Sometimes, reality is crazy—crazier than anything a novelist or avant-garde filmmaker or even just a really imaginative kid would be able to invent. Often, trivia gets to the point where it boggles the mind and you find it downright unbelievable. There’s no way a spy agency used cats as spies, you might think. Nope! Boston wasn’t nearly wiped off the map by molasses. That’s all fiction!
Well, think again. If you peek into the annals of human existence—whether it’s corroborated historical record or undisputed modern-day fact—you’ll find all manner of seeming fiction that is utterly, totally, 100-percent true. Don’t believe us? That’s fine. You don’t have to. You should, however, at the very least, read on and test the bounds of your information—because we’ve pinpointed the most bonkers stories of humankind.
1 There Was A Four-Times-Over Dog Mayor
The beloved mayor of Cormorant, a small township in Minnesota, retired this past summer after four consecutive terms in office. As much as he loved civil service, he was getting too old for the job—91, if you put it in dog years, in fact. Duke, the big, shaggy Great Pyrenees dog, was first elected in 2014 and continued to win yearly elections until announcing his retirement in 2018. Duke plans to write a book about his legacy of being a very good boy.
2 Typhoons Saved Japan from Kublai Khan
Though the word “kamikaze” was later applied to Japanese suicide pilots during WWII, it literally means “divine wind” and is also used as a historical term to refer to two typhoons that swept through the island nation in 1274 and 1281. Both times, hordes of Mongols lead by Kublai Khan sailed from China in an attempt to conquer Japan, and both times, a massive storm swept them back. Japanese Buddhists of the time believed that the storms had been the gods’ way of preserving their empire, so they referred to the typhoons as “divine wind.”
3″Genuine Leather” Is Kinda Garbage
Next time you’re at the mall, stop by a mid-range department store and take a look at the belt selection. Chances are you’ll see the words “genuine leather” stamped on the underside. Though, yes, that does mean the belt is 100 percent leather, it also means that it’s made of the cheapest grade of leather: several low-quality layers of hide pasted together. “Top-grain leather” is what you’ll find in fine leather goods and designer stores, but, of all the widely available forms, “full-grain leather” is the highest quality and longest-lasting type. Or, if you really want to splurge, go for Italian leather, which is inimitable in its quality.
4 Giant Tortoises Are Going Extinct—Because They’re Delicious
These days, giant tortoises live only on two groups of islands—the Seychelles and the Galapagos—and though there are several different species, all are in danger of extinction. They take a long time to mature and only have a few offspring, but one rather shocking reason for their rarity is their spectacular taste. When hungry sailors swept by their islands, they could easily catch many of the slow-moving creatures and stash them on board, since the animals can go up to a year without food or water. Journals from the time show that European sailors described their meat as far tastier than chicken, beef, or pork.
5 A Shot of Espresso Contains Less Caffeine Than a Cup of Coffee
Many coffee purists swear by espresso, a form of coffee made by grinding the beans very finely and subjecting them to hot water at high pressure. Espresso has a more concentrated flavor, so it must have a higher concentration of caffeine, right? Well… kind of. Though, ounce for ounce, espresso does have more caffeine than a regular drip brew, a shot of espresso has 120 to 170 mg of caffeine, whereas a cup of coffee has 150 to 200 mg. In fact, it would take two or three espresso shots to equal the caffeine in a 16-ounce Starbucks coffee.
6 Dinosaurs Were Different Than You Likely Imagine
Since we have to piece everything we know about dinosaurs together from scattered fossils, our picture of how they appeared and behaved changes as we find more. For one, many (non-flying) dinosaurs, including the velociraptor, had feathers, but it’s unlikely that any of them had the vocal chords to roar. Also, those fierce velociraptors were no bigger than a modern turkey.
Don’t let all this get you down, though! It turns out that sauropods (long-necked, long-tailed herbivores like the Apatosaurus) could probably break the sound barrier with their tails, using them just like whips.
