, e.g. roasted meat, bread, roasted coffee and dulce de leche to name a few, is the result of the Maillard reaction between an amino acid and a sugar, usually requiring heat, which occurs around 154 °C.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Jan 2013: High energy consumption by the brain
Even though the brain only makes up around 2% of the body mass of an adult human, it consumes 20-25% of the body's energy.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Dec 2012: Year with different digits since 1987
The year 2013 will be the first year since 1987 in which all digits are different from one another.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Dec 2012: Peanuts are used to make dynamite
Peanuts are used in the production of dynamite: Peanut oil is used in the production of glycerine which in its turn is used to make dynamite's explosive ingredient nitroglycerine.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Dec 2012: Liechtenstein sings God Save the Queen
The National Anthem of Liechtenstein uses the same music as "God save the Queen", the de facto British national Anthem. The Royal Anthem of Norway and former anthems of Switzerland and Imperial Russia are also set to this music.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Dec 2012: The USA have no official language
There is no national official language of United States of America at a federal level. A little over half the states have an official language at state level (mostly English).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Nov 2012: Official name of Uruguay
The official name of Uruguay just explains the location of the country: República Oriental del Uruguay, i.e. Republic East of the Uruguay [River].
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Nov 2012: Kate Bush singing decimals of π
In her song "π" (or "pi"), singer Kate Bush seems to be singing the number π to over 100 decimal places, but after the first 78 correct decimals, she incorrectly leaves out 22 decimals.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Nov 2012: Hippos have red sweat
Within a few minutes of perspiration,the colourless, viscous sweat of a hippopotamus gradually turns red, which is why it is sometimes referred to as "blood sweat". The colour is caused by two pigments which act both as an antiseptic and as sunscreen.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Nov 2012: Wife = handcuffs in Spanish
In Spanish, the word "esposas" means both "wives" and "handcuffs".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Nov 2012: Playboy published in Braille
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) of the US Library of Congress produces a version of the Playboy Magazine in Braille.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Oct 2012: 23,000 breaths a day
On average, an adult takes around 23,000 breaths a day.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Oct 2012: Japan is made up of 6852 islands
The country of Japan is made up of 6852 islands, counting the ones with a shoreline longer than 100 metres. Only around 430 of these are reported to be inhabited.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Oct 2012: The London Beer Flood
Next Wednesday sees the 198th anniversary of the London Beer Flood in which 8 people died when over a million litres of beer flowed into the streets after the collapse of a huge vat of beer at the Meux's Brewery on Tottenham Court Road (also known as the Horse Shoe Brewery).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Oct 2012: Dissolving gold Nobel Prize medals
When the Germans invaded Denmark in 1940, Hungarian chemist (and later Nobel laureate) György Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prize medals of Max von Laue and James Franck in auqa regia (nitro-hydrochloric acid). The two German physicists had sent their medals to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen a few years earlier to avoid their seizure by the Nazis. The solution was kept safely on a shelf until after the war, when the gold was retrieved and sent to Stockholm to be re-cast into Nobel Prize medals.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Sep 2012: To occupy was a euphemism
In the 16th and 17th Century the verb "to occupy" was a common euphemism for sexual relations (e.g. "to occupy a woman"). Shakespeare even mentioned this use in one of his plays: "God's light, these villains will make the word as odious as the word 'occupy;' which was an excellent good word before it was ill sorted" (Henry IV, Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Sep 2012: Fathers of kittens
Kittens in a single litter can have different fathers.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Sep 2012: The original Superman could not fly
In the original comic books, Superman did not have the ability to fly, only to jump large distances.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Sep 2012: Blue moon
Contrary to popular belief, last Friday's full moon was not a blue moon, even though it was the rare second full moon in a calendar month. The original definition of a blue moon is the third full moon of a season which has four instead of the usual three. This means the next "true blue moon" is on 21 August 2013.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 Aug 2012: Man of the Year: Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1938.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Aug 2012: The Hundred Years' War lasted 116 years
The Hundred Years' War actually spanned 116 years (from 1337 to 1453).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Aug 2012: The friendship paradox
On average, most people have fewer friends than their friends have. This phenomenon is called the "friendship paradox".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 Aug 2012: Art competitions at the Olympics
The 1948 Olympic Games in London were the last ones to include competitions in art as well as sports, with medals being given in categories such as town planning, literature, music, painting and sculpture. Famous gold medallists include IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin (Gold medal for mixed literature in 1912) and Dutch painter Isaac Israëls (Gold medal for painting in 1928).
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Friday 03 Aug 2012: Elvis had a twin brother
The singer Elvis Presley had an elder twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who died at birth.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Jul 2012: First use of Olympic rings
The Olympic rings were designed as a symbol for the Olympics in 1914, but they were not officially used until the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp.
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Friday 20 Jul 2012: Pakistan = Land of the pure
Pakistan literally means "Land of the pure" in Urdu and Persian.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Jul 2012: Third Friday the 13th of 2012
Today is the third Friday the 13th of 2012 (the maximum number in one year, see FFF of 13 March 2009). This year, all three are exactly 13 weeks apart.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Jul 2012: Malay word for water
The Malay word for "water" is "air".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Jun 2012: Boy scouts on the moon
11 of the 12 men to have walked on the moon were Boy Scouts; only James B. Irvin on Apollo 15 has not been one.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Jun 2012: Names of the Three Wise Monkeys
The Three Wise Monkeys depicting the proverb "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" have names: they are called Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru, respectively, which are derived from the Japanese version of the proverb.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 May 2012: Hawaii is moving closer to Japan
Hawaii is moving closer to Japan at a rate of roughly 8 centimetres per year.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 May 2012: Shemomedjamo
The word "shemomedjamo" in Georgian literally translates as "I accidentally ate the whole thing", but it is often used to mean "to eat past the point of being full just because the food tastes good".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 May 2012: Number of bones in fingers and toes
In humans the thumbs and big toes have two bones (phalanges), while the other fingers and toes have three.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Apr 2012: England is smaller than New England
England is smaller than New England; it is about 70% of the size.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Apr 2012: Walking Corpse Syndrome
The Cotard Delusion or Walking Corpse Syndrome is a mental disorder in which a person believes that he or she is dead or does not exist.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Apr 2012: Indiana defining π = 3.2
In 1897, the House of Representatives of the state of Indiana unanimously passed a bill which effectively defined the mathematical constant π as 3.2. Luckily, the Indiana Senate prevented the bill from becoming law. This House Bill 246 has become popularly known as the Indiana Pi Bill.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Apr 2012: Blind professor of optics
Nicholas Saunderson became the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in 1711. In spite of being blind since childhood, he lectured in optics. Other Lucasian Professors include Isaac Newton, George Gabriel Stokes, Paul Dirac and Stephen Hawking.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Mar 2012: Rainy holiday led to Frankenstein
When the weather was so bad during their summer holiday in Switzerland in 1816 (see FFF of 23-03-2012), Mary Shelly, Lord Byron and others had to stay indoors and decided to have a contest to see who could write the scariest story, leading Shelley to write Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Mar 2012: The year without summer
The year 1816 is also known as "The Year Without Summer", because of extraordinary low temperatures all year round, leading to snowfall and frost in July throughout Europe and North America.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Mar 2012: Number of deals in bridge
The number of different possible deals in bridge is 53,644,737,765,488,792,839,237,440,000 (or 52!/(13!)4).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Mar 2012: James Bond in Chinese
The film character James Bond is widely known in China as Ling Ling Qi (i.e. "007").
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Mar 2012: Elizabeth Arden
Unlike her famous namesake, Florence Nightingale Graham dropped out of nursing school and started a cosmetics firm, while adopting Elizabeth Arden as business pseudonym.
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Friday 24 Feb 2012: Canaries turning orange
Feeding canaries red peppers can make their feathers turn orange.
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Friday 17 Feb 2012: Air Force One
The name Air Force One is not tied to a single aeroplane: any U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the U.S.A. has the official air traffic control sign Air Force One.
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Friday 10 Feb 2012: Curfew = cover the fire
The word curfew was derived from the French "couvre-feu" (cover the fire), when in the Middle Ages all lamps and candles had to be extinguished at night.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Feb 2012: M&M's
The sweets M&M's were named after the first letter of the surnames of their inventor Forest Mars, Sr and his business partner Bruce Murrie of Hershey's. The latter controlled chocolate production which was rationed when M&M's production began in 1941.
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Friday 27 Jan 2012: Long days on Venus
A (sidereal) day on the planet Venus is longer than a Venusian year. Venus rotates once every 243 Earth days, while it takes the planet 224.7 Earth days to orbit the Sun. Because the planet rotates in the opposite direction compared to its orbit, a solar day on Venus (Noon-to-Noon) is "only" 116.75 Earth days.
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Friday 20 Jan 2012: Golden Gate
It wasn't until the 1840s that the entrance to San Francisco Bay got its present name, Golden Gate. Until then it was just known as "La Boca del Puerto de San Francisco". It is believed the new name was coined by John C. Frémont in his memoirs, as the area reminded him of the Golden Horn in Istanbul.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Jan 2012: H.P. Sauce
The inventor of the UK's most popular brown sauce, gave it the name "H.P. sauce", because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had started serving it. Since 2007 all HP Sauce for the Western European market, including the UK, is produced in Elst in the Netherlands.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Jan 2012: Illegal to jump the queue on the tube
It is a criminal offence to jump the queue on the premises of Transport for London (e.g. a London Underground station).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Dec 2011: Belgian Big Bang Theory
The theory about the origin of the Universe, more widely known as the Big Bang theory, was first formulated by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian Priest. He published his theory in 1927, two years before Edwin Hubble, who usually gets the credits for this theory.
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Friday 23 Dec 2011: The natural greenhouse effect
Without the natural greenhouse effect, the average temperature on Earth would be around -18 °C instead of the present 14 °C.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Dec 2011: John Wayne's real name
The film actor John Wayne's real name is Marion Mitchell Morrison.
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Friday 09 Dec 2011: Maximum number of lunar eclipses
The maximum number of lunar eclipses in a year is 3. The next one is tomorrow, 10 December 2011.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Dec 2011: Frankenstein's Monster is yellow
Contrary to the green skin with which he is nowadays usually depicted, Frankenstein's Monster in the original book, "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" by Mary Shelly, has a yellow skin.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Nov 2011: Turkey in Turkish
In Turkish, a turkey (the bird) is called hindi, meaning from India.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Nov 2011: The pope's official church
The Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome (and not St. Peter's Basilica) is the Pope's official seat as the Bishop of Rome.
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Friday 11 Nov 2011: Underground less than 50% under ground
Only 45% of the London Underground's network is under ground (i.e. in tunnels).
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Friday 04 Nov 2011: The smell of the sea
The main component of the "smell of the sea" is dimethyl sulphide, which is produced by phytoplankton in the world's oceans. It is also the main component of the smell produced when cooking vegetables like cabbage and beetroot. In higher concentrations it has a characteristic disagreeable cabbage-like smell.
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Friday 28 Oct 2011: Queen Elizabeth II's official residence
Even though no British king or queen has resided there for at least over a century, St James's Palace in London (and not Buckingham Palace) is still the official residence of the Sovereign.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Oct 2011: Condor and ostrich in golf
A "condor" in golf is scoring 4 under par, so hitting a hole-in-one on a par-5 hole. Depending on the source, only between 2 and 4 condors are known to have been scored. An "ostrich" (-5), a hole-in-one on a rare par-6 has never been achieved.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Oct 2011: Red Square = Beautiful Square
The name of Red Square in Moscow does not derive from the colours of the surrounding buildings or communism, but from the Russian name for the square: Красная площадь (Krasnaya ploshchad), where Красная can mean either "red" or "beautiful" in 17th century Russian, which was when the square got its present name.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Oct 2011: Rats cannot vomit
Unlike most vertebrates, rats cannot vomit: they cannot forcibly expel food from their stomachs.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Sep 2011: James Smithson never visited the USA
The British scientist James Smithson, who left his estate to the United States, which was used to create the Simthsonian Institution in Washington DC, never visited the USA during his life.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Sep 2011: Saudi Arabia imports sand
Saudi Arabia imports sand from Australia.
