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11 Insane Features of Normal Human Anatomy

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Shutterstock

Sure, we’ve wowed you with medical oddities, but why should abnormal bodies get all the attention? The truth about the normal human body can be stranger than fiction. To prove it, here are 11 weird facts about the body you thought you knew.

1. Your Tongue

What does your tongue have in common with an octopus’ tentacle and an elephant’s trunk? All three are examples of a unique structure called the “muscular hydrostat,” a bundle of muscles that work without the assistance of bones. Like anything made mostly of water, the hydrostat has a constant volume, so when certain cells contract, the whole thing has to expand somewhere else. The result is a body part that is both strong and flexible. If your tongue were as big as an elephant’s trunk, it could uproot trees too.

2. Your Hyoid Bone

This wee, horseshoe-shaped bone will never appear in the song by James Weldon Johnson, as it’s connected to...no bones at all, in a meaningful sense; its job is independent of the rest of the skeleton. Also known as the lingual bone, the hyoid bone sits atop the larynx, providing an anchor for the muscles on the floor of the mouth, the tongue. Don’t worry: you’re not likely to break this bone, unless someone starts choking you to death. At that point, you’ve got bigger problems.

3. Your Philtrum

No, that little indent under your nose isn’t there to make it difficult to apply lipstick in the dark, but it doesn’t serve any other purpose either. The indent, called the philtrum, is just a residual reminder of your time in the womb: in utero, the two sides of your face develop independent of one another, then join at the middle. When the two sides fail to fuse properly, the result is a cleft palate, which occurs in about 1 of every 750 births. Ancient Romans found the philtrum erotic, and named that lipstick-thwarting dip in the upper lip “Cupid’s Bow.” In fact, the word philtrum comes from a Greek term meaning “love potion.”

4. Your Hair

People love tossing around hair facts. That old wives tale about it growing after you’re dead? A fun fallacy. After you die, your hair and nails don’t continue growing, but the skin retreats as it dehydrates, causing that creepy illusion of ghoulish growth.

In truth, hair is a weird combination of living and dead. The living hair follicle pushes out the hair, which is made up of different kinds of non-living yet protective cells made of keratin — the same keratin that's on your top (dead) layer of skin, and in your nails. When your hair turns grey, it means your pigment cells are dying. Yet another hairy reminder of your own mortality.

5. Your Nails

Ever notice how your toenails grow more slowly than your fingernails? That’s because there’s an evolutionary correlation between the length of your “terminal phalanges” (the outer-most bones in your toes and finger-tips) and the rate at which your nails grow. The tips of your toes are shorter than your fingertips, so your toenails don't grow as fast. In the same way, the nail on your middle finger will grow faster than the nail on your pinky. The seemingly random correlation has to do with the lessening necessity of claws through human evolution. If your fingernails are thick and grow quickly, ask yourself the question: “Should I be digging more?”

6. Your Bioluminescence

Fireflies and jellyfish glow, but humans? Believe it. The phenomenon is a natural byproduct of the metabolic process, and scientists have long been aware of the presence of bioluminescence in most living creatures. But it wasn’t until 2009, when a team of Japanese researchers developed a camera 1000 times more sensitive than the human eye, that human bioluminescence was captured on film. The light show apparently works on a 24-hour cycle — brightest in the late afternoon and on the cheeks, forehead and neck. Next time someone tells you “you’re glowing,” you can take it literally.

7. Your Walking Proteins

Of the microscopic menagerie that is your cell biology, the most bizarre member is perhaps the kinesin protein, a “motor” protein whose job it is to deliver important molecules to their necessary cellular destinations. What’s most remarkable is the kinesin’s mode of transportation: It “walks” along its micro-pathway using two structures at its base commonly referred to as “feet.” Though scientists disagree as to exactly how these feet were “made for walking,” there’s no denying that the mode of transportation closely resembles that of the humans they assist.

8. Your Sonic Hedgehog

What’s more complex than cell biology? Cell biology in your infinitely complex brain. In 1993, scientists discovered a protein in the hippocampus instrumental in developing a variety of neural traits. Isolated in fruit flies, the protein causes spines to grow on the back, so the scientists named it “Sonic” after the spiny Sega Genesis character. Similar proteins are named desert hedgehog and Indian hedgehog. Who says scientists don’t have fun?

9. Your Liver

The lumpy, lobey, unwieldy liver gets a bad rap, but if you didn’t have it in there cleaning out your system, you’d be looking pretty bad yourself. Lucky for you, the liver is perhaps the most resilient of the major organs: it can regenerate from only 25% of its tissue mass. You wouldn’t vote it the cutest kid in school, but “Most Likely to Succeed”? Maybe.

10. Your Vomeronasal Organ

There are important organs, and there are ones just along for the ride. As far as useless leftover body parts, you’ve probably heard about the tailbone, the appendix, even the little toe (wee wee wee all the way home). But you may not have heard of the “vomeronasal organ,” located unglamorously inside the nose.

Back in the day, the little guy used to aid in detecting subtle airborne information, most importantly, pheromones from a member of the opposite sex. In the age of modern man, the vomeronasal organ doesn’t appear to be doing much -- it doesn’t even have nerves connecting it to the brain. Still, scientists continue to argue about the potential chemical messages it might be sending, titillating that part of us that is still animal.

11. Your Sexy Bits

And speaking of pheromones and vestigial organs...

Men and women have more in common “down there” than you might think. Because the sex organs of a fetus don’t develop until about five months into development, males and females have remnants of the opposite sexual organs — and some are more useful than others. While the penis is basically an enlarged version of a lady’s clitoris, the male remnant of the lower vagina is less useful. Called the prostatic utricle (Latin for “pouch of the prostate”), the little-discussed fleshy sac just kind of hangs out near the prostate gland, leading nowhere. In the 1800s, the structure was more commonly called the vagina masculina, which requires no translation.

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

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5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

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6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

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10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

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11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

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14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

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15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

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16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

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Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

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18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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