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Nikola Tesla, 1896.
Nikola Tesla, 1896.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

10 People With Photographic Memories

Nikola Tesla, 1896.
Nikola Tesla, 1896.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

It's hard to say whether photographic memory actually exists. So far, only one really conclusive test has ever been done to prove that there are certain individuals who can look at a massive quantity of information and remember it verbatim even years later. But there are plenty of people who have claimed to possess eidetic memory (that's the official term). Here are 10 of them.

1. NIKOLA TESLA

Nikola Tesla in his Colorado lab, 1899.
Nikola Tesla in his Colorado lab, 1899.
By Dickenson V. Alley, photographer, Century Magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

According to Nikola Tesla himself, photographic memory was just one of his brain quirks. He said he had no problem memorizing entire books, but he also experienced random, blinding flashes of light that were sometimes accompanied by hallucinations. Tesla had detailed flashbacks to earlier parts of his life and could visualize his inventions in astonishing, complicated detail before he even started tinkering with making them come to life.

2. TEDDY ROOSEVELT

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1918.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Teddy Roosevelt could recite entire newspaper pages—not just articles—as if they were sitting in front of him. He was also a speed reader and is reported to have read two or three books a day.

3. KIM PEEK

Kim Peek was the real-life Rain Man; he was the person Dustin Hoffman's character was based on in the Oscar-winning 1988 movie. Peek, who died in 2009, was said to have memorized every word of every book he had ever read, estimated at around 9000. It took him up to just 12 seconds to read one page, and each eye could read a page independently.

"Kim's story tells us that the human brain is far more flexible than we had thought," psychiatrist Darold Treffert told The Observer in 2005. "Like many other savants, he has suffered disability in one area of his brain, but has compensated by acquiring remarkable new abilities in other areas. This shows we all have considerable hidden intellectual potential."

4. ABBIE HOFFMAN

Activist Abbie Hoffman, circa 1969.
By Richard O. Barry from San Diego, California, United States (Abbie Hoffman) // CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In his 1968 book Revolution for the Hell of It, activist Abbie Hoffman claimed that he was able to remember things in great detail after merely a glance.

5. JERRY LUCAS

Portrait of Jerry Lucas, circa 1961.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Jerry Lucas was an amazing basketball player whose career lasted from 1962 to 1974, and in 1996 was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. But it's his impressive memory that's paying the bills these days. Lucas has written dozens of books on memory, has developed a memory-retention system, and travels the country giving lectures on the subject. (Memorized lectures, we're sure.)

6. GUILLERMO DEL TORO

A photo of Guillermo del Toro
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim) is said to have a photographic memory. Maybe that's why his movies are so visually interesting.

7. FERDINAND MARCOS

Photo of Ferdinand Marcos from 1976.
Amin Mohamed/Camerapix/Getty Images

The former president of the Philippines was said to have a photographic memory, which would have come in handy when cataloging his wife Imelda's shoes.

8. SERGEI RACHMANINOFF

Photo of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff from 1938.
Keystone/Getty Images

The composer may have had a type of photographic memory that helped him memorize sheet music with astonishing speed. This was aided by his extraordinary ear for music. Russian composer Alexander Siloti would give him complicated and demanding works to learn and Rachmaninoff (also spelled Rachmaninov) would have them completely memorized to perfection a day or two later.

9. MR. T

A photo of Mr. T
Brad Barket/Getty Images

Yes, that Mr. T. The man who was born Laurence Tureaud says that he didn't need to study in school because of his "photographic memory." "Most of the time I stared out the windows, just daydreaming," he once said.

10. ELIZABETH

Photo of Harvard University.
Harvard University.
iStock

No, not the Queen of England—just Elizabeth, a Harvard student who passed a series of tests that convinced even skeptics that eidetic memory existed in 1970. She was studied by scientist Charles Stromeyer III, who published the results of his findings in Nature, then went on to marry Elizabeth (who was never tested again). But in the decades since, many have questioned the results of Stromeyer's study.

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Nikola Tesla, 1896.
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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
iStock

Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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