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Friday 09 Sep 2011: First country to adopt SOS
Germany was the first country to adopt 'SOS' as a Morse code distress signal in 1905. The SOS signal was officially abolished as a maritime distress signal in 1999.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Sep 2011: Coin flips
In a sequence of 24 coin flips, assuming a fair coin, the probability of getting 12 heads and 12 tails is 16.12%, see http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=24+coin+flips
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Aug 2011: Palindromic square
The palindromic number 111,111,111 has a palindromic square: 111,111,111 * 111,111,111 = 12345678987654321.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Aug 2011: Lobsters chew food in their stomach
Crustaceans like lobsters and crabs, chew their food in their stomach rather than in their mouth, using teeth-like grinders in what is called the gastric mill.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Aug 2011: The Glorious Twelfth
The Glorious Twelfth is the start of the shooting season in the UK for the Red Grouse on August the 12th. By law, the start of the season cannot be on a Sunday, so in 2001 and 2007, the start was postponed to the 13th.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Aug 2011: Florence Nightingale and pie charts
Even though Florence Nightingale used pie charts to try to convince politicians around 1858, she is often wrongly attributed as being their inventor. Pie charts were first published by the Scottish engineer William Playfair in 1801, who also invented the line graph and bar chart of economic data.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Jul 2011: Vincent van Gogh's last 70 days
The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, during which he painted about 70 oil paintings. Van Gogh died 121 years ago on 29 July 1890.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Jul 2011: Number of moves to solve Rubik's cube
The maximum number of moves needed to solve Rubik's cube is 20, which is also known as God's Number.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Jul 2011: Beam me up, Scotty
The phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" has never been said in that exact form in any of the original Star Trek episodes or films.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Jul 2011: Bayer logo and Aspirin trademarks seized
As part of the treaty of Versailles after World War I, the trademarks of its successful drug Aspirin and the "Bayer-cross" logo of the German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer were confiscated in 1919 by the Allies. It wasn't until 1994 that Bayer regained the right to use its name and corporate logo in the United States by acquiring the North American company Sterling-Winthrop.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Jun 2011: Small ostrich brain
The brain of an ostrich is smaller than one of its eyeballs.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Jun 2011: The origin of the Dobermann
The Dobermann dog breed was named after its "creator" Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann, a tax collector and policeman from Thüringen in Germany. Dobermann developed the breed in the 1890s to have a dog to accompany him on his sometimes dangerous duties, especially at night.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 Jun 2011: Remainder when dividing primes by 6
Any prime number greater than 3 has a remainder of 1 or 5 when divided by 6.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Jun 2011: The origin of mayonnaise
The origin of mayonnaise most likely lies in the town of Mahón on the Balearic Island of Menorca. It is said that the Duc de Richelieu took the recipe back to France after expelling the British army from Menorca in 1756.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 May 2011: Clownfish start out as males
Clownfish or anemonefish (popularised by the film Finding Nemo) develop into males first. When the female, the largest and dominant member of the small group they usually live in, dies, one of the largest and most dominant males will become a female.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 May 2011: Origin of Impressionism
The name of the art movement and style of Impressionism was derived from the name of Claude Monet's painting "Impression, soleil levant" by art critic Louis Leroy who wrote a rather negative review, inadvertently naming the new art movement.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 May 2011: Elizabeth II: Queen of 16 countries
Queen Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of sixteen independent sovereign states. These states are known as the Commonwealth realms: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the United Kingdom.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 May 2011: Wooden bombs
In World War II the Germans built fake airfields with buildings and planes made of wood, to lure the Allies in bombing them instead of the real ones. When they found out, the Allies sometimes bombed them with a wooden bomb.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Apr 2011: Chicago is closer to Moscow than to Rio
Chicago is closer to Moscow than to Rio de Janeiro.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Apr 2011: German dancing illegal on Good Friday
In Germany, events which include public dancing are illegal on Good Friday, stipulated by the "Tanzverbot".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Apr 2011: The cost of RMS Titanic vs. Titanic
The ship RMS Titanic (which sank 99 years ago today, on 15 April 1912) cost less to build than the budget for the 1997 film Titanic, even when compensating for inflation.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Apr 2011: Sexy primes
A sexy prime in mathematics is a prime number that differs from another prime number by six: e.g. 5 and 11 are sexy primes and so are 2011 and 2017.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Apr 2011: No April Fools' day in Spain
In Spain and Hispanic America, the annual day for pranks is traditionally not the 1st of April, but the 28th of December, which is Holy Innocents' Day (Día de los Santos Inocentes), commemorating the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod of Judea.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Mar 2011: Reykjavík = Smoky Bay
The name of the Icelandic capital, Reykjavík, means Smoky or Steamy Bay. It was given to the location by the first settlers after the columns of steam that rose from the hot springs in the area.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Mar 2011: Surface area of lungs in an adult
The total surface area exposed to the outside air in the lungs of an adult is around 70 square metres, a little less than one side of a tennis court.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Mar 2011: Blue lobsters
Around one in a few million American lobsters has a genetic defect, which causes it to be bright blue.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Mar 2011: Sun losing mass by radiation
Each second the Sun loses about 4 million (metric) tonnes of mass by radiation.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Feb 2011: Goulash comes from cowboy in Hungarian
The name for the dish goulash originates from the Hungarian gulyás, the word for cattle herdsman (i.e. cowboy). Nowadays, gulyás in Hungarian is also the word for the stew or soup traditionally made by herdsmen.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Feb 2011: ABBA's name
The Swedish band ABBA asked and received permission from the Swedish fish canning company Abba to use their name in 1974.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Feb 2011: Mickey Mouse's original name
The Walt Disney character Mickey Mouse was originally called Mortimer Mouse.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Feb 2011: Lorem ipsum
Although the commonly used place holder text starting with "Lorem ipsum dolor..." is derived from sections of Cicero's "De finibus bonorum et malorum", the text itself is not proper Latin.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Jan 2011: Statue of Liberty's full name
The full name of the Statue of Liberty is "Liberty Enlightening the World" or "La Liberté éclairant le monde".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Jan 2011: Botulism comes from Latin for sausage
The name botulism for the serious bacterial food poisoning by the botulinum toxin comes from the Latin word for sausage and was invented by German poet and medical writer Justinus Kerner in 1822 for what he also described as "sausage poisoning". The botulinum toxin is nowadays more widely known under the trade name Botox.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 Jan 2011: 2011 is prime and a sum of primes
2011 is a prime number and the following 11 consecutive prime numbers sum to 2011: 157 + 163 + 167 + 173 + 179 + 181 + 191 + 193 + 197 + 199 + 211 = 2011.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 Dec 2010: Christmas Island
Christmas Island was named by British Captain William Mynors of the Royal Mary, who named the island when he sailed past it on Christmas Day in 1643.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Dec 2010: Napoleon was not a short man
Contrary to popular belief, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was of average height for his days: around 1.7 m tall, which makes him taller than present-day world leaders like President Sarkozy or President Medvedev.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Dec 2010: Zorro is Spanish for fox
The fictional character Zorro's name is Spanish for fox.
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Friday 10 Dec 2010: Four people have received 2 Nobel prizes
So far, only four people have received two Nobel prizes: Marie Curie (Physics and Chemistry), Linus Pauling (Chemistry and Peace), John Bardeen (Physics twice) and Frederick Sanger (Chemistry twice).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Dec 2010: Number of microbes in human intestines
The number microbes in the intestines of a healthy adult is about ten times the total number of cells in the entire human body.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Nov 2010: Golden hamsters in North America
All domestic Golden Hamsters in North America are descended from one single litter captured in Syria in 1930.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Nov 2010: Einstein did not use E=mc2
Einstein did not use the formula E=mc2 in his original article from 1905 describing the mass-energy equivalence. Instead, he stated "Gibt ein Körper die Energie L in Form von Strahlung ab, so verkleinert sich seine Masse um L/V2".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Nov 2010: Origin of the saxophone
The saxophone was named after its inventor, Belgian musical instrument designer Adolphe Sax, who invented the instrument around 1841.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Nov 2010: Stilton cannot be made in Stilton
Stilton cheese cannot legally be made in the town of Stilton in Cambridgeshire in the UK. Stilton cheese has "Protected Designation of Origin" (PDO) status from the European Union, which states that it must be made in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Oct 2010: The first ticker-tape parade
The first ticker-tape parade was a spontaneous celebration by Wall Street office workers in New York City on 28 October 1886, during the dedication celebrations of the Statue of Liberty.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 Oct 2010: Origin of admiral
The word admiral comes from the Arabic amir-al-bahr, meaning "commander of the sea". It found its way into European languages through crusaders in the Middle Ages.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Oct 2010: The White House
The US President's residence in Washington DC was not officially called The White House until 1901, when President Theodore Roosevelt made it official.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Oct 2010: I-94W forms are kept for 75 years
The green I-94W visa waiver forms for the USA and data entered in the ESTA system replacing them are stored for 75 years.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Sep 2010: Sound travels faster in steel
Sound travels around 15 to 20 times faster in steel than in air.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Sep 2010: Identical twins' fingerprints
Monozygotic twins (i.e. identical twins) do not have identical fingerprints.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 10 Sep 2010: Polar bears have black skin
Polar bears have a black skin, while their outer fur is nearly colourless and transparent.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Sep 2010: FBI was founded by a Bonaparte
The Bureau of Investigation (BOI), which later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was created in 1905 by Attorney General Charles Joseph Bonaparte, a great-nephew of Emperor Napoleon I of France.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Aug 2010: The mean orbital speed of the Earth
The mean orbital speed of the Earth in its orbit around the Sun is 29.8 km/s or 107 thousand kilometres per hour.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Aug 2010: Total amount of gold ever mined
Although exact estimates vary, the total amount of gold ever mined is in the order of 160,000 tonnes, which would fit in a cube of around 20 metres.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Aug 2010: Bayer manufactured heroin
In 1895 the German drug company Bayer, best known for manufacturing the original Aspirin, started selling heroin as an over the counter drug, mainly as a morphine substitute for cough suppressants.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 06 Aug 2010: The second-largest francophone city
The second-largest francophone city in the world after Paris is Montréal in Canada.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Jul 2010: Temperature-dependent sex determination
In most species of crocodiles and turtles, the gender of the offspring is not determined by genetics, but by the temperature of the eggs during a certain period of their incubation.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Jul 2010: Ancient statues were not always white
Most statues from Ancient Rome and Greece were not white as we know them today, but were painted in bright colours.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Jul 2010: Godwin's Law
Godwin's Law - which states that as an on-line discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 - was formulated by American lawyer Mike Godwin in 1990 after observing the frequent use of the "reductio ad Hitlerum" on internet fora and discussion groups.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Jul 2010: The FIFA World Cup Trophy
The golden FIFA World Cup Trophy, which will be awarded to the winning team this Sunday, was first awarded in 1974, because Brazil was allowed to keep the original trophy in 1970 after winning the tournament three times. Since then, FIFA have stipulated that the trophy cannot be won outright any more, the winners receive a gold-plated silver copy of the trophy to keep.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Jul 2010: Suit of armour in Houses of Parliament
It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in London wearing a suit of armour.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Jun 2010: F.F.F. song
One of the songs on the album "Album" of the English band Public Image Ltd. (P.I.L.) (formed by John Lydon, former vocalist of the Sex Pistols) has the title "F.F.F.".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Jun 2010: Pub closing times
The Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA), which was passed in the UK during the early weeks of World War I, introduced a wide range of provisions, including the ban on buying binoculars and forcing pubs to be closed for some hours in the afternoon (the latter lasted until the Licensing Act 1988 was brought into force.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Jun 2010: Amen
The word "Amen" simply means "so be it" in Hebrew and Arabic.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Jun 2010: Privilège du Blanc
Vatican protocol expects women to be dressed in black and wear a veil or mantilla for papal audiences. The "Privilège du Blanc" is a privilege held by female Catholic Monarchs which allows them to wear white when in an audience with the Pope. Currently, the Privilège du Blanc extends to Queen Sofia of Spain, Queen Paola of Belgium, Queen Fabiola of Belgium, and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 May 2010: Act of God
The phrase "Act of God", usually used to describe events outside of human control for which no person can be held responsible, is a legal term in the USA.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 May 2010: Lord of the Flies
Beelzebub, in Christianity an alternative name for Lucifer, the fallen angel, or for the Devil, literally means "Lord of the Flies" in Hebrew.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 May 2010: Pink was for boys and blue for girls
It wasn't until the 1940s that the colours associated with girls and boys in the Western world were swapped; until then, pink was for boys and blue for girls.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 07 May 2010: Tolkien working on the letter W
The first civilian job of British author J.R.R. Tolkien after fighting in World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, where he worked mainly on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter W.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 Apr 2010: Wife selling
In the English custom of wife selling, a husband would publicly auction off his wife; it was a way to end a marriage when divorces were practically impossible. This practice began in the 17th Century and one of the last occurrences was reported in 1913.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Apr 2010: Number of red blood cells in a body
Adult humans have roughly 2–3 * 10^13 (20-30 trillion) red blood cells at any given time, making up about one quarter of the total number of cells in a human body.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Apr 2010: Red food dye made from scale insects
Carmine (also known as Natural Red 4 or E120) is a bright red pigment widely used as a food dye and a dye in cosmetics. Its main source are cochineal, scale insects (schildluizen in Dutch) who live on cacti native to South America and Mexico, but they are nowadays also farmed in Spain, the Canary Islands and Australia.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 09 Apr 2010: Spanish 'flu
The 1918 influenza pandemic became known as the "Spanish 'flu", because the most extensive and most reliable news coverage of the disease came from Spain, as it was a neutral country in World War I and did not have censorship of the news regarding the disease.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Apr 2010: FFF 5y5m5d Anniversay
Tomorrow, 3 April 2010, sees the anniversary of Five years, Five months and Five days since the First FFF.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Mar 2010: Replacing red blood cells
In an adult, red blood cells are replaced at a rate of 2 to 3 million per second.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Mar 2010: Origin of cattle
Cattle, the word in English to denote bovine animals, originates from the Latin and Old French words for movable property, and is therefore closely related to the word capital (in the economic sense).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Mar 2010: Service à la russe
The current style of serving each guest individually at banquets is known as "service à la russe". Before this style was introduced in the early 19th century in France (supposedly by Prince Kurakin, a Russian diplomat), the traditional style was "service à la française", which involved putting all dishes on the table at once and guests serving themselves.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Mar 2010: Pre-digested After Eight mints
The filling of After Eight mints starts out as a more or less solid sugar paste which is covered with chocolate. However, a small amount of the enzyme invertase, which has been added during production, splits (or "digests") the saccharose resulting in a more liquid interior; a process which is said to take a few months.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Feb 2010: Polish driving licences in Ireland
For some time, the most sought-after serial traffic offender in Ireland was a certain Mr Prawo Jazdy, until it transpired that police officers had mistaken the Polish words for "driving licence" for the full name of many different Polish drivers.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Feb 2010: The Big Five
The phrase "The Big Five", often used by tourist and safari guides to refer the lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard and the rhinoceros, was introduced by big-game hunters as these animals are the five most difficult to hunt in Africa.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Feb 2010: World Championships for making pea soup
The World Championships Snertkoken and Stamppotkoken (preparation of pea soup and vegetable-mashed potato dishes) are held today in Groningen, The Netherlands, see http://www.oudhollandschegerechten.nl/ , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamppot and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pea_soup#Netherlands.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Feb 2010: Wine in the Hungarian national anthem
The Hungarian wine Tokaji Aszú, made with grapes affected by Botrytis cinerea or "noble rot", is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Jan 2010: Why flamingoes are pink
Flamingoes get their pink or red colour entirely from the carotenoids in blue-green algae and brine shrimp they feed on.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 Jan 2010: Years with 2 Australian Opens
There are two years which saw two Australian Open Tennis Championships played: 1920 (in January and March 1920) and 1977 (in January and December 1977).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Jan 2010: Spelling of Shakespeare in OED
The original edition of the Oxford English Dictionary spelled the surname of the famous English poet as Shakspere. In the second edition, which was published in 1989, this was changed to the more commonly used Shakespeare.
