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.

10,000 People Gathered at Stonehenge to Welcome the Summer Solstice

Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images
Finnbarr Webster, Getty Images

There are plenty of reasons to welcome the start of summer. Today, people visiting Stonehenge took that celebration to a whole new level.

The BBC reported that an estimated 10,000 people made the pilgrimage to the 5000-year-old site to partake in summer solstice festivities. "Stonehenge was built to align with the Sun, and to Neolithic people, the skies were arguably as important as the surrounding landscape," Susan Greaney, a senior historian at English Heritage, said in a statement. "At solstice we remember the changing daylight hours, but the changing seasons, the cycles of the Moon, and movements of the Sun are likely to have underpinned many practical spiritual aspects of Neolithic life."

These spiritual aspects are just one of the many fascinating facts about the summer solstice; the day is an extremely old calendar event recognized by ancient cultures across the globe. They include the Druids and other pagans, whose tradition of observing the solstice at Stonehenge has long been upheld by modern revelers.

Scientifically speaking, Stonehenge is an optimal viewing place for the solstice due to its structure. According to TIME, the site’s architects appeared to have kept both the summer and winter solstices in mind during its construction, as the positions of the stones are specifically tuned to complement the sky on both occasions.

The solstices were sacred to the pagans, whose modern-day followers continue to honor their rituals. Pagans in particular refer to the day as Litha, and mark it with activities such as meditation, fire rites, and outdoor yoga.

“What you’re celebrating on a mystical level is that you’re looking at light at its strongest," Frank Somers, a member of the Amesbury and Stonehenge Druids, said in 2014. "It represents things like the triumph of the king, the power of light over darkness, and just life—life at its fullest."

Those who were unable to make the journey can head over to the Stonehenge Skyscape project's website, where English Heritage’s interactive live feed fully captured the experience.

Tourists Are Picking Apart Britain's Oldest Tree

Paul Hermans, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Fortingall Yew in the Fortingall churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland has seen a lot. Since it started growing at least 2000 years ago, it's been present for the Roman settlement of Scotland, the shift from paganism to Christianity, and the country's induction into the United Kingdom. But after standing for millennia, the ancient tree is facing its greatest threat yet. Tourists are removing twigs and branches from the tree to take home as souvenirs, and the tree is under so much stress that it's spontaneously changing sexes, Atlas Obscura reports.

Because of how the tree grows, it's hard to date the Fortingall Yew precisely. It comprises several separate trunks that have hollowed out over the years, making it easier for the tree to support itself in its old age. Based on historical measurements and 19th-century ring counts, the yew has been around for at least two millennia, but it could date back as far as 5000 years. That makes it the oldest tree in Britain and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

That impressive title means the tree gets a lot of visitors, not all of whom are concerned with extending its lifespan even longer. A stone and iron wall built in the Victorian era encloses the tree, but that hasn't stopped people from climbing over it to break off pieces or leave behind keepsakes like beads and ribbons.

As the abuse adds up, the tree has responded in concerning ways. It sprouted red berries this spring, a sign that the tree is transitioning to a different sex for the first time in its life. Yew trees are either male or female, and sex changes among the species are incredibly rare and misunderstood. Some botanists believe it's a reaction to stress. The change may be a survival mechanism intended to increase the specimen's chances of reproducing.

Scientists aren't sure why this particular yew, which was formerly male, sprouted berries on its upper branches, an exclusively female characteristic, but they've collected the berries to study them. The seeds from the berries will be preserved as part of a project to protect the genetic diversity of yew trees across the globe.

In the mean time, caretakers of the Fortingall Yew are imploring visitors to be respectful of the tree and keep their hands to themselves.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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