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11 Weird and Wonderful Lists on Wikipedia

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While we're celebrating a day of lists, I thought I'd go a little meta with this list of lists. Wikipedia is home to a lot of odd things, including...lists! Their list of lists page notes that "Wikipedia has thousands of topic lists; some are even lists of other lists." Before I write the word "list" again, here are my favorites.

1. List of Humorous Units of Measurement

This wonderful list includes units of length like the "Beard-second" (the length an average beard grows in one second), "sheppey" (the closest distance at which sheep "remain picturesque," approximately 1.4km), and "smoot" (the height of Oliver J. Smoot at the time of the measure's invention, or 5'7"). Good old @wilw makes an appearance as well:

Twitter followers: Wheaton

The Wheaton is a measurement of Twitter followers relative to celebrity Wil Wheaton. The measurement was standardized when Wil Wheaton achieved half a million Twitter followers, with the effect that Wil Wheaton now has 3.4 Wheatons himself. As few Twitter users have millions of followers, the milliwheaton (500 followers) is more commonly used.

2. List of Hats and Headgear

Let's say you want a shockingly exhaustive list of things worn on people's heads over all of recorded history, you know, for your speculative fiction project. Yes, Wikipedia's got that. Here are a few entries under the "Bonnets" heading:

Bonnets for women

• Cabriolet
• Capote - soft crown, rigid brim, 19th century
• Chip bonnet
• Gypsy bonnet - shallow to flat crown, saucer shaped, and worn by tying it on with either a scarf or sash, under the chin, or at the nape of the neck - 19th Century
• Kiss-me-quick
• Leghorn bonnet
• Mourning bonnet
• Poke bonnet - Early 19th Century, "Christmas Carol" style, with a cylindrical crown and broad funnel brim
• Ugly - a kind of retractable visor that could be attached to bonnets for extra protection from the sun, 19th century

For the record, there is a "Bonnets for men" section as well.

3. List of Star Trek Races

Oh, my lovelies, you're in for a treat. Wikipedians have collected 416 unique races mentioned on Star Trek and categorized them according to which series mention each race. From Aaamazzarite to Zora Fel, it's all here, and there are even brief explanations of various races. For instance:

The Anticans are dog-like with snouts, dark fur and white hair. They applied for Federation membership but the ruling decision was put off because of their hostilities with their neighbors, the reptilian Selay. In a quest for meat, the Antican diplomatic team attempted to cook and consume a member of the Selay delegation.

See also: Species 8472.

4. List of Justice League Members

Did you know that Mister Miracle, Animal Man, G'nort, and Moon Maiden are all members of the comic book Justice League? Of course you did, because you're a huge nerd. But I bet you didn't know what happened to "non-full" member Sargon the Sorcerer (spoiler alert!):

Made honorary in Justice League of America #99; Killed in Swamp Thing vol. 2, #50.

Oh, who am I kidding, you probably knew that too.

5. List of Common Misspellings

When you have a global encyclopedia edited by zillions of people, misspellings happen. In this massive list of lists (it's broken up by letter), the incorrect spelling is listed first, followed by the correct spelling, and occasionally a note. To wit, a section of heinous typos from the 'H' list:

• housr (hours, house)
• houswife (housewife)
• howver (however)
• htat (that)
• hte (the)
• hten (then, hen, the)
• htere (there, here)
• htey (they)
• htikn (think)
• hting (thing)
• htink (think)
• htis (this)
• humer (humor, humour)

6. List of Causes of Death by Death Rate

This one is morbid but interesting. According to this list based on data from 2002, bladder cancer killed more people than least in 2002. (Appearing just below war: syphilis.) Here are the top ten -- note that most of these are categories rather than individual causes; farther down in the list you get into very specific causes:

• Cardiovascular diseases
• Infectious and parasitic diseases
• Ischemic heart disease
• Malignant neoplasms (cancers)
• Cerebrovascular disease (Stroke)
• Respiratory infections
• Lower respiratory tract infections
• Respiratory diseases
• Unintentional injuries

7. List of Minor Planets Named After People

Don't you wish you had an asteroid named after you? Well, here's a list of lucky people who have achieved interstellar fame. Here's a snippet from the "Film, TV, and Theater" section:

• 4535 Adamcarolla (Adam Carolla, comedian, television and radio host)
• 4536 Drewpinsky (Drew Pinsky, television and radio host, actor)
• 4659 Roddenberry (Gene Roddenberry, Star Trek creator)
• 5608 Olmos (Edward James Olmos, actor)
• 6318 Cronkite (Walter Cronkite, TV newsreader)
• 6377 Cagney (James Cagney, actor)
• 6546 Kaye (Danny Kaye, actor and comedian)
• 7032 Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock, film director)
• 7037 Davidlean (David Lean, film director)
• 7307 Takei (George Takei, actor)

