The world is wide and wonderful — and pretty weird. Take a break from your day and prepare to smile over this assortment of random facts, from the pseudo-medical roots of tomato ketchup to Antarctic matchmaking. What was Uranus called before Uranus? Why do giant pandas do handstands? These eight facts may just give you a chuckle.
If we’re talking imperial measurements, a “butt” is a cask of liquid. And while this form of “butt” is obsolete for most people, it’s still used in wine and brewing contexts. In the wine world, a butt is around 108 imperial gallons (just under 500 liters, or around 126 U.S. gallons), so it turns out that a buttload is… a buttload.
Despite the fact that Uranus is four times the size of Earth, it took astronomers a while to realize it was a planet rather than a star, even after telescopes came along. English astronomer William Herschel made the first recorded discovery of Uranus as a planet in 1781, during the reign of King George III. He named the planet Georgium Sidus, or George’s Star, in honor of the king. The international astronomy community was less than thrilled about a planet being named after an unpopular British monarch rather than a deity, and in 1850 settled on naming the planet Uranus, after the Greek god of the sky.
A lot of dangerous things were sold as “patent medicine” in unregulated 1800s America, including mercury, lead, and arsenic. Meanwhile, tomatoes, which are in the same family as deadly nightshade, were considered unsafe by much of the population until they were sold as a cure-all. Dr. John Cook Bennett was one of the tomato’s biggest boosters, and claimed the fruit would protect migrants heading west “from the danger attendant upon those violent bilious attacks to which all unacclimated citizens are liable.” He provided several tomato recipes to be taken as medicine, including catsup, which, at the time, typically contained mushrooms and/or walnuts.
Eventually, Americans figured out that tomato ketchup worked much better as a tasty condiment than medicine — but to be fair to Dr. Bennett, he did suggest using it as a replacement for mercury, so he may have helped some folks out.
Antarctica is the most sparsely populated continent on the Earth, with only about 1,000 people over the winter (none of them permanent residents) in more than 5 million square miles. So when an American scientist opened the Tinder app at a research station in 2014, it was mostly out of curiosity. To his surprise, he matched with another researcher camping a 45-minute helicopter ride away. They didn’t meet until a few weeks after swiping right, just as his match was leaving town, but considering the population only grows to about 5,000 people in the summer, the chances that their paths crossed again seems high.
For a term that seems so cutesy, the literal use of “jiffy” is extremely scientific. Physicists use the term to describe how long it takes for light to travel a millionth of a millionth of a millimeter, which is less than a billion-billionth of a second. A jiffy is a little longer in electrical contexts; it’s the length of a single cycle of alternating current, or about one-fiftieth of a second. So next time you say you’ll be “back in a jiffy,” consider what you’re promising!
No, it’s not a human-taught trick: Wild giant pandas have been known to do handstands while relieving themselves, especially during mating season. Because, unfortunately, there aren’t too many giant pandas around — and they don’t have a ton of energy to spare — they want to broadcast their scent as widely and efficiently as possible to potential mates. This means finding trees with rough bark for greater absorption, choosing wide trees to increase the target area, and aiming as high as possible. The handstand gives male pandas a much-needed leg up (literally).
A toothbrush with a picturesque swirl of toothpaste, called a “nurdle” in the industry, is a mainstay of advertisements, and became especially popular as brands started releasing more colorful products in the 1970s. It’s a goofy factoid for most of us, but toothpaste manufacturers take nurdles very, very seriously.
In 2010, GlaxoSmithCline, the maker of Aquafresh, applied to trademark the nurdle design in any color. Colgate-Palmolive, which also used a nurdle to advertise its products, took it as a legal threat — the company’s lawyer called it “a blatant shot across Colgate’s bow” — and sued to protect their imagery and get the trademark petition canceled. GlaxoSmithCline countersued, alleging that Colgate’s nurdle caused “irreparable harm.”
The two companies eventually came to a confidential settlement, but still: Who knew the toothpaste industry was so wacky… and so litigious?
Strangely enough, koala fingerprints strongly resemble those of humans — the pattern of ridges and whorls looks even more similar to our own than chimpanzee fingerprints. Though distant on the evolutionary tree from us primates, koalas likely developed fingerprints to help them grasp eucalyptus trees while climbing them and munching on their leaves. In the ’90s, a forensic scientist at the University of Adelaide in Australia warned that koala prints are so similar to human prints, it’s possible police in Australia could mistake one for another. “Although it is extremely unlikely that koala prints would be found at the scene of a crime, police should at least be aware of the possibility,” Maciej Henneberg noted.