Fighting Storms With Fire, and 14 Other Facts We Learned This Week
Ever had someone ask you for your “information”? They’re probably asking for your phone number and email address, but we think there’s a chance they’re really asking you to share with them any interesting facts you happen to know. If so, dazzle them with the following…
1. The World Cup was stolen, then recovered by a dog named Pickles.
Before the 1966 World Cup, a British stamp exhibition received permission to display the trophy. A thief managed to steal it from its case before sending out a random note, and though police caught him, the cup’s location remained unknown. Luckily, Pickles the dog spotted the package, stashed under a hedge somewhere.
2. Botox is a great cure for migraines.
Along with removing wrinkles, or killing you (depending on the dosage), the botulinum toxin eases severe pain. That makes sense — the toxin messes with how your nerves send signals, so that messes with pain transmission. The treatment occasionally goes bad, though, and leaves your face temporarily lopsided.
3. Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began as a big lie.
When they started the contest, in the 1970s, they announced that they’d been hosting it annually since 1916. People believed them, even though millions had lived through those decades, and we had all kinds of reporting during those decades without any mention of a hot dog eating contest.
4. An awful L. Ron Hubbard book got the opposite of an award.
In 1987, his book Black Genesis was nominated for a Hugo. It got the nomination thanks to large numbers of Scientologists buying memberships for the convention that presents the award. When the judges actually had to rank the nominees and pick a winner, they put Black Genesis last — behind a selection simply titled “no award.”
5. Portland considered bicycles too obscene for regular people.
At the end of the 19th century, bicycling was huge. Biking, however, suddenly died in Portland, not because of the arrival of cars but because of something else: The realization that prostitutes were using bikes to parade around town and display their goods. Suddenly, everyone who wasn’t selling sex returned to walking or using horses.
6. A worker got someone in China to do his job, went on getting paid.
This was almost exactly a decade ago, when remote work wasn’t quite as common, which also meant we had fewer systems in place for checking remote work. The worker, who earned six figures at a “critical infrastructure firm,” posted his physical key fob to China, where someone used it to log in and do his work for him.
7. We discovered birds migrate because one stork flew 3,000 miles, speared through the neck.
People in Europe pretty much always knew birds vanished in the winter. But for centuries, they assumed the birds were hibernating — hibernating underwater, in fact. Then in 1822, a stork landed in Germany with an African spear through its neck, revealing just where birds really go.
8. British power grids buckle every time people make tea during commercial breaks.
At least, that’s what’s been happening for years, leading to massive brief strains on the grid. More recently, this has eased up a little, as streaming has become more popular. The American equivalent — toilets all flushing simultaneously during commercial breaks — is more of an urban legend, but the British tea thing is real.
9. Sometimes, Chicago just sets its train tracks on fire.
The winter cold can contract and bend the tracks, which is no good. So the tracks have gas-powered heaters, which shoot flames to keep frozen tracks from contracting and breaking.
10. An NFL player shot up Siegfried and Roy’s home.
You’ve heard of people acting on conspiracy theories, going vigilante against totally imaginary sex crimes. But in 2006, former Raiders player Cole Ford thought that lions and tigers were the victims of such crimes. He fired his shotgun at Siegfried and Roy’s home, claiming he wanted to draw attention to their “dominance and unhealthy intimacy” with their animals.
11. Bank employees stole a fortune in bills bound for the incinerator.
One worker at the incinerator plant stuffed £600,000 in her underwear (not all in one go) and got away with the haul. Authorities weren’t able to actually charge the thieves with anything, unable to get testimony against them. The Bank of England had to sue them, and so the thieves had to pay back slightly less than the amount that they’d stolen.
12. New York killed its cats in a mistaken epidemic panic.
The year was 1916, the city faced a bunch of polio cases, and they weren’t sure what to do about it. They washed the streets, but that didn’t help and might have made things worse. They also killed almost 100,000 cats, which also doesn’t seem like it really helped.
13. Another cat was executed for sedition.
An imposter claimed the throne of England in 1318. He suggested trial by combat to determine who the real king was, and when people didn’t allow that, he said the devil had made him do it, taking the form of his cat. So England hanged him — and the cat, too.
14. A Chinese county made cigarette smoking mandatory.
They wanted to generate extra money from cigarette taxes, so they set quotas for how many cigarettes people had to smoke. Also, these had to be local cigarettes (other cigarettes would send taxes to the wrong place). The county eventually shelved the policy.
15. Sheep fighting: a sport too badass to be legal.
It is currently illegal in Algeria to pit two sheep against each other in a sheep fight club. Nonetheless, it goes on, and authorities mostly allow it. It appears to be a safer outlet for people’s aggression than letting them get involved in politics.