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Friday 01 Jan 2010: Anno Mundi in Russia
After returning from his travels to Western Europe, Russian Tsar Peter the Great decreed that the Russian calendar should count the years since the birth of Christ (Anno Domini) instead of the years since the creation of the world (Anno Mundi or Etos Kosmou). Thus, 1 January 7208 became 1 January 1700 in Russia.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Dec 2009: Alibi = elsewhere
The legal term alibi is the Latin word for "elsewhere".
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Friday 18 Dec 2009: FFF Christmas Quiz 2009
No FFF today because of the 2009 Christmas Quiz.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Dec 2009: UB40
The British reggae band UB40 took their name from an UK Unemployment Benefit form which they reproduced on the cover of their first album, "Signing off".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Dec 2009: Cork taint
The distinctive smell from a wine that is "corked" or suffers from cork taint is caused by the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). Unfortunately, the human threshold for detecting TCA can be as low as several parts per trillion. The most common source of TCA are fungi which convert certain traces of pesticides and wood preservatives present on cork (trees).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Nov 2009: The shape of falling raindrops
Contrary to popular belief, falling raindrops do not have a teardrop-shape. Small raindrops are nearly spherical and larger ones become more flattened at the bottom.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Nov 2009: Origin of hat-trick
The sporting term hat-trick (succeeding at something three times) originated in 1858 in Sheffield when cricketer H.H. Stephenson was presented with a cap or hat after he took three wickets in three balls.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Nov 2009: Months with Friday 13th
If the first day of a month is a Sunday, it will have a Friday the 13th.
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Friday 06 Nov 2009: Special Dutch train station name
Train station "De Vink" is the only train station in The Netherlands which does not contain the name of a town or city. It is located on the border of Leiden and Voorschoten.
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Friday 30 Oct 2009: Smell of oranges and lemons
The respective smell of oranges and lemons is caused by mirror images (enantiomers) of the same molecule. D-Limonene smells strongly of oranges, whereas L-Limonene smells of lemons (although some claim it is more like pine needles).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 Oct 2009: Reversed Celsius temperature scale
The Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius came up with a temperature scale where 0 represented the boiling point and 100 the freezing point of water. A few years later his fellow countryman Linnaeus reversed the scale to what we now know as the Celsius temperature scale.
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Friday 09 Oct 2009: Apples and pears need to breathe
After picking, the cells in apples and pears need oxygen to maintain good health. Apples have more and bigger "air-channels" running through them than pears, which is why pears rot more quickly: if air cannot pass through the fruit, cells close to the core will eventually start to brown and rot.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Oct 2009: Just one moment
Unlike its fairly undefined length in present day English, in medieval times one moment was equal to 1/40 hour or 1.5 minutes. A moment was divided into 12 ounces of 7.5 seconds each.
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Friday 25 Sep 2009: The earth is slowing down
The rotation speed of the earth is influenced by various factors, most important of which are tidal forces between the earth and the moon. The net result is that the time of one full rotation of the earth around its axis (i.e. one "day") increases by about 2 ms (or 0.002 s) per day per century.
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Friday 18 Sep 2009: The origin of the gimlet cocktail
It is generally assumed that gimlet cocktail (1/2 gin, 1/2 lime juice) was named after Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, a British naval surgeon. He introduced this recipe as a means of inducing his messmates to take lime juice to prevent scurvy (scheurbuik in Dutch).
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Friday 11 Sep 2009: Smallest US State capital
Montpelier, Vermont is the smallest U.S. State capital with a little over 8,000 inhabitants. It was most likely named after the French city of Montpellier due to great enthusiasm for all things French around the time of the American Revolution.
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Friday 04 Sep 2009: Mozart's real full name
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptised 28 January 1756 in Salzburg as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Later in life the famous composer dropped the first two names (which are after the saint's name whose feast day he was born on) and Latinised the Greek Theophilus into Amadeus.
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Friday 28 Aug 2009: The word tulip
The word tulip is derived from the Ottoman Turkish word tülbend, meaning turban (tulband in Dutch), most likely because Renaissance Europeans found that the flour resembled the Ottoman headdress.
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Friday 21 Aug 2009: Play-Doh
The "reusable modelling compound" Play-Doh was first designed as a wallpaper cleaner shortly after World War II. In 1956 it was introduced at an educational convention after children had started using it as a modelling compound in classrooms.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 14 Aug 2009: The Hollywood sign
The famous Hollywood-sign in the hills above Los Angeles originally read "Hollywoodland" when it was erected in 1923 as an advertisement for the Hollywoodland real estate project and it was intended to last for about 18 months. In 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had the sign restored and the last four letters removed, so the sign would read "Hollywood".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 31 Jul 2009: Shoe sizes
In Continental Europe shoe sizes are based on an old length unit, the Paris Point, which is equal to 2/3 cm. The shoe size is the length of the last (leest in Dutch) plus 2 cm in Paris Points. In the UK and the USA shoe sizes are based on another old length unit, the barleycorn, which equals to 1/6 in.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Jul 2009: E-road numbers
The International E-road network consists of roads in Europe that cross national borders and it reaches as far as Central Asia. Some countries use E-road numbers instead of national numbering, but in most countries it is used alongside national numbering. Only two countries do not signpost them as such at all: the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Jul 2009: Origin of bankrupt
The word bankrupt (bankroet in Dutch) originates from the Italian Renaissance expression "Banca rotta", which means broken table or bench. Merchants or money lenders in Northern Italy used to do business from their own bench or table, which would be destroyed by their creditors if they could not pay their debts.
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Friday 10 Jul 2009: A perfect 20 in GaultMillau
The famous restaurant guide GaultMillau never awarded a perfect 20 points under its original authors Henri Gault and Christian Millau, because they claimed that perfection was impossible to achieve. In 2004 however, two restaurants, both of chef Marc Veyrat, L'Auberge de l'Eridan in Veyrier-du-Lac near Annecy and La Ferme de Mon Père in Megève, were listed with the highest score.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Jul 2009: MCC waiting list
The waiting list to become a member of the famous London-based Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is around 18 years. If you don't want to wait that long, it could help if you become Prime Minister, as John Major found out.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Jun 2009: Free tea for life at Wimbledon
Members of Wimbledon's Last Eight Club get free tea at the tournament for life. Membership to the club is open only to those who have played a singles quarter-final or doubles semi-final at Wimbledon.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 19 Jun 2009: Summers are shorter Down Under
Summer on the Southern hemisphere lasts shorter than on the Northern hemisphere. Around December "the sun moves faster", because the earth is closer to the sun (see FFF for 04-07-2008), and it has a higher velocity. As a result, the period between the spring and autumn equinox (21 March and 22 September up North) is 185 days, whereas it's 180 days Down Under.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Jun 2009: Owner of milk.com
The internet domain name milk.com is still owned by Dan Bornstein, who registered it in 1994. The owner has nothing to do with the production or marketing of dairy products, he just likes milk.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Jun 2009: Gender symbols
The gender symbols that were introduced in the 18th Century by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, are derived from astronomical symbols for planets. The male symbol (♂) is the one for the planet Mars (denoting the shield and spear of Mars), the female symbol (♀) is for Venus (depicting the hand mirror of Venus).
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Friday 29 May 2009: Weird timezones in Scandinavia
If you go 20 km West from Kirkenes in Norway, you will have to set your watch one hour forward, but if you go 20 km East, you will have to set it two hours forward.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 22 May 2009: Maximum height of a tree
The maximum height of a tree is limited to between 122 and 130 metres, due to gravity and the friction between water and the vessels through which it flows. Currently, the tallest known living tree is believed to be a coastal redwood tree in Northern California, named Hyperion which measures 115.55 metres.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 15 May 2009: A lot of chromosomes
Humans normally have 46 chromosomes, common fruit flies have 8, but a particular species of adder's-tongue fern has around 1440 chromosomes.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 May 2009: Miracle fruit
After eating the berries of the Miracle Fruit plant (Synsepalum dulcificum) sour food (like a lemon) will taste sweet. The plant was discovered in the 18th Century in West Africa and is nowadays an essential ingredient of "flavour tripping parties" (see e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/dining/28flavor.html).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 May 2009: Labour Day in Germany
In Germany Labour Day has been a national holiday since 1 May 1933. Ironically, after declaring this national holiday, the Nazis banned all trade unions on 2 May 1933.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 24 Apr 2009: Turn direction of merry-go-rounds
In the UK and the rest of Europe merry-go-rounds or carousels usually turn clockwise, while in the USA they normally turn anti-clockwise.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Apr 2009: Origin of candidate
The word candidate comes from the Latin word candida, meaning white. In ancient Rome, those running for political office would wear a toga that was made bright white by chalking and bleaching.
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Friday 10 Apr 2009: Most common date for Easter
The dates of Easter on our Gregorian calendar are on a repeating cycle of 5,700,000 years, with 19 April being the most common date, happening 220,400 times or 3.9%. The Easter dates on the Julian calendar, which is still used in most Orthodox churches, are on a cycle of 532 years.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 03 Apr 2009: Octopi have three hearts
An octopus has three hearts. One heart pumps its blue blood through the body, while the two smaller hearts pump blood through the gills.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Mar 2009: Mercury eats through aluminium
Aluminium is normally protected by a small protective oxide layer when in contact with air. A small amount of mercury can however "eat through" a large amount of aluminium by repetitive forming of an amalgam and subsequent oxidisation of the aluminium. This is why mercury is normally banned from aeroplanes (which are largely made of aluminium).
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Friday 13 Mar 2009: Number of Fridays 13th in a year
Every year has at least one and at most three Fridays the 13th.
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Friday 06 Mar 2009: Distance of Olympic marathons
The distance of the first (modern) Olympic marathons was not fixed. Only since the 1924 Olympics has the distance been fixed to 42.195 km (or 26 miles and 385 yards).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Feb 2009: Inventor of the microwave oven
In the mid-1940s, American engineer Percy Spencer worked on magnetrons (vacuum tubes that generate microwaves for radar devices) at Raytheon. He developed the idea of a microwave oven after discovering that a chocolate bar had melted in his trouser pocket while he was standing in front of a magnetron device in operation.
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Friday 13 Feb 2009: Jerry Springer born in a tube station
The American chat show host and former mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, Jerry Springer, was born in East Finchley station of the London Underground on 13 February 1944, during an air raid.
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Friday 06 Feb 2009: The time is 1234567890
Next week, on Friday 13 February 2009 at 23:31:30 UTC/GMT, the Unix timestamp or epoch (the number of seconds since 1 January 1970, without any leap seconds) will be 1234567890.
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Friday 30 Jan 2009: Malaria = bad air
The name of the (sub-)tropical disease malaria was derived from the Italian "mala aria", meaning "bad air"; it was thought that this and other diseases were caused by a noxious form of bad or polluted air.
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Friday 23 Jan 2009: Italic typeface inventor
The 15th-Century Italian humanist and printer Teobaldo Manucci, also known as Aldus Manutius the Elder, is generally credited with creating the italic typeface style for which he obtained a patent. He is also believed to have been the first typographer to use semicolons.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 Jan 2009: Rivers of Babylon
The lyrics of the song "Rivers of Babylon" are based on Psalm 137 from the bible. The song was written for the Jamaican group The Melodians in the early 1970s, but only gained widespread fame when it was covered in 1978 by the West-German band Boney M.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 02 Jan 2009: Roman eight-day week
The Romans had an 8-day week. Although the 7-day week was introduced in the first century A.D., both versions continued to coexist until the reign of emperor Constantine in the 4th century.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 26 Dec 2008: Identical bible texts
The bible texts of Isaiah chapter 37 and 2 Kings chapter 19 are almost word for word identical.
