119 Amazing Facts for National Trivia Day

Here's a little-known fact: today is National Trivia Day! Let's celebrate with some of our favorite facts, pulled from our Amazing Fact Generator and the @mental_floss Twitter account.

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before the second season of Sesame Street. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

2. On Good Friday in 1930, the BBC reported, "There is no news." Instead, they played piano music.

3. The 3 Musketeers bar was originally split into three pieces with three different flavors: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. When the other flavors became harder to come by during World War II, Mars decided to go all chocolate.

4. Fredric Baur invented the Pringles can. When he passed away in 2008, his ashes were buried in one.

5. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel was spending $2,500 a month on rubber bands just to hold all their cash.

6. When he appeared on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, Bill Clinton correctly answered three questions about My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

7. Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" was penned by beloved children's author Shel Silverstein.

8. Ben & Jerry learned how to make ice cream by taking a $5 correspondence course offered by Penn State. (They decided to split one course.)

9. M&M's actually stands for "Mars & Murrie's," the last names of the candy's founders.

10. Carly Simon's dad is the Simon of Simon and Schuster. He co-founded the company.

11. When the mummy of Ramses II was sent to France in the mid-1970s, it was issued a passport. Ramses' occupation? "King (deceased)."

12. In 1939, Hitler's nephew wrote an article called "Why I Hate My Uncle." He came to the U.S., served in the Navy, and settled on Long Island.

13. In the 1970s, Mattel sold a doll called "Growing Up Skipper." Her breasts grew when her arm was turned.

14. Reno is farther west than Los Angeles.

15. A 1913 New York Times article on portmanteaus includes the word "alcoholiday," which describes leisure time spent drinking.

16. At Fatburger, you can order a "Hypocrite"—a veggie burger topped with crispy strips of bacon.

17. While many believe Hydrox cookies are an Oreo knock-off, Hydrox actually came first—in 1908, four years before the Oreo.

18. In 1999, Furbies were banned from the National Security Agency's Maryland headquarters because it was feared the toys might repeat national security secrets.

19. Bear Bryant was once asked to contribute $10 to help pay for a sportswriter's funeral. According to legend, he said, "Here's a twenty, bury two."

20. James Avery ("Uncle Phil" on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) was the voice of Shredder on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

21. Kool-Aid was originally marketed as "Fruit Smack."

22. Only female mosquitoes will bite you.

23. The archerfish knocks its insect prey out of over-hanging branches with a stream of spit.

24. There really was a Captain Morgan. He was a Welsh pirate who later became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

25. In 1961, Martha Stewart was selected as one of Glamour magazine;s "Ten Best-Dressed College Girls."

26. As part of David Hasselhoff's divorce settlement, he kept possession of the nickname "Hoff" and the catchphrase "Don't Hassle the Hoff."

27. "Jay" used to be slang for "foolish person." So when a pedestrian ignored street signs, he was referred to as a "jaywalker."

28. Duncan Hines was a real person. He was a popular restaurant critic who also wrote a book of hotel recommendations.

29. The string on boxes of animal crackers was originally placed there so the container could be hung from a Christmas tree.

30. Alaska is the only state that can be typed on one row of keys. (Go ahead and try typing the other 49 states. We'll wait.)

31. At the 1905 wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, President Teddy Roosevelt gave away the bride.

32. William Faulkner refused a dinner invitation from JFK's White House. "Why that’s a hundred miles away," he said. "That’s a long way to go just to eat."

33. In 1907, an ad campaign for Kellogg's Corn Flakes offered a free box of cereal to any woman who would wink at her grocer.

34. Why did the FBI call Ted Kaczynski "The Unabomber"? Because his early mail bombs were sent to universities (UN) & airlines (A).

35. That thing you use to dot your lowercase "i" is called a tittle.

36. The only number whose letters are in alphabetical order is 40 (f-o-r-t-y).

37. The little BIC pen logo guy has a name. It's BIC Boy. Sorry if that's a letdown.

38. Bono was born Paul David Hewson.

39. The Edge's name is David Howell Evans.

40. Male students at Brigham Young University need a doctor's note to grow a beard.

41. In 1991, Wayne Allwine, the voice of Mickey Mouse, married Russi Taylor—the voice of Minnie.

42. The Arkansas School for the Deaf's nickname is the Leopards.

43. Editor Bennett Cerf challenged Dr. Seuss to write a book using no more than 50 different words. The result? Green Eggs and Ham.

