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The mental_floss newsletter

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Yesterday I mentioned the "I Read Mental Floss" Facebook group, and membership shot up to 1,300*. Guess the existence of this group was a secret. We had no idea you had no idea.

So it stands to reason you might not know about our weekly e-newsletter. Each edition includes a "Beat Our Fact" contest, highlights from the blog, fascinating trivia from Sandy & Kara, and a letter from Mangesh or me. If you're interested, there's a box in the right-hand navigation that looks like this:

Scouts.jpgHere's an example, from October.

Greetings, Flossers!

"Should we change into the Boy Scout uniforms here, or wait 'til we get to Central Park?"

This was the hardest question I'd ever been asked.

Let me back up. mental_floss has a book coming out next year called BE AMAZING "“ a how-to guide with tips on tasks like starting your own country and traveling through time. Our publisher wants a publicity photo of founding flossers Mangesh and Will, and Mango had a few different ideas for poses to test. Since Will lives in Birmingham, I'm his stunt double.

One idea was dressing up like Boy Scouts. With our photographer waiting in Central Park, we mulled our options. We could 1) Change in our office, then journey 3.3 miles in tight-fitting Scout outfits "“ including cut-off green pants; or 2) Travel in plain clothes, find a private tree, and take turns changing behind it.

We chose the second option and struggled to find a dressing area. This I know: if you're going to change into a Boy Scout disguise in the wooded section of a public park, you don't want to get caught halfway through. Especially not with a Little League field in the background. But the sun was setting on our photo shoot. So, I hopped a fence and set a wardrobe-change speed record, which Mangesh subsequently shattered.

The pictures came out wildly embarrassing, in a wow-I'm-glad-I'm-only-the-stunt-double/I-probably-can't-run-for-office-now kind of way. But if the photos do get out, I've got a plan. And that plan starts with reading the "travel through time" chapter in BE AMAZING.

But hey, all in a day's work.

Cheers!
Jason

And here's a sample of Sandy & Kara's trivia, from another newsletter...

Peculiar Political Presents
by Kara Kovalchik & Sandy Wood

:: In 1972, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev made a vehicle exchange with U.S. President Richard Nixon. Dick got a Volga 70 Hydrofoil, while Leo was presented with a brand new Cadillac. The Soviet Premier had taken Nixon out for a ride on the Moscow River in his own Volga after a summit meeting, and the President had been impressed with the 40-knot-per-hour speed of the craft. At the premier's request (and to be fair to the other two major U.S. automakers), Nixon later gifted Brezhnev with a Lincoln and a Chrysler.

:: If you think all unusual diplomatic gifts come from foreign sources, then you don't know Monterey Jack. An interesting wedge of history comes to us courtesy of the folks from Cheddar, er, Cheshire, Massachusetts. They wanted to express their gratitude to President Thomas Jefferson for his dedication to religious freedom. So, led by Baptist minister John Leland, Cheshire citizens collected the milk from 900 cows, pressed the curds, and created a 1,235-pound, four-foot wheel of cheese. Was the President bleu? Not at all; he personally received the cheesy gift at the White House doorway on New Year's Day 1802, and invited the couriers to join him in a cheese-tasting.

:: Pasha Mehmed Ali, the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt, was eager to develop a working relationship with King Charles X of France in 1824. He decided that an exotic animal might be the perfect gift, so a giraffe calf was painstakingly transferred via a series of boats to Marseilles. From Marseilles, she walked to Paris, wearing a coat and specially-made boots to protect her from the elements. (A coterie of keepers walked beside her, every step of the 550-mile trek.) When the entourage arrived in Paris, citizens lined the streets, as they had never seen such a creature before. The king was suitably impressed with his gift and ordered a special home, the Jardin des Plantes, to be built for her.

:: When Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi came to Washington to meet President George W. Bush in 2006, the president presented the Elvis-mad PM with a 1954 Seeburg R100 jukebox, loaded with classic 45 records of the 1950s and 60s. He also treated Koizumi to a tour of Graceland, including the off-limits-to-the-general-public upstairs area. Did Koizumi present Bush with a suitable Japanese gift in exchange? Well, yes, but with an American flair. Bush received a large portrait of Yankee slugger Babe Ruth that had been taken during a visit to Japan in 1934.

If you wouldn't mind getting facts like these delivered straight to your inbox, look for this rectangle on the right...

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*Think we can hit 1,426 today? That's Mangesh's lucky number.

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Space
Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock
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travel
6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Lucy Quintanilla/iStock

Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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