7 Lead Was Once Used in Makeup
You probably know that lead—which we now know to be very harmful—used to be included in products like crystal and gasoline. However, if you go even farther back in history, you’ll find a number of different civilizations that liked to smear lead on their faces…in the form of makeup. Ancient Egyptians lined their eyes with kohl that contained lead salts, and Ancient Roman women used a face whitening cream full of lead. Even Queen Elizabeth I mixed lead and vinegar and applied it to her face to smooth her skin.
8 The High Five Is A Recent Innovation
It seems like the simple gesture of one person slapping another’s palm in victory must have been around forever, but in truth, it may even be younger than you are. At a pro baseball game in 1977, Dodger player Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season. As he rounded home and passed his teammate Glenn Burke in the on-deck circle, Burke raised his hand in excited greeting. On instinct, Baker reached up and slapped it because, he said, “it seemed like the thing to do.” Thus the high-five was born.
9 It’s Illegal to Chew Gum in Singapore
If you’ve ever looked on the underside of a public bench, you probably understand the desire to ban chewing gum. In 1992, the Prime Minister of Singapore was so fed up with the expense of cleaning wads of gum off of public facilities and the new public transportation system that he made the import and sale of chewing gum illegal. Though the ban is still in place, in 2004, the government made an exception for certain types of sugar-free gum sold by dentists or pharmacists, who must record the names of anyone who buys it.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
It’s the kind of story you think only happens in high-minded cinematic fiction: in 2004, a man woke up in a dumpster next to a Georgia Burger King without clothes or identification and couldn’t remember who he was. This kind of dissociative amnesia is thankfully very rare. For more than a decade, he did everything he could to discover his real identity, even going on Dr. Phil, but it wasn’t until 2015 that ancestral DNA analysis found his family. Though he’d given himself the name Benjaman Kyle, he was really William Burgess Powell of Lafayette, Indiana.
11 A Kangaroo Saved the Life of the Man Who Rescued Her
When Australian Len Richards found a joey (that’s a baby kangaroo) whose mother had been hit by a car, he brought the little creature home and named her Lulu. The Richards family raised her as a pet on their large farm. One day in 2003, Len was knocked unconscious by a falling branch on his property, and Lulu stayed by him, loudly “yapping” until his family could find him. Len survived his injuries, and animal experts remarked on how unlikely the loyal behavior is for a kangaroo.
12 It Takes About a Week to Make a Jelly Bean
Odds are you’ve never thought too hard about how jelly beans are made. After all, they’re so small that factories have to churn them out by the millions. However, the entire process takes six to ten days, depending on the flavor. First the “jelly,” or sugar syrup, is boiled, mixed, and left to set. Then it’s piped into tiny cornstarch molds and cooled until it’s time to add the outer layer. The jelly centers are then put into large rotating drums, where sugar, flavoring, and color are slowly added to form up a protective shell around each one.
13 A King’s Remains Were Found in a Parking Lot
Only the king of England for two years (1483 through 1485), Richard III is perhaps best remembered as hunchbacked anti-hero of Shakespeare’s play. The real Richard III was lost to time in more ways than one—he was a more ambiguous character in life, and the stone that marked his grave disappeared in the 1600s, meaning the exact location of his remains was unknown for centuries. It wasn’t until 2012, when historians managed to find the former location of the church where he was buried, that they found his final resting place beneath a modern-day parking lot.
14 Diamonds Are Only Valuable Because De Beers Says They Are
Diamonds used to be very rare in the Western world, until the late 1800s, when a diamond mining rush in South Africa made them far more accessible to those outside of the halls of royalty. A company called De Beers quickly bought up the mines and created an artificial scarcity, as well as a monopoly. When other diamond sellers have cropped up, De Beers has either bought them out or flooded the local market, driving prices down and putting the sellers out of business. The company’s all-fronts stranglehold on the industry has only recently started to break up.