44. Norwegian skier Odd-Bjoern Hjelmeset on why he didn't win gold at the 2010 Olympics: "I think I have seen too much porn in the last 14 days."

45. When asked why he chose the name Piggly Wiggly, founder Clarence Saunders said, "So people will ask that very question."

46. Obsessive nose picking is called Rhinotillexomania.

47. Jason Schwartzman's mom is Talia Shire.

48. The same person who sang "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" was also the voice of Tony the Tiger (Thurl Ravenscroft).

49. Sorry, parents. According to NASA's FAQ page, "There are no plans at this time to send children into space."

Some Quizzes You Might Enjoy, If You Enjoy Quizzes

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50. When asked who owned the patent on the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk said, "Well, the people. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"

51. The Q in Q-tips stands for quality. They were originally called Baby Gays.

52. A sequel called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was written but never produced.

53. After an online vote in 2011, Toyota announced that the official plural of Prius was Prii.

54. In his book, Dick Cheney says his yellow lab Dave was banned from Camp David for attacking President Bush's dog Barney.

55. Lyme disease is named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where several cases were identified in 1975.

56. At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift won more Grammys (4) than Elvis did his entire career (3).

57. When Coca-Cola announced the return of Coke's original formula in 1985, ABC News interrupted General Hospital to break the story.

58. The giant inflatable rat that shows up at union protests has a name—Scabby.

59. When the computer mouse was invented, it was called the "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System."

60. The inventor of the AK-47 has said he wishes he'd invented something to help farmers instead — "for example a lawnmower."

61. The Vatican Bank is the world's only bank that allows ATM users to perform transactions in Latin.

62. The Procrastinators' Club of America newsletter is called Last Month's Newsletter.

63. Google search suggestions for "Does Santa Claus" include "exist," "live in Finland," "really exist," "have a dog" and "have an E at the end."

64. A milliHelen is the quantity of beauty required to launch just one ship.

65. The German word kummerspeck means excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.

66. The sum of all the numbers on a roulette wheel is 666.

67. Only one McDonald's in the world has turquoise arches. Government officials in Sedona, Arizona, thought the yellow would look bad with the natural red rock of the city.

68. The Lebowski-inspired Church of the Latter-Day Dude says it has ordained over 100,000 Dudeist priests.

69. "Silver Bells" was called "Tinkle Bells" until co-composer Jay Livingston’s wife told him "tinkle" had another meaning.

70. Michael Jackson's 1988 autobiography Moonwalk was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

71. How did Curious George get to America? He was captured in Africa by The Man With the Yellow Hat — with his yellow hat.

72. An urban legend claimed Zima was not detectable by a breathalyzer, boosting its popularity among the young and gullible.

73. On Saved by the Bell: The College Years, A.C. Slater learned his last name was actually Sanchez. His dad changed it to get into the military academy.

74. In the first Kentucky Derby in 1875, 13 of the 15 jockeys were black. Of the first 28 Derby winners, 15 were black.

75. Tim Tebow's sister Katie married Gannon Shepherd, a 6'8", 315-pound former defensive lineman from Duke who briefly played for the Jaguars.

Image courtesy of PerfectStrangers.tv.

76. Louie Anderson was originally cast as Balki's cousin on Perfect Strangers. After the unaired pilot, Mark Linn-Baker took over the role.

77. Belmont University offered a course this year called "Oh, Look, a Chicken! Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing."

78. Brenda Lee was only 13 when she recorded "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree."

79. Dr. Ruth was trained as a sniper by the Israeli military.

80. Asperger syndrome is named for Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, who described it in 1944. He called his patients "Little Professors."

81. The term "lawn mullet" refers to a neatly manicured front yard with an unmowed mess in the back.

82. There was a long-lost fourth member of the Snap/Crackle/Pop gang. "Pow" represented Rice Krispies' explosive nutritional value.

83. QR codes have been popping up in cemeteries. When you scan a code on a gravestone, you can read an obituary and see photos of the deceased.

