What's the Longest Bridge in the World?

Getty Images
Getty Images

Gephyrophobia sufferers should turn away now. We’re going to be discussing the longest bridge in the world, and if you have a fear of these water-crossing constructs, some anxiety is going to be inevitable. (Alternately, you might use it as a guide for where not to go.)

Bridges are modern marvels of engineering. Spanning over bodies of water, they can stretch for as little as a few dozen feet to several miles, facilitating the transport of vehicles from one place to another without the need to hop into a boat. Some are suspension bridges, knots of wire and steel without bracing underneath; others are segmented, with support throughout. When someone ponders what the longest bridge in the world is, they may want to consider what kind of bridge they’re talking about.

The Guinness Book of World Records ran into this semantics issue in 2011, when China finished construction on the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, also known as the Qingdao Haiwan Bridge, near the Shandong Peninsula. The bridge spans an incredible 26.4 miles, with 5200 pillars supporting it along the way. The bridge—which took four years to complete—was so sprawling that it beat the previous record holder, Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, by more than two miles. Said to be earthquake- and typhoon-proof, it’s one impressive structure.

But the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is still significant. It’s 23.8 miles over continuous water, while the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge utilizes sea tunnels for parts of the structure and contains multiple lanes. As a result, Guinness refers to the Jiaozhou as the largest “aggregate” bridge in the world, while the Causeway is still believed to be the longest continuous bridge over water.

Those are impressive numbers, but if you don’t require bridges to be needed to navigate over bodies of water, then the longest bridge in the world might be the Dayang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China. Part of a high-speed railway system, that bridge stretches for 104.2 miles and provides train transport between Shanghai and Nanjing.

If a bridge only impresses—or terrifies—you based on it being the longest bridge in the world without any underlying support, then you might want to investigate the Pearl Bridge beginning in Kobe, Japan. The central part of this 2.4 mile long bridge has 1.237 miles of uninterrupted span.

Of course, length isn’t necessarily directly correlated with the fear factor. If your curiosity over the longest bridge in the world is really over the scariest bridge in the world, you may want to avoid photos of Russia’s Kuandinsky Bridge. Barely wider than a car and with no guardrails, it’s almost a theme park ride, albeit one closed to the public—leaving only the very brave to risk crossing it.

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

What's the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

iStock
iStock

To the layman, the difference between pigeons and doves has something to with color, maybe. Or location. Or general appeal (doves usually get much better press than pigeons do). But what’s the actual, scientific difference between doves and pigeons?

As it turns out, there isn’t one. Paul Sweet, the collection manager for the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, says the difference is more linguistic than taxonomic.

“The word dove is a word that came into English from the more Nordic languages, whereas pigeon came into English from French,” Sweet tells Mental Floss.

Both dove and pigeon refer to the 308 species of birds from the Columbidae family, Sweet says. There’s no difference between a pigeon and a dove in scientific nomenclature, but colloquial English tends to categorize them by size. Something called a dove is generally smaller than something called a pigeon, but that’s not always the case. A common pigeon, for example, is called both a rock dove and a rock pigeon.

“People just have their own classification for what makes them different,” Sweet says. “So in the Pacific, for example, the big ones might get called pigeons and the smaller ones might be called doves, but they’re actually more closely related to each other than they are to other things in, say, South America, that are called pigeons and doves.”

The difference boils down to linguistic traditions, so feel free to tell people you’re releasing pigeons at your wedding or that you’re feeding doves in the park. Scientifically speaking, you’ll be correct either way.

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

What Is the Wilhelm Scream?

iStock
iStock

What do Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Toy Story, Reservoir Dogs, Titanic, Anchorman, 22 Jump Street, and more than 200 other films and TV shows have in common? Not much besides the one and only Wilhelm Scream.

The Wilhelm Scream is the holy grail of movie geek sound effects—a throwaway sound bite with inauspicious beginnings that was turned into the best movie in-joke ever when it was revived in the 1970s.

Just what is it? Chances are you’ve heard it before but never really noticed it. The Wilhelm Scream is a stock sound effect that has been used in both the biggest blockbusters and the lowest low-budget movies and television shows for over 60 years, and is usually heard when someone onscreen is shot or falls from a great height.

First used in the 1951 Gary Cooper western Distant Drums, the distinctive yelp began in a scene in which a group of soldiers wade through a swamp, and one of them lets out a piercing scream as an alligator drags him underwater.

As is the case with many movie sound effects, the scream was recorded later in a sound booth with the simple direction to make it sound like “a man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.” Six screams were performed in one take, and the fifth scream on the recording became the iconic Wilhelm (the others were used for additional screams in other parts of the movie).

Following its debut in 1951, the effect became a regular part of the Warner Bros. sound library and was continually used by the studio’s filmmakers in their movies. Eventually, in the early 1970s, a group of budding sound designers at USC’s film school—including future Academy Award-winning sound designer Ben Burtt—recognized that the unique scream kept popping up in numerous films they were watching. They nicknamed it the “Wilhelm Scream” after a character in the first movie they all recognized it from, a 1963 western called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm lets out the pained scream after being shot in the leg by an arrow.

As a joke, the students began slipping the effect into the student films they were working on at the time. After he graduated, Burtt was tapped by fellow USC alum George Lucas to do the sound design on a little film he was making called Star Wars. As a nod to his friends, Burtt put the original sound effect from the Warner Bros. library into the movie, most noticeably when a Stormtrooper is shot by Luke Skywalker and falls into a chasm on the Death Star. Burtt would go on to use the Wilhelm Scream in various scenes in every Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie, causing fans and filmmakers to take notice.

Directors like Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, as well as countless other sound designers, sought out the sound and put it in their movies as a humorous nod to Burtt. They wanted to be in on the joke too, and the Wilhelm Scream began showing up everywhere, making it an unofficial badge of honor. It's become bigger than just a sound effect, and the name “Wilhelm Scream” has been used for everything from a band name, to a beer, to a song title, and more.

But whose voice does the scream itself belong to? Burtt himself did copious amounts of research, as the identity of the screamer was unknown for decades. He eventually found a Warner Bros. call sheet from Distant Drums that listed actors who were scheduled to record additional dialogue after the film was completed. One of the names, and the most likely candidate as the Wilhelm screamer, was an actor and musician named Sheb Wooley, who appeared in classics like High Noon, Giant, and the TV show Rawhide. You may also know him as the musician who sang the popular 1958 novelty song “Purple People Eater.”

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios