11 Unserious Photos of Einstein for His Birthday

uni-frankfurt.du
uni-frankfurt.du

Albert Einstein was born on this date in 1879. The German-born Nobel Prize winner possessed a quick, sharp wit along with his enviable IQ, and his tendency to offset the very serious matter of general relativity with a little lighthearted humor is evident in this series of photos.

1. Getting Tongues Wagging

In honor of Einstein’s 72nd birthday, friends and colleagues met at the Princeton Club for a celebration heavy on both merriment and press photographers. Eager cameraman Arthur Sasse tried to coax one final smile from the physicist as he departed for the night; worn down by the festivities, Einstein stuck out his tongue instead. The photo has since become a cultural icon, which Einstein himself liked so much that he ordered nine prints made, and used it to adorn greeting cards.

2. The Lady and the Scientist

 Wikimedia Commons

Behind this great man was this great woman: Elsa Einstein, Albert’s second wife, who moved with him from Berlin to Princeton, and brought along her two daughters from a previous marriage to form the cohesive Einstein family unit.

3. An Enviable Mustache

Despite the uniformity of dress and prevalence of facial hair in this old photograph, something still stands out about Einstein’s trademark mustache—the same mustache that adorns the face of this bobblehead available in the Mental Floss store.

4. Nice Sandals

Southold Historical Society

Pictured here in September 1939, Einstein relaxes on the beach near his Long Island summer home with friend and local department store owner David Rothman. After some initial confusion in the store resulting from Einstein’s thickly accented request for a pair of “sundahls,” which Rothman interpreted as “sundial,” the scientist was able to successfully purchase the white sandals on his feet for $1.35. He laughed off the episode, blaming “mine atrocious accent!” The men remained close friends thereafter, later forming a neighborhood string quartet together.

5. Easy Rider

California Institute of Technology Archives

Even riding free and easy through Santa Barbara, California in this 1933 photo, the award-winning physicist maintains a classic look in his cardigan and dress pants.

6. Stick that in your pipe

An avid smoker, Einstein was rarely seen without his pipe. Despite our contemporary health concerns about the ill effects of tobacco, he was convinced that “pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.”

7. Style for Miles

His face may be perfectly serious, but his robe is perfectly silly.

8. Rock 'em, Sock 'Em

Getty Images

For all his brilliance, Albert Einstein in his later years began to look less like the foremost physicist of his age, and more like the friendly neighborhood grandpa who wore socks with sandals—except that according to many accounts, the scientist with his relentlessly practical mind could never reconcile himself to wear socks regularly, knowing that his big toe would inevitably wear a hole in them and believing that shoes alone would suffice to cover his feet. In light of that information, these socks with Einstein’s face printed on them are hugely ironic.

9. Fierce Footwear

These slippers presumably required no socks.

10. A Hairy Situation

Frankfurt.de

In Albert Einstein’s windswept white mane lie the origins of the mad scientist hairstyle.

11. Puppetmaster

Harry Burnett, 1931

After witnessing a performance by the Yale Puppeteers at the Teatro Torito in Los Angeles, Einstein had only one complaint about his miniature alter ego: “The puppet wasn’t fat enough!” he claimed, and took a letter out of his pocket, crumpled it up, and padded out the character’s belly for accuracy’s sake.  He might have been more satisfied with this plush, soft-toy representation of himself, available in the Mental Floss store—additional stomach padding not included.

Why Are We So Scared of Clowns?

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

With the recent box office-smashing success of Stephen King's It, it’s safe to say that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) isn’t a fringe phenomenon. The colorful circus performers are right up there with vampires and werewolves on the list of iconic horror villains. But unlike other movie monsters, clowns were originally meant to make kids laugh, not hide under their beds in terror. So what is it about clowns that taps into our deepest fears?

According to Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge, the unsettling clown stereotype goes back centuries. In the inaugural episode of the PBS digital series Origin of Everything, Bainbridge explained the long history of this pervasive part of our culture.

Before clowns wore floppy shoes and threw pies at each other’s faces, early versions of the performers could be found in royal courts. The court jester wasn’t evil, but he was the only person in the kingdom who could poke fun at the monarch without fear of (literally) losing his head. The fact that fools didn’t fall within the normal social hierarchy may have contributed to the future role clowns would play as untrustworthy outsiders.

From the medieval era, clowns evolved into the harlequins of 16th-century Italian theater. Again, these weren’t bloodthirsty monsters, but they weren’t exactly kid-friendly either. The characters were often mischievous and morally bankrupt, and their strange costumes and masks only added to the creepy vibes they gave off.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, when the white-faced circus clowns we know today started gaining popularity. Unlike the jesters and harlequins that came before them, these clowns performed primarily for children and maintained a wholesome image. But as pop culture in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s showed us, that old perception we had of clowns as nefarious troublemakers never really went away. Steven King’s It, the cult classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), and that scene from Poltergeist (1982) all combined these original fears with the more modern association of clowns with children. That formula gave us one of the most frightening figures in horror media today.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

The Mongolian Princess Who Challenged Her Suitors to a Wrestling Match—and Always Won

iStock.com / SarahWouters1960
iStock.com / SarahWouters1960

In a lot of fairy tales, a disapproving father or a witch's curse stops the princess from finding Prince Charming. But things were a little different in 13th-century Mongolia. Any single lad, regardless of status or wealth, could marry the khan's daughter, Khutulun. There was just one caveat, which the princess herself decreed—you couldn't take her hand in marriage until you took her down in a wrestling match. If you lost, you had to give her a handful of prize horses.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. After all, this is the great-great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan we're talking about!

Born around 1260, Khutulun was an intimidating presence. According to The Travels of Marco Polo, the princess was "so well-made in all her limbs, and so tall and strongly built, that she might almost be taken for a giantess." She was also the picture of confidence. She had mastered archery and horsemanship in childhood and grew up to become a fearless warrior. Whenever her father, Kaidu—the leader of the Chagatai Khanate—went to battle, he usually turned to Khutulun (and not his 14 sons) for help.

Nothing scared her. Not only did Khutulun ride by her father's side into battle, she'd regularly charge headfirst into enemy lines to make "a dash at the host of the enemy, and seize some man thereout, as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird, and carry him to her father," Marco Polo wrote. The 13th- and 14th-century historian Rashid al-Din was more direct, writing that she "often went on military campaigns, where she performed valiant deeds."

It's no surprise that Khutulun had suitors lining up and down the street asking for her hand in marriage. The princess, however, refused to marry any of them unless they managed to beat her in a wrestling match, stipulating that any loser would have to gift her anywhere between 10 to 100 horses.

Let's just put it this way: Khutulun came home with a lot of prize horses. (Some accounts say 10,000—enough to make even the emperor a little jealous.) As author Hannah Jewell writes in her book She Caused a Riot, "The Mongolian steppes were littered with the debris of shattered male egos."

On one occasion, a particularly confident suitor bet 1000 horses on a match. Khutulun's parents liked the fellow—they were itching to see their daughter get married—so they pulled the princess aside and asked her to throw the match. After carefully listening to her parents' advice, Khutulun entered the ring and, in Polo's words, "threw him right valiantly on the palace pavement." The 1000 horses became hers.

Khutulun would remain undefeated for life. According to legend, she eventually picked a husband on her own terms, settling for a man she never even wrestled. And centuries later, her story inspired François Pétis de La Croi to write the tale of Turandot, which eventually became a famed opera by the composer Giacomo Puccini. (Though the opera fudges the facts: The intrepid princess defeats her suitors with riddles, not powerslams.)

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