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Friday 19 Dec 2008: FFF Christmas Quiz 2008
No FFF today because of the 2008 Christmas Quiz.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 12 Dec 2008: Chilli peppers are berries
Botanically speaking, chilli peppers, aubergines and tomatoes are berries, but strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are not.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 05 Dec 2008: Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet
Traditionally Sinterklaas or Sint Nicolaas only had one helper, Zwarte Piet. When after the end of World War 2 the Canadian liberators helped to organise the traditional Dutch festivities, they decided that a lot of Zwarte Pieten was much more fun than one or two. Since then Sinterklaas has been arriving with a whole army of helpers (see e.g. http://www.sinterklaasindenhaag.nl/index.php?id=41).
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 28 Nov 2008: Big Apple
The nickname "The Big Apple" for New York City is thought to have been popularised first by columnist John Fitz Gerald in the 1920s. It is also said that before that he used it as a reference to Los Angeles.
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Friday 21 Nov 2008: Adam and Eve
Most bible translations agree that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with fig leaves ("feuilles de figuier" in French). The French, however, call the bits of covering foliage on statues and paintings vine leaves ("feuilles de vigne").
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Friday 14 Nov 2008: Toyota
The manufacture of cars by one of the world's largest automakers, Toyota, originated in 1933 as a small division of a company that produced automatic looms (weefgetouwen in Dutch). Nowadays, Toyota still manufactures automatic looms and electric sewing machines.
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Friday 07 Nov 2008: Beetles
There are around 350,000 known species of beetles, which means they make up 40% of all known insect species and around 25% of all life forms.
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Friday 31 Oct 2008: Mauritius
The island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean was named after the Dutch Prince Maurits of Nassau by Dutch settlers in the 17th Century. The French renamed the island Île de France when they captured it in 1715. After the British took over in 1810, the name was reverted to Mauritius.
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Friday 24 Oct 2008: Blue whales
Blue whales have the largest heart of all animals (weighing around 600 kg), but their throat is relatively small: they can't swallow anything bigger than a football.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 17 Oct 2008: Iceland has no army
Iceland has no standing army, but it is a member of NATO.
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Friday 10 Oct 2008: Origin of boredom
The first record of the word boredom is in Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House from 1852, in which it appears six times.
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Friday 03 Oct 2008: Jogging can be fatal
The American James Fixx, whose book "The Complete Book of Running" led tens of thousands to take up jogging, died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 52 while running.
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Friday 26 Sep 2008: Commonest pub name
The commonest name for a pub in the UK is "Red Lion". The name is said to have originated in the 17th century after King James VI of Scotland who, when he became King James I of England and Ireland, ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of importance, including pubs.
P.S. "The Crown" comes as a close second, some even claim it is the commonest.
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Friday 19 Sep 2008: The genetics of earlobes
Human earlobes can either be free or attached (joined to the head); this trait is determined by a simple genetic dominance relationship: the freely hanging earlobes are the dominant allele and attached earlobes are recessive.
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Friday 12 Sep 2008: Tattoo = close the taps
The word for a military drum or music performance, tattoo, is derived from the Dutch word for the event, "taptoe", which means "close the taps". The taptoe was originally played to call soldiers back to their barracks and signal inn-keepers to stop serving drinks. English troops adopted the word while fighting the Anglo-Dutch wars in the 17th century.
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Friday 05 Sep 2008: IKEA
The name of the flat pack furniture seller IKEA is an acronym comprised of the initials of the founder's name (Ingvar Kamprad), the farm where he was born and grew up (Elmtaryd), and his home village (Agunnaryd, in Småland, South Sweden). Nowadays, IKEA is officially a Dutch company.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 29 Aug 2008: Bulls are colour-blind
Cattle are colour-blind. The red colour of the cape used in bullfighting (the muleta) does therefore not especially anger the bull. The colour does however make any bloodstains less noticeable.
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Friday 22 Aug 2008: The origin of denim
The André family in the city of Nîmes in the South of France were the first to manufacture a rugged cotton textile, which was called "serge de Nîmes". As this fabric became more widely used, the name was soon shortened to "denim".
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Friday 15 Aug 2008: Rice porridge mortar
One of the components of the mortar used to build the city walls of the ancient Chinese capital Xi'an is rice porridge, commonly eaten as breakfast in China. It is thought that this special ingredient, which improves the mortar's durability and strength, was also used in the construction of the Great Wall.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 08 Aug 2008: Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest
Charlie Chaplin once entered a Chaplin look-alike contest in San Francisco and failed to make it to the finals.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 01 Aug 2008: The names of notes
The names Do - Re - Mi - Fa - Sol - La - Si of music notes are said to have been derived from the Gregorian Chant "Ut queant laxis", where each line begins on a higher note. In the original naming, which is generally attributed to Guido d'Arezzo from the 11th century, "Ut" was used instead of "Do" and Si was not included. P.S. If you were wondering, the first part of text of the chant is: "Ut queant laxis / resonare fibris, / Mira gestorum / famuli tuorum, / Solve polluti / labii reatum, / Sancte Ioannes."
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Jul 2008: Banned vodka
The Polish "Bison Grass" vodka Zubrówka was banned in the USA in 1978, because the bison grass which is traditionally used to flavour the vodka contains the toxin coumarin, of which some ends up in the spirit. In 1999, Polish distillers introduced a special version for the US market with artificial flavouring.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Jul 2008: U.S. Virgin Islands
The USA bought the Caribbean Islands that are now called the United States Virgin Islands off Denmark during World War I, fearing that the islands might be seized by Germany as a submarine base.
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Friday 04 Jul 2008: Far away from the Sun
The Earth is closest to the Sun in early January and farthest away in early July. Today around 08.00 GMT/UTC, the Earth reached the point in its orbit which is farthest from the Sun, the aphelion. In 6 months' time, on 4 January 2009, when it reaches the perihelion, we will about 5 million kilometres (or around 3%) closer to the Sun.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 27 Jun 2008: Anti-helium
After breathing in helium your voice will sound higher-pitched, like Donald Duck. The opposite happens after breathing in sulphur hexafluoride (SF6): this will give you a very deep voice. These effects are caused by the different speeds of sound in these gasses, which changes the resonance frequencies in your throat and mouth. For an example of having fun with SF6 look at and listen to: http://www.spikedhumor.com/articles/114304/Jay-Leno-Anti-Helium.html
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 20 Jun 2008: Roulette wheel
The sum of the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 13 Jun 2008: Longest period without Friday 13th
The longest period that can occur without a Friday the 13th is 14 months. The next time this will happen, will be from Friday 13 July 2012 to Friday 13 September 2013.
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Friday 06 Jun 2008: Poisonous rhubarb
Contrary to the edible stalks, rhubarb leaves are poisonous due to the much higher content of oxalic acid and other toxins.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 30 May 2008: French rubbish bins
The French word for rubbish bin, poubelle, is an eponym: it was named after Eugène Poubelle who was the prefect of the department encompassing Paris in the late 19th century. In 1884 Poubelle ordered the owners of apartment buildings to erect receptacles of 40-120 litres for the collection of rubbish. It didn't take long for Parisians to refer to the rubbish bins by the prefect's name.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 23 May 2008: Costa Rica has no army
The Central American republic of Costa Rica has no army. The junta led by José Figueres Ferrer, which came to power after a brief civil war in 1948, abolished the army before it stepped down after elections 18 months later.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 16 May 2008: Keeping right in the UK
Savoy Court in London is (probably) the only road in the UK where drivers are required to drive on the right. This short stretch of road runs from the Strand to the entrance of the Savoy Hotel.
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Friday 09 May 2008: Origin of orange carrots
The carrots that were introduced into Europe from the Middle East in the Middle Ages were either purple or yellow. Orange carrots only appeared around 400 years ago when patriotic Dutch growers managed to cultivate these from the original varieties.
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Friday 02 May 2008: Magellan was not a circumnavigator
The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães in Portuguese) never completed his attempt to circumnavigate the Earth. He was killed in a battle in the Philippines in 1521 after having successfully crossed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in a westward direction.
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Friday 25 Apr 2008: The Prince Philip Movement
The Yaohnanen tribe on the Pacific island of Tanna worship Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. They believe that Queen Elizabeth II's consort is a divine being, the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit. The Prince Philip Movement is one of the so-called cargo cults in the Pacific.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 18 Apr 2008: Air embolism
A relatively small air bubble introduced in a vein is not lethal, contrary to popular belief. The lower limit for lethal injury like cardiac arrest is generally assumed to be about 5 ml/kg of air IV (intravenous), so in the hundreds of millilitres for an adult.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 11 Apr 2008: Gold is heavier than lead
A bar of gold is heavier than a bar of lead of the same size: the density of gold is around 1.7 times that of lead.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 04 Apr 2008: UK tax year
In the UK, the tax year for income tax runs from the 6th of April to the 5th April. This is a remnant of the days when the New Year started on the 25th of March (see FFF of 31-12-2004). Not wanting to miss out on 11 days when switching from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar, the authorities moved the start of the tax year to 5 April and in 1800 to 6 April when a Julian leap year was "skipped" under the new Calendar. Ireland changed the same practice in 2001 when it aligned its tax year with the calendar year.
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Friday 28 Mar 2008: Single note aria
The aria "Chi disprezza gl'infelici" in Gioachino Rossini's opera "Ciro in Babilonia" is sung on a single note. Some say Rossini got the idea when he lost his voice after eating a lot of ice cream and could only whisper a single note. Others say the composer wrote it for one of the sopranos scheduled to perform the work, whose quality he didn't think much of, except for one note which "didn't sound too bad".
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 21 Mar 2008: Beavers are fish
In the past the Roman Catholic Church classified beavers as fish, with the consequence that they could be eaten on Fridays during Lent.
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Friday 14 Mar 2008: Old Blighty
The word blighty, a slang term for Britain, is derived from the Hindi-Urdu word bilayti (or vilayati), meaning foreign.
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Friday 07 Mar 2008: Cappuccino
The name for the coffee variety cappuccino is said to have come from the Italian for "little Capuchin monk", because the colour of the coffee reminds one of the Capuchin friars' brown robes.
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Friday 29 Feb 2008: Fifth Friday of February
Today is the fifth Friday of February; the next one will be in 28 years' time on Friday 29 February 2036.
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Friday 22 Feb 2008: World's oldest brewery
The Weihenstephan Brewery in Freising near Munich was founded in 1040 and calls itself the oldest brewery in the world still in existence ("Älteste Brauerei der Welt"). The brewery in the nearby Weltenburg Abbey is only 10 years its junior, being founded in 1050 and calling itself the oldest abbey brewery in the world ("Älteste Klosterbrauerei der Welt").
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Friday 15 Feb 2008: Ulysses S. Grant
The middle initial S. of the U.S. General and 18th President Ulysses S. Grant doesn't stand for anything. A congressman erroneously nominated Grant by this name for the West Point Military Academy, possibly mistaking his mother's maiden name Simpson for a middle name. Grant could not change the name when he enrolled and kept on using it.
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Friday 08 Feb 2008: Lightning
Lightning strikes the earth between 1 and 8 million times a day.
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Friday 01 Feb 2008: Two sets of jaws
Moray eels have two sets of jaws: one ordinary and one at the back of their throat. The "throat jaws" move forward when a moray eel opens its mouth to grab a prey. The two sets of jaws are then used to work the food down the throat, because the eel cannot swallow by suction like other fish do.
Rating: 0 1 2 3 4


Friday 25 Jan 2008: Kansas Cities
There are two cities called Kansas City in the USA. The larger of the two is not in the state of Kansas, but in Missouri.
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Friday 18 Jan 2008: Blue blood
Most molluscs (e.g. clams, snails, squid and octopi) have blue blood. Instead of binding oxygen to the iron in haemoglobin - which is what turns our blood red, their blood uses copper-containing haemocyanin to bind and transport the oxygen.
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Friday 11 Jan 2008: Asterix
According to illustrator Uderzo, the name of the comic book character Asterix was chosen by text writer Goscinny, to make sure it would appear as the first entry an encyclopaedia of comics.
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Friday 04 Jan 2008: Veuve Clicquot
The Veuve Clicquot Champagne House is named after Madame Clicquot who took over her husband's small Champagne business when he died in 1805. At that time most champagnes were cloudy and required decanting. Madame Clicquot is generally credited with inventing the process of remuage, in which bottles are placed upside down in a rack and turned each day to encourage the yeast to eventually settle in the neck of the bottle, so it can easily be removed to produce a clear product.
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Friday 28 Dec 2007: UK war loans
Around this time last year, the United Kingdom made the final payment to the United States to pay off the World War II loans. However, payments to or by the UK of World War I debts were never recommenced after the one-year moratorium proposed by US President Hoover in 1931.
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Friday 21 Dec 2007: FFF Christmas Quiz 2007
No FFF today because of the 2007 Christmas Quiz.