15 The CIA Once Tried to Create Spy Cats
The 1960s were the peak years of the Cold War, and American intelligence agencies tried some pretty bizarre strategies to get a leg up on the Soviets. In a project called Acoustic Kitty, CIA operatives attempted to implant listening devices into the ears of cats in hopes of eavesdropping on top-secret conversations. They placed the first cat near the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., but—according to some reports—the poor cat was almost immediately run over by a taxi. The project was shut down in 1967 after the geniuses at the CIA finally figured out how difficult it is to train a cat.
16 Boston Was Nearly Destroyed by a Flood of Molasses
While a tidal wave of sweet, sticky molasses racing through a city at nearly 35 mph might sound comical, the reality was tragic. In 1919, a huge tank of molasses at a distillery near Boston’s North End ruptured, sending 2.3 million gallons of the thick goo rushing into Keany Square, where it threw debris around while causing severe damage to buildings and railways, and caused the water in the harbor to run brown for at least six months. The human cost was high, too: 21 people were killed and another 150 were wounded.
17 Wasps Attack When Drunk
If you’ve noticed that wasps seem to become more aggressive in the late summer, it’s not just because you’re outside more often, trying to soak up the sun before fall. Worker wasps have a single job: to supply their queen with nectar. And when they’ve stored up all they can, they have nothing to do. So they do what many of us might: they get buzzed—on fermented fruit. They feast on fruit that’s fallen off the tree and, in their drunken stupor, think it’s a good idea to attack something much bigger than they are.
18 Your Brain Is An Insane Hard Drive
Your brain consists of about one billion nerve cells, or neurons. Each neuron connects to about a thousand other neurons for a total of over a trillion connections. Memories are stored through these connections, so the upshot is that your brain can store around 2.5 petabytes of memory. That’s the equivalent of leaving your DVR running 24 hours a day for over 300 years! Unfortunately, scientists have yet to determine why, with all that memory capacity, you still can’t remember where you put your car keys.
19 “OMG” Dates Back to WWI
When internet chat rooms became popular, their users began shortening many common phrases into abbreviations: LOL, BRB, ILY, and so on. This practice expanded with the use of cell phones for texting. Finally, it expanded into spoken language, and you might expect to hear a teenager shout “OMG!” in surprise or delight. However, the first known use of OMG to abbreviate “oh my God” appears in a 1917 letter from Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill. Fisher closed his letter with “O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!!”
20 Platypuses Don’t Have Nipples
The platypus is a truly unique animal in many ways: it’s a warm-blooded mammal that lays eggs. It lives only in Australia. It looks a bit like the star-crossed offspring of a beaver and a duck. Add to this list the fact that while female platypuses have mammary glands, they don’t have nipples. After her babies hatch, the mama platypus “sweats” the milk out of her abdomen, where it pools in the creases of her skin for the puggles (that’s a baby platypus, or “platypup”) to lap up.
21 The Name “Tiffany” Dates Back to the Middle Ages
If you were to picture someone named Tiffany, it’s unlikely that your first thought would be an elegant medieval woman in flowing robes. However, the name was indeed popular in 12th century Europe as a variant of the Greek name Theophania, meaning “God appears.” Some writers even use the phrase “the Tiffany problem” to describe a real, historical fact that sounds wrong to modern ears, like Lord Lancelot and Lady… Tiffany.
22 Disney Is the Second-Largest Buyer of Explosives in the World
It might not surprise you to learn that the United States Department of Defense is the organization that purchases the highest number of explosive devices on Earth. The second-highest number, however, gets shipped to “the happiest place on Earth.” Between numerous parks on both sides of the country, nightly firework displays, and dozens of parades and other special events throughout the year, Disney requires huge amounts of explosives to awe the many thousands of guests that cycle through their parks each day.
23 All Thoroughbred Horses Have a Common Ancestor
There are more than half a million thoroughbred racehorses throughout the word today, and practically all of them come from a group of just 28 horses born the 1700s and 1800s. More than that, 95 percent of all of the male thoroughbreds are descended from a single stallion named Darley Arabian, born in the year 1700. The practice at the time was to breed many English mares with a handful of Arabian and similar stallions. Today, these are the most valuable horses in the world, though generations of inbreeding mean that some have severe health problems.