84. Judge Judy makes $45 million a year.

85. To prevent Baby Jesus theft, BrickHouse Security's "Saving Jesus" program offers a free GPS tracker for the star of your nativity scene.

86. From TIME:
“The USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service allows the use of the term ‘wyngz’ to denote a product that is in ‘the shape of a wing or a bite-sized appetizer type product’ but that contains no wing meat but only under certain conditions. These conditions include the stipulation that the poultry used is white chicken (with or without skin) and that ‘a prominent, conspicuous, and legible descriptive name (e.g., ‘contains no wing meat’) is placed in close proximity to the descriptive name and linked to ‘wyngz’ by use of an asterisk.”

87. After OutKast sang "Shake it like a Polaroid picture," Polaroid released this statement: "Shaking or waving can actually damage the image."

88. In 1983, before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, a reporter asked, "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?"

89. In Peanuts in 1968, Snoopy trained to become a champion arm-wrestler. In the end, he was disqualified for not having thumbs.

90. The female opossum has 13 nipples.

91. Mark Twain invented a board game called Mark Twain's Memory Builder: A Game for Acquiring and Retaining All Sorts of Facts and Dates.

© Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

92. About one in every 4 million lobsters is born with a rare genetic defect that turns it blue.

93. In France, the Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman movie No Strings Attached was called Sex Friends.

94. The famous "Heisman pose" is based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934.

95. For $45, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing will sell you a 5-lb bag with $10,000 worth of shredded U.S. currency.

96. Before going with Blue Devils, Duke considered the nicknames Blue Eagles, Royal Blazes, Blue Warriors and Polar Bears.

97. At an NOAA conference in 1972, Roxcy Bolton proposed naming hurricanes after Senators instead of women. She also preferred "him-i-canes."

98. For one day in 1998, Topeka, Kansas, renamed itself "ToPikachu" to mark Pokemon's U.S. debut.

99. Horses can't vomit.

100. Before settling on the Seven Dwarfs we know today, Disney also considered Chesty, Tubby, Burpy, Deafy, Hickey, Wheezy, and Awful.

101. The 1975 Dictionary of American Slang defines "happy cabbage" as money to be spent "on entertainment or other self-satisfying things."

102. Herbert Hoover was Stanford's football team manager. At the first Stanford-Cal game in 1892, he forgot to bring the ball.

103. The unkempt Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame has a rather proper real name—Norville Rogers.

104. From 1979-1985, G.E. Smith (of G.E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live Band) was the lead guitarist for Hall & Oates.

105. Hawaiian Punch was originally developed in 1934 as a tropical flavored ice cream topping.

106. Andy's evil neighbor Sid from Toy Story returns briefly as the garbage man in Toy Story 3.

107. In the early stage version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s faithful companion Toto was replaced by a cow named Imogene.

108. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend $310 million on pet costumes last Halloween.

109. Jacuzzi is a brand name. You can also buy Jacuzzi toilets and mattresses.

110. During a 2004 episode of Sesame Street, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

111. The Corduroy Appreciation Club celebrated 11-11-11 as The Day That Most Resembles Corduroy.

112. Roger Ebert and Oprah Winfrey went on a couple dates in the mid-1980s. It was Roger who convinced her to syndicate her talk show.

113. Failed PEZ flavors include coffee, eucalyptus, menthol, and flower.

114. The word "PEZ" comes from the German word for peppermint—PfeffErminZ

115. The duffel bag gets its name from the town of Duffel, Belgium, where the cloth used in the bags was originally sold.

116. There's a Facebook group called "The Best Day of My Life Was When I Realized the Old Brewers Logo Was a Ball & Glove AND the Letters M & B."

117. In 1955, the New York State Labor Department ruled that "there is nothing inherently repulsive about a Van Dyke beard."

118. Hallmark now sells a line of "encouragement" cards you can send to people who've lost their job.

119. Tobias Fünke's "nevernude" condition on Arrested Development is real. It's called "gymnophobia" — the fear of nude bodies.

