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.
Comic books have their own structure, conventions, and language. In a seminal 1988 essay, two cartoonists broke down elements of this syntax using a single Nancy comic strip.
Flying airplanes gather ice. It’s cold up there. That ice can get into the machinery and cause significant danger. So how do you keep the ice away? The same way we do: with rubber boots.
Agatha Christie is perhaps the most famous mystery and crime writer of the 20th century. In 1923 she started a real-life mystery of her own that has persisted to this day: she disappeared.
A magic square is a grid of numbers in which any row, column, or diagonal adds up to the same total. They look complex, but it’s actually easy to design your own using the Siamese method.
A hundred years ago the idea that the continents could move was controversial. Among the “fixists” were some of the luminaries of geology and geophysics in the early 20th century. But history has proven them very, very wrong.
Everyone loves to give someone’s shins a good kick (no? just me then?) but leave it to the English to make it into a sport.
We think of rocket launchers as a modern invention, but the Koreans were using them four hundred years ago. The hwacha could fire two hundred rockets at once, blowing up enemies more than a hundred metres away.
Ever thought of the perfect comeback, but thought of it way too late? Then you’ve got a case of staircase wit.
The Power of Women is a topos (“topic”) of medieval and Renaissance Western art that inverted traditional gender roles. While most male painters saw this as comedy, prominent Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi turned it on its head and used her art to portray “courageous, rebellious, and powerful” women.
In 1492, the Columbus expedition sighted and visited land. We’re still not sure which island in the Caribbean he landed on, but did he see a UFO the night before?
Elias Howe Jr. patented the modern sewing machine in 1846. Its innovative “lockstitch” mechanism was revolutionary. And, apparently, it came to Howe in a dream.