In 1958 Mao Zedong declared war on sparrows. Although he won that battle, China lost the war.
In 1990 a British Airways plane heading to Spain had a windscreen malfunction mid-flight. The captain was sucked out of the gap, but a flight attendant caught his belt and the plane landed safely with the captain stuck halfway outside.
George Forster was executed for murder in 1803. Later that same day his corpse was dancing, thanks to Luigi Galvani’s nephew.
Vietnam is the second-largest producer of coffee in the world because of a crisis in 1970s East Germany.
In the 9th century CE, a town in what is now Nigeria produced the most masterful bronze artefacts in the world.
For more than 1700 years, mithridate and theriac were Europe’s ultimate medicines. A concoction of up to sixty-four ingredients – including cinnamon, turpentine, and poppy – they were supposed to neutralise any poison or plague.
Emerson Romero was a deaf Cuban-American silent film star who lost his job when sound came to cinema – so he invented closed captioning.
When a samurai received a new katana, the sharpness of the sword could be tested by attacking a random civilian or (after that was banned) by slicing a criminal or corpse.
António de Oliveira Salazar served as prime minister and dictator of Portugal for 36 years. Following a head injury he was removed from office, but no-one told him and he died two years later still believing himself in charge.
The Parents Music Resource Center was formed to fight obscenity in popular music. The parental warning labels were their doing. Musician and notorious non-conformist Frank Zappa fought back the only way he could: with music.
The ruler of Medieval Venice was chosen by an exceptionally complex ten-step process of alternating random lots and elections.
In 1922 violinist Lev Tseitlin founded an orchestra according to Soviet principles of collective responsibility: it had no conductor.
Five US presidential elections (so far) have elected presidents who received fewer votes than one of their opponents.
The body of famed astronomer Tycho Brahe was dug up twice (in 1901 and 2010) to find out what killed him. The conclusion: he died of excessive politeness.
Winston Churchill invented an adult romper suit and then wore it everywhere during World War II.