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
12 Surprising Facts About Robin Williams
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for PCA

Robin Williams had a larger-than-life personality. On screen and on stage, he embodied what he referred to as “hyper-comedy.” Offscreen, he was involved in humanitarian causes and raised three children—Zak, Zelda, and Cody. On July 16, HBO debuts the documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, directed by Marina Zenovich. The film chronicles his rise on the L.A. and San Francisco stand-up comedy scenes during the 1970s, to his more dramatic roles in the 1980s and '90s in award-winning films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; Awakenings; The Fisher King; and Good Will Hunting. The film also focuses on August 11, 2014, the date of his untimely death. Here are 12 surprising facts about the beloved entertainer.

1. ROBIN WILLIAMS GOT HIS START AT A COMEDY WORKSHOP INSIDE A CHURCH.

A still from 'Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind' (2018)
HBO

After leaving Juilliard, Robin Williams found himself back in his hometown of San Francisco, but he couldn’t find work as an actor. Then he saw something for a comedy workshop in a church and decided to give it a shot. “So I went to this workshop in the basement of a Lutheran church, and it was stand-up comedy, so you don’t get to improvise with others, but I started off doing, ostensibly, it was just like improvising but solo," he told NPR. "And then I started to realize, ‘Oh.’ [I started] building an act from there."

2. HE FORMED A FRIENDSHIP WITH KOKO THE GORILLA.

In 2001, Williams visited Koko the gorilla, who passed away in June, at The Gorilla Foundation in Northern California. Her caregivers had shown her one of his movies, and she seemed to recognize him. Koko repeatedly signed for Williams to tickle her. “We shared something extraordinary: laughter,” Williams said of the encounter. On the day Williams died, The Foundation shared the news with Koko and reported that she fell into sadness.

3. FOR A TIME, HE WAS A MIME IN CENTRAL PARK.

In 1974, photographer Daniel Sorine captured photos of two mimes in New York's Central Park. As it turned out, one of the mimes was Williams, who was attending Juilliard at the time. “What attracted me to Robin Williams and his fellow mime, Todd Oppenheimer, was an unusual amount of intensity, personality, and physical fluidity,” Sorine said. In 1991, Williams revisited the craft by playing Mime Jerry in Bobcat Goldthwait’s film Shakes the Clown. In the movie, Williams hilariously leads a how-to class in mime.

4. HE TRIED TO GET LYDIA FROM MRS. DOUBTFIRE BACK IN SCHOOL.

As a teen, Lisa Jakub played Robin Williams’s daughter Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire. “When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy,” Jakub wrote on her blog. “My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a ‘non-traditional’ student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.”

Sensing Jakub’s distress over the situation, Williams typed a letter and sent it to her school. “A student of her caliber and talent should be encouraged to go out in the world and learn through her work,” he wrote. “She should also be encouraged to return to the classroom when she’s done to share those experiences and motivate her classmates to soar to their own higher achievements … she is an asset to any classroom.”

Apparently, the school framed the letter but didn’t allow Jakub to return. “But here’s what matters from that story—Robin stood up for me,” Jakub wrote. “I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.”

5. HE WASN’T PRODUCERS' FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY MORK ON MORK & MINDY.

Anson Williams, Marion Ross, and Don Most told The Hallmark Channel that a different actor was originally hired to play Mork for the February 1978 Happy Days episode “My Favorite Orkan,” which introduced the alien character to the world. “Mork & Mindy was like the worst script in the history of Happy Days. It was unreadable, it was so bad,” Anson Williams said. “So they hire some guy for Mork—bad actor, bad part.” The actor quit, and producer Garry Marshall came to the set and asked: “Does anyone know a funny Martian?” They hired Williams to play Mork, and from September 1978 to May 1982, Williams co-headlined the spinoff Mork & Mindy for four seasons.

6. HE “RISKED” A ROLE IN AN OFF-BROADWAY PLAY.

Actor Robin Williams poses for a portrait during the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on January 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California
Michael Caulfield, Getty Images for PCA

In 1988, Williams made his professional stage debut as Estragon in the Mike Nichols-directed Waiting for Godot, which also starred Steve Martin and F. Murray Abraham. The play was held off-Broadway at Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center. The New York Times asked Williams if he felt the show was a career risk, and he responded with: “Risk! Of never working on the stage again! Oh, no! You’re ruined! It’s like you're ruined socially in Tustin,” a town in Orange County, California. “If there’s risk, you can’t think about it,” he said, “or you’ll never be able to do the play.”