24 Deaf People with Schizophrenia “See” Voices
“Hearing voices” is a commonly-known symptom of schizophrenia, a severe mental illness that causes sufferers to lose touch with reality. In an attempt to better understand the disorder and how it affects the brain, researchers worked with people experiencing both schizophrenia and permanent deafness. While subjects who had become deaf later in life described their auditory hallucinations as “hearing voices,” subjects who had been born deaf saw images of lips moving or hands signing instead. They even reported being able to tell the gender and identity of each “voice.”
25 The Moon Landing Pre-Dates Wheeled Luggage
People reference Apollo 11’s mission to the moon as a pinnacle of scientific achievement, often in the context of things that should seem easy by comparison. For example, “We can send men to the moon, but we can’t cure the common cold!” Whether or not this is a fair comparison, the fact stands that, in 1969, NASA scientists successfully put three astronauts in a state-of-the-art tin can, sent them through space to walk on the moon, and brought them back safely. It would take another year before a man named Bernard Sadow applied for a patent for a suitcase with wheels on it and sold it at Macy’s.
26 Crocodiles Are More Closely Related to Birds Than They Are to Lizards
How’s that for unbelievable? Crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards. According to a study by scientists at UC Santa Cruz, “Crocodiles are the closest living relatives of the birds, sharing a common ancestor that lived around 240 million years ago and also gave rise to the dinosaurs.” The study was performed on crocodilian genomes, and it shows an “exceptionally slow” rate of genome evolution in the crocodilians.
27 The Heaviest Pumpkin Ever Weighed More Than A Ton
The final weight? 2,624 pounds. According to Guinness World Records, the pumpkin was grown by Mathias Willemijns in Ludwigsburg, Germany. And, apparently, growing car-sized pumpkins is a big thing, and a competitive one at that. Before Willemijns’ record was set, the largest pumpkin recorded prior was 1,054 kilos, or 2,323 pounds. It was grown by Swiss farmer Beni Meier in 2014.
28 Apollo 11 Astronauts Had to Go Through Customs After Returning from the Moon
And you thought you had a long flight. After returning from the moon, astronauts from Apollo 11—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—had to go through customs. Yup, you read that correctly. Astronauts, they’re just like us. According to documentation, they declared things like moon rocks, moon dust, and other lunar samples. Today, astronauts still have to go through customs but for more practical reasons. The more you know.
29 Harper Lee’s Friends Gave Her a Year’s Salary for Christmas so She Could Take the Time to Write
Eric Draper, via Wikimedia Commons/White House
Talk about amazing friends. In the 1956, Harper Lee found herself struggling to balance her day job with writing. She expressed this to her friends Michael and Joy Brown. (The pair were also friends with the legendary Truman Capote. Casual.) As a Christmas present, the Browns gave Lee an entire year’s salary so she could take the time to write whatever she wanted. And as you can probably guess, this is when Lee wrote the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, a Pulitzer Prize winner that sold over 30 million copies.
30 Lefties Are More Accident-Prone Than Righties
According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, those who are left-handed are more likely to die in accidents than those who are right-handed. The study was conducted by Diane Halpern, a psychology professor at California State University at San Bernardino, as well as Stanley Coren, a researcher at the University of British Columbia. The study found the average age at death for right-handed people was 75. For left-handed people, it was 66. This was determined by taking a sample of 987 death certificates.
31 Harvard Offers Free Tuition For Low-Income Families
The Ivy League institution (which has a $37.1 billion endowment, by the way) wants to help make college as affordable as possible. According to the “affordability page” on their website, “Attending Harvard will only cost what your family can afford. We make sure of that.” That means that families with an annual income of $65,000 or less attend for free. For families earning between $65,000 and $150,000, the expected contribution is between zero and 10 percent of your annual income.