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Friday 14 Dec 2007: Sputnik
Sputnik, the name of the first artificial satellite, is the Russian word for satellite.
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Friday 07 Dec 2007: The anti-prohibition states
The only states to vote against the 18th Amendment to the U.S. constitution ("prohibiting the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors") were Rhode Island and Connecticut. The only state to vote against the 21st Amendment, which repealed the former, was South Carolina.
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Friday 30 Nov 2007: The first ATM
The first ATM or cash machine was installed in 1967 in Enfield, north London. Its inventor, John Shepherd-Barron, also came up with a six-figure PIN code, but after discussing it with his wife, he changed the number of figures to four.
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Friday 23 Nov 2007: Puerto Rico and San Juan
When Columbus discovered the island which is now known as Puerto Rico, he named it San Juan Bautista. A few years later Spanish settlers founded a town on the island which they called Puerto Rico. It wasn't until later that the name of the town (nowadays the capital, San Juan) and the island were interchanged.
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Friday 02 Nov 2007: Tea or Cha
Two different pronunciations for the Chinese character for tea have made their way into different languages around the world: one is tê, from the Amoy dialect from Southern Fujian, the other, chá, comes from Cantonese. The "tê-version" (e.g. in Dutch, English, French, Indonesian) probably originated from the Dutch who traded with Chinese from Fujian, while the "chá-version" (e.g. in Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Japanese) originated from being exposed to sources from other regions of China.
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Friday 26 Oct 2007: Apple logo orientation
Starting with the PowerBook G4, Apple have turned the logo on the lid of its laptop computers upside-down: on earlier models, the logo looked the right side up for a user closing his computer, but upside-down for someone else looking at the back of an open one. For the more recent models the situation has been reversed.
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Friday 19 Oct 2007: World Trade Centres
There are 301 "World Trade Centers" around the world, including the ones that have not been built yet. There are WTCs in San Marino, El Paso, Leeuwarden and Hull.
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Friday 12 Oct 2007: The peace symbol
The forked symbol in a circle generally known as the peace symbol was originally designed as the logo for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Britain in 1958. The symbol itself is a superimposed combination of the semaphoric (or flag) signals for the letters "N" and "D".
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Friday 05 Oct 2007: Vespasian's urinals II
Although there is no evidence for the literal quote, the Roman emperor Vespasian is often said to be the originator of the phrase "Pecunia non olet" ("Money doesn't smell", but undoubtedly you all new that): According to the historian Suetonius, when Vespasian's son Titus objected to the new tax on urinals, Vespasian handed him a coin from those taxes and asked if it smelled. Titus said "No", and Vespasian replied "Yet it comes from urine".
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Friday 28 Sep 2007: Vespasian's urinals
The French word for a public urinal, vespasienne, is derived from the name of the Roman emperor Vespasian (Vespasianus in Dutch), who re-instated taxes on public urinals during his reign.
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Friday 21 Sep 2007: Camp David
The Naval Support Facility Thurmont is the official name of the U.S. President's mountain retreat. It was founded by Franklin D. Roosevelt who named it Shangri-La. Later, Dwight Eisenhower renamed it Camp David, after his grandson.
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Friday 14 Sep 2007: Maggot cheese
Casu Marzu (Sardinian for "rotten cheese") is a cheese from the Italian island of Sardinia, which is considered to be a local delicacy. The advanced level of fermentation is brought on by cheese fly larvae digesting the cheese from within. These larvae are added to the cheese to give it its unique texture and flavour. The cheese is often eaten without removing the live maggots.
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Friday 07 Sep 2007: Blue in Russian
In contrast to languages like English and Dutch, Russian does not have a single word to denote the colour blue. Instead, it treats light blue (голубой) and dark blue (синий) as separate colours, similar to what English and Dutch do for "red" and "light red" (i.e. "pink").
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Friday 31 Aug 2007: JFK Airport
New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport received its present name in 1963, shortly after the assassination of the US president. Before that, the airport was commonly known as Idlewild Airport, named after the golf course that was chosen as the site of construction for the airport.
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Friday 24 Aug 2007: Jack Daniel's
The Jack Daniel's distillery is located in one of Tennessee's many dry counties, Moore County. Ironically, although it is perfectly legal to distill the product there, none of it may be sold locally.
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Friday 17 Aug 2007: Ulysses
The single day recorded in James Joyce's novel Ulysses, 16 June 1904, has the same date as the day the author had his first date with his lifelong partner Nora Barnacle.
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Friday 10 Aug 2007: Hackney carriage
The hackney carriage (a taxicab licensed by the Public Carriage Office in Greater London or by another local authority in the UK) does not derive its name from the London borough of Hackney, but from the French word haquenée - a riding horse with a comfortable amble, also used to pull carriages one could hire.
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Friday 03 Aug 2007: UFOs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
In October 1954, the mayor of the French wine-producing village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape decreed that no UFO (soucoupe volante or cigare volant in French) was allowed to land in, take off from or fly over the municipality. The law also stated that any craft found violating this rule would be impounded.
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Friday 27 Jul 2007: Alcatraz
The name Alcatraz Island is derived from the name Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala provided for it in 1775. He charted the San Francisco Bay and named the island "Isla de los Alcatraces," which translates to "Island of the Pelicans."
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Friday 06 Jul 2007: Coal mine canaries
The last 200 British coal mine canaries were replaced by electronic gas detectors 20 years ago in 1987. Canaries were not the only animals used in the past to help detect the presence of dangerous gases underground, mice were used as well.
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Friday 29 Jun 2007: Samuel Beckett
The Irish writer Samuel Beckett is the only Nobel laureate to have an entry in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. Beckett played cricket for Dublin University, twice at first class-level against Northamptonshire. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.
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Friday 22 Jun 2007: Alaska's state capital
Alaska's state capital Juneau (not Anchorage) is the only US state capital that cannot be reached by road from another town or village. It can only be reached by air or by sea.
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Friday 15 Jun 2007: Great Fire of London
Although the Great Fire of London, which broke out on 2 September 1666, lasted for four days, only 5 deaths were officially recorded, but some say as many as 8 people died.
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Friday 08 Jun 2007: Energy for a Tour de France
An average Tour de France cyclist requires 25,000-38,000 kJ (6,000-9,000 kcal) a day; an average resting man requires around 9,000 kJ (2,100 kcal) per day.
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Friday 01 Jun 2007: The pope's white robes
Before 1566 popes usually wore red robes In that year Pope Pius V, a Dominican, was elected pope and he refused to give up the white robes of his order. Every pope since him has also worn white clothing, although some papal accessories are still red.
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Friday 18 May 2007: German taxi colour
In 1971 it was decided that taxis in (West) Germany could only have one colour: a distinct tone of ivory (colour number RAL 1015 "Hellelfenbein"). A few years ago the federal government transfered power over the colour of taxis to individual states, but only a few have decided to allow different colours so far.
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Friday 11 May 2007: Population density of Alaska
If Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, only 25 people would be living there.
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Friday 04 May 2007: Last convicted witch
The last person convicted in the UK under the 1735 Witchcraft Act, Helen Duncan, a Scottish "medium", was sentenced in 1944 to nine months in prison. The Witchcraft Act was repealed with the enactment of the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.
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Friday 27 Apr 2007: Whales don't drink
Whales and dolphins are very similar to desert animals: they get most of their water from metabolising ("burning") fat. On top of that, their kidneys retain as much water as possible while excreting any excess salts they ingest through their food or seawater.
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Friday 20 Apr 2007: Battle of Culloden
Of the fifteen infantry regiments fighting under the Duke of Cumberland against Bonnie Prince Charlie's (Scottish) Jacobite army at Culloden on 16 April 1746, three regiments were Scottish.
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Friday 13 Apr 2007: Scooby-Doo
It is said that the creator of the cartoon character Scooby-Doo came up with that name when he heard the last lines of Frank Sinatra's version of "Strangers in the night": "doo-be-doo-be-doo".
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Friday 06 Apr 2007: The smell of gas
To facilitate human detection of any leaks of the odourless gases that make up LPG and natural gas, a tiny amount of the very "smelly" substance ethanethiol is usually added. Natural gas in Dutch households "smells" differently due to the use of a different additive, tetrahydrothiophene (THT).
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Friday 30 Mar 2007: Q is for Quartermaster
The character name Q from the James Bond novels and films stands for Quartermaster, making it more a job title rather than a name.
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Friday 23 Mar 2007: Long Welsh village name
The Welsh village on the island of Anglesey with the longest place name in the UK was originally know as Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll. In the 1860s it was decided to change it to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch as a publicity stunt to encourage train travellers to stop and visit the village. The name is Welsh for "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave".
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Friday 16 Mar 2007: Racing colours
Until the late 1960s the colour of most racing cars reflected the country of their origin, British cars were "racing green", Italian cars red ("rosso corsa"), French cars light blue, German cars were white and later bare metal ("Silberpfeil"), American cars white or blue with blue and white lengthwise stripes and any Dutch racing cars were usually orange.
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Friday 09 Mar 2007: Pope Adrian IV
The only English pope was Pope Adrian IV, who was born as Nicholas Breakspear and was pope from 1154 to 1159. During his reign he issued a papal bull in which he donated Ireland to the English king, Henry II. It is said that W.H. Brakspear, who bought a brewery in Henley on Thames in 1711, is a distant relative.
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Friday 02 Mar 2007: Pope Adrian VI
The only Dutch pope to date was Pope Adrian VI (Adriaan VI in Dutch), who was born as Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens in Utrecht. He was elected in 1522 and died in 1523. One of his earlier jobs as a clergyman was being a teacher of the later Emperor Charles V. The next non-Italian cardinal to be elected pope was the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla in 1978.
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Friday 23 Feb 2007: E pluribus unum
In 1956 the United States of America replaced their national motto "E pluribus unum" with "In God we trust". The Latin phrase still appears on US coins and it also still is the motto of the Portugese sports club Sport Lisboa e Benfica, best known for its football team.
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Friday 16 Feb 2007: El Al flights
The Israeli airline El Al normally does not fly on shabbat. At the end of 2006 the airline decided to fly some of their planes to get back on schedule after a strike. Some people suspected divine intervention when on the Monday after the controversial shabbat flights, an El Al plane was forced to turn back due to landing gear problems. After protests and threats of a boycott, El Al decided to appoint a rabbi as an adviser on any future decisions to fly on the Jewish day of rest.
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Friday 02 Feb 2007: Guinness
Guinness is not a good source of iron, contrary to what many believe. To receive the recommended daily allowance, one would have to drink around 37 pints a day. In contrast, eating three bowls of Weetabix will provide you with the same amount of iron.
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Friday 26 Jan 2007: Adidas and Puma
In 1920 Adolf Dassler, known as Adi to his friends, took over his father's shoe company and started producing sports shoes. In 1924 his brother Rudolf Dassler joined the firm which was then named "Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik", which became very successful and well-known. Shortly after World War II the two brothers fell out and in 1948 Rudolf started a competing company which he eventually named "Puma". Adi Dassler changed the name of his firm to "Adidas".
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Friday 19 Jan 2007: Benford's law
Benford's law states that certain digits will show up more often than others as the leading non-zero digit in many sets of real-life data. The number 1 shows up around 30% of the time, 2 around 17.6%, down to 9 only around 4.6%. This phenomenon was first formulated by astronomer and mathematician Simon Newcomb in 1881, supposedly after he noticed that the earlier pages of log tables were more worn than later ones. It hardly received any attention until it was formulated independently in 1938 by physicist Frank Benford. Nowadays it is often used in the detection of anomalies (i.e. fraud) in e.g. insurance and accounting data.
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Friday 12 Jan 2007: Happy as a sandboy
The origin of the phrase "as happy as a sandboy" is said to come from Bristol. Landlords of the Ostrich Inn in Bristol used to send small boys to collect sand from the nearby Redcliffe Caves to be spread on the tavern floor to soak up any beer. These "sandboys" were paid for their efforts in beer.
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Friday 05 Jan 2007: Maxwell's Equations
When the Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell formulated his electromagnetic theory in 1865, he used 20 equations with 20 unknowns, instead of the "Maxwell's Equations" everybody is taught nowadays. These four differential equations are a reformulation of the original equations by the English mathematician and physicist Oliver Heaviside.
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Friday 29 Dec 2006: 12 grapes
While the Dutch will start to light over 50 million Euros worth of fireworks on New Year's Eve this year, most people in Spain will eat 12 grapes (las 12 uvas) to celebrate the New Year, one grape at each chime of the clock at midnight. It is believed that this tradition was started in 1909 by grape growers in Alicante to celebrate (or get rid of) the large harvest they had that year.
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Friday 22 Dec 2006: FFF Christmas Quiz 2006
No FFF today because of the 2006 Christmas Quiz.
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Friday 15 Dec 2006: Cost of Living Extremely Well Index
People with (a lot) more to spend than the average person will not get a good measure of the changes in their cost-of-living from the normal Consumer Price Index. They can look at the Forbes CLEWI (Cost of Living Extremely Well Index) instead. This price index includes the cost of things like a dinner at La Tour d'Argent in Paris, an Olympic-size swimming pool, a Sikorsky helicopter, a face-lift and a Patek Philippe watch. The cost of a round trip New York-London by Concorde also used to be part of this special basket of consumer goods.