8. List of Sexology Topics

Hey, it's everything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to Google. This one's a bit racy, but I think I'm safe quoting this portion starting with the letter "O" (minus the actual article links):

ob/gyn - object sexuality - objectum-sexuality - obscene phone call - Obscene Publications Act - obscenity - obstetrics - obstetrics and gynaecology - ochlophilia - oculolinctus - oculophilia - odalisque - odontophilia - odynorgasmia - Oedipal conflict - Oedipal fantasy - Oedipus complex - oestrogen - office affair - old maid's insanity - olfactophilia - oligospermia - olisbos - omiai - omnisexuality - omorashi - onanie - onanism - ondinisme - one child policy - one-night stand

It's a very long page.

9. List of TV Shows by Location

Ever wanted to know all the TV shows set in a particular city? Yeah. Sure you did. Here are a few shows apparently set (for a minimum of one episode) in Philadelphia:

• American Bandstand
• Hey, Hey, Hey: It's Fat Albert
• Double Dare
• thirtysomething
• The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
• Hack
• Cold Case
• Parking Wars

10. List of "Unusual Articles"

Wikipedia has a policy against including things just because they're considered unusual. Many of the pages on their list of unusual articles are potential candidates for removal, if their subjects don't otherwise fulfill the criteria for inclusion. Here's a snippet of some dryly hilarious articles and their summaries:

Florence Y'all Water Tower: A Northern Kentucky town's unique "welcome" sign.

Free Stamp: A really big stamp in Cleveland, Ohio.

Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport: Consists entirely of a deeply rutted unmanned strip of soil/gravel and a windsock.

Interstate 180 (Wyoming): An Interstate Highway with five traffic lights, that isn't really a highway at all.

Republic of Indian Stream: An area of land in northern New Hampshire, USA, that was an independent country from 1832 to 1835.

Island of California: The third largest U.S. State was formerly an island - on paper.

Jerimoth Hill: The highest natural point in Rhode Island. For years, one of the toughest highpoints in the U.S. to scale, not because of its (812-foot) height, but because of an angry old man who lived nearby.

I think they should rename this the "List of Totally Awesome Articles."

11. List of Common Misconceptions

A disclaimer at the top of this list notes that it is "not intended to be exhaustive." This list of misconceptions spans history, science, language, math, religion, you name it! Here are some zingers from the "Human body and health" section:

• Waking sleepwalkers does not harm them. While it is true that a person may be confused or disoriented for a short time after awakening, this does not cause them further harm. In contrast, sleepwalkers may injure themselves if they trip over objects or lose their balance while sleepwalking. Such injuries are common among sleepwalkers.

• In South Korea, it is commonly believed that sleeping in a closed room with an electric fan running can be fatal. According to the Korean government, "In some cases, a fan turned on too long can cause death from suffocation, hypothermia, or fire from overheating." The Korea Consumer Protection Board issued a consumer safety alert recommending that electric fans be set on timers, direction changed and doors left open. Belief in fan death is common even among knowledgeable medical professionals in Korea. According to Yeon Dong-su, dean of Kwandong University's medical school, "If it is completely sealed, then in the current of an electric fan, the temperature can drop low enough to cause a person to die of hypothermia." Although an air conditioner transfers heat from the air and cools it, a fan moves air to increase the evaporation of sweat. Due to energy losses and viscous dissipation, a fan will slowly heat a room.

• Although it is commonly believed that most body heat is lost through a person's head, heat loss through the head is not more significant than other parts of the body when naked. This may be a generalization of situations in which it is true, such as when the head is the only uncovered part of the body, or in infants, where the head is a significant fraction of body mass. Multiple studies have shown that for uncovered infants, lined hats significantly reduce heat loss and thermal stress.

You'll certainly enjoy the Words and Phrases section, which begins with the doozy: "'Irregardless' is a word. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary states that, 'The most frequently repeated remark about it is that 'there is no such word.'' According to Mignon Fogarty, this is an English myth. 'You shouldn't use it if you want to be taken seriously, but it has gained wide enough use to qualify as a word.'" If you say so, Fogarty.

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Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images
Watch the Original Spinal Tap Short Film
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Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images

Spinal Tap formed in 1979, five years before the classic film This is Spinal Tap premiered. They performed on TV and began developing their personas as idiotic heavy metal monsters.

When the band, along with director Rob Reiner, went to pitch their mockumentary to production companies, nobody "got it." It wasn't clear what an unscripted comedy pseudo-documentary would feel like. So Reiner asked for the screenplay fee—$60,000—to be paid up front as a budget for a short proof-of-concept film.

That skimpy budget went a very long way, allowing the group to produce The Last Tour, a 20-minute Spinal Tap film exploring some of the plot (and many of the songs) that appeared in the later film This is Spinal Tap. There's a surprising amount of concert footage, as various bits that were repeated in Tap (some interview clips were even used in Tap unaltered).

