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11 Weird and Wonderful Lists on Wikipedia

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 war...at 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
• HIV/AIDS

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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Hulton Archive, Getty Images
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15 Funny Quips from Great American Humorists
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The art of social satire is a tough one, but a great humorist's keen observations, witticisms, and turns of phrase continue to ring true even decades later. "Humor is something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations," the musical comedian Victor Borge once noted. "There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth." (In other words, it's funny 'cause it's true.) Here are 15 more quips from some of America's most astute commentators.

1. MARK TWAIN (1835-1910)

Mark Twain
Rischgitz, Getty Images

"Familiarity breeds contempt—and children."

2. DOROTHY PARKER (1893-1967)

Dorothy Parker looks at the camera. There is a man in a tuxedo and wine bottles in the background.
Evening Standard, Getty Images

"That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment."

3. JAMES THURBER (1894-1961)

James Thurber smokes a cigarette sitting in an armchair.
Fred Palumbo, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"Last night I dreamed of a small consolation enjoyed only by the blind: Nobody knows the trouble I've not seen!"

4. NORA EPHRON (1941-2012)

Nora Ephron smiles for press at an event.
Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images

"Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be."

5. GORE VIDAL (1925-2012)

Gore Vidal
Central Press, Getty Images

"The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so."

6. ARTEMUS WARD (1834-1867)

A sepia-toned cabinet card of Artemus Ward
TCS 1.3788, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"They drink with impunity, or anybody who invites them."

7. GERTRUDE STEIN (1874-1946)

Gertrude Stein sits at a desk with a pen in her hand.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

"The thing that differentiates man from animals is money."

8. FRANKLIN PIERCE ADAMS (1881-1960)

Franklin Pierce Adams sits at a desk that's covered in papers.
Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."

9. ETHEL WATERS (1896-1977)

Ethel Waters leans in a doorway.
William P. Gottlieb, Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"All the men in my life have been two things: an epic and an epidemic."

10. ROBERT BENCHLEY (1889-1945)

Robert Benchley sits at a desk in a scene from 'Foreign Correspondent.'
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"Drinking makes such fools of people, and people are such fools to begin with that it's compounding a felony."

11. AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1914)

A seated portrait of Ambrose Bierce
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"Saint: A dead sinner revised and edited."

12. MAE WEST (1893-1980)

A portrait of Mae West
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

"When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before."

13. GEORGE S. KAUFMAN (1889-1961)

A seated portrait of George S. Kaufman
The Theatre Magazine Company, photograph by Vandamm, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

"At dramatic rehearsals, the only author that's better than an absent one is a dead one."

14. VICTOR BORGE (1909-2000)

Victor Borge plays the piano.
Keystone, Getty Images

"Santa Claus has the right idea—visit people only once a year."

15. GEORGE CARLIN (1937-2008)

George Carlin doing a stand-up set
Ken Howard, Getty Images

"Atheism is a non-prophet organization."

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12 Things You Might Not Know About MAD Magazine
Mad Magazine
Mad Magazine

As fast as popular culture could erect wholesome depictions of American life in comics, television, or movies, MAD Magazine was there to tear them all down. A near-instant success for EC Comics upon its debut in 1952, the magazine has inspired generations of comedians for its pioneering satirical attitude and tasteful booger jokes. This month, DC Entertainment is relaunching an "all new" MAD, skewering pop culture on a bimonthly basis and in full color. To fill the gaps in your knowledge, take a look at these facts about the Usual Gang of Idiots.

1. NO ONE KNOWS WHO CAME UP WITH ALFRED E. NEUMAN.


Jamie, Flickr (L) // Boston Public Library, Flickr (R) // CC BY 2.0

MAD creator Harvey Kurtzman was in the offices of a Ballantine Books editor discussing reprints for the fledgling publication when he noticed a grinning, gap-toothed imbecile staring back at him from a bulletin board. The unnamed figure was ubiquitous in the early 20th century, appearing in everything from dentistry ads to depictions of diseases. A charmed Kurtzman adopted him as MAD’s mascot beginning in 1954. Neuman later become so recognizable that a letter was delivered from New Zealand to MAD’s New York offices without an address: The envelope simply had a drawing of Alfred.

2. THEY HAD TO APOLOGIZE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

MAD was conceived during a particularly sensitive time for the comics industry, with parents and watchdog groups concerned over content. (It didn't switch to a magazine format until issue #24.) Kurtzman usually knew where the line was, but when he was laid up with acute hepatitis in 1952, publisher William Gaines and others had to step in for him. Gaines thought it would be funny to offer a fictional biography of himself that detailed his father’s Communist leanings, his past as a dope dealer “near nursery schools,” and bouts of pyromania. When wholesalers were shocked at the content and threatened to boycott all of his titles, Gaines was forced to write a letter of apology.

3. THEY PREDICTED JOHN F. KENNEDY'S ELECTION IN 1960.

But it was a cheat. In the run-up to the 1960 Presidential election, MAD printed a cover that featured Neuman congratulating Kennedy on his victory with a caption that read, “We were with you all the way, Jack!” But the issue was shipped long before votes had been tabulated. The secret? It was a dual cover. Flip it over and Neuman is celebrating Richard Nixon’s appointment to office. Stores were told to display the “right” side of the magazine depending on the outcome.