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Friday 08 Dec 2006: The first country-specific domain
The first country-specific top-level internet domain was .nl for The Netherlands, which was registered on 25 April 1986 by Piet Beertema, an employee of the CWI (Centrum voor Wiskunde en Informatica) in Amsterdam. The first .nl domain name was registered a few days later on 1 May 1986: cwi.nl.
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Friday 01 Dec 2006: The Nokia tune
The nowadays most heard (or most annoying) piece of music is most likely the "Nokia tune". On early models of Nokia mobile phones this ringtone was called "Grande Valse", because it is actually based on a 19th century piece of guitar music called "Grand Vals" by the Spanish composer Francisco Tárrega.
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Friday 24 Nov 2006: Phoenix shot tower
The Phoenix Shot Tower in Baltimore was the tallest building is the United States until the completion of Trinity Church in New York in 1846. The tower was used to produce lead shot for firearms: molten lead was dropped from the top of the 66 metre tower into a water-filled basin. During the fall the lead droplets would solidify into (near) perfect spheres.
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Friday 10 Nov 2006: The Moscow Metro
The Moscow Metro carries more passengers a day than the London Underground and the New York Subway combined: over 8 million passengers on an average weekday.
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Friday 03 Nov 2006: The first message in Morse Code
The first message sent in Morse Code was a Bible verse from the Book of Numbers (Numeri in Dutch) 23:23. It was sent by Samuel Morse from the old Supreme Court chamber in Washington, DC to Baltimore, Maryland.
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Friday 27 Oct 2006: Bob's your uncle
The expression "Bob's your uncle", is thought to have originated when Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, was accused of nepotism when he appointed his nephew, Arthur Balfour, to the post of Chief Secretary for Ireland, after having already appointed the later Prime Minister to two other important posts at an earlier stage.
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Friday 20 Oct 2006: Starbucks
The chain of coffee shops Starbucks was (more or less) named after a character from the novel Moby-Dick, Starbuck. It is said that one of the founding partners suggested to name the shops Pequod, after the ship in the novel. When the other two founders rejected this idea and one proposed Starbo, the name of an old mining camp, they finally settled for Starbucks.
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Friday 13 Oct 2006: Karaoke
The Japanese word Karaoke is a combination of "kara" or "karano", meaning "empty", and "okesutora", meaning "orchestra", which means the name for this popular Japanese pastime literally translates as "empty orchestra". Karaoke in its present form is said to have been invented by Japanese artist Daisuke Inoue in the early 1970s.
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Friday 06 Oct 2006: Devil's Advocate
The Advocatus Diaboli or Devil's Advocate is the more popular term for the office of Promotor Fidei (Promotor of the Faith) in the Roman Catholic Church. It was the job of the Devil's Advocate to prepare all possible arguments against a candidate in the process of beatification or canonisation. The office was first formally mentioned in the 16th Century and was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
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Friday 29 Sep 2006: The Church of Sweden
Last year the Church of Sweden owned roughly 250 million Euros worth of shares. The largest investments were in Swedish companies like Ericsson, the clothing company H&M, AstraZeneca and Volvo. Other investments included shares in Pfizer, BP and Intel.
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Friday 22 Sep 2006: Picasso and the Mona Lisa
When Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa painting was stolen from the Louvre in August 1911, one of the suspects questioned by French police was a young Spanish painter, Pablo Picasso. It turned out later that the painting was stolen by an Italian who claimed that such a work by a famous Italian should not be kept in France.
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Friday 15 Sep 2006: Peter Pan copyright
The Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie donated the copyright for his stage play and novel "Peter Pan" to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in 1929 to provide the children's hospital with a steady source of income. Although the EU copyright will end in 2007, an amendment to the Copyright Act 1988 gave Great Ormond Street the unique right to royalties from stage performances of Peter Pan (and any adaptation of the play) forever in the UK.
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Friday 08 Sep 2006: Wilkinson Sword
Best known these days for producing razors and garden tools, the company Wilkinson Sword started as a gun and bayonet manufacturer, long before it started producing swords. After supplying the British Armed forces for around 150 years, Wilkinson Sword closed its last sword factory in Acton, West London in 2005.
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Friday 01 Sep 2006: Barbed wire
The most successful barbed wire (prikkeldraad in Dutch) was patented by the American Joseph Glidden in 1873/1874. It was an improvement on earlier less successful pointed wire products. Glidden's invention made barbed wire more effective not only because he described a method for locking the barbs in place, but also because he developed the machinery to mass-produce the wire.
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Friday 25 Aug 2006: Ice cubes
When filming summer scenes in winter, actors suck on ice cubes just before the camera rolls to cool their mouths and prevent their breath condensing in the cold air.
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Friday 18 Aug 2006: Barbie's full name
According to her (fictional) biography, the well-known doll Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts.
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Friday 11 Aug 2006: Ho Chi Minh
Before he got involved in Vietnamese politics, Ho Chi Minh trained as a pastry chef under the famous Auguste Escoffier at the Carlton Hotel in The Haymarket in London.
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Friday 04 Aug 2006: When the Ghost walks
"When the Ghost walks" is actors' jargon for pay day. The origin of this expression is not clear; according to some, the ghost was the stage manager, who walked among the cast distributing their wages in packets. Others claim that it is a reference to the Ghost from Hamlet, a play which usually brought in big audiences and hence actors could be certain to be paid.
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Friday 28 Jul 2006: The @-sign in Morse Code
In May 2004 the International Telecommunications Union in Geneva approved a new recommendation, ITU-R M.1677, which added the @-sign to International Morse Code. The sign is a combination of the two Morse letters A and C, transmitted without a pause [.--.-.]. It is said that this has been the first addition to the Morse alphabet since at least World War II.
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Friday 21 Jul 2006: The number googol
A googol in mathematics is the number 10 raised to the power 100. The term is said to have been coined in 1920 by nine-year-old Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner. 1 googol is roughly equal to 70! and its only prime factors are 2 and 5. The search engine Google's PR department has the following to say on the company's name: "Google is a play on the word googol [and] Google's use of the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense, seemingly infinite amount of information available on the web." P.S. 1 googol = 10^100 = 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000.
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Friday 14 Jul 2006: The Diesel engine
The Diesel engine is named after its inventor the Paris-born German inventor Rudolf Diesel. He originally designed his engine to run on coal dust, but soon found that it ran more efficiently on a type of fuel oil, now commonly known as diesel. A diesel engine does not have spark plugs.
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Friday 07 Jul 2006: Peanuts are not nuts
Although culinarily classified as a nut, technically a peanut is not a nut, but a member of the pea family. That's probably why people who are allergic to peanuts are not necessarily allergic to other/real nuts and vice versa. In the same botanical sense coconuts, cashew nuts and pistachio nuts are not nuts either.
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Friday 30 Jun 2006: Pêche Melba and Melba toast
The Australian opera soprano Dame Nellie Melba's name is associated with at least two "dishes": a dessert, the Pêche Melba, and Melba toast, both said to be created by the famous chef Auguste Escoffier. The dessert was specially created for her in 1892 or 1893; Melba toast was supposedly named after her when it was part of her diet some years later.
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Friday 23 Jun 2006: Q in the United States
The letter Q is the only letter of the alphabet not to appear in the name of any state of the U.S.A. The letters J and Z feature only once.
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Friday 16 Jun 2006: Swiss Army Knives
Since 1908 the Swiss government has always split its orders for Swiss Army Knives, buying 50% from Victorinox ("Genuine Swiss Army Knife") from the German-speaking part of Switzerland and 50% from Wenger ("Original Swiss Army Knife") from the French speaking part. Since April 2005 this splitting has become somewhat obsolete, when Victorinox acquired Wenger.
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Friday 09 Jun 2006: Tuesday the 13th
In Spain and the Spanish speaking world the day of bad luck is not Friday the 13th, but Tuesday the 13th (Martes y trece). There's even a saying: Martes y trece, ni te cases ni te embarques - On Tuesday 13th, don't marry or embark.
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Friday 02 Jun 2006: The longest palindromic word
The longest palindromic word in everyday use is claimed to be saippuakauppias, which is Finnish for soap vendor. An even longer one is saippuakuppinippukauppias (soap-dish batch seller), but that's probably a bit artificial.
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Friday 26 May 2006: Number of bones in the human body
On average the adult human body has 206 bones. The number can vary slightly from individual to individual, but the number 206 has been widely accepted ever since it was reported in Gray's Anatomy. At birth a baby has a lot more bones (up to 100 more according to some), as a fair number of them fuse together during growth.
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Friday 19 May 2006: The equal sign
The equal sign '=' was invented by 16th Century Welsh mathematician Robert Recorde. In his book "The Whetstone of Witte" on algebra he confesses in 1557 that he was fed up with writing "is equal to" in his equations. He chose the two lines "bicause noe .2., thynges can be moare equalle".
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Friday 12 May 2006: The first company to issue stocks
The first company to issue stocks was the Vereeningde Oostindische Compagnie (the Dutch East Indies Company), which was established on 20 March 1602. The VOC raised a capital of around 6.4 million guilders. The company was very successful for nearly 200 years thanks to several trade monopolies; it was dissolved on 17 March 1798 after going bankrupt.
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Friday 05 May 2006: Inventor of the pneumatic rubber tyre
The Scottish veterinarian and inventor John Boyd Dunlop is usually said to be the inventor of the pneumatic rubber tyre, because he patented a pneumatic bike tyre in 1888. The first person, however, to patent such a contraption was Dunlop's fellow countryman Robert William Thomson in 1845, but it was thought to be too expensive for common use at the time. The latter also patented the fountain pen (in 1849) and developed a method for electrically firing explosive charges.
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Friday 28 Apr 2006: Third nipple
About one in 18 people has an extra nipple, which can go unnoticed as it often looks like a mole. Recently, scientists identified a gene involved in breast development, which they dubbed the Scaramanga-gene, after the three-nippled-vilan in the James Bond film "The Man with the Golden Gun".
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Friday 21 Apr 2006: German kitchens
If you would rent or buy a house in Germany it is very likely there will be no kitchen fitted. It is common practice for Germans to take their own kitchen with them when they move.
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Friday 07 Apr 2006: Submarines flying the Jolly Roger
It is common practice for submarines in the Royal Navy to fly the Jolly Roger when returning to port after a successful mission, where some action has taken place. The practice originated in the early years of the 20th century as a reaction to Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson's remarks in 1901 when he said "Submarines are underhand, unfair and damned un-English. The crews of all submarines captured should be treated as pirates and hanged".
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Friday 31 Mar 2006: Growth rings in palm trees
Unlike most trees, palm trees do not produce growth rings. Most trees produces growth rings due to slight seasonal variations when they add new material to their trunk in the growth area just under the bark on the "outside". Palm trees, however, grow from the "inside".
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Friday 24 Mar 2006: Ambergris
Ambergris, a solid, fatty, flammable substance found floating in the World's oceans, has long been used in the production of perfumes and is worth up to 17 Euros-a-gramme. It originates in the abdomen of sperm whales, but the excrement (which could be crudely described as whale vomit) only attains its pleasant fragrance after having floated around for several years.
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Friday 17 Mar 2006: Haute Cuisine
The renowned 80-year-old French chef Paul Bocuse, deemed "chef of the century" by Gault Millau, has held 3 Michelin stars since 1965. In his recently published biography he revealed that he also has been living with 3 women and maintaining 3 households for many years.
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Friday 03 Mar 2006: Hurricanes
In 1953 the U.S. National Weather Service started to give names to tropical storms or hurricanes. There are six alphabetical lists, which are used in rotation, so the names used last year will be used again in 2011. When a particlar hurricane has caused a lot of damage and grief, its name is taken off the list and replaced with a new one. The original lists only contained women's names, but in 1979 - allegedly after lots of protests by feminists - the lists were updated to include men's names as well. Nowadays, the lists are maintained by the World Meteorological Organisation in Geneva.
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Friday 24 Feb 2006: Curling
Nearly all granite for the stones used in the Olympic sport of curling originates from the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde. Although the quarry on the island has been officially closed, the world's leading curling stone manufacturer, Kays of Scotland, have "gathered" 1500 tons of the special granite a few years ago to be able to meet the demand for future Winter Olympics.
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Friday 17 Feb 2006: Cattle
Cattle are capable of producing 500 litres of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, every day mostly through belching. Currently, a field trial is underway in Scotland with animal food additives to try to reduce the methane produced by the digestive process in cattle.
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Friday 10 Feb 2006: Pigeon shooting
Live pigeon shooting has only once been an Olympic sport, during the 1900 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. The top four competitors shot 77 birds between them during the final; they all received a silver medal. All other competitors having killed at least three birds during the match, received a bronze silver-plated medal.
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Friday 03 Feb 2006: City of London
The City of London, which houses London's financial district, has its own Police force, the City of London Police. The "square mile" in the heart of the UK's capital is watched over by about 900 police officers. The rest of Greater London is policed by over 30,000 police officers of the Metropolitan Police.