The Last Tour is delightful because it shows a well-developed idea being implemented on the cheap. The wigs are terrible, the sound is spotty, but the vision is spot-on. The characters and the core story of the group (including a string of dead drummers) is already in place, and we get to see the guys improvise together. Tune in (and be aware there's plenty of salty language here):

(Note: Around 4:38 in the clip above, we see Ed Begley, Jr. as original drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys in the "Gimme Some Money" video. Stumpy died in a gardening accident, of course.)

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Warner Bros., IStock
When the FBI Went After Mad Magazine
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Warner Bros., IStock

In a memo dated November 30, 1957, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified as “A. Jones” raised an issue of critical importance: "Several complaints to the Bureau have been made concerning the 'Mad' comic book [sic], which at one time presented the horror of war to readers."

Attached to the document were pages taken from a recent issue of Mad that featured a tongue-in-cheek game about draft dodging. Players who earned such status were advised to write to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and request a membership card certifying themselves as a “full-fledged draft dodger.” At least three readers, the agent reported, did exactly that.

Mad, of course, was the wildly popular satirical magazine that was reaching upwards of a million readers every other month. Published by William Gaines, who had already gotten into some trouble with Congress when he was called to testify about his gruesome horror comics in 1954, Mad lampooned everyone and everything. But in name-checking the notoriously humorless Hoover, Gaines had invited the wrong kind of attention.

The memo got several facts incorrect: Mad had switched from a comic book to a magazine format in 1955, and it was Gaines’ E.C. Comics that had “presented the horror of war” in other titles. Despite getting these crucial pieces of information wrong, Jones didn’t hesitate to editorialize: "It is also of interest to note that…it is rather unfunny.”

The agent recommended the Bureau’s New York offices “make contact” with Mad’s headquarters to “advise them of our displeasure” and to make sure “that there be no repetition of such misuse of the Director’s name.”

Less than a week later, the Feds entered the hallowed hallways patrolled by Alfred E. Neuman. Their New York office would later report to Hoover directly that they had met with John Putnam, the magazine’s art director. (Conveniently, Gaines was not in that day.) Putnam told the agents he regretted the magazine using Hoover’s name and that nothing malicious was intended:

Putnam said that the use of the membership card and the name and address of the Director at the end of the game was referred to in their business as a 'gag' or 'kicker' in the same way that a comedian like Bob Hope or Milton Berle might use it.

Putnam swore that Mad would never again take Hoover’s name in vain; Gaines sent off a letter of sincere apology to the Director.

The Smoking Gun

Just two years later, in January 1960, Agent A. Jones was forced to file a second notice about the shenanigans at Mad. A recent issue had made not one, but two derogatory mentions of Hoover, including one in which he is blatantly and disrespectfully portrayed as being associated with a vacuum cleaner, “The Honorable J. Edgar Electrolux”:  

Obviously, Gaines was insincere in this promise…and has again placed the Director in a position of ridicule…it is felt we should contact Gaines…and firmly and severely admonish them concerning our displeasure…

It was by now clear Mad was not only polluting young minds, but that Gaines had absolutely no regard for the honorable Hoover’s position.

In June 1961, the FBI’s worst fears had been realized. Detailing an investigation into a Seattle-area extortion attempt led to the following:

Investigation … resulted in gaining admissions from the victim’s 12-year-old son and an 11-year-old companion that they had gotten the idea of preparing an extortion letter after reading the June issue of 'Mad' magazine.   

Working in concert with the Buffalo field office, the FBI determined another letter had been sent by a young boy demanding money in the style of a recent issue’s extortion advice. And there was a third under review that was sent to the agent of some professional wrestlers.

Mad was quickly becoming the scourge of the federal government. The FBI suggested the magazine be brought to the attention of the Attorney General for “instructing [readers] to deliberately violate the Federal Law.” They tried reaching out to Gaines, who was on vacation. (Time and again, Gaines simply not being in the office when called upon seemed to confound the FBI.)

Agent A. Jones, having exhausted all attempts to reason with these irresponsible anarchists, filed one last memo:

Despite assurances, they have continued to publish slurring remarks about the Bureau. In view of this situation, it was deemed useless to protest all such irresponsible remarks to a magazine of this poor judgment and capriciousness … we will have to wait and see if our action will result in increased discretion by this publication.

Poor A. Jones was unable to put an end to Mad’s reign of terror. But the magazine redeemed itself somewhat. In the 1970s, when the Bureau was trying to suppress the influence of the Ku Klux Klan, an agent suggested they copy and distribute a sticker from the magazine that read, “Support Mental Illness—Join the Klan!”

Hoover said no.

Additional Sources:
The Smoking Gun.


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