Williams had to restrain himself and not improvise during his performance. “You can do physical things,” he said, “but you don’t ad lib [Samuel] Beckett, just like you don’t riff Beethoven.” In 1996, Nichols and Williams once again worked together, this time in the movie The Birdcage.

7. HE USHERED IN THE ERA OF CELEBRITY VOICE ACTING.

The 1992 success of Aladdin, in which Williams voiced Genie, led to more celebrities voicing animated characters. According to a 2011 article in The Atlantic, “Less than 20 years ago, voice acting was almost exclusively the realm of voice actors—people specifically trained to provide voices for animated characters. As it turns out, the rise of the celebrity voice actor can be traced to a single film: Disney’s 1992 breakout animated hit Aladdin.” Since then, big names have attached themselves to animated films, from The Lion King to Toy Story to Shrek. Williams continued to do voice acting in animated films, including Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Happy Feet, and Happy Feet 2.

8. HE FORGOT TO THANK HIS MOTHER DURING HIS 1998 OSCAR SPEECH.

In March 1998, Williams won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. In 2011, Williams appeared on The Graham Norton Show, and Norton asked him what it was like to win the award. “For a week it was like, ‘Hey congratulations! Good Will Hunting, way to go,'” Williams said. “Two weeks later: ‘Hey, Mork.’”

Then Williams mentioned how his speech accidentally left out one of the most important people in his life. “I forgot to thank my mother and she was in the audience,” he said. “Even the therapist went, ‘Get out!’ That was rough for the next few years. [Mom voice] ‘You came through here [points to his pants]! How’s the award?’”

9. HE COMFORTED STEVEN SPIELBERG DURING THE FILMING OF SCHINDLER’S LIST.

At this year’s 25th anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, held at the Tribeca Film Festival, director Steven Spielberg shared that Williams—who played Peter Pan in Spielberg’s Hook—would call him and make him laugh. “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone,” Spielberg said. “I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much.”

10. HE HELPED ETHAN HAWKE GET HIS AGENT.

During a June 2018 appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Ethan Hawke recalled how, while working on Dead Poets Society, Williams was hard on him. “I really wanted to be a serious actor,” Hawke said. “I really wanted to be in character, and I really didn’t want to laugh. The more I didn’t laugh, the more insane [Williams] got. He would make fun of me. ‘Oh this one doesn't want to laugh.’ And the more smoke would come out of my ears. He didn’t understand I was trying to do a good job.” Hawke had assumed Williams hated him during filming.

After filming ended, Hawke went back to school, but he received a surprising phone call. It was from Williams’s agent, who—at Williams's suggestion—wanted to sign Hawke. Hawke said he still has the same agent today.

11. HE WAS ALMOST CAST IN MIDNIGHT RUN.

In February 1988, Williams told Rolling Stone how he sometimes still had to audition for roles. “I read for a movie with [Robert] De Niro, [Midnight Run], to be directed by Marty Brest,” Williams said. “I met with them three or four times, and it got real close, it was almost there, and then they went with somebody else. The character was supposed to be an accountant for the Mafia. Charles Grodin got the part. I was craving it. I thought, ‘I can be as funny,’ but they wanted someone obviously more in type. And in the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself, ‘Okay, come on, you’ve got other things.’”

In July 1988, Universal released Midnight Run. Just two years later, Williams finally worked with De Niro, on Awakenings.

12. BILLY CRYSTAL AND WILLIAMS USED TO TALK ON THE PHONE FOR HOURS.

Actors Robin Williams (L) and Billy Crystal pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'RV' on April 23, 2006 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Starting in 1986, Williams, Billy Crystal, and Whoopi Goldberg co-hosted HBO’s Comic Relief to raise money for the homeless. Soon after Williams’s death, Crystal went on The View and spoke with Goldberg about his friendship with Williams. “We were like two jazz musicians,” Crystal said. “Late at night I get these calls and we’d go for hours. And we never spoke as ourselves. When it was announced I was coming to Broadway, I had 50 phone messages, in one day, from somebody named Gary, who wanted to be my backstage dresser.”

“Gary” turned out to be Williams.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind premieres on Monday, July 16 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO.

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Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

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