15 Gleaming Gems of Trivia We Learned This Week
At a party, some friend passes around cups and suggests a game called Two Truths and a Lie. “I have a better game,” you say. “It’s called 15 Facts, No Lie!”
“Uh, no,” says someone. “The point here is to get to know each other, and just to have fun.” But knowledge is fun, you insist. And then you share with them the following…
1. Another Strange Balloon
In 1998, America, Britain and Canada all tried to shoot down a rogue weather balloon. They couldn’t have tried very hard, however, because they all failed, and the balloon drifted to Norway.
2. The Eagle’s Revenge
Thanks to years of protection, bald eagles are no longer endangered or even threatened. In some places, they’re even a pest. In Seattle, the eagles keep picking up trash from landfills and dropping them in neighborhoods where people live.
3. Cold Turkey
A California woman smacked a deputy as he walked out of prison one day in 2013. Her goal was to get sent to prison herself, as she figured this would help her quit smoking. The judge gave her 63 days.
4. The Mouths of Babes
On April 30, 1945, Joseph Goebbels’ nine-year-old son heard a boom nearby and yelled, “That’s a bull's-eye!” It was actually the sound of Adolf Hitler shooting himself.
5. Panda Poachers
The first people outside China to hunt pandas were Teddy Roosevelt’s sons, Kermit and Teddy Jr. This went against Teddy Sr.’s current reputation for saving bears, but it was consistent with the man’s actual love of hunting.
6. Mile-High Club
One month before 9/11, a couple in their 60s chartered a plane, then hijacked it and directed it to Cuba. It crashed, killing the couple but sparing the pilot. They’d chartered it without declaring a destination; they’d claimed they just wanted to have sex while airborne.
7. Afghan Girl
For years, no one knew the identity of the subject of a National Geographic photo called “Afghan Girl.” Her name is Sharbat Gula, and in 2021, she moved to Italy as part of the evacuation of Afghanistan during American withdrawal.
8. Bottled Spunk
Dasani advertised its water with the slogan “bottled spunk.” This strategy didn’t fare so poorly in the U.S., but it did in the U.K., where “spunk” refers solely to a bodily fluid that must not be bottled.
9. Operation Carthage
A British plane crashed into a Danish school during World War II. That might have been bad enough, but the smoke from the crash convinced other planes that this was their target, so they bombed the place, killing a bunch of kids and nuns.
10. Loyal Wives of Weinsberg
In the year 1140, King Conrad III laid siege to Weinsberg, in what’s today Germany. He paused the assault to allow women to leave the city, saying they could take with them whatever they could carry on their shoulders. Each left carrying her husband on her shoulders. Conrad was won over and abandoned the siege.
11. Terry Thompson’s Zoo
In 2011, authorities were threatening to shut down one Ohio guy’s private zoo. So the guy released the animals and killed himself. It was now the police’s job to chase down the animals, including bears, tigers and 17 lions.
12. Insulting the Meat
The Ju/’hoansi are hunter-gatherers in southern Africa, and they have a tradition every time someone brings back a haul of meat. They insult him and his meat, saying that it’s lousy and not enough to feed them. This is their way of keeping him from getting a big head.
13. Marquette Prison Pirates
On Groundhog’s Day 1954, a hockey team made of prison inmates faced off against the Detroit Red Wings. This inspiring underdog tale soon had the pro team ahead 18-0, after which everyone gave up on keeping score. These were professionals playing prisoners, what did you think was going to happen?
14. Paxil Propaganda
Though people have always been anxious, the concept of “social anxiety” as a disorder only became widely discussed at the turn of the century. Media mentions increased a millionfold — thanks to a campaign by a PR company to push people toward anti-anxiety drugs.
15. Election Blues
A woman went into a coma in November 2000. Six years later, when her daughter greeted her as usual and expected no reply, she suddenly responded. Upon learning that she’d been out for six years, she said, “I have? Why didn't you wake me up?”