The Quick 10: Cleopatra

It was"¦ a lot of years ago today that we Cleopatra committed suicide via asp. So the story goes, anyway (see fact #9 for more on that possible myth). She was a fascinating woman, and speaking to that is the fact that not many figures in history have the same allure and air of mystery about them that Cleopatra still has. Here are a few of the stories that add to her legend.

1. Cleo was probably not the ravishing beauty history has turned her into. Most accounts of her say that she had a hooked nose and rather masculine features (that's her on the coin pictured), but that her charm and wit more than compensated for her lack of petite features. I'd have to say her power probably added to her legend of beauty over the years - power can be awfully alluring.

2. She had her half-sister killed to ensure that no one would be able to threaten her status and power. That's pretty cold.

3. Who but Cleopatra could spend ten million sesterces (for reference, a loaf of bread probably cost about half a sestertius) on a single dinner? The story - which is probably just a story - goes like this: Cleopatra and Antony were messing around one night and she playfully bet him she could spend the astronomical amount on a meal. He couldn't fathom any food that would cost so much and agreed to the bet. The joke was on him when the second course - a cup of vinegar - was brought out. Cleo proceeded to remove one of her pearl earrings, drop it into the cup of vinegar to dissolve and then drink the whole concoction. We think it's just a story because vinegar is typically not strong enough to dissolve a pearl unless the pearl was pre-crushed.

4. She wasn't Egyptian. Cleopatra was a Macedonian Greek - in fact, her father was a direct descendant of Ptolemy I Soter, Alexander the Great's famed general. She was the first person in her family to speak fluent Egyptian"¦ just one of nine languages she mastered.

5. Exactly how rich was Cleopatra? She makes Bill Gates look like a pauper. She had so much money, riches and assets that when Rome conquered Egypt in 30 B.C., her fortune was enough for Rome to be able to decrease the interest rate from 12 to four percent.

6. She ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of 17.

7. Many modern-day depictions show a glamorous woman with a dark head of smooth, straight hair with bangs. The only thing that's right about this is that she likely had dark hair. The rest of it is pure Hollywood. Cleopatra wore a wig of long, tight curls - no bangs. The only reason the other image has become so popular is that when the 1934 movie Cleopatra was made, star Claudette Colbert had a signature hairstyle that included bangs. Her hairstyle may have influenced Elizabeth Taylor's in the later movie.

8. Speaking of that movie, the real Cleopatra certainly would have approved of Elizabeth Taylor's wardrobe for the 1963 epic. The budget for her 65 costumes was nearly $200,000, an unheard of amount for the time. One dress was even made from 24-carat gold cloth - fit for a queen, wouldn't you say?

9. Was she really bitten by an asp? Maybe. Maybe not. And maybe it was two asps. Strabo, a Greek historian who was alive when the Queen of the Nile did herself in, suggests that it may have been a toxic ointment, not an asp bite. Other accounts written within 10 years of her death say it was a pair of asps that bit her. No matter which way she went, one thing is almost for certain: she didn't kill herself because she was so heartbroken over the death of Antony. That's a lovely story, but their "love affair" has been much embellished over the centuries. The real reason she killed herself is likely related to the fall of Egypt to Rome and the fact that she was told she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in humiliation. Add that to the fact that she lost an unimaginable amount of wealth and you can see that Antony was probably just a small part of her decision to kill herself, if he even factored in at all. Oh, and one other myth: it's doubtful that the asps bit her on the breast. Prior to Shakespeare's romanticization of the event, all accounts reported that she was bitten on the arm.

10. We don't really know where Cleopatra is today. Legend has it that she was buried with Mark Antony somewhere in Egypt, and we really only know that because Plutarch told us so - if he was wrong, then we're way off. There's some evidence to suggest she had a tomb built for herself in Alexandria and that it now sits at the bottom of the ocean floor with the rest of the ancient city, but recent excavations have found some artifacts that may mean the couple is entombed at the
Taposiris Magna temple in Abusir, Egypt.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



More from mental floss studios