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Friday 27 Jan 2006: Belladonna
The plant Belladonna (literally 'beautiful lady', also known as Deadly Nightshade in English and Wolfskers in Dutch), is one of the most poisonous plants of the Western hemisphere. It derives its name from the Renaissance, when women used eye drops of an extract of belladonna to dilate their pupils, which was (and still is) supposed to be found appealing. Nowadays, ophthalmologists continue to use a diluted belladonna solution to dilate pupils to facilitate eye examinations.
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Friday 20 Jan 2006: Scoville Scale
The spiciness of chilli peppers, which is directly related to the content of a chemical called capsaicin, is expressed on the Scoville Scale. It is named after Wilbur Scoville, who developed a test in 1912. In the test he asked a panel of tasters to state when an increasingly dilute solution of the pepper no longer burned the mouth. The scale runs from 0 for paprika through around 350,000 for the hottest natural pepper and up to around 16,000,000 for pure capsaicin. Pepper sprays, used by the police to deter individuals, rate up to 5,300,000 on this scale.
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Friday 13 Jan 2006: Friday 13th
There is no clear origin for why Friday the 13th is considered unlucky. One of the first connections of the number 13 with bad luck comes from Norse mythology. When 12 gods attended a feast in Valhalla, the mischief-maker Loki party-crashed as the 13th guest and arranged that the blind god Höðr inadvertently killed Baldur, the god of joy and innocence, with a projectile made out of mistletoe. In Scandinavia it has long been considered bad luck to have 13 people at a dinner party. This belief has been strengthened in the Christian world by another dinner party ending rather badly, the Last Supper.
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Friday 06 Jan 2006: Italian red underwear
Many Italians give each other red underwear as a present right before New Year's Eve. It is supposed to bring good luck when one is wearing red underclothing during New Year's Eve celebrations, especially when they are a gift from a lover. According to the custom, the items of undergarment need to be new and must be discarded on New Year's Day.
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Friday 30 Dec 2005: Dropless January
After falling asleep at the end of the New Year's Eve celebrations, a sizable portion of the Finnish population will start their annual "tipaton tammikuu" (literally "dropless January"): during January they will abstain from alcohol. This dry month ends on the 1st of February at 00.00 local time; pubs in Finland usually extend their opening hours that night.
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Friday 16 Dec 2005: Cheese slicer
Contrary to popular belief, the cheese slicer (kaasschaaf in Dutch) was not invented by a frugal Dutchman, but by the Norwegian carpenter Thor Bjørklund, who submitted a patent request for it on the 27th of February 1925. To commemorate the 80th anniversary of this kitchen utensil, the Norwegian company founded by Mr Bjørklund, Thor Bjørklund & Sønner AS, added a replica of the original slicer to their product line in February 2005
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Friday 09 Dec 2005: New Scotland Yard
The headquarters of the London Metropolitan Police, New Scotland Yard, were named after the colloquial name of the earlier headquarters: Scotland Yard. The latter's name was derived from the location of the building in Whitehall in the centre of London: the rear entrance, which was used by the public, was located in a street called Great Scotland Yard. The well-known revolving name sign in front of New Scotland Yard is reported to perform over 14,000 revolutions every day.
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Friday 18 Nov 2005: UK Prime Minister
The leader of a government in the United Kingdom has only been called Prime Minister since 1905. Before then, the person in charge could hold one of a number of offices, but usually that of First Lord of the Treasury. Even today, The Right Honourable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair officially holds the office First Lord of the Treasury.
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Friday 04 Nov 2005: Instant coffee
The water-soluble powder used to prepare a caffeine-containing beverage some people dare to call coffee, was first presented to the general public by a Japanese chemist, Sartori Kato, in the USA in 1901. "Instant coffee" was commercially produced for the first time in 1938 by the Swiss firm Nestlé as Nescafé, after having been asked by the Brazilian government to develop a coffee that was soluble in hot water and retained its flavour. At the time, Brazil had a huge coffee surplus and tried to develop new markets for the crop. Nescafé only really gained popularity when it became the standard beverage of the United States armed forces during World War II, even forcing the US War Department to buy the entire production of its US plant, reserving it for military use only.
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Friday 28 Oct 2005: Expensive coffee beans
Arguably the most expensive coffee beans are those used to brew a kopi luak. A luak is civet-like animal that lives in Indonesia and part of its diet are coffee berries that are exactly ripe. After the coffee berries (with beans in it) have passed the luaks digestive system, the beans are gathered by hand from the ground on Indonesian coffee plantations and lightly roasted.
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Friday 21 Oct 2005: Hangover
The effects of a hangover are partly caused by the build-up of acetaldehyde, a product of the breakdown of alcohol by the liver, which is usually further broken down to acetic acid. Some people, especially those of East Asian origin, cannot (efficiently) break down this acetaldehyde, and therefore quickly suffer from hangover-like effects after consuming alcohol. A drug called disulfiram reproduces this effect and it is used a treatment for alcoholics, giving them an immediate "hangover", without the "pleasures" of alcohol beforehand.
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Friday 14 Oct 2005: Coffea Arabica
The plants that were used to start most of the early coffee plantations in South America originated from a few plants of the Coffea Arabica species that had been grown in the Hortus Botanicus(Botanical Garden) of Amsterdam and that had been given as a present to King Louis XIV of France in 1714. The French cultivated these plants and took them to their colonies in Middle and South America, from where they were subsequently spread all over the continent.
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Friday 07 Oct 2005: Nobel prize
Alfred Nobel, shocked by the fact that his invention, dynamite, caused so much "mischief", stipulated in his will that his estate should be used to award prizes in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. The first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901. Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously. The "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel", which was first awarded in 1969, is sometimes erroneously referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics, because it is not mentioned in Alfred Nobel's will, and therefore not paid from his estate.
P.S. Judgment on whether the juxtaposition of the words "Economic" and "Sciences" is correct is left to our faithful readers...
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Friday 30 Sep 2005: Index Librorum Prohibitorum
The Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the list of books banned by the Roman Catholic church, was last updated in 1948 and then contained about 4000 publications. Amongst the works prohibited are those by Erasmus, Spinoza, Voltaire, Pascal, Descartes, Kant, Swift, Defoe and many more, including a few Nobel Prize winners, whose complete works were banned. Strangely enough the book written by the German author A. Hitler, which is still not allowed to be sold in The Netherlands, never made it onto the list. The Index was abolished in 1966.
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Friday 23 Sep 2005: Jeep
During the allied occupation of Austria from 1945-1955, control over Vienna was divided among the occupying allies, much like in Berlin. Patrols in the streets of Vienna usually consisted of four soldiers: one of each of the allied nations. In the early years, they used a Jeep to drive around and even after they had started using other modes of transportation, these patrols were still known as "Die Vier im Jeep".
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Friday 16 Sep 2005: Hugo Boss
A man named Hugo Boss established a clothing company in Germany in the 1920s. After going bankrupt, he joined the Nazi party and business flourished when he became a supplier of uniforms to the SA and the SS. Hugo Boss died in 1948, but the company survived and eventually started making suits in the 1950s.
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Friday 09 Sep 2005: Brisbane
The current capital of the Australian state of Queensland, Brisbane, started out as a penal settlement. Those who re-offended while serving their original sentence (being banished to Australia) were sent there, and for a number of years private (i.e. voluntary) settlement was forbidden.
P.S. What do our faithful readers predict: will anybody be interested in an odd fact about the remains of some pieces of burnt wooden sports' equipment next Friday, or will it prove be too painful by then?
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Friday 02 Sep 2005: Instrument of Surrender
On 2 September 1945 the Canadian representative Colonel L. Moore Cosgrave signed Japan's copy of the "Instrument of Surrender" document on the line intended for the representative coming after him, the French General Leclerc. All subsequent signatures were also erroneously placed below the printed name, instead of above it. The printed names on that copy were corrected by hand at the end of the ceremony. The copy for the Allies was signed correctly.
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Friday 26 Aug 2005: Claret
The British name for a red Bordeaux wine, claret, was derived from the French word 'clairet', when British merchants started to import wine from Bordeaux in the 18th Century. Back in those days, red wine was different from today's red wines, almost resembling a rosé. Today, one can still find a rosé-like Appellation Clairet from the Bordeaux region, not to be confused with one of the Bordeaux crus you read about some weeks ago...
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Friday 19 Aug 2005: The word boycott
The word boycott is derived from Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott who was a British land agent on an Irish estate. When in 1880 Boycott tried to undermine the campaign of the Irish Land League for better working and living conditions for tenants on the estate, he was not able to hire any labourers to harvest his crops and he became a social outcast in the local community. Boycott left Ireland soon after this.
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Friday 12 Aug 2005: Caesar Salad
The Caesar Salad is not named after the Roman emperors, but after its inventor, the American chef of Italian descent Caesar Cardini. In 1924 Mr Cardini invented the salad while working in Tijuana, Mexico, avoiding the restrictions of the prohibition of alcohol in his home town of San Diego.
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Friday 05 Aug 2005: Dutch waterboards
The Dutch waterboards ('waterschappen' or 'hoogheemraadschappen') are most likely the oldest surviving form of democracy. The first of these boards were established in the Low Countries around 1200 to coordinate the building and maintenance of dykes, polders and waterways in a particular area. To the present day, each board is elected by the inhabitants of the area it caters for.
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Friday 29 Jul 2005: Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
The German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, who was born in Danzig (today Gdańsk), spent most of his working life in Amsterdam. In the Dutch capital he lectured in chemistry and developed accurate thermometers. The temperature scale he proposed and which bears his name quickly enjoyed a widespread popularity in the Netherlands and the English speaking nations. Nowadays, all but a few have switched to using the Celsius scale. Fahrenheit died in Den Haag in 1736, where he was buried in the Kloosterkerk.
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Friday 22 Jul 2005: Official Bordeaux Wine Classification
This year sees the 150th anniversary of the Official Bordeaux Wine Classification. In 1855 Emperor Napoleon III requested a classification system to show off France's best wines to the visitors of that year's World's Fair in Paris. The classification ranks 60 red wines from the Médoc and one from the Graves (Château Haut-Brion) from Premier Cru down to Cinquième Cru. It also ranks 27 sweet white wines from the Sauternes and Barsac regions from Grand Premier Cru down to Deuxième Cru. Since then, only one change has ever been made to the list, when in 1973 Château Mouton Rothschild was elevated from Deuxième Cru to Premier Cru.
P.S. Thanks to Eric for not letting the faithful FFFF followers feel fully fact-deprived during my holidays. I am still wondering though, whether it heralds the onset of some strong FFF competition...
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Friday 08 Jul 2005: Herring
By Eric Arends: As Frederik is enjoying his holiday this Friday I am standing in to provide a Fishy Fact not to disappoint to all FFF followers. The source of this fact is our local fish place where we often get our lunch from. The fact will explain why we (the Dutch) eat our raw herring with fresh onions.
The herring we eat in the Netherlands is caught in the North Sea around June time. The rest of the year there isn't any to catch. That is why the so-called Nieuwe Haring is always introduced on 1st June. All herring is then caught over a period of about two months and packed away in stacks of ice in the freezer. In December one can still eat herring, but it comes from the freezer and can therefore no longer be called Nieuw, it's just herring.
In fact - as a side fact - all haring comes from the freezer, unless it's called Groene Haring, which hasn't seen a freezer and is therefore illegal. Before the invention of the freezer people stored the herring in brine (pekel). By the time people where eating the herring in say February, it had been covered in brine for eight months. This had affected the taste quite substantially - it stank. To disguise the bad taste people used onions and hence a tradition was born.
Today it is not necessary to add onions as the taste of the herring is fine whole year round, but it's just what we do.
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Friday 01 Jul 2005: Treaty of Tordesillas
With the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed on 7 June 1494, Portugal and Spain tried to end their dispute over the discovered lands in the New World. The treaty divided the world outside Europe to be the exclusive domain of the two countries along a North-South meridian 370 leagues West of the Cape Verde Islands. The lands to the East would belong to Portugal and the lands to the West to Spain. Unfortunately for the Portugese, at the time of the treaty, very little of the newly divided area had actually been seen, leaving them less than half of present-day Brazil.
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Friday 24 Jun 2005: Apostle Peter
The first pope, the apostle Peter (Petrus in Dutch and Latin), had a mother-in-law, according to the Bible. Even though this leads to the conclusion that he was married, his wife is never mentioned.
P.S. Celibacy is not hereditary.
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Friday 17 Jun 2005: The word drag
Rumour has it that the origin of the term drag, when used to denote dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex, lies in a stage direction from the Elizabethan period: DRessed As a Girl. During this age, female parts in a play were played by men and boys. Acronyms were, however, unknown at this period. It is more likely that the unfamiliar sensation to men of long skirts dragging on the ground suggested the name.
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Friday 10 Jun 2005: Banana growing
The world's most northerly banana growing country is Iceland. The greenhouses at Hveragerði, in which this tropical fruit is produced, are heated by the country's abundant supply of geothermal energy. Some even claim that Iceland is Europe's biggest banana grower.
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Friday 03 Jun 2005: Croissant
The croissant is beleived to have been invented in Vienna in 1683, to celebrate the end of the siege of the city by the Ottoman army. The bakers shaped the pasty after the Turkish symbol, a crescent. Queen Marie-Antoinette of France is said to have introduced the croissant in France, longing for this delicacy from her native country.