32 Once Upon A Time, Antarctica Was as Warm as California
Sure, it was around 40 to 50 million years ago, but still. Researchers found that during that time, Antarctica’s climate resembled the modern-day California Coast. Even more interesting, nearby polar islands were more like Florida. Researchers calculated that the continent reached a high of 63º Fahrenheit, with an average temperature of 57º Fahrenheit. Today, those same averages fall way below freezing.
33 Match.com Founder Got Dumped Because of a Match.com Match
That’s right: Gary Kremen, the founder of the dating service, went through a tough breakup when girlfriend left him for another guy she met on Match.com. (Ouch.) He’s staying optimistic, however. He said when this he was broken up with in this way, he really knew the site was actually a big success. He designed Match.com with women in mind, after all. “You have to design the whole system for women, not men,” Kremen said in an interview with The Financial Times. Other nuggets of wisdom in the interview included that not everyone will find love online and that people don’t always know what they want in a mate.
34 If You Live in Brooklyn, You Can Rent a Mom
Yep, it’s true. Brooklyn resident Nina Keneally, 63, started a business by renting herself out as a mother. The business is called Need A Mom, and services include nonjudgmental listening, watching a movie with you when you just don’t want to be alone, resume review, and more. The site notes that she is not a therapist, and only provides mom advice and mom help. So if you find yourself homesick in Brooklyn, Nina has your back. Cookies sometimes included.
35 Lego Group Is the Largest Manufacturer of Tires in the World
The toy company’s factories produce tires 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That’s over 870,000 tires per day! This is because nearly half of all Lego sets include a wheel of some sort. In 2012, Lego was awarded the Guinness World Record for “largest tire manufacturer per annum.” That year, the group also celebrated 50 years of business. Exciting stuff.
36 Alfred Hitchcock Kept Psycho‘s Ending Secret Through Crazy Means
Can you say dedicated? According to Variety, the filmmaker “bought all copies” of Robert Bloch’s novel that was published in 1959, a year before the 1960 premiere of Psycho. He did this to keep the plot twist under wraps and maintain secrecy surrounding the film. He also insisted that no one enter the film after the movie already started. His goal was really to maintain suspense but it ultimately became a marketing hook.
37 Spider Silk Is Stronger than Steel
Take that, Superman. Spider silk is stronger than steel. The material is light and flexible, and may even be used by soldiers one day to protect them from bullets and other harm on the battlefield. However, producing and harvesting enough spider silk to make products such as protective wear for the military and even surgical sutures has been difficult. A tangled web indeed.
38 J.K. Rowling Was Rejected A Ton Before Harry Potter Was Accepted
12 publishers rejected Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (that’s the British version of the book you may know as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) before being accepted by the publisher Bloomsbury. And the craziest part of that acceptance? It was only because of the insistence of the chairman’s eight-year-old daughter. Moral of the story? Always try again, Oh, and listen to kids. They know more than you think.
39 Michael Jordan Got Cut from the Basketball Team During High School
Even the greatest hear “no.” Michael Jordan, easily the world’s best basketball player (we will take no disagreements), did not make the varsity basketball team during his freshman year of high school. Heartbroken, Jordan used the rejection as fuel. Eventually, he made varsity his junior year. In his professional career, Jordan scored 32,292 points, earned six NBA championships and five NBA MVP titles, and made 14 All-Star Game appearances. Talk about a slam dunk of a career.
40 Antarctica Is Technically a Desert
Weird, right? Despite its thick, icy terrain and mountainous topography, Antarctica is actually classified as a desert. The southernmost continent is a desert because so little moisture actually falls from the sky. It is actually the coldest, windiest, and driest continent. More fun facts about this continent is that it is one-and-a-half times the size of the United States and the best place on earth to observe space because of its dry climate and lack of light pollution.
41 Bill Gates Has Helped Save Six Million Lives
How? By giving away 48 percent of his net worth since 2007, totaling an amount of roughly $28 billion. His donations helped bring vaccines and better healthcare to children internationally. Diseases he’s saved people from include Hepatitis B, Measles, Polio, and Pneumonia. By 2019, his philanthropy is projected to save 7.6 million. This just goes to show giving is better than receiving, and the world always could use more help.
