Venice, 15th century. It’s a gorgeous city, but has a tendency to get a bit waterlogged, so you wear clogs to keep your clothes out of the mud. Next thing you know, you’re half a metre off the ground.
Lots of spiders, snakes, and fish are venomous. This is not news to most people. Many people know that the platypus has venomous spurs… but it turns out that the platypus is not the only mammal with venom.
The first criminal fingerprint bureau was set up in Argentina in 1892 by police chief Juan Vucetich. That year, an officer used Vucetich’s techniques to catch the first criminal to be found guilty because of fingerprint evidence.
On August 5th, 1944, more than a thousand Japanese prisoners of war broke out of the Cowra POW camp in eastern Australia. It was the biggest prison break of World War II.
In 1970, an audience of doctors, graduate students, and other professionals listened to a talk by Dr. Myron Fox. They rated the talk and the teacher very highly… but it was in fact complete gibberish.
Geoffrey Chaucer is best known as the author of The Canterbury Tales, one of the most important works of early English literature. I guess that didn’t pay the bills, because he also wrote one of the first English technical manuals.
In most editions of the Christian Bible, Genesis comes first. But it was almost certainly not the first book of the Bible to be completed.
The HMS Trident was a British submarine. Over the course of World War II it sunk several German ships while patrolling the North Sea. And one of its crew members was a reindeer.
Everyone knows the awards for movies (Oscars), television (Emmies), music (Grammies), and theatre (Tonies). They’re all American awards. The premiere award for board games, however, comes from Germany.
In 1971, Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau apparently swore under his breath during a parliamentary session. He later referred to it as “fuddle duddle” – and so a minor scandal and a major pop culture phrase were born.
Around 1311 CE, the mansa (sultan) of the Mali Empire sent hundreds of ships to find the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. They were lost at sea, so on the next expedition he sailed into the Atlantic himself. He was never seen again.
Thomas Midgley Jr. was responsible for two of the most environmentally damaging inventions of the 20th century. An environmental historian said he “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.”
The Droste effect describes art that contains itself. The name comes from a brand of Dutch cocoa – the label contained a picture of the tin and the label (which contained a picture of the tin) – but the effect dates back much further.
In Chinese ancestor worship, it is traditional to burn offerings that look like bank notes and other goods in order to give the deceased spending money and wealth in the afterlife.
In one of my all-time favourite hoaxes, in 1957 the BBC managed to convince the British public that spaghetti grows on trees.
John Gayer, a 17th century Lord Mayor of London, had a close encounter with a lion while working in Syria. He prayed, the lion left, and he gratefully endowed a sermon to be given every year thereafter.