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Friday 27 May 2005: Milk
The soothing and calming effect that helps you get to sleep after drinking a glass of (hot) milk is suspected to be caused by the breakdown products of the peptides in milk. One of those breakdown products is beta-casomorfine-5, which binds to opioid (i.e. opium and opium-like) receptors in the central nervous system, intestins and the brain.
P.S. I guess this fact could be the inspiration for some great puns on the Dutch, milk and narcotics...
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Friday 20 May 2005: Second Anglo-Dutch War
The last successful invasion in Britain was not in 1066, but in 1667, during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. In that year the Dutch fleet, commanded by admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, sailed up the River Medway to Chatham and destroyed a large part of the English fleet and captured the English flagship. Surprisingly, this heroic episode in naval history is almost completely unknown to present-day inhabitants of the British Isles and its former Colonies....
A replica of De Ruyter's flagship the 'Zeven Provinciën' is currently being built near Lelystad in the Netherlands (http://www.bataviawerf.nl/en/7provincien.html).
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Friday 13 May 2005: Friday 13th
By Steve Baker: Can I prempt today's fact as someone just came into the office to say why Friday 13th is bad luck? Her version (in the De Vinci Code) is that a Pope odered the murder of the knights Templar and that a large amount of knights were killed on Friday 13th. I wait in anticipation to see if this is correct...
PS - an interesting definition:
triskaidekaphobia \tris-ky-dek-uh-FOH-bee-uh\, noun: a morbid fear of the number 13 or the date Friday the 13th --triskaidekaphobic, adjective and noun; triskaidekaphobe, noun
Triskaidekaphobia is a fairly new word (first found in print in 1911) formed from Greek treiskaideka, triskaideka, thirteen (treis, three + kai, and + deka, ten) + phobos, fear. There are many theories about the origin of triskaidekaphobia. In medieval Christian countries the number 13 came to be considered unlucky because there were 13 persons at the Last Supper of Christ. Fridays are also unlucky, because the Crucifixion was on a Friday. Hence a Friday falling on the thirteenth day would be regarded as especially unlucky.
Some famous triskaidekaphobes: Napoleon, Herbert Hoover, Mark Twain, Richard Wagner, Franklin Roosevelt
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Friday 06 May 2005: The word posh
Not wanting to present our trivia-hungry readers with a futile, fact-free Friday on the day the Den Haag Branch is enjoying a Bank Holiday, I am keeping a promise made some time ago...
The word posh, as faithful readers now know, does not come from 'Port Out, Starboard Home', but from London street slang for money. The Romany word 'posh', meaning half, was probably first applied to a halfpenny, then to any small sum of money, and then to money in general.
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Friday 29 Apr 2005: Surnames
Surnames have not always been / are not always in use in all modern countries. Although already used for a long time by some, surnames were made mandatory in 1811 in the Netherlands when the occupying French authorities introduced a central records office. Turkey introduced surnames by law in 1934 (That is the year Mustafa Kemal chose his surname Atatürk.). Iceland (still) does not use family names; surnames are in the form "son-of" or "daughter-of" e.g. Magnús Magnússon or Anna Magnúsdóttir.
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Friday 22 Apr 2005: Mona Lisa
During the time he spent at the French court, Leonardo da Vinci sold his portrait of Mona Lisa del Gioconda to the French king François I, who added it to his collection. Over the years, it was moved to different royal palaces at Fontainebleau and Versailles, until it found a permanent place in the Louvre in Paris, a royal palace turned into a museum after the French Revolution, where the famous painting can still be seen today. The longest period it was absent from the Louvre since then was during the time it hung on Napoleon I's bedroom wall for several years.
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Friday 15 Apr 2005: Pope John XX
Although the last pope named John (Johannes in Dutch, Iohannes in Latin) was John XXIII, there has never been a Pope John XX. This is most likely due to historians being confused by a number of antipopes in the early Middle Ages. Some regard the absence of a Pope John XX as evidence for the existence of a female "Pope Joan" in the 9th Century. Supposedly, since her time, any candidate for the pope undergoes an intimate examination to ensure he is not a woman (or eunuch) in disguise. This would involve sitting on a chair which has a hole in the seat. On a "positive" result, the examining cardinal would declare "testiculos habet" and the all others would reply "Deo Gratias".
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Friday 08 Apr 2005: Blue sticking plasters
People preparing food in restaurant kitchens are obliged to use blue sticking plasters, in stead of the normal beige-ish ones. Because hardly any food is blue, any plaster that has been "misplaced", is easily spotted. For people working in the food-processing industry there are special "detectable" blue sticking plasters, which have a metal strip incorporated in them, so they can be detected by the metal detectors that are used in most production lines to prevent any foreign objects being shipped to consumers.
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Friday 01 Apr 2005: April Fool's Day
Today is the first day of April, also known as April Fool's Day, a day for practical jokes. The origin of this folklore could be one or more of the following:
1. It started as a commemoration of the Spanish occupying governor Alva losing Den Briel to the Dutch revolutionaries on 1 April 1572.
2. It started as a mocking of people still celebrating the start of the New Year after those festivities had moved to the first of January (details of which are known to our faithful readers...)
3. The French King Henri IV was invited by a young lady to her castle on the first of April. When he arrived, he was greeted by his entire court, led by his wife Maria de Medici, who welcomed him to the "Fool's Ball".
4. The first of April was the day when Lucifer was banished from heaven.
5. ?
Answers on a postcard to the address below. Winners will be announced at the festive opening of Tessella's Geneva branch.
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Friday 18 Mar 2005: Squash
Squash is supposed to have originated at Harrow. Around 1850, it is said, boys waiting for their turn to play racquets, knocked a ball about in a confined space adjoining the racquets court. The area was so small that it was necessary to use a softer and slower ball --one that could be squashed-- thus giving the game its name. The name of the racket game is first recorded in 1886.
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Friday 11 Mar 2005: The word posh
The best known and most widely believed story is that the origin of the word 'posh' comes from the phrase 'Port Out, Starboard Home'. Supposedly, the best cabins on the P&O boats to and from India were those sheltered from the sun on the hottest part of the journey. Unfortunately, P&O denies any such term was stamped on tickets or used otherwise. For a more probable origin, you will have to wait until another Friday.
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Friday 04 Mar 2005: Soccer
In the USA, the word "soccer" is used to denote the game that is known in the rest of the world as football (voetbal in Dutch, football in French, fútbol in Spanish, Fußball in German). Strangely enough, the governing body of the sport in the USA did not have the word "soccer" in its name until 1945, when it changed its name from US Football Association to US Soccer Football Association. It did not drop the word football from its name until 1974, when it became the US Soccer Federation.
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Friday 25 Feb 2005: Whisky
Nowadays, the strength of whisky is measured as a percentage Alcohol By Volume (ABV, has to be at least 40% for whisky). Before adopting this standard in 1980, strength was measured in Britain as 'proof'. If gunpowder and alcohol were mixed and the spirit was weaker than 100 proof strength (57% ABV), there was just a damp fizzle. If there was enough alcohol in the whisky, then the mixture would ignite with a flash, providing the 'proof' of stronger alcohol. Understandably, the gunpowder test was soon replaced by a test which determined the density of the liquid.
P.S. The proof strength definition in the USA is different and a bit more logical: alcohol fraction multiplied by 200, so 50% ABV = 87.5 UK Proof = 100 US Proof
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Friday 18 Feb 2005: Cayman Islands
The British Crown Colony of the Cayman Islands has around 43000 inhabitants, but also a little over 40000 companies registered in their little part of the world. The reason for this latter number being a bit high is (also according to the Caymanian Government) the absence of any direct taxes, except stamp duty on the sale of real estate and a fee on mortgages.
Although this week's fact is probably already quite well known in general terms, you can know be assured that this knowledge is actually supported by "official" numbers...
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Friday 11 Feb 2005: Das Dritte Reich
When Adolf's bunch introduced the term "Das Dritte Reich" ("The third empire", but you all knew that, I'm sure), the other two empires they were thinking of were:
1. Das Heilige Römische Reich Deutscher Nation ("Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation") (mid 10th century - 1806)
2. The German Empire under the emperors named Wilhelm, with chancellor Otto von Bismarck playing a major role in its founding (1871-1918)
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Friday 04 Feb 2005: The carat
The name unit of weight for gemstones, the carat, is derived from the Greek word "keration" the name for seeds of the Carob tree (Latin: Ceratonia Siliqua, Dutch: Johannesbroodboom). When dried, these seeds turn black and very hard. Ancient merchants discovered the seeds were surprisingly uniform in weight and used them for weighing pearls, diamonds and other precious stones. In 1907 the carat weight unit was defined as 200 milligrammes.
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Friday 28 Jan 2005: Snow
Contrary to popular belief, Eskimos (or native inhabitants of the Arctic regions if you want to be PC) do not have hundreds or thousands - depending on the Urban Legend one relies on - of words for snow. Depending on the classification and specific language, the number lies somewhere between 2 and 24. For comparison, the OED lists around 31 entries for snow, but maybe the FFF subscribers from across the Atlantic can tell us more about that...
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Friday 21 Jan 2005: Tuvalu
The Pacific country of Tuvalu, consisting of a number of coral atolls, anually receives about $4 million from the sales of .tv internet domain names, which amounts to about 25% of its GDP. Other chief export products of the fourth smallest country in the world include stamps, fish products, and adult chat lines.
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Friday 14 Jan 2005: LEGO
A Danish toy company adopted the name LEGO in 1934. The name is derived from the Danish phrase "Leg godt", which means "play well". The word "lego" in Latin means "I gather", "I choose", or "I read". The manufactures of the well-known plastic bricks also claim on their website that it means "I put together", but that is their imagination (or PR-department) talking rather than the Ancient Romans.
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Friday 07 Jan 2005: Week numbering
According to the ISO 8601 standard in use in most counties of the world, the first week of the year (week number 01) is defined as being the week which contains the first Thursday of the Calendar year. So in the ISO world, week 01 of 2005 starts on the 3rd of January 2005.
The USA however, use a definition of their own. Across the Atlantic, the first week of the year is the week containing the 1st of January. So in the US, week 01 of 2005 starts on the 27th of December 2004. Apparently, this is the source of many headaches in multinationals....
P.S. The same ISO standard also defines a date notation as DD-MM-YYYY (or YYYYMMDD), so 06-05-2005 will always be interpreted as the 6th of May and not the 5th of June as some people in the non-ISO world do....
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Friday 31 Dec 2004: New Year's days
Only since 1752, the New Year in England starts on the first of January, before that, the official first day of the year was the 25th of March. This change was instigated by the adoption of the Calender Act of 1751, which introduced the Gregorian Calender to the "British Dominions" (including the 13 American Colonies). Scotland had already changed to 1 January in 1600. In the Netherlands, the (occupying) Spanish governor Requesens ordered that change in 1575.
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Friday 24 Dec 2004: Blood analysis after marathon
Researches have shown that the blood analysis of people (especially middle-aged men) just having completed a marathon closely resembles that of people who are about to suffer a hart attack. So you might want to take this into consideration when deciding to go for a run to burn off al those Festive calories...
P.S. For all New Englanders out there: the research was conducted on runners of the Boston Marathon.
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Friday 17 Dec 2004: Golf balls on the moon
The current total number of golf balls on the surface of the moon is 2. They were left there by Alan Shepard on his Apollo 14 flight. He tested the moon as a driving range and then probably realised he should have hired a caddy.
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Friday 03 Dec 2004: Half-mast
The custom of flying a flag half-mast as a sign of mourning has its origin from the idea that above the lowered flag one has the invisible flag of death. So rather than having the flag half-way down, one should think of having it at a height, such that there is room for an invisible flag of the same size. Another custom is to use a black ribbon next to the flag as a sign of mourning, but then the flag is raised to the top.
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Friday 26 Nov 2004: Caffeine
The caffeine extracted from coffee in the process of producing decaffinated coffee is often used as an ingredient in the production of certain soft drinks (e.g. Coke).
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Friday 19 Nov 2004: Russian words
Many words in Russian that have to do with shipping and sailing have been copied from Dutch. This is because Tsar Peter the Great stayed in the Netherlands for some months to learn how to bulid ships (and a navy) from one of the naval superpowers in that time. He even spent time as an apprentice on a shipyard in Zaandam (north of Amsterdam). Some examples (taken from http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russisch):
  • sluis - шлюз
  • snoer - шнур
  • kabeltouw - кабельтов
  • kiel - киль
  • ruim - трюм
  • kajuit - каюта
  • noord - норд
  • zuid - зюйд
  • oost - ост
  • west - вест
  • schipper - шкипер
  • vlaggestok - флагшток
  • bootsman - боцман
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Friday 05 Nov 2004: Flights from Geneva
There are both domestic and international flights from Geneva to Paris.
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Friday 29 Oct 2004: The First FFF
Den Haag having two major railway stations (Centraal Station and Station Hollands Spoor) in stead of one, is a remnant of the days when the Netherlands used to have multiple railway companies, each with their own station. The Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorwegmaatschappij used to operate from Station Hollands Spoor and the Staatsspoorwegen used to operate from Station Staatsspoor, now called Centraal Station. In 1938 the separate companies amalgamated into the Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
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