42 Wimbledon Umpires Are Given a List of Swear Words in Different Languages
And you thought your mom was strict about no swearing! At Wimbledon, umpires are given a list of swear words in many different languages so they can call out athletes for profanity. According to Wimbledon umpire Bernadette Halton, if she hears “an expletive in French or Russian, that’s a code breach.” Oh, and the code goes as far as protecting inanimate objects. For example, if a player throws a racket, that’s “racket abuse.” Stay in line.
43 The Average Cloud Weighs 1.1 Million Pounds
Despite their airy and weightless appearance, clouds are actually insanely heavy. According to scientists, 1.1 million pounds is the average. That is the equivalent to 100 elephants. So, yeah, you’re probably wondering how these things stay afloat. It’s because the weight is spread out into millions of droplets over a really big space. Some of these droplets are so small that you would need a million to make a single raindrop.
44 The State of California has a Larger Population Than the Entire Country of Canada
How’s that for a shocking fact, eh? Statistics show that in 2016, Canada’s population topped 36 million for the very first time. However, the state of California still exceeds that number by around three million. In California, 38.8 million people live, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This makes it the most populous state. Texas is at a distant second, with just over 27 million people.
45 There Was a Chicken Who Lived for Months Without a Head
In 1945, a farmer beheaded a chicken in Colorado. It literally refused to die for 18 months. The farmer, Lloyd Olsen, and his wife, Clara, were killing chickens. Lloyd would decapitate the birds and Clara would clean up the mess. One of the chickens, though, didn’t behave like the rest and continued to walk around afterward. Lloyd and Clara eventually took the animal on a tour, where the bird eventually died in 1947, in Phoenix.
46 Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth for 150 Million Years; Humans Have Been Around for a Mere 0.1% of That Time
Before there were humans, there were the dinosaurs. For 150 million years, these creatures roamed the earth. Despite popular belief, they didn’t die out because of an asteroid or because they were not successful in regards to evolutionary terms. No one really knows 100 percent what happened to these creatures. Only theories exist. We’ll probably never know why they eventually died out. We can only study their fossils and learn about what they left behind.
47 Humans and Dogs First Became Pals Before Written History
The friendship between humans and dogs may have first occurred as soon as 30,000 years ago. Genetic evidence suggests that wolves (ancestors of domestic dogs) were first tamed by ancient hunter gatherers. These findings challenge the previous theory that dog domestication occurred around 15,000 years ago in eastern Asia, after the introduction of agriculture. To find this out, scientists used a technique of DNA analysis to establish what populations of wolves were most related to living dogs.
48 Mickey Mouse Wasn’t Always Named Mickey Mouse
It was actually Mortimer. Walt Disney’s wife Lillian came up with Mickey because she thought the name Mortimer was way too pompous. However, Mickey Rooney also claims to have come up with the new name. Mickey’s official debut was in “Steamboat Willie” in 1928. He didn’t actually speak, however, until 1929 in “The Karnival Kid.” His voice was done by Carl Stalling, and his first words were, “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” Honestly? Relatable.
49 Ketchup Was Sold as Medicine
While ketchup is easily the best condiment besides ranch, it shouldn’t be called medicine for anything other than the soul. However, In 1834, Dr. John Cooke Bennet added tomatoes to ketchup. Before that, ketchup had been a concoction of fish or mushrooms. He claimed this new recipe could cure diarrhea, indigestion, jaundice, and rheumatism because the tomatoes introduced more vitamins and antioxidants.
50 Coffee Is Diuretic, But That Doesn’t Mean it Dehydrates You
The myth that coffee dehydrates you has been around since 1928. Despite the liquid gold being a diuretic, it does not dehydrate you. A more recent study by British researchers published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared several popular beverages to the hydrating effects of water. The results? Yep, you can hydrate with coffee. Oh, and skim milk also was found to be extremely hydrating. The moral? Drink that second cup of coffee.