In March 1940 two physicists wrote a top secret memo describing, for the first time, just how to make an atom bomb.
The origins of the modern piggy bank are lost to history, but the oldest extant piggy bank comes from 12th century CE Java.
What would a country look like without banks? In 1970, all the banks in Ireland closed for half a year. In response, the Irish people set up their own exchange systems centred on (of course) pubs.
In November 1974, Richard John Bingham (the Earl of Lucan) and John Stonehouse (a British MP) both disappeared after committing serious crimes. One was soon found, but only because he was mistaken for the other.
In 1986 the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole a Picasso from a Melbourne art gallery; they threatened to destroy the painting if the government did not create an art prize called the Picasso Ransom. The culprits were never found.
In 1947, the British navy set off one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history in an attempt to destroy German military fortifications on Heligoland.
In 2008, a whole beach in northwestern Jamaica was reported stolen: five hundred truckloads of sand went missing and were never recovered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the 18th century, a new pirate crew would come together to elect a captain and quartermaster, and agree on a shared code of conduct: what we today call the pirate code.
Around 1730 a German secret society recorded their initiation rituals in an encrypted manuscript. In 2011, that cipher was finally decoded.
Donald Duck’s distinctive speaking style is a type of alaryngeal speech – it is made without using your voice box.