4. ALFRED BRIEFLY HAD A GIRLFRIEND.


MAD Magazine

A character named Moxie Cowznofski was introduced in the late 1950s as a female companion for Alfred. She made only a handful of cover appearances, possibly due to the fact she looked alarmingly like her significant other.

5. THEY DIDN'T RUN ANY (REAL) ADS FOR 44 YEARS.

From the beginning, Gaines felt that printing actual advertisements next to the products they were lampooning would not only dilute their edge but seem more than a little hypocritical. After some back-and-forth, MAD cut ads starting in 1957. The decision was a costly one—most print publications survive on such revenue—but led to the magazine’s keeping a sharp knife against the throat of seductive advertising, including cigarettes. Faced with dwindling circulation in 2001, MAD finally relented and began taking ads to help pay for a switch to color printing.

6. "SPY VS. SPY" WAS CREATED BY A SUSPECTED SPY.

Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohias was disenchanted with the regime under Fidel Castro when he began working on what would become “Spy vs. Spy.” Because Prohias’s other newspaper illustrations were critical of Castro, the Cuban government suspected him of working for the CIA. He wasn’t, but the perception had him worried harm might come to his co-workers. To get out of the situation, Prohias came to America in 1960. With his daughter helping translate, he stopped by MAD’s New York offices and submitted his work; his sneaky, triangle-headed spies became regulars.

7. THERE WAS ONE FOLD-IN THEY WOULDN'T RUN.

Artist Al Jaffee, now 94, has been with MAD almost from the beginning. He created the famous Fold-In—the back cover that reveals a new picture when doubled over—in 1964 after seeing the fold-outs in magazines like National Geographic, Playboy, and Life. Jaffee has rarely missed an issue since—but editors backtracked on one of Jaffee’s works that referenced a mass shooting in 2013. Citing poor taste, they destroyed over 600,000 copies.

8. THEIR MOVIE WAS A DISASTER.

With the exception of Fox’s successful sketch series, 1994’s MAD TV, attempts to translate the MAD brand into other media have been underwhelming: A 1974 animated special didn’t even make it on air. But a 1980 film venture, a military school spoof directed by Robert Downey, Sr. titled Mad Presents Up the Academy, was so awful William Gaines demanded to have their name taken off of it. (Renamed Up the Academy, the DVD release of the movie still features someone sporting an Alfred E. Neuman mask; MAD parodied it in a spoof titled “Throw Up the Academy.”)

9. THE APRIL 1974 COVER HAD PEOPLE FLIPPING.


MAD Magazine

MAD has never made a habit of good taste, but a depiction of a raised middle finger for one issue in the mid-’70s caused a huge stir. Many stores wouldn’t stock it for fear of offending customers, and the company ended up accepting an irregular number of returns. Gaines took to his typewriter to write a letter of apology. Again. The relaunched #1, out in April 2018, pays homage to this cover, though it's slightly more tasteful: Neuman is picking his nose with his middle finger.

10. THEY INVENTED A SPORT.

MAD writer Tom Koch was amused by the convoluted rules of sports and attempted to one-up them in 43-Man Squamish, a game he invented for the April 1965 issue. Koch and artist George Woodbridge (“MAD’s Athletic Council”) prepared a guide that was utterly incomprehensible—the field was to have five sides, positions included Deep Brooders and Dummies, “interfering with the Wicket Men” constituted a penalty—but it amused high school and college readers enough to try and mount their own games. (Short on players? Try 2-Man Squamish: “The rules are identical,” Koch wrote, “except the object of the game is to lose.”) For the less physically inclined, MAD also issued a board game in which the goal is to lose all of your money.

11. WEIRD AL WAS A GUEST EDITOR.

In what must be some kind of fulfilled prophecy, lyrical satirist “Weird” Al Yankovic was named as a guest editor—their first—for the magazine’s May 2015 issue. Yankovic told Entertainment Weekly that MAD had put him on “the dark, twisted path to becoming who I am today … I needed to pollute my mind with that kind of stuff.” In addition to his collaborations with the staff, Yankovic enlisted Patton Oswalt, Seth Green, and Chris Hardwick to contribute.

12. FRED ASTAIRE ONCE DANCED AS ALFRED E. NEUMAN.

In a scene so surreal even MAD’s irreverent editors would have had trouble dreaming it up, Fred Astaire decided to sport an Alfred E. Neuman mask for a dance number in his 1959 television special, Another Evening with Fred Astaire. No one seems to recall why exactly Astaire would do this—he may have just wanted to include a popular cultural reference—but it was no off-the-cuff decision. Astaire hired movie make-up veteran John Chambers (Planet of the Apes) to craft a credible mask of Neuman. The result is … well, kind of disturbing. But it’s a fitting addition to a long tradition of people going completely MAD.

Additional Sources:
Harvey Kurtzman: The Man Who Created Mad and Revolutionized Humor in America.

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