According to the Platform Sutra, the fifth patriarch of Chan Buddhism held a poetry contest to determine his successor. But it became a contest for the soul of Chan Buddhism itself.
A pair of Sicherman dice have numbers ranging from 1 to 8 on their faces, but roll two of them together and they produce the same totals as a pair of normal dice.
Pobeda Ice Island was first discovered in 1840. It was seen again in the 1910s, but was gone by the late 1920s. By the 1960s it was back, only to disappear again in the 1970s.
On a sidewalk in New York City is a triangle mosaic about 70cm wide. It is perhaps the smallest parcel of private land in the city, and it exists entirely because of spite.
On June 22, 1948, eight hundred and two African-Caribbean migrants arrived in Britain on the HMT Empire Windrush. Amongst this historic first wave of “reverse colonization” were the soon-to-be-famous calypsonian singer Lord Kitchener.
Seven and a half years of the Talmud; Saint Nick and the Christmas cannibals; the reason Buddha would not play Jenga; and the church ladder in Jerusalem that has stayed in the same place since 1728.
The price of twelve days of Christmas; the Christmas cannibalism song; the birth of the slow TV Yule log; and the mistranslation that led to some of the world’s most famous Christmas carols.
Going from house to house singing Christmas carols is a long-held tradition. But what if the wassailers turn up with a goat or a horse’s head? And what if they take you with them?
The Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas has a deceptive title. The real Wenceslas’ reputation for goodness was mainly posthumous, as was his rank and title. Also he may have been murdered by his brother after a drunken fight.
One variety of bacteria has only ever been isolated from the wreck of the RMS Titanic; another type of bacteria has only ever been found inside clean rooms used to assemble spacecraft.
From 1966 until 2016, English artist Tom Phillips created a new story out of the Victorian novel A Human Document; he did not add any words, but selectively drew or painted over each of its pages to surface something entirely new.
John Nevil Maskelyne was a turn of the century stage magician who created the first levitation trick, built an automaton that could play whist, revealed the secrets of card sharks, and invented the pay toilet.
The pelican in her piety; the oldest individual animal on the planet; the insects with natural gears; and the lizards who play evolutionary rock-paper-scissors.
The beautiful slang of a remarkable hepcat-orooni; Alice Coltrane’s jazz harp; jazz in 19/4 (!) time; and the fascist jazz of World War II.
Andrea Bocelli’s Teatro del Silenzio only hosts one concert a year; every other day, the open-air theatre is silent.
If you have a piece of striped paper and some sticks, you can estimate the value of pi through a simple experiment.