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Month in Review: September's Most Popular Stories

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If you're keeping score at home, September was the second-best month we've ever had. (The halcyon days of August '09 will be tough to top.) Thanks to everyone who has made mental_floss part of your routine, especially the folks who've been here for years and have aggressively spread the word about our site and magazine.

We've got some exciting stuff on tap for October and beyond. Stay tuned. For now, let's take a look at our ten most popular stories from September.

1. The Quick 10: 10 Secret Menu Items at Fast Food Restaurants*
by Stacy Conradt

You probably caught September's top story the first (or second or third or fourth) time around. Our biggest viral hit since 2007's Quarter Backs Quiz, Stacy's post has been featured by Yahoo!, CNN, USA Today and The Today Show (see Al Roker, Ann Curry & Natalie Morales talking about it here).

2. 4 People With Super Memory
by David K. Israel

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What if you finished reading this article and remembered every detail of it for the rest of your life? That's the problem people with super-autobiographical memory face—and yes, it's often referred to as a problem, not a gift.

3. 11 Things Wal-Mart Has Banned
by Ethan Trex

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It seems like the mega-store stocks just about everything. But not quite, though. There are a number of things that Wal-Mart has banned from its stores at some point. Here's a look at a few of them.

4. 10 Technologies We Stole From the Animal Kingdom
by David Goldenberg & Eric Vance

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People have been lifting ideas from Mother Nature for decades. But today, the science of copying nature, a field known as biomimetics, is a billion-dollar industry. Here are some of our favorite technologies that came in from the wild.

5. 10 Unusual Playgrounds From Around the World
by David K. Israel

Playgrounds have come a long way since the early days of hot, steel slides and open-backed infant swings. Take a look at some of the amazing play-places popping up around the world.

6. How Do Countries Choose Which Side They Drive On?
by Linda Rodriguez

Why do different nations drive on different sides of the road? London correspondent Linda Rodriguez answers that age-old question.

7. 15 Companies That Originally Sold Something Else
by Ethan Trex

Some companies find their niche and stick to it. Others, though, have to adapt to changing markets in order to thrive. Here's a look at companies that switched industries at some point in their histories, including Avon, 3M and Tiffany.

8. Somewhat More Realistic Cartoon Characters
by Miss Cellania

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Tools like Photoshop make it easier than ever to give texture and shadow to plain line drawings, so converting our favorite cartoon characters into a more realistic style is too tempting to pass up.

9. 11 Famous Actors and the Big TV Roles They Turned Down
by Kara Kovalchik

shaffer

Dana Delany as Carrie Bradshaw? Paul Shaffer as George Costanza? Cosmo Kramer as Monk? Here's a look at 11 actors who passed on some of TV's most popular shows.

10. 6 Lost Treasures Just Waiting to Be Found
by Rob Lammle

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Not everybody can just stumble upon a copy of the Declaration of Independence at a garage sale. To help you find your fortune, here are six tales of lost treasures that are just waiting for you to find them.

* Sure, Stacy's article was technically posted on August 31st (and therefore ineligible for "September's Most Popular Stories"), but when Al Roker talks about a story, we toss aside rules.

If you're new to mental_floss, here's what you missed in August.

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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fun
How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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